April 18, 2013

Famed World War II aviators hold final reunion

Melissa Nelson-Gabriel / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Lt. Col. Dick Cole stands in front of a B-25 at the Destin Airport in Destin, Fla. on Tuesday. Cole was Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot during the tokyo raid.


Doolittle Raiders, in white caps, left to right, Edward J. Saylor, David J. Thatcher and Richard E. Cole view the new Doolittle Raiders exhibit at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Fla.


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They have also saved a bottle of Hennessy cognac from 1896, the year mission commander James Doolittle was born. The Raiders had said the final two survivors would open the bottle, but they have since decided that the four survivors will meet in private later this year for the toast.

At Thursday's dedication of the Saylor Hangar, the three men posed for pictures beneath a vintage B-25 bomber and an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that sat beside it.

Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the F-35 squadron at Eglin, told the men, "You boosted the morale of this nation just four months after Pearl Harbor. Thank you for your dedication service."

Young airmen and women got the old veterans' autographs and thanked them for their service.

"I've seen the movies, you know 'Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.' I think this is awesome because they actually trained here at Eglin and they did the ceremony to actually name a hangar after one of the guys, it's pretty cool," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Matesick.

Larry Kelley owns the vintage B-25 aircraft that Cole flew a day earlier during a demonstration of four restored B-25s from the World War II era.

Kelley choked up when trying to explain what it has meant to him to meet Cole and the other raiders over the last several years and to have the men fly in his aircraft.

"Here are some of the most famous aviators that came out of World War II and they've never put a nickel in their pocket for notoriety," he said. Instead, he said, any money from book signings and appearances has always gone to the James H. Doolittle Scholarship Fund for aviation students.

Kelley said sitting beside Cole while Cole took the controls of the B-25 and landed the aircraft was a highlight of his life as a World War II and aviation buff.

"Oh yeah, he did most of the flying today. He did the landing. He's dead on. I kept looking over the altimeter. I told him to hold 1,500 feet and I kept looking at the altimeter and it was dead on, not 1,499 feet, not 1,501 feet, he had it the altimeter pegged 1,500 feet," he said.

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Additional Photos

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Lt. Col. Dick Cole flies a B-25 in the skies over Destin, Fla., on Tuesday as part of the Doolittle Raider 71st Anniversary Reunion.



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