GENERAL JAMES HAROLD DOOLITTLE
May 10, 1946
Died September 27, 1993
Medal of Honor recipient, pioneering holder of
speed records, leader of first aerial attack on the Japanese mainland, and famed
World War II air commander.
James Harold Doolittle was born in Alameda,
California, in 1896. James "Jimmy" Doolittle was educated in Nome, Alaska, Los
Angeles Junior College, and spent a year at the University of California School
of Mines. He enlisted as a flying cadet in the Signal Corps Reserve in October
1917 and trained at the School of Military Aeronautics, University of California
and Rockwell Field, California. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Signal
Corps' Aviation Section March 11, 1918, and served successively at Camp Dick,
Texas; Wright Field, Ohio; Gerstner Field, Lousiana; and went back to Rockwell Field,
chiefly as a flight leader and gunnery instructor. He then went to Kelly Field,
Texas, for duty first with the 104th Aero Squadron, and next with the 90th
Squadron on border patrol duty at Eagle Pass, Texas.
On July 1, 1920
Doolittle got his regular commission and promotion to first lieutenant. He then
took the Air Service Mechanical School and Aeronautical Engineering courses at
Kelly Field and McCook Field, Ohio, respectively. In September 1922 he made the
first of many pioneering flights which earned him most of the major air trophies
and international fame.
He flew a DH-4, equipped with crude navigational
instruments, in the first cross-country flight, from Pablo Beach, Florida, to San
Diego, California, in 21 hours and 19 minutes. He made only one refueling stop at
Kelly Field. The military gave him the Distinguished Flying Cross for this
historic feat. In the same year he received his bachelor of arts degree from the
University of California, Berkeley.
In July 1923 he entered
Massachusetts Institute of Technology for special engineering courses and
graduated the following year with a master of science degree, getting his doctor
of science degree in Aeronautics a year later, and being one of the first men in
the country to earn this degree.
In March 1924 he served at McCook Field
conducting aircraft acceleration tests. In June 1925 Doolittle went to the Naval
Air Station in Washington, D.C., for special training in flying high-speed
seaplanes. During this period he served for a while with the Naval Test Board at
Mitchel, N.Y., and was a familiar figure in airspeed record attempts in the New
York area. He won the Schneider Cup Race - the World's Series of seaplane racing
- in 1925, with an average speed of 232 miles per hour in a Curtiss Navy racer
equipped with pontoons. This was the fastest a seaplane had ever flown, and
Doolittle next year received the Mackay Trophy for this feat.
1926 he got a leave of absence to go to South America on airplane demonstration
flights. In Chile he broke both ankles but put his Curtiss P-1 through stirring
aerial maneuvers with his ankles in casts. He returned to the United States and
was in Walter Reed Hospital for these injuries until April 1927 when he was
assigned to McCook Field for experimental work and additional duty as instructor
with Organized Reserves of the Fifth Corps Area's 385th Bomb Squadron.
Returning to Mitchel Field in September 1928, he assisted in the development of
fog flying equipment. He helped develop the now almost universally used
artificial horizontal and directional gyroscopes and made the first flight
completely by instruments. He attracted wide newspaper attention with this feat
of "blind" flying and later received the Harmon Trophy for conducting the
In January 1930 he was adviser for the Army on the building
of the Floyd Bennett Airport in New York City. Doolittle resigned his regular
commission February 15, 1930 and was commissioned a major in the Specialist Reserve
Corps a month later, being named manager of the Aviation Department of the Shell
Oil Company, in which capacity he conducted numerous aviation tests. He also
went on active duty with the Army frequently to conduct tests, and in 1932 set
the world's high speed record for land planes. He won the Bendix Trophy Race
from Burbank California, to Cleveland in a Laird Biplane, and took the Thompson
Trophy Race at Cleveland in a Gee Bee racer with a speed averaging 252 miles per
In April 1934 Doolittle became a member of the Army Board to study
Air Corps organization and a year later was transferred to the Air Corps
Reserve. In 1940 he became president of the Institute of Aeronautical Science. He went back on active duty July 1, 1940 as a major and assistant district
supervisor of the Central Air Corps Procurement District at Indianapolis, Indiana,
and Detroit, Michigan, where he worked with large auto manufacturers on the
conversion of their plants for production of planes. The following August he
went to England as a member of a special mission and brought back information
about other countries' air forces and military buildups.
He was promoted
to lieutenant colonel January 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.
Doolittle received the Medal of Honor, presented to him by President Roosevelt
at the White House, for planning and leading this successful operation. His
citation reads: "For conspicuous leadership above and beyond 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, Lt. Col. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by
volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland." In
addition to the nation's top award, Doolittle also received two Distinguished
Service Medals, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze
Star, four Air Medals, and decorations from Great Britain, France, Belgium,
Poland, China and Ecuador.
In July 1942, as a brigadier general - he had
been advanced two grades the day after the Tokyo attack - Doolittle was assigned
to the Eighth Air Force and in September became commanding general of the
Force in North Africa. He was promoted to major general in November and in March
1943 became commanding general of the North African Strategic Air Forces.
He took command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater in
November and from January 1944 to September 1945 he commanded the Eighth Air Force
in Europe and the Pacific, until war's end, as a lieutenant general, the
promotion date being March 13, 1944. On May 10, 1946 he reverted to inactive
reserve status and returned to Shell Oil as a vice president and later a
In March 1951 he was appointed a special assistant to the Air
Force chief of staff, serving as a civilian in scientific matters which led to
Air Force ballistic missile and space programs.
He retired from Air
Force duty Feb. 28, 1959 but continued to serve his country as chairman of the
board of Space Technology Laboratories. He also was the first president of the
Air Force Association, in 1947, assisting its organization.
On April 4,
1985, the U.S. Congress advanced him to full general on the Air Force retired
list. In a later ceremony, President Reagan and Senator Goldwater pinned on his
four-star insignia, making him the first person in Air Force Reserve history to
wear four stars.