The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 18, 2013

Famed WWII aviators hold final reunion

Three of four surviving crew reunites

(Continued)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. —

At Wednesday'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 and service."

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

"I've seen the movies — you know, 'Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,'" said Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Matesick. "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."

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 past 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" as a result of their fame, 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 the altimeter pegged at 1,500 feet," he said.

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