Retired Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole, the last of the 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders who carried out the daring US attack on Japan during World War II, died Tuesday at a military hospital in Texas. He was 103. Cole's daughter, Cindy Chal, said he was having some heart issues but had walked into the emergency room at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, the AP reports. Cole, who lived in Comfort, Texas, had stayed active even in recent years, attending air shows and participating in commemorative events including April 18, 2017, ceremonies for the raid's 75th anniversary at the National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. Chal said her father "enjoyed every minute" of his long, distinguished life. Cole was mission commander Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot in the attack less than five months after the Dec. 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The Raiders launched their surprise assault April 18, 1942, in 16 B-25 bombers launched from the USS Hornet. After the attack—the first US air raid on Japan's home islands—they then headed to China, running out of fuel. Cole said it was scary to parachute into a dark "unknown" in rough weather. His parachute caught in a tree, leaving him dangling but safe. Chinese partisans helped lead him and other Raiders to safety. He continued to fly missions in the China-Burma-India theater until 1944. Cole said in April 2017 he hadn't expected to be the last survivor, since he was older than most on the mission. He attributed his longevity to being an optimist and living a life of "moderation." He said he believed he spoke for all Raiders when he said they didn't want any more recognition than all the others who put their lives on the line in the war effort. (Read more World War II stories.)