Jimmy Doolittle – “I Could Never Be So Lucky Again”

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I’m finally getting around to reading Gen. Jimmy Doolittle’s biography (of the “Doolittle’s Raiders” raid on Tokyo in 1942 fame). One of many books from World War II leaders on my “to read” list.

It’s a little slow at times because a lot of the book is post-Tokyo raid when he wasn’t flying much. But it’s really interesting to see how the US Air Force grew from “what are these here flying things?” to flying 2000-plane daylight bombing raids in under 30 years.

It’s also interesting to see the guys he got along with … he and Patton were best buds … MacArthur didn’t like him much at all. Doolittle also got on famously with Churchill (who drank him under the table).

Throughout it all, Doolittle is a meticulous engineer. He never shook his air-racing legend, but his attention to detail in everything he did was amazing. It may be boring reading for some, because it’s not all action-packed, but his process is really thorough. A lot of “risks” he took weren’t risks at all because of his preparation and practice.

Some of the details he goes into about how to plan and prepare for bombing missions when he was in charge of the 8th Air Force are pretty interesting. The sheer number of things he had to keep track of was astounding – you really get a sense for the enormity of the job that you don’t find in other books about the same era. This is because Doolittle is more interested in the process than in self-promotion.

And that’s another thing that comes through is how humble the guy is. He never wanted the lime-light, always put his men’s safety first, always put the good of the country and the Air Corps first, never played politics. Truly a bygone era. When do you see this now in a public figure?

So much of what we take for granted now with aerospace and air transport in general can be traced back to the work that Jimmy Doolittle did in the 1920’s and 1930’s. If you’re interested in the history of American aviation, this is a solid read.