Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole, the Last of the Doolittle Raiders, Dies.

On this date in 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led a raid of 16 B-25 bombers on Tokyo, Japan, launched from the USS Hornet. The raid was in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor some four months earlier. It was the first time B-25s had been launched from an aircraft carrier and many thought it couldn’t be done. Japan thought they were immune to attacks from far-away America and the raid devastated Japanese moral and boosted that of the United States. (See “The Doolittle Raid 70 Years Ago Today” posted on 18 April 2012 at https://mypoetrythatrhymes.wordpress.com/2012/04/.) Lieutenant Dick Cole was Doolittle’s copilot during that raid and the last of the raiders to die on 9 April 2019. This is his story.

The Ballad of Richard “Dick” Cole

Wind was blasting the open hatch.
China was dark below.
The B-25 was out of fuel.
The lieutenant had to go
Out that open bay.

Nine thousand feet above the sod
Buffeted by a gale,
The battered beast was going down.
No choice now but to bail
And, I guess, hope and pray.

Lieutenant Cole was one of those
Brave and selfless men
Who volunteered to risk his life,
And, yes, would do again,
To avenge that cowardly deed,
Just over four months before,
Of a brutal surprise attack.
The President said to find a way
To hit the Japanese back
With all deliberate speed.

Jimmy Doolittle led the raid,
That no one thought could be,
Of sixteen land-based B-25s
Launched from a ship at sea;
A US aircraft carrier.

B-25s take a lot
Of runway space, you know,
To lift their heft into the air
So they can fly and go
Surmount that airspeed barrier.

The Hornet had a short runway,
Five hundred feet was all
There was for them to gain the air
Or into the water fall,
And fail at their vital task.
So Doolittle asked for volunteers
To risk their lives this way.
Eighty heroes raised their hands
To fly the appointed day
And give whatever was asked.

They were seen the day before
They were to mount and go,
By some sailors of Japan.
Discovered then, and so
They had to launch too fast.

Two hundred miles farther away
Than was the battle plan.
That meant they could not reach
The Chinese fields to land.
Once again Doolittle asked
If any wanted to quit.
No one raised a hand.
With seas crashing o’re the deck
The bombers all were manned
And were ready to go.

Doolittle and Cole were the first
To launch into the storm.
Fifteen more followed then
To link up with them and form
The raid on Tokyo.

Four hours it took before they reached
The target of desire.
Revenge for Pearl was the goal
Of every fearless flyer.
Their mission on their mind.

After the raid and running out
Of time and out of gas,
Doolittle ordered to bail out.
The crew jumped out en masse.
Wondering what they would find.

Lieutenant Cole had never jumped
From a plane before,
Nor had he been even trained
By the Army Air Corps.
He was terrified.

He leaped out of the falling plane
Into the stormy night
And yanked on the ripcord hard.
He must have done it right
Because he hadn’t died.

He didn’t land on the ground
But landed in a tree.
At dawn he climbed down
To see what he could see.
He saw a Nationalist Chinese banner.

A Chinese soldier led him to
A hut with Doolittle there.
But they weren’t out of danger yet.
Japanese were everywhere.
They escaped in a covert manner.

The raid had shocked Japan,
Which changed its battle view
To focus on Midway Atoll
To do what they must do
To try to keep our Troops away.

The US won the battle there
And began to win the war.
The men of the Doolittle Raid
Opened up the door
That led to VJ Day.

At each Raider reunion
Eighty goblets were there,
One for every airman
Who that day launched in air.
Each man had a stein.

They’d drink a toast to those who died
During the previous year.
Then overturn the goblet
Of the ones who were not here.
One less on the line.

The last goblet will soon be turned
For Lieutenant Colonel Cole.
The last of those hero men,
Whose story I just told.
Who had the courage long ago
To accomplish heroic tasks
On a stormy sea.
A task some said could not be done
That changed our history.
And now we know it’s so.

Note: Based on The Wall Street Journal article “The Last of the Doolittle Raiders Is Gone” by Laura Hillenbrand, 12 April 2019. Thanks to Phil Park for bringing it to my attention. Thanks also to Partnering With Eagles (https://profilesincourage.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-final-toast/) for its contribution.

For more stories in rhyme about American Heroes see Patriotic Poems by Lee Austin, available through Amazon.

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33 Responses to “Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole, the Last of the Doolittle Raiders, Dies.”

  1. PARTNERING WITH EAGLES Says:

    Thank you; another sad milestone. A related old posting:
    https://profilesincourage.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-final-toast/

  2. David Grover Says:

    Lee,

    Thanks for another inspiring poem. You help us keep track of our heroes. Great job!

    Dave and Kathy

  3. Lee Austin Says:

    Thank you for your post of 10/28/14 that brought to my attention that the number of B25s was 16 instead of 18.

  4. PARTNERING WITH EAGLES Says:

    You’re mos welcome; I forwarded your post’s address to Pacific Paratrooper’s blog to add this info in his farewell salutes section.
    [ https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com/ ]

  5. GP Cox Says:

    Here’s Dick Cole from a post of mine, where he is celebrating his 100th Birthday back sitting in the co-pilot seat of the “Memphis Belle”.

  6. GP Cox Says:

    I was in such a rush to get this picture to you for your poem, I didn’t tell you just how terrific I think that poem is!! You did a fantastic job here, Lee. You should be very proud.

  7. Sandy poo Says:

    Well done, Paco. You are a talented writer and a true patriot.

  8. GP Cox Says:

    Reblogged this on Pacific Paratrooper and commented:
    IN REMEMBRANCE…..

  9. SCLMRose Says:

    I love the poem. Well-written. Wonderful tribute to a great man!

  10. inese Says:

    Thank you for the poem!

  11. Lee Austin Says:

    So glad you liked it.

  12. deplorablesunite Says:

    Reblogged this on depolreablesunite.

  13. deplorablesunite Says:

    R.I.P. Valiant Warrior

  14. jfwknifton Says:

    Excellent!! Poetry has to rhyme, not this modern stuff that used to be called prose.
    Those Doolittle Raiders were unbelievably brave and deserve every bit of publicity they get.

  15. The Tactical Hermit Says:

    Reblogged this on The Tactical Hermit and commented:
    Lt. Col Dick Cole. Remember his Name and What he did! and Don’t Forget to Tell your Kids and Grandkids what he did!

  16. shoreacres Says:

    This is a wonderful tribute. I live in Texas, and only became aware of Lt. Col. Cole on his most recent birthday, and then his passing. Thanks so much for remembering him in this way.

  17. jguenther5 Says:

    I met Ted Lawson in 1949 when he came to 54th St. School in L.A. i asked him what defined news, and he told us the “man bites dog,” axiom.

  18. aussieian2011 Says:

    Great writing, told the whole story of in first hand verse, well done and a great tribute to every hero involved in that amazing moment in war history, a great tribute to all.

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