'The end of an era': Community mourns loss of last surviving member of Doolittle Raid

Airmen and World War II history enthusiasts gathered in South St. Paul Wednesday to mourn the loss of an American hero.

Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raid, recently died at the age of 103.

The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, on April 18, 1942, was an air raid on the Japanese capital Tokyo and other places on the island of Honshu.

Jimmy Doolittle led the mission, and co-piloting right beside him was Richard Cole.

“He was the right seat of the first plane that flew off of that flight deck,” said Commemorative Air Force member Mitch Bertrang. “[He was] just a very quiet, humble man. I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times; the last time I met him was on the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and I will cherish that for the rest of my life.”    

In many ways, the Commemorative Air Force Wing’s “Miss Mitchell” is a flying legacy to the raiders. It’s a B-25 bomber, the same kind of plane Doolittle and Cole flew to Tokyo.

The Twin Cities has a unique connection to the Doolittle Raid. In fact, it was mechanics from Northwest Airlines and Mid-Continent Airlines that put all the extra gas tanks on the planes to make the mission possible. The mechanics took more than a month to retrofit the planes at Wold-Chamberlin Field. Without the fuel tanks, the raiders never would have made it to Tokyo.

“On a military level, it wasn’t that successful. It did very little damage to the Japanese home islands, to Tokyo and some of the other cities, but what it did for the United States, the population, how it affected the Japanese and their psyche, it was absolutely pivotal at that time in the war,” Bertrang said.

Now, the last living legacy of the mission has passed.

“It is the end of an era,” Bertrang said.

Dick Cole will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.