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Thank you for your service — A tribute to Texas veterans of World War II
(Above) The maintenance crew of this B-17 Flying Fortress ensured the safety of its flight crew, including navigator Jake Howland. (Below) Dick Cole, Granville Coggs, and Jake Howland
On the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the temporary cessation of hostilities of World War I as Armistice Day. On Oct. 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day, in order to fully recognize the sacrifices and contributions of all veterans. Recently, we had the honor of interviewing several World War II veterans living in South Central Texas, each contributing to the course of our history.
Doolittle Raider Lt. Col. Richard E. “Dick” Cole
Born Sept. 7, 1915, in Dayton, Ohio, Richard E. “Dick” Cole was the fifth child of six and grew up as a strong, independent person. He would ride his bicycle for some distance to McCook Field to watch airplanes; at 12 years old, he paid $1 for his first plane ride in a Ford Tri-Motor. He already knew he wanted to fly.
Young Cole enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940, completed pilot training, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1941. His first assignment was with the 34th Squadron of the 17th Bombardment Group, flying the brand-new B-25.
It was a twist of fate that placed Dick Cole in the co-pilot’s seat of aircraft No. 1 aboard the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. His pilot was Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. Together, they made history as the lead plane of a flight of 16 B-25s on a one-way mission to bomb Tokyo that would turn the tide of the war. They were known as the Doolittle Raiders. Their story was vividly told in the movie, “Pearl Harbor.”
Lt. Col. Dick Cole, now living in Comfort, is one of only four surviving members of the 80 Raiders who stepped into the unknown, trusting in their leader, Jimmy Doolittle. At 98 years old, Cole continues to foster the legacy of that fateful mission through the Gen. James H. Doolittle Scholarship Fund.
Tuskegee Airman Dr. Granville Coggs, original
Granville Coggs was born in Arkansas in 1925; growing up black in the segregated South was not easy. Education was emphasized in his family, as evidenced by all five of the Coggs’ children earning college degrees.
In 1943, following high school and as the war raged in Europe and the Pacific, Granville enrolled in Howard University with pre-med in his sights. While there, however, he received a letter from the draft board, notifying him that there was a good possibility of him being drafted.
He made the decision to apply for admission into the new all-black Army Air Corps unit based in Tuskegee, Ala., and was accepted. By mid-1944, the Tuskegee Experiment, as it was originally called, had already proven successful with the famous Red Tail fighter pilots.
Granville originally trained as a bombardier and gunner on B-25s, but his dream of becoming a pilot was finally achieved. He received his wings as a multi-engine military pilot in October 1945, one month after the Japanese surrender. He became one of the 992 Tuskegee pilots. During this time, he met the love of his life, Maud, who later became his wife.
After the war ended and with financial help from the GI Bill, he earned a chemistry degree at the University of Nebraska and in 1953 graduated from Harvard Medical School as one of only two black students in his class of 140.
He had an illustrious 40-year career as a radiologist, working in both California and Texas, and decided to make San Antonio his home after he retired. Today, he remains active as an advocate for healthy living -- both physical and mental -- to anyone who will listen.
What legacy would he like to leave?
“I would like to be remembered as a surviving original Tuskegee Airman,” Coggs said. “I am the benefactor of the 66 Tuskegee Airmen that lost their lives in combat. I am not a fighter pilot -- I am a B-25 pilot. I am a Tuskegee Airman.”
Pathfinder John “Jake” Howland
At age 23 and after being in the military for only 15 months, John “Jake” Howland became the lead navigator on a B-17 Pathfinder aircraft, which was an incredible responsibility. With minimal training, he was able to master the highly technical navigational system -- code name GEE -- the first hyperbolic navigation system developed for night operations and long-range missions.
His job was to lead a flight of 54 B-17s to their targets over Europe during World War II, including several missions over Berlin. He and his crew were assigned to the 381st Bomb Group. When they walked into a briefing, he said they could hear the groans from the other crews; they knew it was going to be a tough mission, as the Pathfinders only did what was termed deep-penetration missions.
Can you imagine being responsible for leading this huge armada of bombers? Jake was the one man responsible for getting them there at the precise place and time to drop their bombs. He completed a total of 30 missions.
Today, at 93, working from his small home office in San Antonio, he remains dedicated to preserving the history of the Pathfinders.
These veterans represent the vast number of average Americans who were willing to step forward and do their part in the defense of freedom. They put their lives on the line to ensure that all Americans would continue to have the liberties we enjoy today.
So, if you meet a veteran, don’t hesitate to offer a handshake and say, “Thank you for your service.” They have earned it.
Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. They share their travels in the “Everyday Journeys” column in the La Vernia News. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.
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