Biography of Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole,

USAF, Retired

 

 

As he approaches his 100th birthday (7 September 2015), Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole remains incredibly humble despite being a national hero and a living legend from World War II.   The young man from Dayton, Ohio, never saw himself doing anything extraordinary.

 

“I was just doing my job,” he insists to anyone who queries him about his role in the largest, most destructive war in history.  And what a job it was: 

 

~Copilot to Lt. Col. (later General) Jimmy Doolittle, Cole was in the first B-25B to launch from the USS Hornet in the famous strike against Japan just four months after Pearl Harbor.  Volunteering for what many thought was a suicide mission, Cole and 79 other valiant American fliers struck the major blow against a Japanese military that until then had seemed invincible in their march across the Pacific.  Most historians credit the raid with forcing the Japanese to pull back many of their forces to protect the home islands, and subsequently to the major defeat of the Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.  Today, only Cole and two others are still alive from the original band of Doolittle Raiders.

 

~Remaining in China and India after the Raid, Cole flew more bombing missions before volunteering for the famed Hump route, ferrying much-needed supplies over the Himalayas into China.  Using inadequate aircraft, flying in the world’s worst weather over the highest mountains on the planet, with few navigation aids and inaccurate maps, these intrepid American pilots provided the materiel to keep China in the war against Japan, a move seen as absolutely vital to the successful prosecution of the war in the Pacific.  More than 600 aircraft were lost 

flying the Hump; in those early days of 1942-43, it was more dangerous than flying bombing missions over Germany.

 

~After rotating home in the summer of 1943, three months later Cole once more volunteered for combat duty, this time with the 1st Air Commando Group, an elite, highly-secret unit charged with the first-ever aerial invasion of a country.  Cole and his buddies towed cargo gliders filled with British troops called Chindits into remote jungle clearings in Burma, 150 miles behind enemy lines.  The fields were unlit, they flew over Japanese-held territory, braved enemy fire, and did it all at night.  The Air Commandos were equipped with fighters, medium bombers, cargo aircraft, gliders, and the world’s first helicopters; they developed new tactics and were the forerunners of today’s Special Operations Command 

that includes such units as Seal Team Six and Delta Force.

 

Dick Cole was the only American serviceman out of 16 million who served in World War II to have been a Doolittle Raider, a Hump pilot, and an Air Commando.  Cole remained in the Air Force, retiring in 1966.  His awards include three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, and a Chinese medal for valor personally presented by Madam Chiang Kai-shek.  He has remained active, traveling around the country to raise money for scholarships that are sponsored by the Doolittle Raiders organization.  Cole has a wonderful sense of humor, is physically agile, and despite a lifetime of honors always directs the spotlight to those with whom he served.

 

This year (April 2015) he will accept for the Doolittle Raiders the Congressional 

Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by the Congress of the United States.  He will then present the medal to the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.  Dick Cole will thus return to the place of his birth and early life, looking back on 100 years of incredible and valorous service to his country.

 

Thank you to Dennis Okerstrom for providing this biographical information.

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