Nightly News   |  November 11, 2013

Doolittle Raiders raise a glass for the last time

The Doolittle Raiders flew into the history books during their historic sneak attack on Japan. It was a successful mission, but nearly all 16 planes crash landed in China. Since then, the Doolittle Raiders have gathered each year to toast those who died. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> honoring the nation's veterans president obama laid a wreath at arlington national cemetery today at the to p mb of the unknowns. one notable guest joining the president, 107-year-old richard overton who is believed to be the nation's oldest living veteran of world war ii . also this veterans day weekend there was an emotional gathering of the doolittle raiders. the men who pulled off a secret mission to strike back at japan after pearl harbor . just four are still alive. this year they say it was time for one final gathering to honor their fallen comrades. our final report from jim miklaszewski , our pentagon correspondent.

>> reporter: on most days you will find dick cole at home on 'tis tractor in tractor. at 98 he's still going strong. as a boy he dreamed of becoming a military combat pilot.

>> i wanted to be one of the guys to go after the bad guy .

>> reporter: he soon got his chance. when the japanese attacked pearl harbor , cole was already a pilot in the army air corps . not just any pilot. he was the copilot for the legendary jimmy doolittle and the doolittle tokyo raiders . only four months after pearl harbor they flew straight into the history books.

>> they put out the word looking for people to go on a dangerous mission .

>> reporter: so dangerous doolittle gave his men the chance to back down.

>> nobody jumped ship. nobody backed out.

>> reporter: against all odds cole and doolittle flew the first of 16 b-25 bombers with 82 crew members off the deck of the hornet for the historic sneak attack on the japanese homeland. the mission succeeded. three crew members were killed. almost all 16 planes crash landed in china. cole was injured when he bailed out.

>> i pulled the rip cord so hard i gave myself a black eye .

>> reporter: cole insists he's no hero. huge crowds turned out at the national air force museum at dayton, ohio, this weekend to honor the few doolittle raiders still alive today. the mission is on exhibit with a b-25 bomber. who is that hanging out the window there?

>> that's supposed to be me.

>> reporter: the occasion was bittersweet. for 68 years doolittle raiders gathered to toast those who have died. because of their age, they have decided this would be their last.

>> may they rest in peace.

>> reporter: for the doolittle raiders, it was their final mission .

>> the story has run its course. it's about time to tie things up and ride off into the sunset.

>> reporter: with a legacy that shall live on forever. jim miklaszewski , nbc news, comfort, texas.