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The Last Doolittle Tokyo Raider Dies At 103

Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher (left), Lt. Col. Edward Saylor (center) and Lt. Col. Richard Cole (right) stand at the Doolittle Raider Monument at Memorial Park in Dayton, Ohio.
Jerry Kenney
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Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher (left), Lt. Col. Edward Saylor (center) and Lt. Col. Richard Cole (right) stand at the Doolittle Raider Monument at Memorial Park in Dayton, Ohio.

The last remaining Doolittle Raider passed away early Monday morning in San Antonio. Dayton native retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Cole was 103 years old.

Cole took part in a top secret mission to bomb Japan in 1941, just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when 80 men took off from an aircraft carrier. They were led by Lt. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle and soon after their mission they became known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders.

Cole was Doolittle's co-pilot. They were on the first bomber plane to depart for Japan. In 2013, Cole recounted his experiences during WWII, and how those 80 men flying 16 B-25 Bombers were launched from the USS Hornet knowing they may not survive.

Since 1959, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders' reunions involved a set of 80 name-engraved silver goblets, kept in a velvet-lined box. Each year - following a toast, the goblets of those who died in the previous year were turned upside down. Since July of 2016,
Credit NightOwl Designs 2019
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Since 1959, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders' reunions involved a set of 80 name-engraved silver goblets, kept in a velvet-lined box. Each year - following a toast, the goblets of those who died in the previous year were turned upside down. Since July of 2016, the gobblet of Lt. Col. Richard Cole has been the only one remaining upright.

“For me that was the scariest time of the whole mission,” he told WYSO. “Standing at 9,000 feet in an airplane as you knew it was going to run out of gas and you're going to have to be allowed [jump] through that little black hole to someplace you'd never been, and to some place you never planned on being.”

In Nov. 2013, three of the last four Doolittle Raiders gathered at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton. Richard Cole and Edward Saylor, along with David Thatcher, raised a final toast to their fallen comrades.

The meeting was a longstanding tradition for all the survivors.

Because of health concerns, Lt. Col. Robert Hite watched a live feed of the ceremony from his home in Tennessee.

In that 2013 conversation, WYSO's Jerry Kenney asked Cole about the legacy he shared with his fellow raiders. >What follows is a transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity and length: 

Kenney: How did this experience change you from the young pilot that you were?

Cole: Well, I don't know. It changed me and brought the surface to a lot of things I'd never thought about. Any war mission does that, depending upon the mission.

Kenney: Was there anything specific that you thought about this mission? What kind of questions did it raise for you?

Cole: The biggest question is World War I in 1918 was supposed to be a mission, after which there would be no war. It caused me to think that, since that time we haven’t learned anything.  

Cole_Edit.mp3
In this 2013 interview, Lt. Col. Richard Cole talks about his 1942 mission, and the legacy of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders.

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.