The Last Living Doolittle Raider: Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole

Today’s post comes from Kimberlee Ried, public programs specialist at the National Archives at Kansas City. Research was provided by Michael Tarabulski, archivist at the National Archives at St. Louis.

The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is today. For those who fought in World War II, they likely had no idea that they would not only be heralded for an Allied victory that would take several years to achieve, but that they would continue to be honored as American heroes decades later. The records in the National Archives provide a glimpse of some of these individuals.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard “Dick” Cole was part of a group known as the “Doolittle Toyko Raiders” named for James “Jimmy” Doolittle who had been assigned to plan the mission and lead the raid on April 18, 1942, to bomb the Japanese city of Tokyo as retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, and begin the process of defeating Imperial Japan. Cole served as Doolittle’s co-pilot. Like many men, Cole had registered with his local draft board in Dayton, Ohio.

Richard Cole’s draft registration card (front) from the National Archives in St. Louis

Cole’s World War II draft registration card, filed with the local board in Montgomery County, Ohio, is now part of the holdings of the National Archives at St. Louis, which is co-located with the National Personnel Records Center. Cole was twenty-five years old when he registered on October 16, 1940, well over a year before the attack. He listed his father as the person “who will always know his address.”

Cole was employed prior to his military service at the Lear Avi (Avia) Corporation in Vandalia, Ohio, which manufactured radio and airplane instruments including navigational equipment. It is likely no coincidence that Cole wound up being trained as a pilot given his knowledge of the mechanical aspects of flying.

Although draft registration cards are brief in terms of the data provided, they can often give more insight into an individual. During World War II, the Selective Service System conducted six draft registrations. The majority of registrations were men born between 1897 and 1927 and cover most of those who served in World War II.

Richard Cole’s draft registration card (back) from the National Archives in St. Louis

Another group of men also registered for WWII under the “Old Man’s Registration” or the “Old Man’s Draft.” This is known as the 4th Registration and covers men born between 1877 to 1897, many of whom may had also served in World War I. These cards are open to the public for research and can be viewed at the National Archives in St. Louis.   

Relatively few of those who served in World War II are still living; Cole is now 101 years old and resides in Texas.

Tonight, Cole will be the guest speaker at a National Archives at Kansas City event where he will reflect upon his time as a part of the Doolittle Raiders. He will be interviewed by Park University Professor Dennis Okerstrom, who wrote about Cole in his book Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando.

Tune in to watch the livestream at 5:30 ET/6:30 CT on December 7.: 

The event, which is sold out, is presented in partnership with Park University and the National World War I Museum and Memorial, and in collaboration with the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and the Truman Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Do you have a relative who served in the Second World War? You can request their service record from the National Archives. Learn more:

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