Brig. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle at Inglewood June 1, 1942
Brig. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle at Inglewood June 1, 1942
photo; Wim Nijenhuis

Brig. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle Visits to North American

Inglewood, June 1, 1942

For some time, the general public knew about the raid, but details were few and far between. The Japanese had reported the raid just hours after it happened. Many American News outlets picked up the story almost immediately as the public was anxious for news of a United States response to the Pearl Harbor attack. There were rumors that 16 B-25s had bombed Japan, but there would be no early confirmation from any United States official. On April 21, 1942, just three days after the raid, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the bombers had taken off from "Shangri-La," a fictional location from the 1933 novel "Lost Horizon."

After the successful raid on Tokyo and other cities in Japan, Brig. Gen. Doolittle returned to the United States. On June 1, 1942, he visited the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California. This was the plant that had manufactured the aircraft that he and 79 other brave individuals flew during the raid. By now, most people were aware that 80 brave men flying 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers attacked various targets in Japan. Doolittle was seen as a hero, and this visit would be no different.

Each of the three plants sent one worker to California for the speech. The worker selected was the winner of the tri-plant contest to improve B-25 production. For Dallas, the winner was James Hinds. The Inglewood winner was Andrew Brown. The winner for the Kansas City plant was Paul Burcham. Each of these three gentlemen were honored to share the stage with Brig. Gen. Doolittle as well as give a small speech. Andrew Brown was given the grand prize of $1,000 in war bonds.

At just after 2 pm central time, on Monday, June 1, 1942 J. H. "Dutch" Kindelberger, presidend of North American Aviation introduced Brig. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle to an audience at the Inglewood plant. This rally would be aired on CBS simultaneously at the Kansas City and Dallas plants. In Kansas City, the program was recorded by KMBC and rebroadcast for the public at 10:15 pm that night. After the original broadcast in Kansas City, Plant Manager H. V. Schwalenberg spoke briefly about the B-25 and local suggestion prize winners. The program was completed by musical numbers by Lawrence Seigle, former musical comedy star who worked in Depart 14, and Mrs. Ed Brady whose husband worked at the Modification Center.

Brig. Gen. Doolittle had this to say:

"Dutch, don't tell a soul but Shangri-La is right here in the North American plant. That's where our B-25 bombers came from. For military reasons, I can't tell you certain things about the flight. I can't tell you where my 79 companions are now except to say that almost all of them are well and happy and itching for another pass at the Japs.

I can tell you something of the planning, the training, and the bombing, the results of the bombing and the airplanes and crews. The idea of this particular mission was conceived in January. The airplanes were specially prepared in February. The crew was given special training in March. Everything went smoothly from the start. Oh, I don't mean that we didn't have all the minor annoyances that go with any new and different problem. The crews were trained in day and night operations.

Training included bombing, gunnery, navigation and general flying with particular attention to offensive and defensive action at extremely low altitudes. We approached our targets in Japan at tree-top altitude and pulled up to 1500 feet to bomb. 1500 feet was chosen as the bombing altitude because it was the lowest altitude from which we could bomb and still enjoy comparative safety from our own bomb fragments; and I should say that one boy bombed from 900 feet and pieces of the things that he destroyed flew higher than his airplane.

Immediately after dropping our bombs, we again lowered away to the tree tops. Our high speed, low altitude and evasive maneuvering made us very elusive targets. This was indicated by the fact that not a single plane was shot down in Japan, although they certainly tried- both with fighters in the air and with anti-aircraft and machine gun fire from the ground. The targets bombed were steel works, refineries, oil tank farms, airplane factories, munition plants, ammunition dumps, etc. Care was exercised to avoid all non-military targets, such as hospitals, schools, churches and even the Imperial Palace. Due to the intensive training the crews had had, their careful study of their charts and individual target areas, the fact that it was a beautiful clear day and because the bombs were dropped from a low altitude, each crew was readily able to destroy it's selected targets.

The highly inflammable nature of the conventional Japanese type of construction added materially to the destruction wrought. The Tokyo radio gave us an indication of what was going on. They were broadcasting in English when we struck, telling about the Cherry Blossom Festival and Japan's freedom from fear of invasion. The program was suddenly interrupted as our bombs landed and an excited voice, speaking in Japanese, said that Tokyo was suffering a devastation air attack. The next day, a program was broadcast requesting all the Japanese people to pray for rain in order to help put the fires out. Two days later, they advised that the fires were finally under control. It was only then that the censored programs came on, advising that little damage had been done- except to hospitals and schools, and that 9 planes had been shot down. Planes were shot down- possibly 9- but they were not ours. They were Japanese fighters that had the temerity to attack our B-25s.

In conclusion, our bombers- your bombers- functioned magnificently. The crews operated them with consummate skill and conspicuous bravery. The B-25 was selected for this mission because it was the best airplane in America for the particular job- that means the best in the world. Past wars have been won on the battle fileds. This war is being fought not only on the battle field but in the shop and at the desk. That country or those countries that can produce and man the greatest number of the best war planes the quickest will win, and remember, it doesn't make a bit of difference whether you are in the cockpit or at the bench, if you do your job the best you can, your contribution toward the winning of the war is the same. Thanks for some swell airplanes."

Kansas City, June 25, 1942

On June 25, 1942, Brig. Gen. Doolittle paid a relatively unannounced visit to the Kansas City plant. Officially, he was here to visit with Colonel L. G. Schlegel about the Modification Center. Their conference lasted just over an hour and he winged his way eastward as quickly as he had come. He did take a few moments to pause in front of the camera but did not address the workers as a group. That didn't stop many from the plant as well as some eating lunch at the airport restaurant from crowding about trying to get a better view.

Based on photographic evidence, it is likely that Brig. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle made other visits to North American. It is also probable that he made a visit to the plant in Dallas. To date, I have very little reliable information about these visits. As I uncover more information, I will update this article