Memorial Day post on General James “Jimmy” Doolittle
Several years ago, after a family funeral, I became acquainted with my grandmother’s cousin, Ella, for the first time. I was just beginning to become interested in family history and genealogy. Ella is an expert on Mrs. BigandMean’s (aka Mom’s) side of the family. We began trading emails, and she was full of great family stories. I had heard that we were related to Air Force legend/Aviation hero General James “Jimmy” Doolittle, and Ella turned out to know quite a bit about him and how we are related. I won’t bore you with the branches of the family tree. To sum up – we’re cousins.
I began doing some research on my own. It bugs the heck out of me that most people only know Gen. Doolittle from that not-so-great 2001 Ben Affleck movie "Pearl Harbor". In that film, Gen. Doolittle’s "famous 30 seconds over Tokyo" raid is sort of the climax of the film. Gen. Doolittle is portrayed by Alec Baldwin, which kinda chaps my Republican ass a bit (loathe his politics. UGH!), but his performance was one of the better things in the movie.
(Side note – my Great-Uncle Marvin on my Dad’s side was actually at Pearl Harbor. I remember Dad/BigandMean talking about asking Marvin if he ever saw the “Pearl Harbor” movie and what he thought about the realism. I can’t remember the details. Dad, maybe you can post about Marvin and the movie some time this week?)
Back to General Doolittle, one of several of my family members who have had their own action figures... :)
Here's a quote by my favorite President about General Doolittle:
“I like to think that many of the dreams of a strong America that we had [during WWII] are coming true today. This is only one more reason why the name of Jimmy Doolittle remains an inspiration to me and to the American people. The name's very mention reminds us that no matter how difficult the odds or how great the potential sacrifice, a dare for the sake of freedom and our fellow men is a dare well worth taking.” Ronald Reagan, paying tribute to General James “Jimmy” Doolittle at a dinner in Doolittle’s honor, December 6, 1983
Doolittle was promoted to lieutenant colonel Jan 2, 1942 and went to Headquarters Army Air Force to plan the first aerial raid on the Japanese homeland. He volunteered and received Gen. H.H. Arnold's approval to lead the attack of 16 B-25 medium bombers from the aircraft carrier Hornet, with targets in Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya. The daring one-way mission April 18, 1942 electrified the world and gave America's war hopes a terrific lift. As did the others who participated in the mission, Doolittle had to bail out, but fortunately landed in a rice paddy in China near Chu Chow. Some of the other flyers lost their lives on the mission.Source
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On April 18, 1942, 16 Mitchell B-25 medium bombers took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, positioned 750 miles off the coast of Japan. They dropped bombs on Tokyo, then flew on to China, where most of the crews had to bail out. The raid caused little damage to Tokyo, since the bomb load had to be decreased to accommodate the extra fuel weight. But the boost to morale was great. It gave Americans something to cheer about in the bleak early days of the war. Doolittle was advanced two grades to brigadier general the day after the raid and also received the Medal of Honor.
Doolittle spent the rest of the war as commander of various air force units. He led the 12th Air Force during the invasion of North Africa, the Strategic Air Force during the invasion of Italy, and in late 1944 he was promoted to lieutenant general and assigned to the 8th Air Force in England and the Pacific. He became known as a good commander of bombing groups, frequently inspiring his men by flying with them. He was always a proponent of daytime, precision bombing,feeling it was a "basic American principle" to harm as few civilians as possible.
While the 8th Air Force was still stationed in England, Doolittle was excited about the opportunity to be the first commander to lead air raids on the capital cities of all three of the enemies. He had led the first bombing raids on both Tokyo and Rome. When the 8th began to organize the first raid on Berlin, which would occur on March 4, 1944, Doolittle thought he had a chance to make history. But because he had been briefed on several top-secret operations, it was decided that his capture was too great a risk and he was not allowed to fly over enemy territory. Though Doolittle understood the reason, he was far from happy.
After the war, Doolittle retired from the air force and returned to Shell Oil as a vice president. He continued to serve the air force as well, serving on special committees concerning space and ballistic missiles issues. He chaired the board of Space Technology Laboratories and served as the first president of the Air Force Association. During the late 1950s, as the last chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), he laid the foundation for its successful transformation into the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
On April 4, 1985, at a ceremony at the White House, Jimmy Doolittle was promoted to the position of general and given his four stars. Eight years later, Doolittle died at age 97 and was buried at Arlington Cemetery next to Josephine, his wife of 71 years. Many pioneers of flight died young, often through accidents. But Doolittle survived to live a full and illustrious life. When asked the secret of his longevity in such a high-risk profession, he replied that he never took an uncalculated risk but that he also had a lot of luck. He added that he wouldn’t want to live his life again because "I could never be so lucky again."
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A few more highlights of his extraordinary life:
- Received one of the first doctorates in aeronautics from M.I.T.
- Doolittle's doctoral dissertation, "Wind Velocity Gradient and Its Effect on Flying Characteristics," disproved the popular theory held by many pilots of the day that they could tell wind direction and the level plane by instinct even when they could not see the ground or horizon.
- As one of the first “scientific” pilots, he worked on aircraft acceleration tests and the development of instruments that would enable pilots to fly when they were unable to see the ground (called “blind flying”)
- Record holder – a daredevil pilot, he performed the first “outside loop” (aerobatics), made the first cross-country flight in less than 24 hours…and the list goes on for days….
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He was awarded the Medal of Honor, and was promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General for leading the first carrier-based bomber attack on mainland Japan in 1942. His citation, presented personally by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, reads, in part: "For conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, General Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland."