At age 101, retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole says his memories are vivid of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders mission that helped change the course of World War II. Now the sole survivor of the original 80-member group, he plans to take part in events Monday and Tuesday at the National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, marking the 75th anniversary of the attack that rallied America and jarred Japan. It will be "a somber affair" when he fulfills the long Raider tradition of toasting those who've died in the past year, using goblets engraved with their names, Cole tells the AP. In a private ceremony, he will offer tribute to retired Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, who died last year at age 94 in Missoula, Mont.
The Raiders, led by aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle, launched their assault April 18, 1942, in B-25 bombers not built to fly off an aircraft carrier at sea. After hitting Tokyo and other targets in the first US airstrike on Japan's home islands, they continued to China because it would have been impossible to land the bombers back on the USS Hornet. Three Raiders died trying to reach China. Out of eight later captured by Japanese soldiers, three were executed, and a fourth died in captivity. Their attack inflicted scattered damage—and stunned Japan's people. Its military diverted resources to guard their homeland, while news of the raid lifted US morale after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and a string of Japanese victories in the Pacific. (Read more World War II stories.)