Only four of the 80 original brave men who took part in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in 1942 are still alive, and they are in their nineties. The raid was commemorated on Saturday at the US Air Force’s National Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
Richard Cole, aged 98, was Doolittle’s co-pilot during the raid. He spoke at the “final reunion” event about how he felt as he sat readying himself to parachute out of the plane in a heavy storm:
“That was the scariest time. “There you are in an airplane over a land you are not familiar with, under a big weather front, very active with lots of rain, with thunderstorms and lots of lightning and you are going to jump out. There are lots of questions that are going through your mind,” he said.
The event on Saturday was webcast live.In attendance were three of the four elderly men still living, as well as family and other dignitaries. The three raised a toast to their comrades:
“Gentlemen, I propose a toast to those we lost on the mission, and those who have passed away since: thank you very much and may they rest in peace,” Cole said with a glass full of cognac.
The Doolittle raid was headed up by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who has gone down in the history books as an iconic American war hero. This was after 16 B-25 bombers struck Tokyo five months after Pearl Harbor.
Cole said that the bold operation was almost like a suicide mission. For US pilots who hadn’t seen combat before, to fly with no escorts over Japan and then towards eastern China, was indeed a tall order at the time.
Cole spoke about the surprise April 18 raid on the Japanese saying: “We were not jumped by any kind of a fighter or other airplane. We went across at Japan at low altitude. We could see planes above us and apparently they couldn’t see us.”
The famous Doolittle raid only lasted a few short minutes before the bombers made a quick exit, homeward bound.