Product Review: Wings of a Warrior: The Jimmy Doolittle Story

Image: Shelter Island Entertainment.
© Shelter Island Entertainment

I had the chance to preview Wings of a Warrior: The Jimmy Doolittle Story, directed and narrated by former Hollywood stuntman Gardner Doolittle, who also happens to be General Doolittle’s 3rd cousin.

It’s been 71 years after the seemingly-impossible Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, and on November 9, 2013 the four remaining Doolittle Raiders celebrated their last reunion, partaking from the 1896 bottle of cognac they’ve been holding since 1959*. Starting today you can own your very own history of the great General James “Jimmy” Doolittle with this DVD from Shelter Island.

*There was a snafu with the original bottle of cognac; you can read about here.

This DVD will make a fun gift for your favorite aviator, military member, or air power history buff in your life.

However, you won’t be wanting this for the high production quality. Allow me to explain.

General Doolittle Like Never Before!

I want to make it clear that the history is told with so much enthusiasm, it’s a pleasure to hear the stories. Gardner Doolittle starts at the beginning with Jimmy Doolittle’s younger years in Nome, Alaska, his college years at University of California, and his summer work at the Comstock mines, in Virginia City, California. The story then progresses on through his years as a flight instructor during World War I (at a time when there were only 55 aircraft in existence in the United States!), patrolling the Mexican border in the interwar years, and his experimental flight work at Rockwell and McCook Fields.

The story continues on through Doolittle’s time at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned an Sc.D. in Aeronautics. Doolittle earned both his M.S. and Sc.D. in two years time! Wow! Doolittle is considered the father of instrument flight and performed the world’s first instrument flight in 1929. He spent 1930-1940 as a civilian, working in various capacities supporting the growth of aviation.

Not long after returning to the active duty military, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Doolittle was called upon to plan and lead the retaliatory attacks on the Japanese mainland. This resulted in the revered “Doolittle Raid” bombings of cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kobe in April 1942 that was deemed a success despite having lost each of the B-25s that launched from the USS Hornet. If you’ve seen the 1944 film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo or Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor (2001), you might be familiar with this mission. For his leadership in combat, Doolittle was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

It was really neat to see the film footage of the Medal of Honor ceremony, showing President Franklin D. Roosevelt pinning the medal on Doolittle.

After this part of the movie, I was pleased to see much more motion picture footage from World War II, including several minutes worth of footage about General Doolittle’s time as the Eighth Air Force commander during the D-Day invasion. There were great stories of General Doolittle’s frustration with the weather over western Europe, but I was disappointed that there was no mention of the incredible D-Day weather forecast, and the great faith leaders such as Doolittle put in the Airmen who predicted the very small window of clear weather for air support during the Normandy invasion.

The part of the film that touched me the most was towards the end, when they discussed the 80 silver goblets that were presented to the Doolittle Raid survivors in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Arizona. Each Raider’s name is engraved on one of the goblets. Along with a bottle of 1896 Hennessy cognac, the goblets had been brought to every Doolittle Raiders reunion. As each Raider died, the goblet is inverted. While the 1896 cognac was to remain unopened until there were two survivors. Unfortunately, the film just missed the final Raiders reunion over this past Veterans Day weekend, where three of the four remaining Raiders got together in Dayton, Ohio to open the 1896 cognac and have their final toast. If you get a chance to watch the video of the toast, I recommend it. It’s quite moving!

In terms of the storytelling, it’s fantastic!

Sound and Video Quality Could Be Better

Unfortunately, I was not at all impressed with the sound quality throughout the 84 minutes of run time. Gardner Doolittle’s voice during narration sounded anemic. I really wanted to get more out of his fantastic accounts of General Doolittle’s dozens of crashes and mishaps during his earlier years of flying.

For at least the first half of the film, before there was motion picture footage available in Doolittle’s life, viewers will experience a Ken Burns-style of viewing still photos. They will pan around and zoom in and out. Don’t expect the same quality as you might see in The Civil War or Baseball. Some of the images warp while they zoom in — rendering a young Jimmy Doolittle as a bit too short and fat at times, while some of the panning of images is jumpy and pixellated.

There is some anachronistic “stock footage” shoehorned into the film. One example is when there was mention of the War Department issuing an order forbidding “outside loops.” A picture was shown of what was supposed to be a written Air Force order, but instead it was of a modern-day Air Force Instruction supplement from Tinker Air Force Base. All you have to do is pause the video and read the “order” to realize it had nothing to do with banning “outside loops.” A second example was when discussing General Doolittle’s wife, Jo. Gardner is praising what a great Air Force wife she was, and at one point there was mention of all the moving their family had to do. A stock photograph of a stack of modern moving boxes was shown.

In addition, starting at about 45 minutes into the film, the transitions between chapters are one- to two-second long black screen pauses. This seemed rather poor quality as well.

There is a 10-minute interview with the director as a bonus feature. It offers some insight to Gardner Doolittle’s inspiration to do this documentary. There are also numerous stories about Gardner and Jimmy working together on the outline for the documentary. The stories add an additional personal touch that you won’t find on Wikipedia or Air Force magazine. Frankly, I think some of these stories should have been in the documentary itself. For instance, when Gardner was interviewing General Doolittle, the General made several references to “Georgie.” After several instances of this, Gardner asked, “Who’s Georgie?”

“Georgie Patton, of course!”

Of course!

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed the great stories of this Air Force hero, especially because there was so much more to General Doolittle than just his leading a bombing of Japan. However, I wish more care was taken during production. This had so much more potential.

Wings of a Warrior: The Jimmy Doolittle Story is available starting today at entertainment retailers such as Amazon for an MSRP of $14.98.

GeekMom received a copy of this DVD for review purposes.

Rollors: Veteran-Invented, Outdoor Fun for Everyone!

Rollors combines popular tailgate- and picnic-games into a portable, lightweight safe activity. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Rollors combines popular tailgate- and picnic-games into a portable, lightweight, and safe activity for ages 4 and up. It took a lot of effort for my sons to not throw the discs, such as what you see in this picture. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

What do you get when you combine horseshoes, cornhole and bocce ball? You get a fun portable activity that’s awesome for all ages: Rollors!

I was contacted by Matt Butler with an offer to share this game with fellow geeky families as a fun summer activity. I had a great interview with Matt Butler and I not only learned about the product, but also learned that he’s a fellow Air Force officer. In fact, he’s still on active duty. I gained some insight to how he was able to juggle his very-busy Air Force mission with putting his invention through the patent and manufacture process.

First I’ll talk about the game itself, then share my interview with Major Butler.

What Comes in the Package

Rollors comes with a nylon carrying case. Great to toss in the back of the minivan for a trip to the beach or tailgate. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Rollors comes with a nylon carrying case. Great to toss in the back of the minivan for a trip to the beach or tailgate. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Continue reading Rollors: Veteran-Invented, Outdoor Fun for Everyone!

Reach for the Stars! First U.S. Air Force Female Officer Nominated to Become General

Lieutenant General Janet C. Wolfenbarger’s official USAF photo. Lt Gen Wolfenbarger has been nominated for her fourth star, and if approved, will become the first female four-star general officer in the U.S. Air Force. Photo: U.S. Air Force,

Today I read some great news in the Air Force Times!  A role model of mine, someone whom I admire from afar, is making headlines!

I learned today that President Obama has nominated Lieutenant General Janet C. Wolfenbarger for an appointment to the rank of full General.  If approved by the Senate, she will become the Commander of Air Force Materiel Command, the service’s major command responsible for research, development, testing and evaluation, acquisition support and logistics support for Air Force weapons systems.  This is the part of the U.S. Air Force responsible for developing the requirements, blueprints and contracts for all of its systems, from the aircraft to the drones to the satellites to the rockets that put those satellites in the sky!

I wrote about Lt Gen Wolfenbarger last March when I discussed influential women in the Department of Defense during Women’s History Month.

This is exciting news on so many levels!  First of all, her appointment would make her the U.S. Air Force’s first — that’s right, first — female four-star General officer.  Secondly, Lt Gen Wolfenbarger isn’t a pilot…which is often the case with newsworthy women in the Air Force.  She has an engineering background!  She received her Bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1980, in the academy’s very first graduating class that included women.  She received her Master’s degree from MIT.  She proved her worth as a leader in acquisitions and weapons system development during her involvement in the F-22, B-2 and C-17 weapons systems.

I hope this provides some inspiration for women who are interested in STEM career fields.  I definitely feel inspired!

Heather E. Schwartz Inspires Young Girls to Serve Their Nation

Heather Schwartz’s books about women in the armed forces inspire elementary school-aged girls. Images:

Earlier this year, GeekMom Kathy recommended I contact one of her colleagues, children’s author Heather E. Schwartz, about reviewing her two books about women in the U.S. armed forces that were published earlier this year.  She thought I’d be an appropriate candidate, not only as a military member myself, but because I have elementary-school aged children of the appropriate age-level for the books — even if they aren’t girls.

Ms. Schwartz graciously sent me her two books and my sons read them this summer with enthusiasm.  They especially enjoyed Women of the U.S. Air Force: Aiming High, since they live in an Air Force family in an Air Force community.  They were less interested in the Marine Corps version, Women of the U.S. Marine Corps: Breaking Barriers. That’s certainly no fault of the author.  My oldest son read it anyway to help with his Accelerated Reader goals for his 3rd grade class.

These are perfect non-fiction books for elementary-aged children who are on the cusp between picture books and chapter books.  Both books are similarly laid out.  Aiming High and Breaking Barriers both have 32 pages in 4 chapters, plus a glossary, timeline, internet sites and an index.

The first chapters feature recent notable military women, who have worked hard and both had opportunities to to be the first women to perform high-visibility roles.  In Aiming High, Ms. Schwartz interviewed Major Nicole Malachowski, the Air Force’s first female pilot for The Thunderbirds, the service’s aerial demonstration team.  In Breaking Barriers, chapter one featured Major Jennifer Greives, the first-ever Marine One VH-3D pilot.  I enjoyed these particular choices of role models for the books because in both cases, these are women who could excel and break gender barriers in a more reasonable point in their careers, rather than as General officers.  Kudos to Ms. Schwartz to giving girls a more of a goal than “I want to be a General in the armed forces.”  I know that sounds rather odd, that we should always tell our girls to be whatever they can be, but I think to be a pilot is a very attainable goal with very clear intermediate objectives.

The second chapters feature histories of women in their respective services.  The histories are brief and are written to a 4th-5th grade level, which means that although much detail is omitted, there’s no doubt that a child will learn a lot here, thanks to the age-appropriate word choices.  Definitions of several military jargon words, such as “deployment”, are defined as breakout-boxes on the same pages.  Ms. Schwartz did a great job pulling historical images; I especially like the “Lady Leatherneck” cartoon about Lucy Brewer she found for Breaking Barriers on page 11.

The third chapter discusses the current process by which a young woman can join the service, attend training, and learn a skill from pilot training to engineering to even serving in the astronaut corps!

Finally, the fourth chapters cover the future of women serving and provides gems of inspiration for how girls can themselves serve in the armed forces.  It provides some statistics about women serving, some insights into women in combat, and some other inspirational role models in the Air Force .  Great inspiration for no matter what she wants to be when she grows up — it’s just as applicable to the armed forces.  At the end of Chapter 4 in both books are a “Fast Facts” section and a timeline.

In summary, if you see a future Zoomie or Jarhead in your daughter or other young lady in your life, these books would make great gifts!

P.S.: It’s a coincidence that the day I wrote this review, the U.S. Air Force press service published this article about an all-female cargo aircraft crew flying in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.  This now happens more often than one might think, and to the girls on board, they barely even notice they’re all-women.  To them they’re all Airmen!