Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Cole was America’s last connection to a renowned exploit of World War II. He was also an example of the power of camaraderie.
Lieutenant Colonel Cole, who died Tuesday, was one of Doolittle’s Raiders; volunteers who flew a bombing raid against Japanese cities after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was co-pilot for mission commander Jimmy Doolittle.
On April 18, 1942, when they rolled down the deck of the USS Hornet in loaded B-25s, the Raiders weren’t sure they would make it off the deck. They knew they were too far from their targets to likely make it to safe landings in China. They went anyway.
The raid inflicted minimal damage. Most Raiders either bailed out or crash-landed short of the Chinese coast. But it was a huge boost to U.S. morale. That part of the story is well known.
Less well known is the group legacy. Doolittle and his men began a tradition – they held a reunion every year, with some exceptions. Richard Cole was the Raiders’ last survivor.
Years ago I interviewed a few Raiders. They said they looked forward to the reunion with real anticipation. They could be raucous, sure. But they remembered the solemnity of gathering with brothers. The final toast was a ritual for them only. Even waiters left the room.
The last reunion took place in 2013. Cole gave the toast. “To those we lost on the mission and those who have passed away since,” he said.
Now on to our five stories for today, which include a look at why hardliner Stephen Miller is winning White House immigration battles, and how flooded Nebraskans have found time to organize and extend compassion to flooded animals.