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Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle
Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle
Photograph courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center



LT. COL. JAMES H. DOOLITTLE
(1896-1993)
Played by Alec Baldwin in Pearl Harbor

As a fast punching boy growing up in Los Angeles, Jimmy Doolittle was renowned for street fighting. After at least one arrest for brawling, he turned to amateur boxing and became the amateur flyweight champion of the West Coast. He went on to college but dropped out in 1917 to enlist in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army, where he learned to fly with the same sure, tough instincts he had shown as a boxer.

After World War I Doolittle remained in the Army--flying in a stunt team, winning air races, setting speed and distance records, and attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received one of the first doctorates in aeronautics.

Doolittle resigned his Army commission in 1930 because of what he called his advanced age. He was 34. He remained in the Officers Reserve Corps, often testing planes for the Army Air Corps. In 1932 he won the Thompson Trophy at the National Air Races in Cleveland, setting a world land speed record of 296 miles an hour (476 kilometers an hour) in an erratic aircraft some called the flying death trap.

Doolittle returned to active duty in the Air Corps in 1940. He initially worked with industry executives on aircraft-engine production and in the fall of 1941 made a survey of British aircraft production. His next assignment put him at the controls of the new, twin-engine B-26 Marauder bomber, which pilots called a widowmaker because several had crashed. Its 100-mile-an-hour (160-kilometer-an-hour) landing speed and stubby wings made it tricky to handle. Doolittle proved that the B-26 was a safe and effective aircraft and convinced pilots that all they needed to do was learn how to fly it.

In early 1942, as an Army Air Forces lieutenant colonel, Doolittle was directed to train volunteer flight crews for a carrier-launched raid on Japan. He personally led the raid--sometimes called the Doolittle raid--against Japan on April 18, 1942, after which his plane crash-landed in China. Doolittle made his way out of China and returned to the United States. Awarded the Medal of Honor for leading the raid, he was also promoted to brigadier general, becoming one of only two U.S. Army Air Forces officers to skip the rank of colonel.

In September 1942 Doolittle was sent to England to command the 12th Air Force, which deployed to North Africa after November 1942's North Africa invasion. In February 1943 Doolittle assumed command of the Anglo-American Strategic Air Force in North Africa. This was followed by command of the 15th Air Force, which covered the central Mediterranean area.

In January 1944 Doolittle took command of the Eighth Air Force in England, flying heavy bombers against European targets (he was promoted to lieutenant general after taking command). He held that command until May 1945, when he began moving part of the Eighth Air Force to the Pacific in preparation for operations against Japan.

Doolittle left active duty on January 5, 1946, as a lieutenant general. The U.S. Congress promoted him to full general on the Air Force retired list on April 4, 1985.

 

 
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