Birth Of Aviator Jimmy Doolittle

US #2697a honors the raid on Tokyo that Doolittle led.

James “Jimmy” Doolittle was born on December 14, 1896, in Alameda, California.

Doolittle was an early aviation pioneer who devoted 42 years of his life to service in the US Air Force. While he had equals in terms of daring and bravery, Doolittle was one of the first aeronautical engineers. He was a flight leader and gunnery instructor during World War I.

Following the war, he earned fame by making several groundbreaking flights. in 1922, Doolittle was awarded the first of two Distinguished Flying Crosses for flying a de Havilland DH-4 – which was equipped with early navigational instruments – in the first cross-country flight in 21 hours and 19 minutes. Three years later, Doolittle won a race flying his Curtiss R3C with an average speed of 232 mph.

US #2697a – Fleetwood First Day Cover picturing Doolittle.

In 1927, Doolittle was the first to successfully perform an outside loop – a maneuver that was thought to be fatal. But Doolittle’s most lasting contribution may be the development of instrument flying. He was the first to imagine that pilots could use instruments to fly when their vision was restricted by the elements or conditions – which his men did during the “Doolittle Raid.”

Planning for the raid began shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. It was to be the first air raid on Japan. It launched early in the morning on April 18, 1942. Doolittle flew one of 16 B-25B bombers that were launched from the USS Hornet deep within the Western Pacific Ocean. Their targets were military installations in Japan, but the primary mission was to boost American morale.

US #2697a – Silk Cachet First Day Cover also pictures Doolittle.

Doolittle was a trailblazer and already famous for his daring string of aviation “firsts,” including several speed records. This mission would test those skills, as the unproven planes, their ability to launch from the aircraft carrier, and the flight distance were tremendous risk factors. The crew’s fate was also a gamble – the B-25Bs could not land on the carrier, so after dropping their bombs they were to continue on to China. Once there, the men would be vulnerable to capture by Japanese patrols.

In the end, the raid was successful and morale soared. But the cost was painful. Though none of the bombers were shot down during the raid, they were all destroyed because the pilots were unable to reach their refueling station in China. In the end, 77 of the 80 pilots survived the initial raid. All 80 of Doolittle’s Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross medal. It was a significant success that lifted American spirits and began to raise doubts in the Japanese leadership.

Item #CNM11534 – Medal commemorating Doolittle’s famous raid.

For his service, Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted two grades to brigadier general. After the war, Doolittle helped found the Air Force Association and served as its first president. He later served as assistant to the chief of staff of the Air Force and on Eisenhower’s Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities. After retiring from the military, Doolittle received the Tony Jannus Award for his contributions to commercial aviation. He received a number of honors in his later years, including promotion to the rank of full 4-star General. Doolittle was also the first person to receive both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s two highest honors.  He died on September 27, 1993.

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  1. The Greatest generation learned and were encouraged by his generation…
    A1C Don Carlson. 801st Combat Support Group. 8th Air Force. SAC

  2. Of the 80 crewmen (pilots, navigators, bombardiers), 77 survived. Eight were captured by the Japanese army, three of whom were executed. One plane landed in the Soviet Union and the five crewman were imprisoned for over a year but were allowed to depart via Iran. The rest of the crewmen were aided by the Chinese and were eventually able to make it back to the U.S. Captain Ted Lawson, co-pilot on General Doolittle’s plane, wrote a book about his experiences on the raid, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” A film adaption of the book, staring Spencer Tracey and Van Johnson, was released during the war in 1944.

  3. i was one of his fans when this raid took place and i was in 4th grade.
    thanks for the other readers’ comments. I AM GLAD HE WAS EVENTUALLY WELL RECOGNIZED BY UNCLE SAM.

  4. Capt. Ted Lawson was NOT the co-pilot on Doolittle’s plane. Lawson was the pilot on his own plane, nicknamed the “Ruptured Duck” and was the 7th plane to takeoff from the Hornet (Doolittle was first). Lawson was forced to ditch when he ran out of gas short of his landing field. Four of the five men on the crew were seriously injured, although all five eventually made it back to the US with the help of the Chinese. Lawson lost a leg because of his injuries.
    People really shouldn’t post about things they are ignorant about.

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