Last of Doolittle Raiders remembered, memorialized

Remembered as a man who faithfully served his country and was a devoted father and a man of faith, Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last of the Doolittle Raiders, was honored and posthumously promoted to the rank of colonel during a Sept. 7, 2021, ceremony at the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Golf Course ballroom.

Family members and distinguished guests, including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., gathered to pay their respects for Cole, who died at the age of 103 April 9, 2019.

Cole was the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders, a group of 80 crew members led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who flew 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers from the USS Hornet April 18, 1942, en route to an air raid to attack Tokyo in World War II, after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

Cole was Doolittle’s co-pilot in the lead B-25 aircraft during the mission.

Brown presented a certificate of Cole’s posthumous promotion to colonel to Cole’s children, retired Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Rich Cole and Cindy Cole Chal.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. presents the U.S. flag to retired Col. Richard E. Cole’s daughter, Cindy Chal, during his interment ceremony, Sept. 7, 2021, at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Texas. Cole was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the lead plane of an important mission in the history of air power, the bombing raid on Japan in retaliation for its attack on Pearl Harbor. Cole was the last survivor of the 80 Doolittle raiders who executed America’s first strikes against the Japanese in World War II. (Air Force photograph by Tristin English)

In his opening remarks, Brown said Cole and the rest of the Doolittle Raiders embodied the idea of service before self, as Cole volunteered for many dangerous missions during his 26-year military career.

“I would say Dick Cole lived a life and had a career that many of us would say was full of danger, but he was up to the task,” Brown said. “He is truly a member of our Greatest Generation. And I’m proud to say this heritage of volunteering to do what is right and answer the nation’s call lives with our Airmen today.”

After the Doolittle raid, Brown said Cole undertook other dangerous missions, including going to the China-Burma-India Theater where he flew C-47s to transport supplies to China through “The Hump,” a difficult air passage through the Himalayan Mountains, to help the Chinese in their fight against Japan.

In 1944, Cole flew with the 1st Air Commando Group, who supported a commando group in the jungles of Burma by providing fighter cover, airdrops and landing of troops, food and equipment as well as evacuation of casualties.

Soldiers with the Fort Sam Houston Caisson Section carry the flag-draped remains of Col. Richard E. Cole during his interment ceremony Sept. 7 at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Texas. Cole remained a familiar face within the Air Force after his retirement, touring Air Force schoolhouses and installations to help promote the spirit of service among Airmen. (Air Force photograph by Tristin English)

Rich Cole said his father was a faithful husband to his wife of nearly 60 years, Lucia Martha, or “Marty,” who passed away at the age of 79 in 2003, and a devoted father to his family of five children.

“I struggle with how you really put into words 180 years of collective life and 60 years of marriage,” Rich Cole said. “But if I had to say one thing about mom and dad, it would be that they fought their entire lives for their family, their faith and their friends and their flag.”

When one of the Cole children, Andy, contracted spinal meningitis which affected his brain when he was a year old, Rich Cole said instead of putting him in an institution, as suggested by doctors, his parents decided to do whatever they could to make sure their son could have a normal life as possible.

“They brought him home and taught him how to walk and talk,” Rich Cole said. “He got his GED and led a productive life. Even though Andy remained special needs all his life, we all enjoyed him and mom and dad gave him every opportunity that they gave the rest of us to be successful in life.”

Retired Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles Baldwin, who was a friend of the Cole family for 30 years, said Cole will now rest in peace with his beloved wife, Martha, and the rest of the Doolittle Raiders.

Air Force Honor Guard members carry the remains of retired Col. Richard E. Cole and the U.S. flag during his interment, Sept. 7, 2021, at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, Texas. Cole’s decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, and Chinese Army, Navy Air Corps Medal, Class A, First Grade. All Doolittle Raiders were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in May 2014. (Air Force photograph by Tristin English)

“After 103 years of serving his country, raising a beautiful family and honoring all of those who have served in the armed forces, Dick Cole went home to be with his beloved wife, and a group of (Doolittle) Raiders and is settled down in the Father’s house,” Baldwin said. “It’s a promise from God. Mission complete, Col. Cole; at ease for eternity. Amen.”

After the memorial service, the remains of Cole and his wife, Martha, were interred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery during a graveside service, which included the presentation of colors and flyovers of B-25, C-47 Skytrain and F-15 Eagle.

The memorial service and posthumous promotion for Cole and interment of his remains occurred on what would have been his 106th birthday.

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