SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – World War II officially ended 75 years ago on Sept. 2, 1945, when the Empire of Japan surrendered to the United States aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri.
But, it was 1,233 days before that when 16 Army Air Corps B-25B Mitchell medium bombers, with the assistance of the Navy, delivered a humiliating blow to the Japanese in what has famously been called the Doolittle Raid. Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, arguably the best aviator at the time, led the daring mission that struck at the heart of the Japanese people.
Sheppard AFB had more to do with that mission than most people know. Beginning in October 1941, Sheppard Field, as it was called then, was the primary location at which the Army Air Corps trained aircraft mechanics, including those who maintained the B-25B Mitchell.
Fast forward to the present time, and another generation of Doolittle Airmen is looking to make his own mark in military service, this time as an aircraft maintainer, much like the AAC mechanics who maintained those B-25s eight decades ago.
Airman 1st Class John Taylor Doolittle Jr., a distant relative of the Air Force legend, graduated Sept. 3, 2020, from the 362nd Training Squadron’s F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief apprentice course here.
“Being around these bad-ass jets, I mean, the F-16 Fighting Falcon is just phenomenal,” the 40-year-old District of Columbia Air National Guard Airman said of becoming an aircraft maintainer. “I love being around the planes here, learning about the engines. Over all, I think that’s really it. I love the airplane itself, and being able to actually day-in, day-out be around these cool fighter jets.”
Doolittle said he wasn’t excited about his last name as a child as others would make fun of it, saying that it’s silly or calling him Dr. Doolittle. It was a character builder, he said.
He said there aren’t many people in his life whom he has run into who knew about the Doolittle Raiders or the Tokyo Raid. If someone did know about it, they had typically served in the military or they were currently serving. He said it has been eye-opening since he enlisted to see the number of people who know about the raid on the Japanese capitol in 1942 and the name Jimmy Doolittle.
“It really makes me feel special. It makes me feel like I’m part of something that’s important,” he said. “I mean, I haven’t done anything. I’m just a regular guy looking forward to a great Air Force career, but it makes me feel proud. Proud for my family heritage and proud to be an American.”
Learning of the connection between Sheppard AFB and the Airmen who maintained the heralded Doolittle’s group of raiders, well, that’s icing on the cake.
“I think it’s amazing,” he said. “All of this is a brand new world to me. We’re all interconnected. I love the concept of Six Degrees of Separation. I feel like it was my destiny to be here, and it makes me feel extra proud to know that I’m kind of following in the footsteps of some great Americans, and to be able to be trained in the same location as some of these great Americans as well really makes me feel extra proud.”
Doolittle admitted he’s never been much of a handyman. His life before joining the 113th Wing at Andrews AFB, Maryland, landed him in the hotel industry before moving into technology and software sales, which he will continue while serving in the guard.
But he has always been enamored with the military, he said. As a single father in his 20s, life didn’t offer the opportunity to scratch the itch to serve.
He said people often asked him if he is or if he did serve because he looked the part. Maybe part of it, too, was because of his last name. Regardless, he wasn’t able to say that he did.
Opportunity and life changed that response.
“Thankfully, I know I’m a little late to the ballgame, but it’s something I’ve been able to do. I have a wonderful wife who has been supportive of (me) pursuing my dream, and she’s at home holding down the fort,” he said. “Thankfully I’ve had an opportunity to be part of this great organization.”
Doolittle said one thing he loves about the aircraft maintenance heritage is the camaraderie that Airmen from all walks of life experience. He said he enjoys seeing Airmen be proud of the work they are doing and understanding the legacy and history behind their career field.
He said he loves knowing that what the aircraft maintenance community does or doesn’t do can directly impact the mission, and perhaps more.
“If an aircraft isn’t properly maintained, then the mission can’t be completed. If the mission isn’t completed, we might not be able to preserve our way of life, and I think that’s a huge deal,” he said. “To be able to connect the dots between what we’re doing here with the maintainer tools in a hangar working on an aircraft and the ultimate impact that has on our country and our civilization is pretty earth-shattering.”
Doolittle encouraged others to remember the nation’s history, including that of the military, to ensure the country is moving in a direction that creates “the best future possible.”
“Because if we can’t learn from the mistakes of the past, if we can’t really understand what helped us to succeed in our present day, we’re not going to be the best that we can be in the future,” he said.