Lt. Richard E. Cole had yet to fly a combat mission in the early days of April 1942, and when the man he’d trained with fell ill, it looked like he might be out of luck.
But the operations officer had another idea in mind.
“We’ll crew you up with the old man,” he told the 26-year-old Dayton native, and sent Cole, famed pilot Lt. Col. James Doolittle and 78 others off to make history with a daring raid over Tokyo and the surrounding islands of Japan.
It’s been 72 years since that historic raid, credited with giving a much-needed boost to battered U.S. morale in the midst of World War II and in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Within days, the daring Doolittle Raiders could make history again, this time by joining the rarefied group of those who have received the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
Past recipients include Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, George Washington, Robert Frost, Mother Teresa and, more recently, Ohioans Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon; and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.
Both the House and Senate this week passed a final version of a bill awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Doolittle Raiders, and the White House could sign the bill as soon as Friday.
It would be a long-awaited tribute to the 80. Of them, only four survive today. Among them: Cole, Doolittle’s copilot who now lives near San Antonio, Texas.
Cole is 98 now but still remembers his fear that night. The raid was bedeviled by dangerous weather, and he remembers tangibly the terror of flying at 9,000 feet, about to run out of gas, through a thunderstorm and “rain, lots of rain.”
Sixteen B-25s flew that mission, manned with five crewman each. After the raid, 15 B-25s flew to China while one landed in the Soviet Union. Eight crewmen were captured by the Japanese Army in China, and three were executed.
Cole, Doolittle and their crew flew to China, a U.S. ally, where they bailed out and survived. Doolittle died in 1993.
At a meeting with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Cole recounted how he used to watch Doolittle fly out of McCook Field in Dayton.
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