Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole flew one-way airstrike over Japan during World War II.
SARASOTA — The co-pilot of one of the most daring strikes on the Empire of Japan during World War II will be in Sarasota to raise funds for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Education Fund.
Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole from Comfort, Texas, was in the first of 16 B-25 bombers to take off from the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier to make the first airstrike on Japan. He was the co-pilot for Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, an aviation pioneer and architect of the raid on April 18, 1942, 131 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The 103-year-old Cole, a member of the 17th Bomb Group, is the last survivor of the 80 U.S. Army Air Corps airmen who flew the Doolittle Raid. Raiders trained for the simulated deck takeoff — no more than 467 feet — low-altitude bombing run primarily out of Eglin Auxiliary Field in Eglin, Florida.
None of the planes, modified B-25 Mitchell stripped of nonessential parts and double-fueled, were shot down over Japan during the successful bombing of military targets in five major cities, including Tokyo.
But 15 planes crashed on or near the China coast, where three Raiders were lost bailing out, eight were captured by the Japanese, three were executed, one died in prison, and one plane and crew landed in Russia and later escaped through Iran.
Sixty-four Raiders survived and fought in other campaigns. Cole remained in China after the Tokyo raid to fly transports and supplies from Burma to China over the dangerous Himalayan mountains, known to U.S. pilots as the "hump," to supply the Chinese with food, weapons and airplane parts for the Flying Tigers, a volunteer American component of the Chinese Air Force.
Cole later became one of the first air commandos.
He will visit Sarasota after spending two days as a special guest at the annual Sun and Fun air show in Lakeland. Also arriving is the famous B-25J called Panchito.
According to a news release, Cole will be meeting the public at Dolphin Aviation Center at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. He will be available for photos April 7 from noon until 4 p.m. and April 8 from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The public is invited to reserve a seat and fly on Panchito with owner/pilot Larry Kelley.