The last of the famed Doolittle Raiders will be honored with a memorial in Texas on Thursday, the 77th anniversary of their World War II mission.
Service leaders, including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Secretary Heather Wilson, and Cole's friends and family will gather at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph to remember the final veteran of the famous "Doolittle Raid," Air Education and Training Command announced Friday.
The ceremony, which will be held in Hangar 41 at 3 p.m., is not open to the public, officials said.
Cole flew co-pilot to then-Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle during the famed raid. Doolittle led the 16 B-25 bombers and 80 crew members from the aircraft carrier Hornet in the western Pacific on a strike targeting factories and military installations in and around Tokyo on April 18, 1942. The Raiders' success helped boost morale after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Doolittle of Travis Air Force Base, California, will perform "America the Beautiful" at the memorial with Lackland's Band of the West and the Freedom Brass quintet. She is a second cousin, twice removed, to the legendary commander of the Raiders.
"This will be very, very special," Doolittle said Monday in an interview with Military.com.
She has served in the Air Force for five years, and sings with the service's Band of the Golden West at Travis.
"Having the Doolittle name and serving in the Air Force especially has been very meaningful," she said.
While she never met Cole, Doolittle said she was honored the Air Force asked her to be a part of his memorial service.
Doolittle is especially inspired by the third stanza in "America the Beautiful," which she feels celebrates Cole and all of the Raiders in America's history: "O beautiful for heroes proved, in liberating strife; Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life."
In addition to a static aircraft display, officials have also tentatively arranged for a "missing man" formation flyby, including an RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, a historic B-25 bomber and a T-38 Talon, AETC told Military.com on Monday.
Hundreds of airmen will salute Cole and his family at the base before he is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Last week, Goldfein announced that Cole had died at Texas' San Antonio Medical Center.
"There's another hole in our formation," he told audiences at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado. "Our last remaining Doolittle Raider has slipped the surly bonds of Earth. He is now reunited with his fellow Raiders. And what a reunion they must be having."
Cole received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in the bombing.
"Those 80 intrepid airmen changed the course of history," Goldfein said. "They executed a one-way mission without hesitation against enormous odds."
Cole spoke to Military.com about the raid in 2016.
"The flight was designed to do two things: One, to let the Japanese people know that they could be struck by air; and the other thing was the morale, and we did that, so we were very proud of that," he told Military.com.
AETC on Monday said the family has asked for scholarship donations in lieu of flowers, cards or gifts.
"It was an honor and privilege to have him as our dad," said Rich Cole and Cindy Chal, Cole's children, in an AETC release. "Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes. We ask that, in lieu of flowers or gifts, well-wishers consider a donation to The James H. Doolittle Scholarship Fund in his honor."
"We're going to miss Colonel Cole, and we offer our eternal thanks and our condolences to his family," Goldfein said last Tuesday. "The legacy of the Doolittle Raiders will forever live in the hearts and minds of airmen long after we've all departed."
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the song whose lyrics are quoted.