Pearl Harbor's Avenger
updated 10/11/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/11/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT
He wasn't one to rest on his laurels. The son of an Alameda, Calif., carpenter turned Alaska gold prospector, Doolittle, 5'6" and scrappy, had always valued hard work. After training as an Army pilot he taught flying to cadets during World War I, then performed aerial stunts and set speed records as an Army test pilot—while earning a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from MIT. Following the Tokyo bombing run, he was instantly promoted to brigadier general, and though he joked about an easier life ("I'd like to run a peanut stand...on a quiet street," he once wrote Josephine, the high school sweetheart he married), he didn't ease up. After leaving the Army, he worked as a Shell Oil executive, helped Josephine raise their two sons and served as president of the Institute of Aeronautical Science, among other honorary positions. He gave up flying by 1961. "My friends who only half quit...didn't stay proficient," he said at the time. "Inevitably they would be tempted to go into bad weather, and they ended up dead."
But the glory never stopped coming. In 1985 President Reagan made Doolittle a four-star general, and in 1989 President Bush, pronouncing Doolittle "the master of the calculated risk," gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Doolittle took the accolades in stride, his son John, also a military pilot, said last week. "His philosophy was...that we were put on this earth for a purpose: to, within our capabilities, make the earth a better place to live."