A 17-year-old James L. Doolittle volunteered to join the United States Army during the outbreak of World War II. He knew what he had to do but little did he know that at the time his actions would have a long-lasting legacy.
What was going through your head as you approached the beach?
“Oh boy, I was scared to death. Scared I was going to get killed but I didn’t,” Sgt. Doolittle responded.
Sgt. Doolittle is 100 years young. He’s a native of Edgefield but now lives in North Augusta.
On June 6, 1944, Sgt. Doolittle along with his fellow Commandos boarded the Higgins Craft to invade France, as written in Sgt. Doolittle’s biography I Was First On D-Day.
Sgt. Doolittle was one of the first soldiers to step foot on the beaches of Normandy. Landing at Utah beach. He said he could have never led the way or have the courage to do what he did without being ready to meet the Lord.
“Even if it hadn’t been my dad, it would have been an honor to try to explain to us what they went through because you just can’t visualize. I can’t visualize even after hearing of what they went through,” said Sgt. Doolittle’s daughter Jean Elwell.
Sgt. Doolittle explained, “They had a big place on the top there. They were shooting at us right up there on the cement. So I said, “All ya’ll start shooting up there at where they’re at. At where they’re staying before you get killed.” I went up with them in the front and the rest of them came up behind me. We knocked them out.”
During the battles, Sgt. Doolittle was shot four times but that didn’t phase this American son. One time when he was shot, Sgt. Doolittle was helping a fellow soldier.
He said, “I went back to get him. He had his leg gone and arm. He couldn’t swim. I drug him back to the bank. Right at the bank, I got shot. Shot in the leg but that didn’t stop me.”
“If we didn’t fight we would be we’d be speaking German, and we just wouldn’t have freedom. I mean, we’re here because of them,” added Elwell.
Were you a pretty good shot?
“Yeah,” responded Sgt. Doolittle.
After getting through the beaches, Sgt. Doolittle and the Allies climbed the Pointe du Hoc cliffs to take out the Germans while under heavy fire.
“We didn’t run from nobody. We stayed there,” affirmed Sgt. Doolittle.
With the Navy’s help, the soldiers at the cliffs were able to topple the Germans. That night on June sixth, Sgt. Doolittle got some rest in an enemy foxhole.
He said, “We stepped in the German foxholes. We had to kill them out, and then we slept in the holes they dug out. We didn’t dig no holes.”
A few days after D-Day, Sgt. Doolittle saved the life of Strom Thurmond, who he knew from growing up in Edgefield, after the former Senator’s glider crash-landed in an apple orchard.
“Hanging in that thing upside down. I told them boys, “We got to cut him. So I go see who it is. I said, “I seen him move!” They said, “You didn’t see him move. That thing is torn all to pieces.” I said, “No, he’s in there. Surely.” So I said, “Thurmond is that you?” He wouldn’t say a word. Cut him down. He came to himself. He came to himself. He said, “Jimmy is that you?” He called me Jimmy. I said, “Yeah, I’m here,” recounted Sgt. Doolittle.
Sgt. Doolittle was awarded numerous military honors for his bravery, including a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and, a Purple Heart. His daughter says he’s always been very humble about his accomplishments.
“He never told me anything about it until I was 65-years-old. I knew he was in the war. Didn’t know he had any medals. Didn’t know anything about it,” said Elwell.
Sgt. Doolitte’s Regiment fought in five European campaigns. Starting at Normandy and ending in Berlin while he remained strong. Fighting on the front line.
“Great, great honor to be an American. We shouldn’t take this for granted. It’s not for granted,” said Elwell.
Are there any life lessons that you learned while being at D-Day?
With a chuckle, Sgt. Doolittle responded, “Yeah, leave everybody else alone.”
Elwell said her dad has always been a wonderful father, and he raised all of his children with his wife of more than 70 years to treat others properly. The only thing you can’t do is miss church and Sgt. Doolittle doesn’t miss a Sunday service.