Hometown Heroes

Hornet Survivor Shares Story

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LISTEN to Bob Cole on Hometown Heroes
90-year-old Bob Cole of Fresno, CA appears on the May 25, 2013 edition of Hometown Heroes on KMJ. Cole, a native of Oto, Iowa, served on the U.S.S. Hornet (CV-8) during World War II. You’ll hear Bob remember signing up for four years of Navy service before the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. His reason for joining was simple: he wanted to go to college, and he knew he could get one year of schooling for each year of service.


Bob Cole as a teenage Navy enlistee. For more photos relating to Bob and his service, visit the Hometown Heroes facebook page.


Bob will tell us where he was when he heard about Pearl Harbor, and remember being aboard the Hornet when Doolittle’s Raiders took off for their famous bombing of Japan in April 1942.


Bob Cole with his Purple Heart

Learn more about the raid by watching the 1942 Castle Films newsreel above. The Hornet would go on to experience the Battle of Midway, where its torpedo squadron was decimated. In October 1942, Bob was aboard the Hornet when it was attacked by Japanese bombers in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. You’ll hear him remember a bomb coming right down the elevator shaft and exploding in the mess hall, where he had been attaching fuses to bombs. Shrapnel wounded him in the back, and left his left eye hanging by a strip of skin and his optic nerve. He would have to hold that eye in place while jumping overboard, and spent roughly 45 minutes in the water before the U.S.S. Mustin picked him up.

Cole spent eight months recovering in a navy hospital in San Diego, but when the Navy offered him a medical discharge, he refused. Intent on getting college paid for, Cole finished out his four-year commitment recruiting naval aviators in Minnesota. He and his late wife, Mary, were both longtime educators in the San Joaquin Valley, and Bob spent many years officiating high school basketball. He still enjoys sports, and you’ll find him cheering heartily at his great-granddaughter’s tee ball games. His ship, and a few photos of Cole with Doolittle and his Raiders, ended up at the bottom of the sea. The Hornet name lived on, though, when the Navy renamed the carrier CV-12 as the Hornet in 1942. That ship is now a museum in Vallejo, CA and is open seven days a week.
Paul Loeffler

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