WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Dayton native Richard E. Cole flew side by side in a B-25 cockpit with legendary aviator Jimmy Doolittle on the first U.S. bombing raid against Japan and became a part of World War II history.
Cole, who was last at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to present the Doolittle Raiders Congressional Gold Medal last year, is scheduled to return Friday and Saturday for the premiere of a film on his life, entitled "Dick Cole — 100 Years a Hero."
Less well known is what Cole, a retired lieutenant colonel and now 100 years old, did after the famous April 18, 1942 raid that made him and 79 other airmen "Doolittle Raiders." Cole, now of Texas, and retired Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher of Montana are the last two surviving members of the 16 B-25 bomber raid.
The film examines what Cole's combat experiences were later in the war. In the China-Burma-India theater, he volunteered to fly C-47 planes with troops and cargo on dozens of missions "over the hump" above the Himalayas, the world's tallest mountains, to bolster China's battle against invading Japanese troops.
Back home stateside newly married and test flying planes, he was asked within months to return to the CBI theater to be a pilot with the 1st Air Commando Group, a unit part of the first aerial invasion into Burma to push out Japanese forces.
Filmmaker Jon Tennyson said he and Sleeping Dog Productions film partner Scott Guyette culled together years of historical footage and shot interviews with Cole to tell the story to a new generation.
"We met this modest guy," Tennyson said. "One of my biggest concerns about seeing him again is he will chastise me for putting hero in the title."
Cole is a direct link to the origins of flight, the filmmaker said.
"He was a kid in Dayton who joined the model airplane club and then went to the old McCook Army Airfield and he'd sit there on a bicycle and watch people like Jimmy Doolittle and (John) Macready (a pioneering test pilot) only to one day grow up and be Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot on that very famous raid," Tennyson said.
"And he's still with us. It's almost like he's a direct connection to the origins of flight."
Tennyson said he hopes viewers take away more than a lesson of history.
"More than that, I hope people will take away from it is a set of values that Dick Cole embodies," said Tennyson, of Green Lake, Wisconsin. "The fact that each of those dangerous things that he did were volunteer things that he did."
Cole is scheduled to speak with Tennyson and Guyette after both the 5 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday showings of the one-hour biopic at the Air Force Museum Theatre, officials said.