Retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole assisted in dedicating the newly remodeled Doolittle Raider’s exhibit July 30, 2016 at the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum on Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, spoke at the ceremony and highlighted the importance of Cole and his history as one of the founding members of the 1st Air Commando Group.
“To say that I’m humbled and honored to even be in the same room with Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole is an understatement,” said Webb. “The legacy that these Airmen brought to the table is incredible. The Doolittle Raiders and AFSOC have a shared heritage – both composed of Airmen that are audacious and willing to fly in tough and uncertain missions.”
Webb shared his delight in being associated with a group of people so admirable.
“It’s an incredible linkage – an incredible heritage, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart – thank you Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole for laying the foundation for which Air Force Special Operations Command was built,” said Webb.
Cole, 100, is the final surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders who completed America’s first air raid April 18, 1942, on the Japanese mainland after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Despite his age, Cole was able to say a few words at the ceremony.
“On behalf of myself and the 79 other Doolittle Raiders here in spirit, I would like to thank the sponsors and community members who made this event possible,” said Cole. “It’s an honor to be here.”
The Doolittle Raiders trained at the then Eglin Field, before loading 16 B-25s onto the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. After ditching their aircraft and successfully evading capture, Cole was escorted to safety by Chinese nationalists. He later returned to the China-Burma-India Theater to fly dangerous supply missions over the Himalaya Mountains until April 1943.
It was after that when Cole was asked to be one of the founding members of the 1st Air Commando Group as a pilot and engineering officer. He flew 200 soldiers into Burma as part of the 319th Special Operations Squadron, taking part in the first U.S. invasion into enemy territory and the first night-time heave glider assault landing.
When asked about Cole’s greatest legacy, Dennis Okerstrom, author of Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando, responded that “despite his military achievements, I would have to say for Dick Cole, I think his greatest achievement would be the legacy built with his wife. He still carries her picture in his pocket wherever he goes.”
The event was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum, Beach Community Bank and the Doolittle Institute.
The exhibit is open to the public and located within the Air Force Armament Museum. The hours are Monday through Saturday 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. They are closed Sundays.