The commander of America's first raid on the Japanese homeland in World War II was already a noted aviator when he was called on to plan that dangerous mission.
Doolittle was born on Dec. 14, 1896, in Alameda, Calif., but spent part of his youth and had his first taste of adventure in the gold mining camp of Nome, Alaska.
Graduating from Los Angeles Manual Arts High School in 1914, he attended Los Angeles Junior College and the University of California. He enlisted in the Signal Corps Reserve in October 1917, enrolled in the University of California's School of Military Aeronautics as a flying cadet, and got his commission in March 1918. During World War I he remained in the United States, teaching aerial gunnery and combat tactics for the Army Air Corps.
In the years after the war, Doolittle remained in the military, and gained national prominence as an aviator. On Sept. 4, 1922, he made the first transcontinental cross-country flight in fewer that 24 hours, flying from Pablo Beach, Fla., to San Diego in a DH-4 airplane.
He also continued his education. Taking advantage of his background in mining, he completed an A.B. degree in 1922 from the University of California, and an M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1924. Just a year later he was awarded a Sc.D. from the same institution.
But it was Doolittle's skills as an airplane racer, not his advanced degrees, that continued to place him in the national spotlight. In the late 1920s and early '30s he won the "Big Three" of racing -- the Schneider, Bedix and Thompson trophies. He took his place alongside the greats of early aviation.
Perhaps his greatest pre-war contributions to aviation were his experiments with "blind" all-weather flying. In a
Consolidated NY-2 Navy Trainer, he made the first flight completely dependent upon
instruments, on Sept. 24, 1929. The experiment proved that an airplane could fly safely in adverse weather or darkness and stimulated an aviation industry still in its infancy.
In 1930, Doolittle resigned from the Army Air Corps and was named president of the Institute of Aeronautical Science in 1940, but by this time he could see that war was imminent. He asked to be returned to active duty with the Air Corps. At the time of the Tokyo raid he was a lieutenant colonel; he was immediately promoted to brigadier general after its successful conclusion.
In September 1942 Gen. Doolittle assumed command of the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa and in March 1943 he was named commanding general of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater. From January 1944 to September 1945 he commanded the
Eighth Air Force in England and Okinawa. By war's end, his planes had bombed all three Axis capitals -- Tokyo, Rome and Berlin.
Retiring from active duty after the war, he returned to Shell Oil as a director. Through the years he was associated with several other companies and served on numerous government boards and commissions.
His decorations included the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and numerous foreign honors. At present, Gen. Doolittle's medals and awards are on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
At the end of this career, Doolittle lived in Carmel, Calif., with his wife, the former Josephine Daniels, where he was a director of Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company.
He died in late 1993 at the age of 96. His wife, Josephine, preceded him in death.