When Lieutenant Colonel Richard (Dick) Cole participated in the first American bombing raid on Japan in World War II, his plane was destined not to return to the U.S.
That plane, along with 15 others that were part of the raid, was destroyed behind enemy lines.
Cole, Doolittle’s co-pilot, described the terror of bailing out of his aeroplane. He also explains the sense of patriotism that compelled him to join the incredibly dangerous mission, which came in response to Pearl Harbor.
In order to reach distant Tokyo and other cities, the B-25 bombers that took part in the mission had to take off from the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in the ocean, 650 miles from Japan. However, it was impossible to get back to the carrier after the mission. Instead, they planned to land on airfields in friendly areas of Japanese-occupied China.
Some users asked Cole how he viewed his role in such scary mission.
Others asked him about the thoughts that went through his mind before the one-way mission.
The crew members replaced guns on board the aircraft with painted broomsticks in order to lighten the planes’ loads, Cole confirmed. “It certainly had a few quirks after we essentially gutted it prior to the raid,” Cole wrote of his plane. “We had to make sure they would be the right weight to take off from the Hornet.”
The toughest and most memorable part of the April 18, 1942 raid was “looking at that black hole [the escape hatch] when we had to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane,” according to Cole.
The bomber that Doolittle flew ran out of gas over China behind enemy lines, forcing the gunner, bombardier, navigator, co-pilot, and pilot to bail out, according to Cole’s own account. The plane was flying at 9,000 feet, 166 miles per hour, putting a wide distance between each crewman as they parachuted into the rainy nighttime countryside.
Cole’s parachute caught in a tree where he spent the night, before roaming in a westerly direction over steep terrain. He eventually stumbled upon an outpost of pro-American Chinese guerrilla fighters, who reunited him with the rest of his crew and smuggled them past Japanese forces to a location where American aircraft retrieved them.
At 98 years old, Cole shared some simple life advice for much younger Reddit users.
Click here to read his full AMA.
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