April 23rd, 2017 - Atlanta Regional Airport, Peachtree City, GA.
The aviation image above is a North American Aviation Company B-25 medium bomber and this type of aircraft is every bit an essential part of this story in American history. The right engine, your left, has just started, hence the white smoke.
The image below is of Richard "Dick" Cole, a 101-year-old retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
The story is not that fact that he is 101 years old, but something he participated in 75 years ago on April, 18th, 1942.
The story really begins on December 7th on an idyllic Sunday morning in Hawaii in 1941, what has become known as Pearl Harbor Day. The attack by Japanese naval aviators was a major blow the the Pacific naval fleet and to every American. President Roosevelt, realizing that moral was low in the USA had asked his military commanders to find a way to attack Tokyo, and quickly. There were no immediate answers to be had by anyone. The United States did not a have a bomber with the range to fly round trip to Japan from China, our closest ally in the region, and no Naval aircraft could do so without an aircraft carrier being perilously close to Japan's coast...
The answer did come after a set of seemingly unrelated circumstances from Navy Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for anti-submarine warfare. During a trip to Norfolk, Virginia, he saw Army bombers practicing dropping bombs onto the chalked outline of a carrier deck. It proved an inspiration. It was at this precise moment that started what is now known as the most famous & celebrated air raid in American history. Captain Low took his idea of an aircraft carrier loaded with bombers to his boss, Admiral Ernest J. King. Captain Low fully expected the Admiral to laugh and to his surprise Admiral King thought it was a great idea.
The problem for the Navy is they did not have planes that could fly the long distance to Japan and back and still carry a bomb load. This is when the Army was called, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold was asked if he thought it was a good idea. He liked the idea and tossed the project to his number one trouble shooter, an internationally famous aviator, and numerous aviation speed record holder, Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle. Doolittle was tasked with finding the best plane to use, modifying them to be launched from an aircraft carrier, locate and train enough flight crews to man the planes and quickly.
After Doolittle identified the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber as the only Army plane that could work, he had the Norden bombsight (about 50 pounds), the ball turret (hundreds of pounds) the radio (280 pounds since radio silence was critical the radio became unnecessary and a liability) and other non essential gear removed from all of the B-25s. By adding extra fuel tanks they were able to double the original fuel capacity.
Doolittle assembled a select group of aviators in Columbia, South Carolina after they had all volunteered. Dick Cole was one of these pilots. At the time Dick did not know Doolittle had anything to do with the mission. In this era, Jimmy Doolittle was as famous as the top football quarterbacks are today, especially to any aviator who would think of him as legendary, and justifiably so.
Another pilot had fallen ill and was not able to make the training, so the operations officer Edward "Ski" York only had said to Cole, "the Old Man is coming in this afternoon. I'll crew you up with him. If you do OK, you've got yourself a pilot." Dick Cole:"So I thought, jeez. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. I didn't want to fly with some old man."
The old man was Jimmy Doolittle, the leader of the raid and 46 years old at the time of the raid. So Dick Cole was Jimmy Doolittle's copilot on the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan, a little more than 4 months after Pearl Harbor.
One year after the war, in 1946, the Raiders gathered in Miami for their first reunion - a party promised by Doolittle. By all accounts, it was a rockin' time. Tucson, Arizona and a good idea In 1959, the city of Tucson was host to the reunion and gave the Raiders 80 silver goblets, each with a single Raider's name on them. What was curious was the name were inscribed both right side up and upside down. One of the Raiders thought it would be a good idea to make a case to house all 80 of the goblets and he made the velvet lined case.
The case of goblets:
Each year following, the Raiders had a reunion in different cites and they would one at a time call 80 names and all of the survivors would say aloud, "Here". It was Dick Cole's idea to use these goblets to toast to their fallen comrades, and turn upside down in the case the goblets of those who had passed in the previous year. It's a tradition that continued and was one of the most sacred ceremonies in U.S. military history.
The toast is: "Gentlemen, To Our Good Friends Who Have Gone." This case, with all 80 goblets, was built by a single raider, is on permanent display in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio There was a bottle of Hennessy Cognac dated 1896, the year Jimmy Doolittle was born. The tradition was the last 2 survivors would open the bottle and toast the 78 that had passed. The last part of the tradition was the sole remaining survivor would turn over the goblet of any Raider that had passed the year before, closing the tradition.
Dick Cole is now the last man alive of 80 famed Doolittle Raiders that took off of the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Hornet. He closed this final reunion when he turned over David Thatcher's goblet on April 18, 2017 at National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. As in the past every Raiders name was called and after each name was called Dick Cole said, "Here". Today, only a single cup remains right side up. That cup belongs to Cole and he made one last toast before disbanding the group.
During my encounter with Dick, his mind is sound, his dry sense of humor is intact and he still has a sparkle in his eyes... when he is not taking a nap. One has to ask, at 101 years old and a bit frail, is this his the last public event? Time has that answer.
Oh, the case holding these silver goblets? It was made by Dick Cole. See below for more photos.
Notes: 1-USS Hornet (CV-8), was a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier, was in service October 20 1941 and was sunk during the battle of Midway on January 13th, 1943. The Hornet was the last American fleet carrier sunk by enemy action.
2-Dick was born in Dayton, Ohio. As a young kid he used to ride his bicycle from where he lived three or four miles to McCook Field, the Army Air Corps' first test base. Doolittle flew in and out of this base many times before WWII.
3-The raid is considered the most famous air raid in American history. Four months after Pearl Harbor, the 80 Raiders took off in 16 B-25s from the aircraft carrier Hornet and bombed Tokyo. Just over 2 months after Navy Captain Francis Low hatched his idea.
Richard E. Cole died on April 9, 2019 at 103 years old. The last survivor of the Doolittle Raid.
A B25 landing with Dick Cole as a passenger.
Dick Cole talking to the pilots after his ride in the B25.
The Gear for the top image: A Canon camera set to 200 ISO, 1/60 second shutter speed set on the ground using a Canon 70-200mm lens at 140mm set to f20 hand held while laying on my stomach.
The light: Mid afternoon with clouds.
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