Sul Ross Grad student connects WWII airman with lifesaving history

Sul Ross Grad student connects WWII airman with lifesaving history
Lt. Col. Dick Cole poses with Sul Ross graduate student Craig "Griz" Adams and an autographed box of cigars. Cole sent the cigars and a note to the children of D.C. Gray, the man who packed his lifesaving parachute during WWII. (Photo courtesy of Craig Adams

ALPINE, TX (KWES) - On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle of the United States Army Air Forces led the first U.S. air attack on Japan.

During Doolittle’s raid, 15 of the 16 B-25 bombers involved in the Raid crash landed.

One of the survivors, Col. Dick Cole, 103, landed safely in China with the help of a well-packed parachute. His parachute-aided survival created a debt which he eagerly wished to repay.

As Cole explained in a letter and package sent home to his parents in 1942, “It is customary when one makes a chute jump to give the (parachute) packer a box of cigars. So you can see I owe D.C. Gray, Parachute Dept. Sacramento Calif Air Depot, a box of cigars. Don’t know when I can do it, but won’t forget it."

Cole never got the opportunity to track down and thank the person who packed his parachute, but Sul Ross State University graduate student Craig “Griz” Adams was.

While researching WWII topics, Adams decided to interview Cole, who was by now the last surviving Doolittle Raider.

Although Gray had passed away in 2008, Adams was able to contact Gray’s oldest living son, D.C. “Buddy” Gray III, who still resides in Sacramento. Adams visited Buddy Gray and his wife Carolyn at their home to discuss the elder Gray’s WWII contributions.

Buddy Gray knew his father had packed parachutes during the war, but never knew his father’s connection to Cole and the Doolittle Raid. He was moved to tears upon hearing the story.

Adams returned to Cole Dec. 7, 2018, to share what he had learned as well as a copy of the photo of Gray being trained to pack parachutes at the Sacramento Air Depot, bringing a formerly anonymous man to life for Cole.

On top of a presentation box of cigars supplied by Sul Ross, Cole authored a message to Buddy Gray and his five siblings that said gratefully, “Because your dad paid attention during parachute training is why you are receiving a box of cigars today.”

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