Wednesday, April 18, 2012

TFH 4/18: General James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, USAAF

James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle was born on December 14, 1896 in Alameda, California. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley in 1922, he had taken a break from his studies in 1917 to enlist in the Army Signal Corps Reserve as a flying cadet. He didn't serve overseas during World War I, but his skill and proficiency as a pilot saw him retained by the Army Air Service and he received a commission as a First Lieutenant in 1918. He eventually resigned his active commission in 1930 and reverted to reserve status with the rank of Major.

Doolittle was recalled to active service at the outbreak of World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in January 1942. He volunteered to lead the attack of Army bombers on Japan from a US Navy aircraft carrier: now known as the Doolittle Raid. I've already recounted the history of that event on this blog today, but the rest of Jimmy Doolittle's story needs to be told.

The day after the raid, Doolittle was promoted to Brigadier General, skipping the rank of Colonel. Doolittle, more concerned with avoiding capture by the Japanese in occupied China, didn't know. In fact, he was certain that the loss of all 16 aircraft and the relatively minor damage inflicted on the Japanese targets by the Raiders' bombs would assure his court-martial. He couldn't have been more wrong.

Jimmy Doolittle received his third award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for piloting one of the sixteen bombers on the mission. For his overall command, leadership, and initiative he was decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

DOOLITTLE, JAMES H. (Air Mission) 

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. Citation: 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. 

As regular readers will note, placing a recipient's citation early in the post is unusual; it's normally what I use as the culminating feature of recounting tales of heroism. If you watch the fantastic movie about the Doolittle Raid, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (available on YouTube), you'll see that Doolittle is introduced with no back-story given. That's because prior to the raid, prior to World War II, he was a nationally-known aviation pioneer.

Jimmy Doolittle caught the aviation bug when he saw his first airplane at the Los Angeles International Air Meet in 1910. His initial air training and education is listed above. In 1922, he completed the first ever coast-to-coast flight across the United States - Pablo Beach, FL to San Diego, CA - with just a single refueling stop in Texas. In 1923, Doolittle entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received both a master's and doctorate in aeronautics in just two years of work.

In 1929, Doolitte accomplished an aviation feat that revolutionized flying. He had appreciated that the airman wouldn't be truly free flying until they could control and navigate in flight, takeoff to landing, with no ground references or visibility. He studied human psychological and physical reactions to flight dynamics and concluded that human instinct and senses couldn't be trusted to judge the true condition of an airplane's path through the air.

In short, he invented instrument flying. That year Doolittle completed the first ever flight that took off, stayed airborne, and landed flying by instruments only and having no visibility whatsoever outside the cockpit. Ever since Doolittle's research and innovations, trainee pilots are taught to trust their instruments, not their senses. He received the Harmon Trophy for this work.

Throughout the 1930s, Doolittle continued to drive the science of aviation and aeronautics forward. He wowed spectators at air shows and air races. He worked with the Shell Oil Company to develop high-octane fuels for aircraft, which made the high-performance aviation engines of the late 1930s possible.

After the Doolittle Raid, he was assigned to the Eighth Air Force. In September 1942 he was assigned to command the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa and was promoted to Major General in October of that year. About one year later, he became the first commander of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean.

Throughout all this time Jimmy Doolittle continued to fly combat missions, even though his loss both as a senior commander and the top secret knowledge he was privy to (that the Allies had broken Nazi codes, for example) could have been a devastating loss had he been captured.

In February 1944, he returned to the Eighth Air Force as its commanding general. The "Mighty Eighth" flew from the United Kingdom and conducted strategic bombing raids over Nazi Germany and occupied territories. Doolittle was promoted to Lieutenant General in March 1944 and thus became the highest-ranking reserve officer up to that time. He commanded the Eighth Air Force for the remainder of the war, and went back to reserve status and civilian life in May 1946.

All told for his military service, he also was a two-time recipient of the Army Distinguished Service Medal, received the Silver Star for valor as commander of the Twelfth Air Force, and earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses; all in addition to the Medal of Honor.

Obtained from Military Times' Hall of Valor, here are one of his Distinguished Service Medal and his Silver Star citations:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Major General James Harold Doolittle (ASN: 0-271855), United States Army Air Forces, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services to the Government of the United States, in a duty of great responsibility as Commander of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force since its organization. Under his guidance and direction, this Force has developed a high degree of efficiency and accuracy and brought about, in great measure, a critical reduction in the supplies and reinforcements needed by the enemy. General Doolittle's energy, good judgment, exceptional qualities of leadership and wholehearted cooperation were primary factors in the ultimate success of air operations during the Tunisian Campaign.

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Major General (Air Corps) James Harold Doolittle (ASN: 0-271855), United States Army Air Forces, for gallantry in action. Since 19 February 1943, when he took command of the Allied Strategic Air Force (Northwest Africa), General Doolittle, by his untiring energy, initiative and personal example has inspired the units under him to renewed successful efforts against the enemy. On 5 April 1943, the strategic air force was responsible for the destruction of forty eight enemy planes in the air and approximately 100 on the ground. This extraordinary achievement under the leadership of General Doolittle reflects great credit to himself and the armed forces of the United States.

Doolittle's contributions to aviation and aeronautics continued. He served as a special assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff responsible for scientific matters. This position was intricately involved in the United States' development of ballistic missiles. He retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1959.

A grateful Nation paid two additional respects to this great American. By act of Congress on April 4, 1985, Jimmy Doolittle was promoted to the rank of full General on the Air Force retired list. He had his four stars pinned on by President Ronald Reagan and Senator Barry Goldwater, himself an Air Force Major General. Then, in 1989, President George H.W. Bush awarded Doolittle the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is the only person in history to have received both that award and the Medal of Honor.

Jimmy Doolittle died at age 96 in Pebble Beach, CA on September 27, 1993. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. As Doolittle's body was committed to the earth, a thundering flyover of Eighth Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses from Barksdale Air Force Base honored this amazing man who was so significant to the United States in both peace and war.

Along with the gigantic jet bombers that passed overhead, a lone B-25 Mitchell flew low and slow over Jimmy Doolittle's resting place - a final and fitting salute to the hero who 51 years before had led sixteen of those planes off the USS Hornet for America's first strike on Japan.

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