James R. McDougall, Aviation Ordnanceman, PBY Catalina, Black Cats

James R. McDougall was in the port blister on the side of squadron VPB 52's Black Cat number 48 in the foreground when the above photo was taken.

 Jim McDougall Interview with Kevin Callahan




This project has been made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Squadron Received Unit Citation

James R. McDougall, Aviation Ordnanceman First Class, U.S.N.R., of RFD No. 6, LeMars, Iowa, has returned from an 18 months tour of duty in the Pacific with VPB-52, a Navy search and bombing squadron.

He engaged in “Black Cat” missions on which the black-hued CATALINA (PBY) flying boats flew at low altitude at night in search of enemy shipping. McDougall also took part in air-sea rescue patrols, bombing missions of various kinds, and anti-submarine patrols.

He is a son of Mr. and Mrs. Chester McDougall and returned to LeMars the middle of January to spend a 30-day furlough with his parents.

VPB-52 is one of three Catalina squadrons to receive a Presidential Unit Citation for night bombing raids, and is one of the oldest patrol squadrons with the fleet. Before being sent to the Pacific, it had been based at the Canal Zone, at Natal, Brazil and in Bermuda.

In night attacks in the Pacific, the squadron blasted two cruisers and four destroyers with direct hits, and probably damaged another destroyer.  Its bombs sank 40,000 tons of Jap merchant shipping, and either sank or damaged another 52,000 tons. In rescue operations, the squadron saved 33 downed fliers in 13 open sea landings.

Squadron personnel have been awarded four Navy crosses, three Silver stars, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Navy and Marine Corps Medals, two Purple Hearts and 114 Air Medals. Their exploits in the Pacific began in Hawaii during June and July 1943. The next stop was Northwestern Australia, from which base patrols were flown over the Indian Ocean. Pioneer night bombing began in the Bismark Sea and off the coast of Dutch New Guinea.

In the spring of 1944, the squadron tore up air fields in night attacks on Woleai in the Caroline Islands, and on Wadke Island off the northern coast of New Guinea.  Air-sea rescue protection was provided for Army Air Force attacks on its over-water flights to hit New Guinea, the Halmahera and Caroline Islands. The same protection for downed fliers was provided the Marines in Strikes against Kavieng and Rabaul in the Bismark Archipelago.

Jim McDougall (left) and Jack Christopher (right) speaking at the Air Expo 2015 Veterans Symposium at Flying Cloud Airport, Eden Prairie, MN

Dana, Jim, and Jackie at the 8th AFHS-MN Holiday Party at Mancini's Dec. 4, 2016.
Jim McDougall and Kevin Callahan, Christmas Party Dec. 4, 2016
Jim at the 8th AFHS-MN Veterans Day Celebration Nov. 9, 2016

Jackie, Von, and Jim at an 8th AFHS-Mn Luncheon.

A nice article appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about Jim and Von as Volunteer Bell Ringers for the Salvation Army.

Minnesota couple, 90 and 91, ring bells for Salvation Army

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune 
  • Updated: December 17, 2013 - 3:35 PM

For Minnetonka couple in their 90s, Salvation Army bell-ringing is a joyful holiday tradition.

The Minnetonka couple, both World War II vets — Jim is 90, and “Von,” as Jim calls Yvonne, will be 92 on Christmas Eve — brave the elements every year. They take turns ringing the bell and warming up over the course of a two-hour shift.

On Dec. 5, they worked an entryway at Edina’s Southdale Center. It was a subzero-degree day, so they planted themselves just inside of the front doors.

“It was the first time we ever had that luxury,” Jim McDougall said. “We enjoy the spirituality of it, but not necessarily the cold weather.”

For the McDougalls, who’ve volunteered as bell ringers every year for a decade, “it’s something that you get attached to — you feel like you’re missing something at Christmastime if you don’t go out and ring the bell,” Jim said.

The couple opens the door for people, wishing everyone a merry Christmas. As people come in to the mall, “we try to relate,” he said.

The volunteer gig also makes for good people-watching.

“Little kids come in, and the looks they give you make it really fun,” Jim said, adding, “If their folks give them some change, they can’t wait to put it into the kettle.”

Some years, the tomato-red kettle fills up faster. Occasionally, the couple has had to empty out the pot so they can replenish it, he said.

For the McDougalls, bell-ringing is a relatively easy way to contribute to a good cause without breaking their budget. They give their time, knowing money is going to “feed people who have no place to go or are homeless,” Jim said.

“I have the utmost respect for the Salvation Army,” Jim said. “I think it’s a real deserving organization as far as putting dollars that we give to work.”

World War II vets

The couple started bell-ringing through Cargill Cares, a group that connects Cargill retirees with volunteer opportunities. Jim worked in the company’s feed division from 1955 to 1988.

When the McDougalls volunteer with the Salvation Army, they wear the standard red apron, heavy-duty mittens and warm layers.

Yet Jim stands out with his Navy cap. “People will thank me for my service and for ringing the bell,” he said.

During World War II, he was a combat air crewman for the Navy. He flew by night in a black seaplane called a PBY Catalina over the southwestern Pacific looking for enemy ships bringing supplies from Japan, he said.

Over the past four years, he’s been working on a book recounting noteworthy events from his life.

Yvonne belonged to WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), a division of the Navy. As a “storekeeper” for the disbursing side of things, she made sure the sailors were paid — cash in those days.

The McDougalls met at a dance that the Iowa National Guard hosted at Camp Dodge. They have been married for 67 years and have six children, 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

The secret to their long, full lives?

Jim advises people to “quit smoking, eat right and get exercise.”

And it helps to have “good genes,” he said.

The story of Edith’s bell

When the McDougalls volunteer with the Salvation Army, they bring their own bell. The little brass bell, which once belonged to Jim’s mother, Edith, makes a big sound.

It has a story: In her later years, Edith had a hard time walking. She rang a bell whenever she needed a hand. Jim and his nine siblings took turns staying at her home in LeMars, Iowa.

But it took a couple of bells to get the right system in place. The first one wasn’t loud enough. So a family member remedied the situation with a bell that gets everyone’s attention.

When Edith died in 1999, Jim inherited the resounding bell. He brings it to family functions, where it comes in handy to “maintain order,” he said.

In a way, it says, “Mom’s still out there,” he said.

A language of its own

The bell carries extra weight for the McDougalls when they volunteer for the Salvation Army.

“I think the bell has a language of its own. Its ringing means something to people,” Jim said. “The bell tells a story. … it’s time to start thinking about other people.”


Freelance writer Anna Pratt can be reached at annaprattjournalist@gmail.com.