By Tommy Wells
Seward Phoenix LOG 

Seward man's son helped pioneer aviation, spur U.S. to win in World War II

 

Tommy Wells

Frank Doolittle is buried in the historic Woodlawn Cemetery. He is the father of World War II hero Jimmy Doolittle.

Frank H. Doolittle probably never thought his role in world history would be more than as a carpenter who built houses in Nome and Seward.

However, the New Englander who had traveled west to Alaska in search of gold in the late 1800s would have a profound impact on history via his lineage: A quarter-century after Frank Doolittle was buried in Seward's historic Woodlawn Cemetery, his son, James, delivered an inspirational blow for reeling U.S. morale with a daring air strike against the the Empire of Japan in World War II. The strike was credited for helping carry the Allied powers to victory.

James (Jimmy) Doolittle's road, much like his father's. was a winding one.

According to the late U.S. Air Force Col. C.V. Glines, Jimmy Doolittle's associate and biographer, Frank and his

wife, Rosa (Shephard) Doolittle, and their newborn son, James, were living in Alameda, California, in December 1896 when two ships carrying $2 million in gold from the Klondike caused many adventurers to head north. In 1897, Doolittle packed up and joined the search for his fortune.

Jimmy later described his father as "a carpenter by trade but an adventurer by inclination."

Like many, Frank Doolittle didn't find precious metal. But as a skilled carpenter he found plenty of work in Nome, a growing community on the edge of the Bering Sea. Thanks to gold, Nome's population had soared to almost 20,000 people by May of 1900, when Doolittle arrived. Shortly afterward, he built a small home and sent for his wife and son to join him.

Then came two major developments in Nome that would affect his life. First, the Nome gold rush didn't last long. By 1903, the gold had played out and the once-bustling gold rush town began losing people in droves. More important, in 1908 Rosa and Frank's marriage ended. She and Jimmy returned to California and Frank moved to the new town of Seward, founded in 1903.

In California, Jimmy Doolittle enrolled in Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. In his high school years he became a boxer and met a young girl named Josephine (Joe) Daniels. Spurred by his desire to have enough money to marry "Joe," Jimmy traveled to Seward after graduating from high school, with hopes of finding gold and land. While visiting his father, he took an extended trip through the eastern half of the Kenai Peninsula prospecting, reportedly making his way near Hope, where he had thought he might buy land. Finding no gold or land, Jimmy Doolittle returned to Seward and told his father he was returning to California, where he planned to enroll at the University of California at Berkley.

That was the last time the two would see each other. Frank Doolittle died on Sept. 4, 1917.

When the U.S. entered World War I, Jimmy Doolittle, then a junior in college, enrolled in the aviation section of the Army Signal Corps. After graduating from flight school he was sent to Rockwell Air Field and five years after his father's death became the first pilot in U.S. aviation history to complete a flight from one coast to the other in less than 24 hours. He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for that feat.

Some 20 years later, he received orders from Washington, D.C., that would put his name in the history books and see him immortalized in films such as "Pearl Harbor," in 2001, in which he is played by Alec Baldwin, and "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," a 1944 movie based on the flight of Doolittle's squadron in which he is portrayed by Spencer Tracy.

In January 1942, just weeks after the Empire of Japan had attacked the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle was informed he would lead a group of 79 airmen in a bombing raid on Tokyo. As part of the mission, 16 B-25's were launched off the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet with orders to bomb military sites in five Japanese cities, including Tokyo.

He was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the raid and was one of a select group of American servicemen invited to attend the final surrender of Japan aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in August 1945.

Jimmy Doolittle, son of "a carpenter by trade but an adventurer by inclination," died on Sept. 27, 1993, at the age of 96.

 

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