Doolittle Raid co-pilot rides in C-47... at last

Col. Dick Cole signs the C-47 flight log book prior to taking off.

By Richard Zowie —

Over 72 years ago, he was a dashing pilot who volunteered to fly a dangerous mission: the first bombing raid by Americans over Tokyo.

And now, at age 98, he still loves to fly.

Retired Army Air Forces Col. Dick Cole, who served as Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in a 1942 World War II combat mission that history would dub “The Doolittle Raid,” came to Gillespie County Airport on July 3 to fly one more “mission.”

The Comfort resident, one of four surviving “Raiders,” flew B-25 Mitchell bombers in WWII but, on this day, took his first flight in a C-47 Texas Zephyr aircraft. This particular C-47, previously based in Hondo, is now based in Brady.

“Flying is a lot better than washing dishes,” Cole said prior to the flight. “This will be like old times. I did quite a bit of flying in World War II.”

Cole flew primarily as a passenger on this flight. Clif Walker served as pilot while Richard Pulley was co-pilot.

Walker said this flight didn’t have an exact flight plan.

“We might fly to Comfort and around the Hill Country area and town, the airport, and Enchanted Rock and take a cruise and let him have a good time,” Walker said prior to the flight. “It’s all about him.”

Walker added that the C-47 is the type of aircraft Cole always wanted to fly but never got a chance, as the Army Air Forces assigned B-25s to drop bombs in Japan.

Prior to the flight, Cole said he didn’t know if he would accept Walker’s offer to take over the controls and do a few maneuvers (not including taking off or landing).

“I’ll just enjoy the ride,” Cole said. “I don’t have a license anymore. Father Time took it from me.”

Even with Walker flying and Cole flying as passenger, Walker maintains a strong respect for what Cole did.

“I would’ve been scared to death,” Walker said about the prospect of flying in the Doolittle Raid. “It was a one-way mission and they volunteered, and it was true dedication for every one of them. A lot of them didn’t make it back.”

Despite what was a dangerous mission, Cole said he wasn’t worried about not returning.

“Thinking like that was a bad deal,” he explained. “You had to be positive and not worry about it.”

If there’s one question aviation enthusiasts and World War II buffs have asked Cole over the years, it’s been this: What was it like to fly with Jimmy Doolittle?

“For me, it was a childhood dream,” said Cole, who was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio (about 55 miles north of Cincinnati). “I used to watch him fly at the Army Air Forces’ first test base at McCook Field in Dayton. I knew of him quite well but had never met him.”

Doolittle’s service in the Tokyo Raid earned him a Medal of Honor.

Cole said one thing he enjoys about flying is the noise of the aircraft during flight.

“Once you fly, you’re hooked, and that’s it,” he added.

How will it feel being up in the air again?

“I’ll have to tell you that when I get back down,” he said, laughing.

The Doolittle Raid was also immortalized in the 1944 movie “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.”

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