Written by Johan van Waart, Global Director of Projects
“I Could Never Be So Lucky Again” by General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle and Carroll V. Glines.
Published 1991 by Bantam Books
A very interesting read and having read it I can agree: he could never be so lucky again. In fact, no-one could ever be so lucky ever again.
General James H. Doolittle is mainly known for the “Doolittle Raid” on Tokyo in 1942 which was more important for the PR effect it had than its military significance. However, there is a whole lot more to General Doolittle that I was not aware of and the book is quite extensive in covering that. It is amazing to read how he managed to get so much accomplished in his life considering how many plane crashes he walked away from!
James Doolittle started life in Alaska and California and started flying at an early age. He started as a stunt pilot and doing aerial acrobatics. When joining the army he used his time in the Army to get a PhD in aeronautical science. He missed seeing action in WWI but more than made up for that in WWII, covering both theatres of operations (Pacific and Atlantic) and ending the war as Commanding General of the 8th Air Force in Okinawa after commanding the “Mighty Eighth” in Europe after also having been Commanding General of the 15th Air Force in Italy and the 12th in North Africa. Interesting to read are his interactions with Eisenhower, Patton and MacArthur. James Doolittle was not an easy man to deal with I would say and he would not pull any punches, even when it concerned his superiors. Having been a prizefighter in his early days, you would not expect him to, I suppose.
It is interesting to read how many different types of planes he flew and how he traveled the world extensively, as a salesman for planes, a director of Shell Union Oil Co and as General in the US army. He stood at the cradle of NASA, was decorated with the highest military honors and won many flying awards. He met FDR (once), the King and Queen of England and Churchill and was friends (to a certain extend) with German ace Ernst Udet. He led from the front when given permission for that by his superiors, as in the Doolittle Raid.
He seemed to have both feet firmly on the ground though and could deal with honest criticism I suppose. My favorite story in the book is when he was visiting an airfield when B-17 bombers were coming back from a raid in Germany: One of the bombers was badly shot up and ambulance crews were tending to the wounded. The tail gun turret had been blown apart and the tail gunner crawled out surprisingly unhurt. Doolittle could not believe it and asked “Were you in that turret when it was blasted?”. The lad looked at his three stars and replied, politely, “Yes, Sir”. He didn’t elaborate. As Doolittle walked away, the gunner said to a buddy of his standing nearby, “Where in the hell did that bald-headed bastard think I was – out buying a ham sandwich? His buddy tried to shush him up and said, “My God, man, not so loud. He’ll hear you. Don’t you know who that was?” “Sure, I’ve seen pictures,” the gunner replied. “But I don’t give a damn. That was a stupid question”.
He was right.
Doolittle played a major part in the bombing of Europe, the D-Day invasion (and the failure of the bombings on that day), the planning of other operations and establishing the Air Force an independent branch of the Armed Forces.
He led a very accomplished life, achieving a plethora of things of which many people would think that accomplishing one would mean a successful life.
The latter part of the book, mentioning the many directorships is slightly tame compared to the thrill ride of the first part but still interesting. I think it was the right call for a man like James Doolittle to stay out of politics, considering the straight talking man that he was.
A very interesting read indeed.
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