ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A hero of the Second World War died yesterday. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole was 103. He was the last of what were known as the Doolittle Raiders.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
To strike back at the Japanese after they attacked Pearl Harbor, a bombing of Tokyo was organized by U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. Dick Cole was Doolittle's co-pilot in the lead plane.
SHAPIRO: Three movies were made about the mission. Spencer Tracy played Doolittle in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO")
SPENCER TRACY: (As Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle) Hello? Hello, York? I want you to get 24 B-25s with volunteer crews down to Eglin Field as soon as you can. The job will take them out of the country for about three months. Tell them it's a secret mission.
CHANG: Doolittle's raid really didn't do much to weaken the Japanese war effort, but it put Japan on the defensive. Tokyo hadn't realized the U.S. could attack their homeland. Meanwhile, the raid boosted morale back in the U.S.
SHAPIRO: After dropping his bombs, Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole's plane ran out of fuel. The crew bailed out over China before the plane crashed. Chinese locals and Western missionaries helped Cole, Doolittle and their crews evade the Japanese so they could eventually make it back to America.
CHANG: Years later, Dick Cole talked to NPR about his attitude toward the mission.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DICK COLE: I'm going to say something very trite, but it's the truth. That was our job. You're on a mission, and you don't believe it's a suicide mission.
CHANG: For Dick Cole, the Tokyo raid was just the beginning of his wartime service. He went on to fly the hump, which meant flying cargo planes over the Himalayan mountains between India and China.
SHAPIRO: Yesterday, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein paid tribute to Dick Cole. Here's what he said.
CHANG: There's another hole in our formation, and our last remaining Doolittle Raider has slipped the surly bonds of Earth and is now reunited with his fellow raiders. And what a reunion they must be having.
(SOUNDBITE OF US AIR FORCE HERITAGE OF AMERICA BAND'S "ALOFT!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.