As the rumble of the North American B-25 Mitchell’s radial engines filled the air, now Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Cole stood unassuming in the open bay of AOPA’s National Aviation Community Center, watching the warbird accelerate down Frederick Municipal Airport’s Runway 5. He looked like any other spectator admiring the power of the warbird. But Cole had a special connection to the bomber.
Cole was Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle’s co-pilot on the first of 16 B-25s to take off from the USS Hornet on a mission to bomb Japan’s mainland. The secret raid on April 18, 1942, rattled the Japanese and boosted Americans’ morale in the Pacific during World War II.
The centenarian didn’t fly in the B-25 over central Maryland Nov. 8, but it wasn’t for a lack of want. “If you can find one with an elevator, I’ll do it,” Cole joked, explaining that the Mitchell bomber is too hard to get into now. Cole was on hand at the center to sign copies of his book, Dick Cole’s War, the proceeds of which go to the Doolittle Raider scholarship fund.
About 200 attendees had the opportunity to meet Cole, look at photos of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, and peruse a display of World War II memorabilia provided by AOPA Member Services Representative Michael Kirby. Spectators also could pay for a ride in the B-25 Panchito. (Find out how Panchito flies in the December issue of AOPA Pilot.)
For 13-year-old Josh Boulet, being greeted by Cole with a hardy, “Hi,” and a handshake brought history to life. Boulet is working on a school project about the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders and had watched Thirty Seconds over Tokyo the previous night. The crew of Panchito learned about the project in advance of the Nov. 8 event and flew Boulet and his grandfather to Frederick in the B-25.
Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and former U.S. ambassador to China, also came to meet Cole, one of only two surviving Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. Huntsman has two sons who are in the Navy, and his youngest son, Will, accompanied him to visit one of the heroes from the raid he had written a paper about when he was 9 years old. Huntsman said he was curious to talk to Cole about his experience in China but above all wanted “to shake the hand of the surviving co-pilot of the Doolittle Raid—it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”