An Airman's Story: General James "Jimmy" Doolittle

Born on December 14, 1896, in Alameda, California, James Harold Doolittle spent most of his youth in Nome, Alaska. Returning to California in 1910, General Jimmy Doolittle saw his first airplane at the Los Angeles International Air Meet and found his calling.

After he graduated from Manual Arts High school, General Jimmy Doolittle briefly attended the University of California at Berkley, interrupting his education in October 1917 to enlist in the Signal Corps Reserve (the precursor to the Air Force). During World War I, he was a flight instructor and gunnery instructor. He returned to Berkley after the war to finish his degree and graduated in 1922.

Between the wars, General Jimmy Doolittle maintained his reserve status and earned a master's degree in Aeronautics from MIT (July 1923) and a doctorate from MIT (June 1925). General Jimmy Doolittle made a name for himself as a pilot through several cross-country and test flights.

General Jimmy Doolittle also loved to compete, winning the Schneider Cup in 1925, the MacKay Trophy in 1926, and the Bendix Trophy in 1931. He also achieved some of the aeronautics firsts. In 1927 General Doolittle performed the first outside loop. In 1929 was the first to complete a flight using instruments alone, and in 1932, General Jimmy Doolittle set the world's landplane speed record, winning the Thompson trophy.

While a reservist, he worked as a manager at Shell Oil Company and produced the first 100-octane aviation gasoline. General James Doolittle served on the Baker Board and was the Aeronautical Science Institute president.

On July 1, 1940, he returned to active duty in response to World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor when he volunteered and received approval to use 16 B-25 bombers launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet to bomb Toyko, Kobe, Yokohama, Osaka, and Nagoya. is later became known as the "Doolittle Raid." The raid's 80 volunteers successfully destroyed the targets, and, despite the belief that it was a one-way mission, 73 returned. General Doolittle earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for this action.

General Jimmy Doolittle kept flying during World War II, commanding the 8th Air Force, the 12th Air Force, the Northwest African Strategic Airforce, and the 15th Air Force.

He returned to reserve status on January 5, 1946. However, General James Doolittle served on government boards, including the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the Air Force Association, and the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.

He retired from the Air Force Reserves on February 28, 1959. Earning the Janus Award in 1972, and during the late 1980s, published his autobiography, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, with Colonel Carroll V. Glines.

General James Doolittle died on September 27, 1993, and rests in Arlington National Cemetry.

General Jimmy Doolittle has been immortalized on film twice. Spencer Tracy played him in the movie 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, and Alec Baldwin played him in the film Pearl Harbor.


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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