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With the 100th anniversary of his birth on September 7, 2015 Dick Cole has long stood in the powerful spotlight of fame that has followed him since his B-25 was launched from a Navy carrier and flown toward Japan just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In recognition the tremendous boost Doolittle’s Raid gave American morale, members of The Tokyo Doolittle Raiders were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in May 2014.
Doolittle’s Raid was only the opening act of Cole’s flying career during the war. When that mission was complete and all of the 16 aircraft had crash-landed in China, many of the survivors were assigned to combat units in Europe. Cole remained in India after their rescue and was assigned to Ferrying Command, flying the Hump of the Himalayas for a year in the world’s worst weather, with inadequate aircraft, few aids to navigation, and inaccurate maps. More than 600 aircraft with their crews were lost during this monumental effort to keep China in the war, but Cole survived and rotated home in 1943. He was home just a few months when he was recruited for the First Air Commandos and he returned to India to participate in Project 9, the aerial invasion of Burma.
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On November 18, 1944, the end of the war in Europe finally in sight, American copilot Lieutenant Lee Lamar struggled alongside pilot Randall Darden to keep Bottoms Up, their B-24J Liberator, in the air. They and their crew of eight young men had believed the intelligence officer who, at the predawn briefing at their base in southern Italy, had confided that their mission that day would be a milk run. But that twenty-first mission out of Italy would be their last.
Bottoms Up was staggered by an antiaircraft shell that sent it plunging three miles earthward, the pilots recovering control at just 5,000 feet. With two engines out, they tried to make it to a tiny strip on a British-held island in the Adriatic Sea and in desperation threw out everything not essential to flight: machine guns, belts of ammunition, flak jackets. But over Pula, in what is now Croatia, they were once more hit by German fire, and the focus quickly became escaping the doomed bomber. Seemingly unable to extricate himself, Lamar all but surrendered to death before fortuitously bailing out. He was captured the next day and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner at a stalag on the Baltic Sea, suffering the deprivations of little food and heat in Europe’s coldest winter in a century. He never saw most of his crew again.
Continue reading “The Final Mission of Bottoms Up: A World War II Pilot’s Story (American Military Experience (University of Missouri))”