Jimmy Doolittle

American military officer and aviation pioneer

James Harold Doolittle (December 14, 1896September 27, 1993) was an American military general and aviation pioneer who made early coast-to-coast flights, won many flying races, and helped develop instrument flying. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for personal valor and leadership as commander of the Doolittle Raid, a bold long-range retaliatory air raid on some of the Japanese main islands on April 18, 1942, four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The raid was a major morale booster for the United States and Doolittle was celebrated as a hero.

Jimmy Doolittle

Doolittle was promoted to lieutenant general and commanded the Twelfth Air Force over North Africa, the Fifteenth Air Force over the Mediterranean, and the Eighth Air Force over Europe. After World War II, he retired and left the Air Force but remained active in many technical fields, and was eventually promoted to general 26 years after retirement.


  • It had three real purposes. One purpose was to give the folks at home the first good news that we'd had in World War II. It caused the Japanese to question their warlords. And from a tactical point of view, it caused the retention of aircraft in Japan for the defense of the home islands when we had no intention of hitting them again, seriously in the near future. Those airplanes would have been much more effective in the South Pacific where the war was going on.
    • On the objectives of the Doolittle Raid
  • As quoted in an 1980 interview, "Interview with Gen. James H. Doolittle"
  • [T]here has never been a time, when I’ve been completely satisfied with myself. . . . I’ve very much appreciated the respect that my peers have given me throughout a fairly long life. Nowadays I try to spend at least half my time continuing to be useful, still making a contribution, while getting whatever rest, recreation, and diversification I believe is essential if one is to go on living a happy and useful life.
  • One of the things that we considered was being apprehended before we got to Japan. And the plan was that if we were within range of Japan, we would go ahead and bomb our targets, fly out to sea and hope, rather futilely, to be picked up by one of the two submarines that were in the area. If we were within range of the Hawaiian Islands—say, Midway—we would immediately clear their decks and proceed to Midway so they could utilize the task force properly.
  • It was a dangerous area, for certain. There were saloons, prostitutes, everything. The real Wild West. There was no law to speak of; everyone carried weapons, and they used them. Gambling was rampant, and crime increased with the growing population.
  • When the wreckage was cleared, Mr. Todd [the instructor] looked at me carefully and said we should get on with our business. I was shaken up by what I had seen but nodded in agreement, and we went up for the first lesson. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, my love for flying began on that day during that hour.
    • On recalling a flight accident that resulted in the death of a student, during his first day of training
    • I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: An Autobiography: James Doolittle, Carrol V. Glines, pp. 39 (1991)
  • I felt lower than a frog’s posterior. This was my first combat mission. I planned it from the beginning and led it. I was sure it was my last. As far as I was concerned, it was a failure, and I felt there was no future for me in uniform now. Even if we successfully accomplished the first half of our mission, the second half had been to deliver the B-25s to our units in the China-Burma-India theater of operations.
    • On the aftermath of the Doolittle Raid
    • I Could Never Be So Lucky Again: An Autobiography: James Doolittle, Carrol V. Glines, pp. 11 (1991)
  • That was perhaps the greatest tragedy of our mission. All of that horror was retribution against the Chinese for helping us…. They also exacted their revenge against our captured men, which I learned of later… The loss of those men has always stayed with me. When people ask about the atomic bombs and their justification, they come to mind.

Interview with the American Heritage (April 1974)Edit

Jimmy Doolittle: “I Am Not A Very Timid Type …”

  • Well, I have always been highly competitive, and that is useful no matter what sport you go into. And in those days flying was to a considerable degree a sport, yes. But what really helped me in aviation was to have fast reactions and a good sense of balance. I think I got those from my tumbling, not my boxing.
  • From the time I was a very young fellow, I knew I wanted to do two things. I wanted to build things, and I wanted to see the world. It seemed to me that the best way to build things was to be an engineer, and the best way to see the world was to be the kind of engineer that went to different parts of the world. In those days that meant either a civil or a mining engineer. I decided to become a mining engineer.
  • You look for a chap who has good eyesight, who has fast reactions, who has a good sense of balance, but most important, you look for someone who really loves to fly. It would be very difficult to make a good pilot out of a chap who hated it. We always incline to do best those things that we enjoy doing. Another thing you look for is a pilot who can learn his limitations. A poor pilot is not necessarily a dangerous pilot as long as he remains within his limitations. And you find your limits in the air, by getting closer and closer and closer and sometimes going beyond them and still getting out of it. If you go beyond and don’t get out of it, you haven’t learned your limitations, because you are dead.
  • I will say that in those days the pilot was very important, and his skill in manipulating the airplanes, which were not as reliable as they are today, was very important indeed. The airplanes today are mechanized to such a degree that the pilot no longer depends on the seat of his pants to the extent that he did in the early days. What has happened to aviation has happened to almost everything else. The day of the rugged individualist, the day of the inventor, is almost over. The Ben Franklins and Henry Fords are pretty much a thing of the past. It has just become too complicated. Everything now is a team operation, and if a truly new concept is developed, it means that there will be a large number of people knowledgeable in various scientific disciplines involved. And this requires a different philosophical outlook. I cannot see, for instance, how we could ever have another Lindbergh. Things have changed too much for that sort of competence to be rewarded the way it justifiably was. Still, I think that aviation will continue to develop, and each era will be interesting. But interesting in different ways.

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