BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. James Harold Doolittle was born in Alameda, California, and spent his youth in Nome, Alaska, where he earned a reputation as a boxer. His parents were Frank Henry Doolittle and Rosa (Rose) Cerenah Shephard. By 1910, Jimmy Doolittle was attending school in Los Angeles. When his school attended the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet at Dominguez Field Doolittle saw his first airplane. He attended Los Angeles City College after graduating from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, and later won admission to the University of California, Berkeley where he studied in The School of Mines. He was a member of Theta Kappa Nu fraternity. Doolittle took a leave of absence in October 1917 to enlist in the Signal Corps Reserve as a flying cadet; he ground trained at the School of Military Aeronautics (an army school) on the campus of the University of California, and flight-trained at Rockwell Field, California. Doolittle received his Reserve Military Aviator rating and was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Signal Officers Reserve Corps on March 11, 1918.
Doolittle married Josephine “Joe” E. Daniels on December 24, 1917. At a dinner celebration after Jimmy Doolittle’s first all-instrument flight in 1929, Josephine Doolittle asked her guests to sign her white damask tablecloth. Later, she embroidered the names in black. She continued this tradition, collecting hundreds of signatures from the aviation world. The tablecloth was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. Married for over 70 years, Josephine Doolittle died in 1988, five years before her husband.
The Doolittles had two sons, James Jr., and John. Both became military aviators. James Jr. was an A-26 Invader pilot during World War II and committed suicide at the age of thirty-eight in 1958. At the time of his death, James Jr. was a Major and commander of the 524th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, piloting the F-101 Voodoo. His other son, John P. Doolittle, retired from the Air Force as a Colonel, and his grandson, Colonel James H. Doolittle, III, was the vice commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle died at the age of 96 in Pebble Beach, California on September 27, 1993, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, near Washington, D.C., next to his wife. In his honor at the funeral, there was also a flyover of Miss Mitchell, a lone B-25 Mitchell, and USAF Eighth Air Force bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. After a brief graveside service, Doolittle’s great-grandson played Taps flawlessly.
The President of the United States
in the name ofThe Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
DOOLITTLE, JAMES H.
Rank and organization: Brigadier General, U.S. Army. Air Corps. Place and date: Over Japan. Entered service at: Berkeley, Calif.Birth: Alameda, Calif. G.O. No.: 29, 9 June 1942.
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, Gen. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland.
Whilst this article has been written to honor Doolittle, it’s also meant to honor the 79 other brave men who volunteered to participate in the Tokyo Raid. There is an old cliché, that says “ All gave some, some gave all”, these courageous men put meat on the bones of that cliché.
The raid had its start in a desire by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, expressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a meeting at the White House on 21 December 1941, that Japan be bombed as soon as possible to boost public morale after the disaster at Pearl Harbor.
The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, on 18 April 1942, was an air raid by the United States on the Japanese capital Tokyo and other places on Honshu island during World War II, the first air raid to strike the Japanese Home Islands. It demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, was retaliation for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, provided an important boost to U.S. morale, and damaged Japanese morale. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces.
Sixteen U.S. Army Air Forces B-25B Mitchell medium bombers were launched without fighter escort from the U.S. Navy‘s aircraft carrier USS Hornet deep in the Western Pacific Ocean, each with a crew of five men. The plan called for them to bomb military targets in Japan, and to continue westward to land in China—landing a medium bomber on the Hornet was impossible. Fifteen of the aircraft reached China, and the other one landed in the Soviet Union. All but three of the crew survived, but all the aircraft were lost. Eight crewmen were captured by the Japanese Army in China; three of these were executed. The B-25 that landed in the Soviet Union at Vladivostok was confiscated and its crew interned for more than a year. Fourteen crews, except for one crewman, returned either to the United States or to American forces. An estimated 250,000 Chinese civilians were killed by the Japanese during their search for Doolittle’s men.
The raid caused negligible material damage to Japan, only hitting non-military targets or missing completely—Doolitle thought immediately after the raid that the loss of all his aircraft would lead to his being court-martialled, rather than honored—but it succeeded in its goal of helping American morale and casting doubt in Japan on the ability of its military leaders. It also caused Japan to withdraw its powerful aircraft carrier force from the Indian Ocean to defend their Home Islands, and the raid contributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto‘s decision to attack Midway—an attack that turned into a decisive strategic defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) by the U.S. Navy near Midway Island in the Central Pacific.
Doolittle later recounted in his autobiography that the raid was intended to bolster American morale and to cause the Japanese to begin doubting their leadership, in which it succeeded:
The Japanese people had been told they were invulnerable … An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders. There was a second, and equally important, psychological reason for this attack … Americans badly needed a morale boost.
Only four members of the Doolittle Raiders are alive, and only three could make it to Dayton Saturday for one final toast saluting the April 18, 1942 raid on Japan that helped boost American morale during World War II.
After Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided they would gather this autumn for one last toast together instead of waiting as had been the original plan for the last two survivors to make the toast. Raiders participating Saturday were Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, Doolittle’s co-pilot, 98, of Comfort, Texas; Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, of Puyallup, Washington, and Sgt. David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Montana.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.