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First Name: James

Last Name: Doolittle

Birthplace: Alameda, CA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: Harold

Date of Birth: 14 December 1896

Date of Death: 27 September 1993

Rank: General

Years Served: 1917 - 1959
James Harold Doolittle

•  World War I (1914 - 1918)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


James Harold 'Jimmy' Doolittle
General, U.S. Air Force
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II

General James Harold 'Jimmy' Doolittle, U.S. Air Force, was an American aviation pioneer. As a Lieutenant Colonel, he earned the Medal of Honor for his valor and leadership as Commander of the Doolittle Raid on Japan.

Doolittle served as a Brigadier General, Major General and Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. On 4 April 1985, the U.S. Congress promoted Doolittle to the rank of full General on the U.S. Air Force retired list. In a ceremony on 10 April 1985, President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Senator and retired Air Force Reserve Major General Barry Goldwater, pinned on Doolittle's four-star insignia. This made James Harold 'Jimmy' Doolittle the first person in Air Force Reserve history to wear four stars.

James Harold Doolittle was born on 14 December 1896 in Alameda, CA, and spent his youth in Nome, AK, where he earned a reputation as a boxer. By 1910, he 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. Doolittle took a leave of absence in October 1917 to enlist in the Signal Corps Reserve as a flying cadet; he received his ground training at the University of California School of Military Aeronautics, and flight training at Rockwell Field, CA. Doolittle received his Reserve Military Aviator rating and was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Signal Officers Reserve Corps on 11 March 1918.

Military Career

During World War I, Doolittle stayed in the U.S. as a flight instructor and performed his war service at Camp John Dick Aviation Concentration Center ("Camp Dick"), TX; Wright Field, OH; Gerstner Field, LA; Rockwell Field, CA; Kelly Field, TX and Eagle Pass, TX.

Doolittle's service at Rockwell Field consisted of duty as a flight leader and gunnery instructor. At Kelly Field, he served with the 104th Aero Squadron and with the 90th Aero Squadron of the 1st Surveillance Group. His detachment of the 90th Aero Squadron was based at Eagle Pass, patrolling the Mexican border. Qualifying for retention in the Air Service during demobilization at the end of the war, Doolittle received a Regular Army commission as a First Lieutenant, Air Service, on 1 July 1920. Subsequently, he attended the Air Service Mechanical School at Kelly Field and the Aeronautical Engineering Course at McCook Field, OH.

Having at last returned to complete his college degree, he earned the Bachelor of Arts from the University of California - Berkeley in 1922, and joined the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity.

Doolittle was one of the most famous pilots during the interwar period. In September 1922, he made the first of many pioneering flights, flying a de Havilland DH-4 - that was equipped with early navigational instruments - in the first cross-country flight, from Pablo Beach, FL, to Rockwell Field, San Diego, CA, in 21 hours and 19 minutes, making only one refueling stop at Kelly Field. The U.S. Army awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In July 1923, after serving as a test pilot and aeronautical engineer at McCook Field, Doolittle entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In March 1924, he conducted aircraft acceleration tests at McCook Field, which became the basis of his master's thesis and led to his second Distinguished Flying Cross. He received his S.M. in Aeronautics from MIT in June 1924. Since the Army had given him two years to get his degree, and he had done it in only one, he immediately started working on his Sc.D. in Aeronautics, which he received in June 1925. He said that he considered his master's work more significant than his doctorate.

Following graduation, Doolittle attended special training in high-speed seaplanes at Naval Air Station Anacostia in Washington, DC. He also served with the Naval Test Board at Mitchel Field, Long Island, NY, and was a familiar figure in air speed record attempts in the New York area. He won the Schneider Cup race in a Curtiss R3C in 1925 with an average speed of 232 MPH. For that feat, Doolittle was awarded the Mackay Trophy in 1926.

In April 1926, Doolittle was given a leave of absence to go to South America to perform demonstration flights. In Chile, he broke both ankles, but put his P-1 Hawk through aerial maneuvers with his ankles in casts. He returned to the U.S., and was confined to Walter Reed Army Hospital for his injuries until April 1927. Doolittle was then assigned to McCook Field for experimental work, with additional duty as an instructor pilot to the 385th Bomb Squadron of the Air Corps Reserve. During this time, he was the first to perform an outside loop.

Instrument Flight

Doolittle's most important contribution to aeronautical technology was the development of instrument flying. He was the first to recognize that true operational freedom in the air could not be achieved unless pilots developed the ability to control and navigate aircraft in flight, from takeoff run to landing rollout, regardless of the range of vision from the cockpit. Doolittle was the first to envision that a pilot could be trained to use instruments to fly through fog, clouds, precipitation of all forms, darkness, or any other impediment to visibility; and in spite of the pilot's own possibly confused motion sense inputs. Even at this early stage, the ability to control aircraft was getting beyond the motion sense capability of the pilot. That is, as aircraft became faster and more maneuverable, pilots could become seriously disoriented without visual cues from outside the cockpit, because aircraft could move in ways that pilots' senses could not accurately decipher.

Doolittle was also the first to recognize these psycho-physiological limitations of the human senses (particularly the motion sense inputs, i.e., up, down, left, right). He initiated the study of the subtle interrelationships between the psychological effects of visual cues and motion senses. His research resulted in programs that trained pilots to read and understand navigational instruments. A pilot learned to "trust his instruments," not his senses, as visual cues and his motion sense inputs (what he sensed and "felt") could be incorrect or unreliable.

In 1929, he became the first pilot to take off, fly and land an airplane using instruments alone, without a view outside the cockpit. Having returned to Mitchel Field that September, he assisted in the development of fog flying equipment. He helped develop, and was then the first to test, the now universally used artificial horizon and directional gyroscope. He attracted wide newspaper attention with this feat of "blind" flying and later received the Harmon Trophy for conducting the experiments. These accomplishments made all-weather airline operations practical.

In January 1930, he advised the Army on the building of Floyd Bennett Field in New York City. Doolittle resigned his regular commission on 15 February 1930, and was commissioned a Major in the Specialist Reserve Corps a month later. He was named manager of the Aviation Department of Shell Oil Company and, in that capacity, he conducted numerous aviation tests. He also frequently returned to active duty with the Army to conduct tests.

Doolittle helped influence Shell Oil Company to produce the first quantities of 100 octane aviation gasoline. High octane fuel was crucial to the high-performance planes that were developed in the late 1930s.

In 1931, Doolittle won the Bendix Trophy Race from Burbank, CA, to Cleveland, OH, in a Laird Super Solution Biplane.

In 1932, Doolittle set the world's high speed record for land planes at 296 miles per hour in the Shell Speed Dash. Later, he took the Thompson Trophy Race at Cleveland in the notorious Gee Bee R-1 racer with a speed averaging 252 miles per hour. After having won the three big air racing trophies of the time; the Schneider, Bendix, and Thompson, he officially retired from air racing stating, "I have yet to hear anyone engaged in this work dying of old age."

In April 1934, Doolittle became a member of the Baker Board. Chaired by former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, the board was convened during the Air Mail scandal to study Air Corps organization. A year later, Doolittle transferred to the Air Corps Reserve. In 1940, he became president of the Institute of Aeronautical Science. He returned to active duty 1 July 1940, as a Major and Assistant District Supervisor of the Central Air Corps Procurement District at Indianapolis, IN, and Detroit, MI, 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 build-ups.

The Doolittle Raid

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and America's entry into World War II, Doolittle was recalled to active duty. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 2 January 1942, and assigned to Army Air Forces Headquarters to plan the first retaliatory air raid on the Japanese homeland. He volunteered for, and received, General H.H. Arnold's approval to lead the top-secret attack of 16 B-25 medium bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, with targets in Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, Osaka, and Nagoya.

On 18 April 1942, all the bombers successfully took off from the Hornet, reached Japan, and bombed their targets. Fifteen of the planes then headed for their recovery airfield in China, while one crew chose to land in Russia due to their bomber's unusually high fuel consumption. As did most of the other crewmen who participated in the mission, Doolittle's crew bailed out safely over China when their bomber ran out of fuel. By then they had been flying for about 12 hours, it was nighttime, the weather was stormy, and Doolittle was unable to locate their landing field. Doolittle came down in a rice paddy (saving a previously injured ankle from breaking) near Chuchow (Quzhou). He and his crew linked up after the bailout and were helped through Japanese lines by Chinese guerrillas and American missionary John Birch. Other aircrews were not so fortunate. Although most eventually reached safety with the help of friendly Chinese, several crewmembers lost their lives after being captured by the Japanese, who occupied many areas along the China coast. Doolittle went on to fly more combat missions as commander of the 12th Air Force in North Africa, for which he was awarded four Air Medals. The other surviving members of the raid also went on to new assignments.

Doolittle received the Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House for planning and leading his raid on Japan. 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."

The Doolittle Raid is viewed by historians as a major morale-building victory for the United States. Although the damage to the Japanese war industry was minor, the raid showed the Japanese that their homeland was vulnerable to air attack, and forced them to withdraw several front-line fighter units from Pacific war zones for homeland defense. More significantly, Japanese commanders considered the raid deeply embarrassing, and their attempt to close the perceived gap in their Pacific defense perimeter led directly to the decisive American victory during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

When asked from where the Tokyo raid was launched, President Roosevelt coyly said its base was Shangri-La, a fictional paradise from the popular novel Lost Horizon. In the same vein, the US Navy named one of its carriers the USS Shangri-La.

Post-Raid - World War II

In July 1942, as a Brigadier General (he had been promoted by two grades on the day after the Tokyo attack, bypassing the rank of full Colonel) Doolittle was assigned to the nascent Eighth Air Force and in September became Commanding General of the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. He was promoted to Major General in November 1942, and in March 1943 became Commanding General of the Northwest African Strategic Air Forces, a unified command of U.S. Army Air Force and Royal Air Force units.

Maj. Gen. Doolittle took command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in November 1943. On 10 June, he flew as co-pilot with Jack Sims, fellow Tokyo Raider, in a B-26 Marauder of the 320th Bombardment Group, 442nd Bombardment Squadron on a mission to attack gun emplacements at Pantelleria. Doolittle continued to fly, despite the risk of capture, while being privy to the Ultra secret, which was that the German encryption systems had been broken by the British. From January 1944 to September 1945, he held his largest command, the Eighth Air Force in England as a Lieutenant General, his promotion date being 13 March 1944 and the highest rank ever held by a reserve officer in modern times. Doolittle's major influence on the European air war occurred early in the year when he changed the policy requiring escorting fighters to remain with the bombers at all times. With his permission, P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s on escort missions strafed German airfields and transport while returning to base, contributing significantly to the achievement of air supremacy by Allied Air Forces over Europe.

After the end of the European war, the Eighth Air Force was re-equipped with B-29 Superfortress bombers and started to relocate to Okinawa in the Pacific. Two bomb groups had begun to arrive on 7 August. However, the 8th was not scheduled to be at full strength until February 1946 and Doolittle declined to rush 8th Air Force units into combat simply to say that "the 8th Air Force had operated against the Japanese in the Pacific."


On 10 May 1946, Doolittle reverted to inactive reserve status at the grade of Lieutenant General. He returned to Shell Oil as a vice president, and later as a director. In 1947, Doolittle became the first president of the Air Force Association, an organization which he helped create.

In March 1951, Doolittle was appointed a special assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, serving as a civilian in scientific matters which led to Air Force ballistic missile and space programs. In 1952, following a string of three air crashes in two months at Elizabeth, NJ, Harry S. Truman appointed him to lead a presidential commission examining the safety of urban airports. The report "Airports and Their Neighbors" led to zoning requirements for buildings near approaches, early noise control requirements, and initial work on "super airports" with 10,000 foot runways suitable for 150 ton aircraft.

Doolittle retired from Air Force duty on 28 February 1959. He remained active in other capacities, including chairman of the board of TRW Space Technology Laboratories.

On 4 April 1985, the U.S. Congress promoted Doolittle to the rank of full General on the Air Force retired list. In a later ceremony, President Ronald Reagan and U.S. Senator and retired Air Force Reserve Major General Barry Goldwater pinned on Doolittle's four-star insignia.

Medals and Awards


Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Silver Star Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross (3)
Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal (4)

He also received medals from Great Britain, France, Belgium, Poland, China, and Ecuador.


Presidential Medal of Freedom *
Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1959

* Doolittle is the only person to be awarded his nation's two highest honors: the Medal of Honor (Military) and the Medal of Freedom, (Civilian).


The Sylvanus Thayer Award from the U.S. Military Academy in 1983

Tony Jannus Award for distinguished contributions to commercial aviation, in recognition of the development of instrument flight

Induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America as the only member of the Air Racing Category in the inaugural class of 1989

Induction into the Aerospace Walk of Honor in the inaugural class of 1990

The headquarters of the U.S. Air Force Academy Association of Graduates (on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy), Doolittle Hall, is named in his honor.

On 9 May 2007, the new 12th Air Force Combined Air Operations Center, Building 74, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, AZ, was named in his honor as the "General James H. Doolittle Center." Several surviving members of the Doolittle Raid were in attendance during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Doolittle was awarded the Bolivian Order of the Condor of the Andes, now in the collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The Society of Experimental Test Pilots annually presents the James H. Doolittle Award in his memory. The award is for "outstanding accomplishment in technical management or engineering achievement in aerospace technology."

Cinematic Honors

• Spencer Tracy played Doolittle in Mervyn LeRoy's 1944 movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
• Alec Baldwin played Doolittle in Michael Bay's 2001 movie Pearl Harbor.
• Bob Clampett's 1946 cartoon Baby Bottleneck briefly portrays a dog named "Jimmy Do-quite-a-little," who invents a failed rocketship.

Personal Life

Doolittle married Josephine E. 'Joe' Daniels on 24 December 1917. At a dinner celebration after Jimmy Doolittle's first all-instrument flight in 1929, 'Joe' 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. Married for over 70 years, Joe 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 commander of the 524th Fighter-Bomber Squadron and piloted a F-101 Voodoo.

Their other son, John P. Doolittle, retired from the Air Force as a Colonel, and his grandson, Colonel James H. Doolittle III, was Vice Commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, CA.

Death and Burial

General James Harold 'Jimmy' Doolittle died at the age of 96 in Pebble Beach, CA, on 27 September 1993, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, next to his beloved wife, Josephine E. 'Joe' Doolittle (nee Daniels). In his honor at the funeral, there was a flyover by Miss Mitchell, a lone B-25 Mitchell Bomber, and USAF Eighth Air Force bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, LA. After a brief graveside service, Doolittle's great-grandson flawlessly played Taps for his great-grandfather.

Origin of Nickname/Handle:
Jimmy is an informal version of James.

Honoree ID: 36   Created by: MHOH




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