“His deeds are in sharp contrast to his name,” the Miami Daily News once wrote of aviation pioneer and Medal of Honor recipient Jimmy Doolittle (1896-1993). Though born in California, he spent his formative years in Alaska, where his father unsuccessfully hunted gold. The 5-foot-4-inch Doolittle learned as a youth to compensate for his small size by raising his fists, boxing professionally through high school and college at the University of California School of Mines.
A gifted racing and stunt pilot with an ear-to-ear grin, the brilliant Doolittle earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was not only the first pilot to fly cross-country in a single day but the first to take off, pilot a plane and land solely on instruments, a feat he accomplished in a hooded cockpit. He later worked for Shell Oil and was instrumental in developing 100-octane fuel.
Doolittle is most known for his planning and execution of the famed April 18, 1942, bombing raid against Tokyo that bears his name. The audacious assault prompted Japan’s military leaders to commit to the invasion of Midway, which ended in disaster and proved the pivotal turning point of the Pacific War. Doolittle went on to command the 12th, 15th and 8th Air Forces. At the war’s end, he returned to Shell Oil, where he served as a vice president and a director.
– James M. Scott, author of the forthcoming “Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor”