World War II brought instant fame to James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, a native of Oakland who spent boyhood summers in Ceres because of family relations here. He found himself here on occasion because his uncle, his dad's brother, lived in Ceres after 1909.
Doolittle joined the U.S. Air Force and became quite an accomplished aviator. In 1922 Doolittle made the first transcontinental flight in less than a day's time. Those piloting skills would prove invaluable to the country.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and plunged the U.S. into war, a dangerous mission was hatched to bomb Tokyo with 16 B-25 bombers. An unexpected and stunning defeat was needed to boost the nation's morale and issue a statement to the enemy. Doolittle was the leader of that April 1942 raid - which was featured in the movie Pearl Harbor - and became a national hero when it succeeded. For his bravery, Doolittle received the Medal of Honor.
Jimmy Doolittle was born on Dec. 14, 1896 in Alameda to Frank Henry Doolittle and Rosa C. Shephard Doolittle. From 1900 to 1908, the Doolittles lived in Nome, Alaska, until his mother took him to Los Angeles. She was disillusioned with the marriage and the Alaskan experience.
Meanwhile, Ralph Cornell Doolittle, Jimmy's uncle, was successful in Oakland, where he landed in 1893. Ralph had been raised in Detroit after being born Aug. 25, 1878 in Great Barrington, Mass. Soon after coming to Oakland, Ralph worked six years for the wholesale grocery firm of Tillman & Bendel in San Francisco. He then quit to work for another grocer, Hill Brothers in San Francisco. George H. Tinkham's "History of Stanislaus County" notes that Ralph Doolittle started out making $20 per month and "ended as an expert in the tea business." He had picked a bride in that time, marrying Sadie Harvey in 1900 in Oakland.
Disaster struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906 when the earthquake set the city ablaze. About 3,000 people died in the disaster and 80 percent of the city was destroyed. The economy of the city was in shambles, leaving many without a source of income. Three years later, Doolittle decided to head to the Central Valley, buying a 22-acre dairy in Ceres and bringing his family. Ralph's parents, Augustus and Margaret Hobson Doolittle, spent some time here. The dairy venture proved profitable for three years but Ralph decided to branch off into another kind of business. Ralph invested $300 in a confectionary, book and stationery shop in Ceres. According to Mildred Lucas' 1976 book, "From Amber Grain ... to Fruited Plain: A History of Ceres, California and its Surroundings," the Doolittle shop was located on the north side of Lawrence Street west of Fourth Street. The shop expanded to a soda fountain, office supplies, toy and novelty shop and general variety store.
With his brother in Ceres, Frank visited here with Jimmy. It is said that Jimmy worked at his uncle's store while he was in town.
Ralph and Sadie had a child of their own, Dorothy Frances Doolittle. Jimmy's cousin was born in 1903 in Chicago and graduated from Ceres High School circa 1920. In 1925 Dorothy married Richard Henrich. She died in 1990.
Ralph was involved in the civic affairs of Ceres and helped promote the selling of bonds in 1920 to build the current Ceres wastewater treatment plant. He served on the Ceres sanitary board for five years. Ralph also was a member of the United Artisans of Ceres and the Ceres Board of Trade, the precursor to the Ceres Chamber of Commerce.
After Augustus' death in 1918, his widow, Margaret came to live in Ceres.
Jimmy Doolittle's most important contribution to aeronautical technology was the development of instrument flying. He was the first to recognize that true operational freedom in the air could not be achieved unless pilots developed the ability to control and navigate aircraft in flight, from takeoff run to landing rollout, regardless of the range of vision from the cockpit. Doolittle was the first to envision that a pilot could be trained to use instruments to fly through fog, clouds, precipitation of all forms, darkness, or any other impediment to visibility; and in spite of the pilot's own possibly convoluted motion sense inputs.
He died at the age of 96 in Pebble Beach in 1993. He was burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
What became of Jimmy's father, Frank? He died Sept. 4, 1917 in Alaska where he is buried. Jimmy's mom Rosa died in 1930 in Missouri.
As far as what happened to Uncle Ralph, the Courier could only ascertain that he was living in 1940 in Oakland.