Panel leader holds special bond with Raiders

  • Published
  • By P.A. Tezuka
  • SMC Public Affairs
As the moderator for the Doolittle Raiders' panel discussion, Jonna Hoppes, who works here at Los Angeles Air Force Base as the text examiner for the 61st Mission Support Squadron Educational Office, was more involved than one could ever imagine. Their visit to the base hit close to her heart. She and the Raiders have a common bond. Ms. Hoppes is the granddaughter of Gen. James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle. 

General Doolittle was the first ever recipient of a Ph.D. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1925,. He was the first pilot to fly an aircraft using instruments only, "blind flight," in the late 1920s and is credited for its development. In the early 1930s, he set speed records for land planes and won numerous air racing trophies. During World War II, he was the highest ranking reserve officer to serve the military. He was honored with numerous awards, including the Medal of Honor for his leadership with the Doolittle Raiders. 

But the Jimmy Doolittle that Ms. Hoppes remembers is far more than the hero that history books or military records can reveal. "Gramps," as Ms. Hoppes referred to him, was a humble gentleman with a "marvelous sense of humor," who never stopped learning well into his nineties. 

At his passing several years back, her youngest daughter, then a preteen, said her great-grandfather was someone that "was fun and made us laugh." 

"What stands out most was, of course, he was so much fun ... he literally played with us," said Ms. Hoppes, of the wonderful times she, her four siblings and their cousin enjoyed with their grandfather when they were growing up. "We knew we could go to him ... he was very approachable, always available. It was unconditional love." 

General Doolittle created imaginary characters, Lefty and Shorty, for the children too. "Anything us kids weren't allowed to do, Lefty and Shorty got away with." 

It was not uncommon for the family to have a minifood fight at the Doolittle dinner table. "Oh, my gosh," said Ms. Hoppes. "He was so involved in it ... he was the instigator of it."
She remembers fondly of the funny stories he would tell, the walks they took down to Santa Monica beach, the hunting trips her grandfather took her brothers and cousin on, and the pride he felt of his "blind flight" experience and having a major part in the creation of it. 

But she said her grandfather never let his greatness get in the way of his kindness. And her grandmother was the same. "They were so amazing, they really were," she said. "They were so approachable and warm and good." Their home had an open door where everyone was welcomed. "They showed the same caring and interest of anyone regardless of 'their social status.' If you were wealthy, famous, celebrity or what have you, you left that outside when you entered their home. If you pulled any rank or celebrity in their home, you weren't invited back." 

Ms. Hoppes's grandparents made a deal with each other when General Doolittle proposed to his high school sweetheart. At that time, he was a successful, professional boxer but he would give that up if she gave up her plans to attend law school. "She was forbidden to marry him because he would never amount to anything," said Ms. Hoppes. 

"She was amazing," said Ms. Hoppes. "A lot of love, a lot of strength ... she held the family together when he wasn't around (during the war)." It was a marriage that would last 71 years and change the course of American history.