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The Top of the Mark

Cole joins the 1st Air Commando

Bomb sights

30 Seconds Over Tokyo


Richard Cole was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1915. After graduating from high school he went to work on a farm for 75 dollars per month plus room and board. He learned to make maple syrup and on his time off he liked to hunt and fish. Cole was one of six children; three girls and three boys. He was the fifth. Cole did not play sports in school but was a member of the YMCA where he was on the wrestling team. His desire to fly started at a young age. As a child he would watch aircraft fly over the armored cars going to the bank. Cole began attending courses at Ohio University and was between his sophomore and junior years he learned of a program called the Civilian Pilot Training Program. In order to get in the program he had to sign a statement stating that in the time of a national emergency he would make himself available or go to Leavenworth [Annotator's Note: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas]. In late June he had completed the course. Cole put his name in for navy flying and for army flying. Things were slow so he went to Fort Thomas, Kentucky and enlisted. Soon after he enlisted he received orders to report to Parks Air College in East St. Louis, Illinois for the primary part of the course. Then he went to San Antonio to Randolph Field and when he completed that course he went to Kelly Field. In July of 1941 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Reserve and assigned to the 17th Bombardment Group which was equipped with B-18s [Annotators Note: Douglas B-18 Bolo medium bomber] and B-23s [Annotators Note: Douglas B-23 Dragon medium bomber]. Shortly after he arrived they started receiving the B-25s [Annotators Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber].In September 1941, Cole's group was sent to Jackson, Mississippi; Augusta, Georgia; and South Carolina on maneuvers supporting army ground forces. In early December they got orders to report back to Pendleton [Annotator's Note: Pendleton Army Air Base, Oregon]. They flew across the country and on 5 December they landed at March Field in California. They were to continue their trip on Monday but on Sunday they learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. They left at four o'clock in the morning on Monday and returned to Pendleton. There they flew antisubmarine patrols until February 1942 when Cole received word that they were being transferred to Columbia, South Carolina. They thought from there they would end up in North Africa.


On the trip from Pendleton to Columbia [Annotators Note: Oregon to South Carolina in December 1941] Richard Cole was upgraded to first pilot on B-25s [Annotators Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber]. In Columbia they got word that volunteers were needed for a dangerous mission. They all volunteered and got orders to report to Eglin Field, Florida. At Eglin Field they practiced low level bombing and the navigators practiced celestial navigation. They practiced using cruise control to get the most efficiency out of the fuel they carried. The Norden bombsights were removed. The rear turret was taken out and a 65 gallon fuel tank was installed. Bladder tanks were put above the bombs in the bomb bay and above the bomb bay which sealed off the front from the back of the plane. They also carried ten 5 gallon cans of fuel which the crew chief was to add after they took off from the carrier. Around 25 March [Annotators Note: 25 March 1942] they got orders to report to Sacramento Air Depot, California for some work on the planes. On 1 April they were ordered to report to Alameda Naval Air Station. When they arrived, and after the planes were loaded, they were given permission to go to San Francisco. Most of the men went to the Top of the Mark at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. It was a bright sunny day. They could see across the bay and could see the carrier sitting there with the airplanes on it. Cole wondered where the Japanese spies were. On 1 April the Hornet [Annotator's Note: USS Hornet (CV-8)] set sail. They picked up the carrier Enterprise [Annotator's Note: USS Enterprise (CV-6)] and some cruisers and destroyers around Hawaii then proceeded on their course. On the trip they experienced low clouds and cold weather. Life on the carrier was nice. They tried to upstage the navy people. The navy was very cooperative. On 18 April they were picked up by a picket ship. They had already sailed around one but the second one they could not circumvent. Admiral Halsey [Annotator's Note: Admiral William F. Halsey, commonly referred to as Bill or Bull Halsey] gave the order to destroy it so the cruiser Nashville [Annotator's Note: USS Nashville (CL-43)] sank it. The picket ship had gotten a message off but the Japanese were waiting for confirmation before they would act. The navy had agreed to take them in to within 400 miles of Japan. At that point they were about 650 miles out. At that distance fuel would be a problem. It was determined before the mission that if they were discovered between Midway and Wake islands they would take off and fly to Midway. If they were past Wake they would fly the mission. They took off on the mission [Annotators Note: commonly referred to as the Doolittle Raid]. The mission was launched earlier than planned. They took off around eight in the morning [Annotators Note: on the morning of 18 April 1942] instead of dawn on 19 April. All of the airplanes made it to Japan. One plane then went to Vladivostok, Russia where the crew was interned for 14 months. The rest of the planes survived the trip over Tokyo then all of them made it to China. Cole believes that four planes made belly landings and the rest the crews had to bail out. A warm front over China created a tail wind which allowed his plane to make it into China. Not knowing that they had the tail wind, his navigator passed a note stating that they would end up about 180 miles short.


[Annotators Note: Richard Cole served in the USAAF as a pilot flying B-25 Mitchell medium with the 17th Bombardment Group and took part in the famed Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, Japan on 18 April 1942.] Colonel Doolittle [Annotator's Note: USAF General James H. Doolittle] stated that if they were able to ditch [Annotator's Note: slang for crash landing on water] near a friendly vessel they would go aboard and head for a friendly port. If they ditched by an enemy vessel they would be taken aboard and if possible they would attempt to take the vessel over and take it to a friendly port [Annotator's Note: following the Doolittle Raid].They eventually realized that they had a tail wind. The seawater changed color to a murky brown indicating that they were nearing land. When they reached the Chinese coast a storm kept them from finding a place to land. They climbed to a safe altitude, flew until they ran out of fuel, and bailed out. Everybody in Cole's crew survived the bail out. The next morning they started walking west. By the following night they were all able to find each other. They were able to evade the Japanese and were picked up by Chinese guerillas who took them to a place with a telephone. Colonel Doolittle was able to learn of the condition of the rest of the crews. After about ten days the Chinese started to move them. The Japanese were getting close. The trip took about four days. Cole's crew was delivered to a base where there was a Flying Tiger [Annotator's Note: the American Volunteer Group, or AVG, was commonly referred to as the Flying Tigers] detachment. A C-47 then flew them out to Chungking, the provisional capitol of China. They were debriefed and then flown to Calcutta where they were issued new clothing. They were then flown back to China where Cole was assigned to the 11th Bombardment Squadron stationed at Kunming. The Japanese had cut the Burma Road so Cole's unit ended up with few airplanes and personnel. Cole flew missions over the Hump [Annotator's Note: Allied pilot slang for the Himalayan Mountains] for 14 months and then returned home. After being home for three months Cole got a call from a man named Johnny Alison [Annotator's Note: USAAF then USAF Major General John R. Alison] recruiting him for the 1st Air Commando. Cole agreed and in October [Annotator's Note: October 1943] went back to the India and Burma area [Annotator's Note: also referred to as the China-Burma-India or CBI Theater]. The mission was to support the missions of the British general Wingate [Annotator's Note: British Army Major General Orde Charles Wingate] in Burma. The 1st Air Commando built five air fields by flying miniature construction equipment and workers in by glider at night. The next afternoon they would have an airfield to which they could deliver troops and mules for the fight to take Burma back. In 1944 Cole came home and stayed stateside for the rest of the war. He was assigned to Tulsa, Oklahoma. In Columbia, South Carolina Cole was flying training missions. A notice was placed on the bulletin board informing him of the special mission. Cole volunteered. He cites youth, flying time, and adventure as his reasons.


As a child in Dayton, Ohio Richard Cole was only a half hour bike ride from McCook Army Airfield where he would go to watch Macready, Doolittle, and Eaker, so he was familiar with Doolittle [Annotator's Note: USAF General James H. Doolittle]. The first time Cole met him was in a group when Doolittle briefed them on what they would be doing. Midway through their crew training the pilot of Cole's plane became ill and had to drop out. Cole and the rest of the crew wanted to go so Cole went to the Op's officer [Annotator's Note: Operations Officer]. The Op's officer told him that the old man [Annotator's Note: Doolittle] was coming in, so Cole was paired up with him. They flew to Lakeland, Florida. They flew around Washington D.C. then to Wright Patterson Air Force Base [Annotator's Note: known during World War II as Wright Field] then returned to Pendleton [Annotator's Note: Pendleton Army Airfield, Oregon] to fly training missions. Cole thought Doolittle was a very honest person. He was quiet and humble and led by example. He was in good shape both mentally and physically. He treated everyone with respect and called all of his men by their first name. Doolittle earned several degrees. Cole thinks Doolittle was one of the greatest people the United States had at the time. When they learned that they would have to take off from a carrier the navy sent a lieutenant named Hank Miller to help train them. Miller rode with every crew instructing them in short takeoff. They would be stopped at the end of the runway and would run the engines up to full power and the flaps down. They would take off on an angle and would raise the flaps and landing gear at the same time. They were taking off with thrust only. A man named John Smith was able to take off in 278 feet. Short takeoff was easy to learn. The first pilot to try it did well. Doolittle tried it three times before he was happy with his performance. Ross Greening [Annotator's Note: USAAF Captain Charles Ross Greening] came up with the idea of a simple bombsight. These replaced the Norden bombsights. They carried incendiary bombs which scatter. Cole's target was northwest Tokyo. They were looking to burn up anything that would burn.


They were two days at sea when the PA system came on informing them that the group was headed for Tokyo [Annotators Note: aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8) for the Doolittle Raid]. There was a lot of jubilation. Cole thinks that some people may have guessed or knew where they were headed but Cole did not. He knew that they would be taking off from the carrier but thought they would be going to an island where they would start fighting the war from. Cole thought Doolittle [Annotator's Note: USAF General James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle] was a very smooth pilot. He thought that Doolittle was the best propeller driven pilot in the world at the time. Cole was amazed when he went aboard the carrier. It was like a little city on the water with good food, medical facilities, and everything they needed. Bunks were set up in the companion way for the airmen to sleep on. The Top of the Mark was where many of the airmen in Cole's group went for a drink before they left on the mission. One of the guys, Dick Knoblock [Annotator's Note: USAAF/USAF Brigadier General Richard Knoblock], wanted to call his girlfriend in Wisconsin. He called her and let Cole talk to her for a little bit. They did not talk about the mission. They just talked. When the Hornet passed under the Golden Gate Bridge Cole was looking at it. He had never seen it before. He was not a very deep thinker and just took everything in stride. The naval personnel treated the army personnel very well. This mission was the first joint mission between the army and the navy. Cole was not a poker player but some of the older guys were and the navy guys cleaned them out. To keep himself busy Cole attended briefings every day on what the terrain would be like, medical classes, and what they could and could not drink where they landed. One of the navy men had been an attaché in Japan and told the airmen what Japanese culture was like. They men also ran laps on the deck and were allowed to roam the ship freely. Several of the men had cameras but only one group of pictures came out of the mission. Many of the men put their camera in their pocket and when their parachutes jerked open the cameras flew out. They same thing happened to guys who had candy and toilet paper in their pockets.


Richard Cole heard that some of the aircraft had cameras on them but his was not one of them. The picture of Doolittle sitting on the wing was taken by the crew chief. The attaché aboard the carrier [Annotators Note: aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8)] had been given some medals while serving in Japan. They thought it would be a good idea to wire them to the bombs and send them back to Japan. Cole did not see the picket boat. They were not alerted until after the Nashville [Annotator's Note: USS Nashville (CL-43)] sank it. After that they were told to man their planes. Cole did see the smoke from the burning picket boat. He was in bed when the picket boat was attacked. He heard the shots. Halsey gave the order for the army personnel to launch their planes. The men went to their planes without even having breakfast. When Doolittle came aboard the plane he covered the points on the check list that Cole had not gotten to yet. In order to take off from that short distance they had to launch with their flaps down and had to be ready to pull the flaps and landing gear up as soon as they lifted off. After taking off, Cole saw a man on the deck of the carrier with a chalk board with the heading to Tokyo written on it. They then flew to their target at 200 feet. After hitting their targets they left the area at the same altitude. Since the Norden bombsights had been removed they had no automatic pilot so they had to fly the plane the entire time. All of the planes flew a circle pattern around the carrier but each plane had its own mission. On the way to the target they experienced spotty showers and spotty sunshine. At one point Cole flew below a Japanese four engine flying boat that was up at about 8000 feet. After arriving over Japan they flew until they reached a place that Fred Braemer [Annotator's Note: USAAF Staff Sergeant Fred A. Braemer was the bombardier aboard Cole’s aircraft] recognized from photographs he had studied at which point they went up to 1500 feet. After they dropped their bombs they went back down to 200 feet. Braemer and Cole counted 38 airplanes above them that they radioed back to Paul Leonard the gunner. They were not jumped. On the bombing run the enemy ack ack [Annotator's Note: slang for antiaircraft fire] was intense but not accurate. None of the airplanes were damaged or lost in the flight over Tokyo. The B-25 was able to outrun the fighters or whatever kind of aircraft was up there.


Once they [Annotators Note: Richard Cole, James Doolittle, and the crewmen aboard their B-25 which had just taken part in the Doolittle Raid] left Japan they flew to China. Over China they bailed out. They bailed out in the middle of a big storm at night. They all survived the bail out. It was Doolittle’s third time bailing out of a plane. Cole was a little scared bailing out. He drifted over a pine tree and ended up about 12 feet off the ground. He made a hammock out of his chute and waited until morning. In the morning he climbed down and started walking west. The country was mountainous and he elected to stay high up where he felt his chances of being captured were less. After walking all day he ran into three people. Cole finally came across a quasi-military cantonment. He went down into it and was taken by a soldier into a hut. On the table in the hut was a piece of paper with a sketch of a two tailed airplane with five parachutes coming out of it. Cole was taken to the artist who turned out to be Colonel Doolittle. They were glad to see each other. Later in the day the rest of the crew was brought in. Cole had been the next to last out of the plane and Doolittle was the last. They were totally in the hands of the Chinese and had to put all of their trust in them. They did not know if the people helping them were guerillas or if they were working for one of the local warlords. When they got to Chungking they were debriefed and given a physical. They got to meet Madame Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Kai-shek [Annotator's Note: Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek] and they were given the Chinese Medal. They were then put on a plane for Calcutta, India. Everyone was paid and given a few days of R&R [Annotators Note: rest and relaxation] then flown back to China. Back in China they began flying bombing runs down into Burma, Mandalay and Lashio. They made a raid on Hong Kong. By then the planes were depleted. A troopship had arrived in India. They were down to six planes and almost 40 pilots so about seven of them volunteered to fly ‘the Hump [Annotator's Note: nickname given to the section of the Himalayan Mountains that was flown over during flights from India to China]. The flights over the Hump were routine flights carrying supplies from India to China. The weather was the biggest obstacle. The southern slope of the Himalayas required them to go up to 20,000 feet. If they took the northern route they had to go up to 30,000 feet.


When Richard Cole returned to the United States he was stationed at an aircraft manufacturing plant. As the planes would come off of the line Cole would sign for them. The female ferry pilots would then pick them up and deliver them where they needed to go. Every fourth or fifth plane would be checked out by Cole and the company check pilot to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Cole separated from service in November 1946 when most of the Reserve officers were turned out. He held the rank of major at the time. He was recalled to active duty in 1947 and assigned to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. After that he decided to stay in so he got a regular commission. In 1967 Cole was given a compassion assignment in California so he could be close to a family member who was having health problems. He was discharged there. Early on, Doolittle promised that he would throw a party for the survivors of the mission. They had the first reunion in Miami, Florida. Someone suggested that they should do it again. Doolittle said that if they wanted to do it every year everybody had to ante up. They were invited back the next year by the city of Miami. The group decided that they should give something back to the city so they started giving a traffic safety award. Then they started giving a 5000 dollar scholarship and have done so since 1962. They let the city choose who gets it. One reason they kept having reunions was that different cities kept inviting them to have the reunion there. Another reason was to renew the camaraderie between the group and to honor the men who gave their life on the mission and those who had left the group since then. The third reason was to give the scholarship and the fourth was to give any money that was collected to a cause that was good for the city or good for the Air Force or good for the country. Cole was in South America when the city of Tucson invited the group to have their reunion there. The city gave the group 80 silver goblets with each man’s name on them. A brandy company gave them a bottle of brandy that was laid down the year Doolittle was born, 1896. Every year the men have a drink from the bottle. The goblets were loaned to the Air Force Academy and while there the bottle of brandy disappeared. The year this interview was recorded the goblets were given to the Air Force Museum. Cole missed many of the reunions because he was out of the country in the Far East and South America.


The last time Richard Cole saw the old man [Annotator's Note: USAF General James H. Doolittle] was in 1992. Several of the men went hunting and fishing every summer and Doolittle was one of the members. While they were with the guerillas [Annotators Note: in China after the Doolittle Raid] Doolittle was able to learn the condition of all of his crews. He even declined calls from Washington until he was able to find out what had happened to his men. The Chinese had to move them rapidly because the Japanese were on their trail. Cole has never seen the movie 30 Seconds Over Tokyo or the movie Pearl Harbor. He has spoken of his service to schools, ROTC [Annotator's Note: Reserve Officers Training Corps] and JRROTC [Annotator's Note: high school ROTC] groups and others. Initially there were to be 15 airplanes for the mission. When they were aboard the carrier it was decided to launch all 16. A lot of people look at the Tokyo Raid with a jaundiced eye because six airmen and all of the planes were lost. The mission was designed to improve the morale of the American people and to show the Japanese people that their government was lying to them about their invincibility. The raid also served to convince that Japanese military that they needed to concentrate forces closer to home. The Japanese objective was to capture Wake Island and Hawaii so we would have to fight the rest of the war from the West Coast. After the Tokyo Raid the Japanese were forced to think twice about the things they had scattered out. They sent two carriers to Alaska which evened the odds at Midway where the Americans won. With that in mind the raid had even more success than thought. It was an honor for Cole to fly the raid and to fly with Doolittle and to be involved in something vital for the war effort. Cole does not know anything about the plane that made it to Russia being on a special mission, but finds it strange that both of the pilots spoke Russian. Cole believes that the thought was that if they could retain Midway, they could make shuttle runs [Annotator's Note: taking off from one base, bombing a target, then landing at another base] between there and Vladivostok, Russia].

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