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Washington: The last surviving member of a morale-boosting secret United States air raid that stunned Japan during World War II has died. Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole “has slipped the surly bonds of Earth & reunited w/his fellow Doolittle Raiders,” General Dave Goldfein, United States Air Force Chief of Staff, wrote on Twitter.

“We offer our eternal thanks & condolences to his family. We will proudly carry the torch he & his fellow Raiders handed us.” US media reported that Cole, who died aged 103 on Tuesday in Texas, was the last survivor of 80 Doolittle raiders air crew members. Cole was copilot of the plane led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle who led the raid by 16 B-25 bombers, each with a five-man crew.

On April 18, 1942 — four months after Japan’s surprise attack against the US at Pearl Harbor — the US Army Air Forces bombers took off from the deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier that sailed to within a few hundred miles (kilometers) of Japan.
“Medium bombers had never been flown from a carrier,” the National Museum of the US Air Force said on its website. “The Raiders dropped their bombs on oil storage facilities, factory areas and military installations.

“Although the brilliant strike caused relatively little physical damage, it stunned the Japanese population — their embarrassed leaders had promised the mainland would never be attacked,” the museum said. On the homefront, news of the US attack caused morale to soar “from the depths to which it plunged following Japan’s many early victories,” it added.

A photograph of Cole with his crewmates, all wearing bomber jackets, showed him tight-lipped, wearing a tie, and with the thumb of his left hand hooked into the side pocket of his pants. In May 2014 President Barack Obama signed a law to award the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian recognition Congress can bestow, on the 80 members of the Doolittle team.

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