Last Doolittle Raider Passes at age 103

Colorized image by Lori Lang    Bomber crew one took off in the lead bomber of the Doolittle Raid. Left to right: Navigator Lt. Henry A. Potter, Pilot Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, Bombardier SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, Co-Pilot Lt. Richard E. Cole and Engineer Gunner SSgt. Paul J. Leonard.

Doolittle’s copilot died in San Antonio, Tex., April 9

The sad news that Richard “Dick” Cole died on April 9 at the age of 103 marked the passing of the last of the “Doolittle Raiders.”

Cole literally had a front-row seat next to Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle as the copilot in the No.1 bomber. Doolittle and Cole joined navigator Lt. Henry A. Potter, bombardier SSgt. Fred A. Braemer and engineer gunner SSgt. Paul J. Leonard as the first of the raid’s 16 B-25s to fly over Japan and the first to drop a bomb load — four incendiaries aimed at a large factory.

Doolittle then flew his plane west to China. However, fuel was running low and heavy fog set in.  Because he was unable to find an airfield, Doolittle ordered his crew to bail out before the B-25 crashed. The entire crew survived, however. 

Cole later related how his parachute got stuck in a pine tree, dangling him some 12 feet above the ground. He was able to free himself and made his way to a Chinese village. He rejoined the rest of the crew. Zhu Xuesan, a primary school teacher who could speak some English, played an important role in reuniting Doolittle with his Raiders. 

Steve Losey of the Air Force Times writes that “after the raid, Cole served in the China-Burma-India Theater until June 1943, and then volunteered for Project 9, which led to the creation of the 1st Air Commando Group.” 

Losey also relates that Cole said that Doolittle feared his audacious mission had failed, because all planes and some of his airmen were lost. Three airmen died bailing out, and eight others were captured by the Japanese.”

The Doolittle Raid has a special place in Alameda history. Not only did USS Hornet (CV-8) carry the planes and personnel for the raid from the Naval Air Station here, but Jimmy Doolittle was born in Alameda in a house that still stands on Foley Street.