101-year-old military veteran re-lives aviation memories

- Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole is about to travel back in time. A B-25 parked at Ellington Field for the Wings Over Houston Airshow is painted to look like the planes in his unit during the war. He stares at it as it glistens under a perfect October sky.

“I guess it all boils down to being able to kick Father Time out of the way and be young again,“ says retired Lt. Col. Cole. At the age of 99, he actually climbed into a restored B-25 and helped fly it.

Cole was a U.S. Army bomber pilot and little more than a kid himself when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  He says he had to go to a map to look up where Japan even was and that he didn’t hate the Japanese, even though most Americans did after that attack.

To understand how Americans felt when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, remember how we felt after 9-11. We desperately wanted to strike back but we didn't know who to retaliate against -- back then they did.

The plan, devised by famous aviator Jimmy Doolittle, was to fly Army B-25 bombers off an aircraft carrier. They would bomb Tokyo and keep flying to China. On the way to Japan, a fishing boat spotted them and had to take off early even though they know they might not have enough fuel to reach land.

“As a group, we didn't think it was any more of a suicide mission than what those young chaps were doing over Germany every day,” says Cole. He had to bail out over China at night. He spent that night hanging in his parachute harness in a pine tree. When he got down, he started walking west. To head east was to head into the Japanese who controlled much of the country’s coastal region. He escaped capture, but not everyone did. The Japanese executed  some of the 'Doolittle Raiders.'             

Among aviation enthusiasts, Cole is a bit of a rock star. He poses for pictures at airshows and he is a published author. He's not really comfortable with the fuss, but he tolerates it in the hopes it will inspire others.

“We had a job, we had a good leader and we did what we were supposed to do and that's it,” says Cole.

Now, time has done what the Japanese couldn't -- stop Doolittle's Raiders. Of the 80 men who flew that mission, Cole is the final survivor.

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