Wednesday, April 18, marks the 70th anniversary of the single most significant mission in the history of military aviation. Four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, sixteen Air Force B-25 bombers lumbered off the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet in a raging storm to bomb Tokyo, Japan. The lead aircraft was piloted by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, and Richard E. “Dick” Cole.
A few months ago I had the tremendous good fortune to meet Dick Cole, who is currently 98 years old, and to discuss the mission with him. He mentioned that the Navy had shorted him 15 days of “sea pay” which he had earned. As an ex-Naval Aviator myself, I asked him if they had at least made him an honorary Navy Pilot, having taken off from the carrier. He replied that they had not.
Immediately, I sensed wrongness on a number of levels, so by the very limited powers invested in me, I offered to give him half of my Naval Aviator’s number, and since, I am a jeweler, offered to make him a pair of honorary Navy Pilot wings. The wings are one-half Air Force wings, which he supplied, and one-half Navy Wings, which I supplied.
At 98, he drove himself over to my studio to receive his wings. He doesn’t even wear glasses but, like all of us old pilots, he is more than half deaf. He is an extraordinary man who is humble in his greatness, and it has been one of the high points of my aviation career to have met him.
The anniversary celebration of the “Doolittle Raiders” is coming up and I’m hoping he will wear his one-of-a-kind wings to the ceremony because he’s a one-of-a-kind sort of guy.