Last surviving ‘Doolittle Raid’ pilot commemorates 75th anniversary

April 18 (UPI) — Richard Cole, the last surviving U.S. servicemember who participated in the Doolittle Raid against Japan following the Pearl Harbor attack, took part in a 75th anniversary ceremony at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday.

In retaliation for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, 16 U.S. bombers carrying 80 men took off from the USS Hornet aircraft carrier to bomb Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Nagoya on April 18, 1942.

In the attack, dubbed the Doolittle Raid after the group’s leader, renowned aviator Lt. Col. James Doolittle, all but three of the 80 U.S. servicemembers survived the mission. Most returned to the United States. One of the B-25 Mitchell medium bombers survived. Most crashed in Chinese territory or were ditched at sea.

To commemorate the mission that followed the United States’ entry into World War II, Cole, who is 101 years old, will complete a decades-long tradition of drinking a toast to a deceased Raider and of turning over a goblet belonging to the late fellow member. This year, Cole will toast to David Thatcher, a fellow Raider who died on June 22, and he will turn over Thatcher’s goblet.

“It’s kind of lonely because I’m the last one,” Cole told CNN.

When asked what the 75th anniversary of the attack means to him, Cole said, “It means I’m getting to be an old man.”

In the commemoration event, 17 B-25 bombers were on display and there was a B-1 flyover at the conclusion of the memorial service, in which a wreath was laid.

The last year the ceremony was held was in 2013 because of the Raiders’ ages and increasing difficulty traveling. Four Raiders were still living at that event.

“I propose a toast to those who were lost on the mission and to those who have passed away since,” Cole said. “May they rest in peace.”

The U.S. Air Force Museum said that while the Doolittle Raid “caused minor damage, it forced the Japanese to recall combat forces for home defense, raised fears among the Japanese civilians and boosted morale among Americans and our allies abroad.”

Tokyo radio broadcast that “enemy bombers appeared over Tokyo for the first time since the outbreak of the current war of Greater East Asia,” adding that “the bombing inflicted telling damages on schools and hospitals.”

“The invading planes failed to cause any damage to military establishments. The casualties in the schools and hospitals were as yet not known at this time,” the broadcast said. “The unhuman attack on these cultural establishments and the residential districts is causing widespread indignation among the populace.”

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