By Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden, 1st Special Operations Wing
/ Published October 13, 2009
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Two retired Airmen distinguished for their heroics during World War II spoke about their careers and answered audience questions during the Air Commando Heritage Symposium at the Air Force Special Operations Training Center auditorium at Hurlburt Field Oct. 9.
Retired Maj. Gen. John Alison, deputy commander of the 1st Air Commando Group in WWII, and retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole, co-pilot of then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, were honored for their service by fellow Airmen.
After a video presentation detailing both of their careers, General Alison and Colonel Cole took to the stage amongst a packed crowd of Airmen and civilians. The first question centered on their lessons and advice to fellow Airmen.
"What we should all know has been evident ever since we had airplanes: mobility is power. Mobility is something you do not want to be without. If we can go where the enemy can't go, we have power over him. Air Force power is U.S. power," General Alison said.
Colonel Cole said he felt intelligence was the most vital aspect because it operates the mission. "The key is that in recognizing that, you can take on any task," he said.
When asked how he was selected to be Colonel Doolittle's co-pilot, Colonel Cole downplayed the event to chance. "I could tell you I was the hottest pilot in the 17th Bomb group, but that's not quite true," he said.
"When I was promoted to pilot, I was asked if I wanted to go on this mission, and I said yes. But the pilot who asked me became ill and he stayed on the carrier as an engineering officer. Circumstances were so that when I came into the pilot's seat, Doolittle was sitting where my friend had been. And that's how I got to work with him," Colonel Cole said.
General Alison spoke about his achievement of becoming the first fighter pilot to have night kills in the China-Burma-India theater.
"It was better to shoot and run away and live another day. I made the mistake of dog-fighting the Japanese and I got shot down twice," he said.
"This one pilot destroyed my tires in combat once. He shot my P-40 right through the gas tank and got my tires. I slid down the nose and out of the plane. Soon, a C-47 landed just ahead of me. This tall guy gets out and walks over and I instantly recognize him; it was Eddie Rickenbacker. He landed at the same time I did. I felt like such a sad sack there with the number one ace. But while I was embarrassed, I was more excited to be alive," General Alison said.
While taking the last question, Colonel Cole spoke about a particularly eventful B-24 test flight when he was stationed in Tulsa, Okla., in 1943.
"While I was walking around, a young lady that worked for weapons came by on a bicycle.
'Let me take it flying, I wanna be a WASP,' she said. And I told her 'You can't go on this one, it's a test flight.' I then met with the crew chief and co-pilot, and we took off. And at about 12,000 feet, who should come up into the cockpit, but the young lady. So we had to scrap the mission," he said.
"When we landed, the co-pilot took out a match cover and handed it to her and said to write down her phone number. She did, but she gave it to me. It took a week or so for me to get the nerve to call her, but I did. We were married in two weeks and were married 60 years," he said.
When the question segment was finished, both men were given $500 donation made out in their names to present to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation which provides scholarship grants and financial assistance for wounded special operations personnel and their families. They then greeted audience members and signed books and posters.
Lt. Col. Gary Reynolds, deputy operations chief for Air Force Special Operations Command inspector general, used to be an instructor at the building located at AFSOTC, which is also known as the Alison Building. He thanked both men for taking the time to speak about their careers.
"What a wonderful thing they get to do by relating to us all that they've done. This was an uncommonly special event held in a building that is named for one of these heroes," he said.
General Alison is a highly decorated combat ace pilot from Gainesville, Fla. In 1936, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and earned his flying commission the next year. In 1943, he was called by Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold to serve under Col. Philip Cochran as deputy commander of Project 9, a newly formed, secretive flying unit that aided in the aerial invasion of Burma. Project 9 would later become the 1st Air Commando Group, the forerunner of the 1st Special Operations Wing.
Colonel Cole, a native of Columbus, Ohio, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940 and received his pilot's commission in July 1941. On April 18, 1942, he co-piloted then-Colonel Doolittle's B-25 bomber in leading the first offensive attack against the Japanese homeland in WWII. The attack, famously known as the Doolittle Raid, was meant to both weaken the Japanese war effort and boost the morale of the U.S. homeland just months after Pearl Harbor. Colonel Cole is one of only nine surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders.