SARASOTA -- The last member of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo was hospitalized Wednesday in San Antonio, but is reportedly "doing better" and "sorry" he missed a chance to visit Sarasota, organizers said.
Apology accepted; it was hardly needed.
The 103-year-old Lt. Richard Cole is the last survivor of the 80 U.S. Army Air Corps airmen who flew the Doolittle Raid -- a one-way airstrike over Japan during World War II.
The raid, on April 18, 1942, came 133 days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and involved 16 B-25 crews trained primarily out of Eglin Auxiliary Field in Eglin, Florida.
Cole was the co-pilot of aviation pioneer and raid architect Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle. Their modified B-25 Mitchell bomber was the first to leave the storm-soaked flight deck of the USS Hornet at 8:25 a.m. One-by-one 15 others followed flying independently to bomb 10 military targets and industrial targets in Tokyo, and targets in Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.
Tom Casey, the Doolittle Raiders' business manager, who has known Cole for about 25 years, says Doolittle and Cole were quiet during the hours-long trip to Japan and then to China.
"Oddly, enough, we asked Richard Cole that question, about what was being said," Casey said. "He said there was nothing said. Doolittle was very quiet. He flew that aircraft over the wave tops, all the way from the carrier, all the way to Japan, all the way to Tokyo, and practically all the way to China. Dick Cole had very little flying in that thing (their B-25 known as Plane 1), and very little to say."
Cole told Casey, they were the first American attackers over Japan, and the first significant words Doolittle said came when they ran out of fuel.
The crew, who had never parachuted from an airplane, opened a hatch behind the pilot's seat and dropped into the darkness.
"When they got to the point they had to leave the aircraft, that was the time Doolittle finally turned around and reported to the crew and we have to evacuate," Casey said. "Of course he (Doolittle) was going to be the last one out. Col. Cole went out before Doolittle."
The light antiaircraft fire over Japan paled in comparison to the jump, according to Casey.
"Col. Cole reminded people back then, none of these guys on the raid, none of these 80 raiders except Doolittle, ever jumped out of an airplane before. This was a first for all of the ones who went out.
"Richard said his worst moment was looking out that black hole, which was a hatch right behind the pilot area, and falling out. He was instructed to count to 10 when he did bail out. As soon as he left the airplane he said, "10," and pulled the ripcord. He pulled it so hard he hit his nose."
The crew, who left 10 hours and 200 miles earlier than expected, picked up a tailwind that carried them to the coast of China. They landed in the trees and rice paddies, but ultimately found each other during the day, Casey said.
"The Japanese knew about the tailwind; they called it the divine wind," Casey said. "That wind, which a lot of pilots and crews said was 'God's hand,' was able to get most of the B-25s over the China coast.
Fifteen 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.
Syd Jones, the pilot of the B-25 J Mitchell bomber "Panchito," which arrived in Sarasota on Sunday to raise funds for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Education Fund, said the adaptable plane was used in every theater of World War II.
The Doolittle Raiders B-25s were a modified, stripped-down model heavy on fuel and bombs and light on guns because of its long-range mission.
"Every time you get in an airplane like this, you are surrounded by all the other people that used to fly," Jones said. "There is definitely a presence when you're inside the airplane. You're not in there flying it alone. There are generations before you that learned to fly and learned how to fight and did so in these airplanes. You're always cognizant of that."
The B-25 is compared to the modern day A-10A Warthog -- a single-seat, low-altitude ground attack aircraft with titanium armor.
Kevin Gannon of Naples saw the B-25 for the first time Sunday and called the experience nostalgic. His 97-year-old father, also named Kevin, was a member of the Coast Guard who helped thwart submarine attacks in the Atlantic Ocean.
"There's no protection at all for the people inside," said Gannon of the silver bomber. "It's just a thin piece of aluminum to protect you."
Casey said the Doolittle Raiders attack on Japan brought new life to Americans broken after the attack on Hawaii.
"This country came off its knees, and it put a whole new spirit and it became a whole new world for them," Casey said. "Now (the Japanese) had American bombers in downtown Tokyo three months after the war [started]. It demoralized the Japan."
Months later, on June 7, 1942, the outnumbered Pacific Fleet won a stunning victory over Japan at Battle of Midway -- an island the U.S. used as a seaplane base and fueling stop for submarines.
"This turned the whole war around," Casey said.
This article is written by Carlos R. Munoz from Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.