Reincarnated World War II American fighter pilot

Short link to this post:

James Leininger picture
A typical drawing by James Leininger as a young boy

The story of a boy in Louisiana who had memories of being a US Navy fighter pilot in the Second World War is possibly the best documented case of reincarnation in the West.

James Leininger

From the age of 18 months little James Leininger was obsessed with airplanes, especially World War II airplanes. After a while he also began to have nightmares about being shot down and unable to escape his burning cockpit.

Every now and then the boy James would give his confused parents more details. He said that he used to fly a “Corsair” from the deck of a boat called “Natoma”, that he had known a guy on the boat named “Jack Larson”, and that his own name had been, as now, James. He also said that he had been shot down “by the Japanese” over the sea.

The Leininger family: Andrea, Bruce & James
The Leininger family: Andrea, Bruce & James

His down-to-Earth Christian parents, Bruce and Andrea, were absolute non-believers in reincarnation. In fact, James’ father began to do some research into the Second World War just to prove to himself that none of this could be true. However, Bruce was bemused to find that there had been a US Navy carrier called the Natoma Bay which was involved in the battle for Iwo Jima.

USS Natoma Bay (CVE-62)
USS Natoma Bay (CVE-62)


Lt. James M. Huston

Moreover, Bruce found that one of the carrier’s pilots had indeed been called James. And this Lt. James M. Huston had been shot down by the Japanese on the 3rd of March, 1945, his flaming fighter plane hurtling into the Pacific. There is a reference to his grave here at

There was one apparent anomaly. Little James always insisted he had flown a Corsair, the Navy’s premier fighter, but Lt. Huston had been shot down in an FM-2 Wildcat plane. Bruce ordered Huston’s military service records and found out that before joining the VC-81 squadron aboard the Natoma Bay, Huston had been part of VF-301, an elite squadron of pilots put together to figure out how to fly the Corsair from aircraft carriers. Once he completed his service with that squadron, Lt. Huston was moved to VC-81 on Natoma Bay. This was only about 4 months before he was killed.

Lt. James M. Huston
Lt. James M. Huston
Take-off from the Natoma's deck
Take-off from the Natoma's deck

And remember that young James L. spoke of a crew member named “Jack Larson”? Well there was indeed a crew member of that name. And this Jack Larson is still alive today. He remembers the moment when his buddy James died: he had been in formation next to Huston when the latter was shot down.

Both Larson and Huston’s elderly sister have met little James Leininger and both are convinced that he is indeed Lt. Huston reborn.

Friends reunited: James with Jack Larson

Spot the similarity

To me as a believer in reincarnation, it seems entirely plausible, even likely, that young James was indeed the pilot James Huston in his former life.

There is, in fact, a clear resemblance between the two. …Though I am struck by the fact that this hasn’t been explicitly picked up in the various programmes and articles I’ve seen. So here, perhaps for the first time, are some direct facial comparisons—and I think you will agree the results are pretty startling:

Young James Huston (left) and young James Leininger (right)
Young James Huston (left) and young James Leininger (right)
James Leininger (L) and James Huston (R)
James Leininger (L) and James Huston (R)
James Leininger (L) and James Huston (R)
James Leininger (L) and James Huston (R)
James Huston and James Leininger
James Huston and James Leininger
James Huston and James Leininger
James Huston and James Leininger


Another thing I am struck by is the attempt by some to make sense of all this by assuming that James the pilot must have returned for a special reason. Perhaps, for example, to make sure that the Natoma Bay and its crew’s sacrifices are not forgotten. As often happens with Western cases of reincarnation, people imagine that this is a special case and struggle to fathom its purpose, not knowing that reincarnation is simply the norm. I suppose if it’s a leap for most Westerners to accept a single case of reincarnation, it’s an even greater leap to accept that we are all reincarnating the whole time.

Further Information

Soul Survivor

The incredible story of the Leininger family has been written up in the book Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot. The book was co-written by a professional writer, Ken Gross. Interestingly, Ken Gross is a dyed-in-the-wool non-believer, but he admits that the story he has told remains inexplicable to him. He has written of his experience on this project in the article Confessions of a Skeptic

As I say, I don’t believe in reincarnation. I hardly believe in carnation. I am a secular, rationalist skeptic. But I have no reasonable explanation for James Leininger/Huston.

Ken Gross

See also The Soul Survivor Blog:


The Leiningers briefly tell their own story in this video:

This video from Fox 8 News is even more informative, convincing and moving. It includes film of James Leininger (now eleven) visiting the scene of Huston’s traumatic death, an event which proves to be a cathartic experience.

There are also some earlier TV features to be found on YouTube. Here is one (in 4 parts):

See also

For those with an interest in the lnks between astology and reincarnation, this analysis of the charts of the two Jameses by Walden Welch is pretty mind-boggling. To quote:

Shivers ran up my spine. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. The child was born with his Sun in Aries and his Moon fell in Libra; exactly opposite positions of Huston’s. Even more startling was the fact that both individuals’ Sun and Moon positions were in each other’s exact mathematical degrees.

27 thoughts on “Reincarnated World War II American fighter pilot

  1. I read this book and I like it too much. I realy believe in reencarnation becouse I’m Spiritist and there is a lot o books that splain its very well like “the book of spirits” from Allan Kardec and o lot of others one.
    I think that is a universal fact and same day everybody wil bilieve in this, it is just becouse I this book is so Important!

    I am Brasiliam – Márcia

  2. Bruce Leininger is to speak at a conference on reincarnation at the Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.).

    Open to all, Courageous Souls: Reconnecting with Your Past Lives, Soul Groups, and Soul Purpose is scheduled for February 19 – 21, 2010, at Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E., 215 67th Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451.

    Admission is $248, with special pricing for a single day or for single presentations. For more information or to register, contact the A.R.E. conference registrars at 757-428-3588, ext. 7401, or go to

  3. i do believe in this story and i dont even know why…its like believing in good i just really cant explain it..or i dont know if its just the need to believe or want to believe that there is something more after we die that it is not the end of everything…and yes there is alot of physical similarities between them..especially that smile…

  4. Hi everyone,

    God bless all of us!
    Hopefully one day everyone we will find out more about spiritism and really believe in reincarnation. It’s a fact, people cannot deny anymore. But not everyone is prepared for that. Those who are spiritualy prepared for it, certainly will have no doubt about it. I do not just believe in reicarnation, but I’m sure about it. It would not make any sense to be born here in this planet just to eat, study, maybe get married and die. God is perfect, right? So how could people explain the fact of poverty, injustice, (for those who believe in injustice), crime, etc..We live in a plan of action and reaction. I pick what I’ve planted in the past. If I plant tomatoes, certainly I’ll not pick cucumbers…Reincarnation is here to help us grow spiritualy. We are all created by God, and one day we’ll all go back to our father, but in spirit. Jesus said; “I do not belong to this world.” Jesus referred to the physical plan compared to the spiritual world. A place that, according to our spiritual evolution and will to grow, we’ll all be there. But we all have to deserve that and the only way to be there is by eliminating our mistakes, hate, proud, etc. In other words, there is no way to grow without charity, without loving others. That’s what Jesus came here…to teach us how to love. So, always forgive, always help, without thinking who’s wrong or right. Like mother Theresa once said; “Because at the end, it will be between you and God.” (spiritual plan)
    Read the books (The gospel according to the Spiritism), (The spirit’s book), (the medium’s book), (The Genese), and (Heaven and Hell). I hope it helps. Don’t forget. Jesus was Cristian. He never said that this or that religion was the correct one. He said: “you have to love your brother like yourself”.
    God bless we all and let’s help each other to live in a better world.
    Bye now

    • The truth is we know nothing about the afterlife. It’s awesome to speculate, but we still know nothing.
      A few years ago I developed septic shock and was placed on life support for several days. Thankfully I recovered. However, during that time, I experienced something I cannot rationally explain. I’m not comfortable in speaking about it, but I can say I have since understood life, living and spirituality with a deeper clarity.
      I am not posting this to be belligerent, but Jesus DID say what religion was the correct one. He said: “I am the truth, the way and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
      Keep in mind in today’s society many people talk the talk, but won’t walk the walk. When asked by the disciples what was the most important commandment, Christ replied: To love God with all your heart soul and mind.. and equally to love your neighbor as yourself. Further, He explains through a parable, we can only recognize TRUE Christians through their fruit, or in other words, their actions. Now….. since loving God comes from within, the second part of loving others as ourselves is the proof. What do you give to others, to the poor, the heartbroken, the lonely? Is it equal to what you give yourself? And I can say first hand, when you do these things, your not losing anything, but gaining as your heart grows.
      In a nutshell Christianity is not a “religion”, not found inside a decorated building on Sunday mornings. It’s not how much you know scripture or if you’ve been dunked in a pool of water. On the contrary, it’s outside in the world- living a way of life- by showing kindness, generosity, selflessness and love to mankind. In addition, you’ll find a personal life plan in the Bible, a true gift to live a happy and fulfilled life. It wasn’t meant to condemn others, but for you and you alone. Once you’ve lived through some mistakes, you’ll see how life could’ve been in that perfect plan.
      I see now how my sickness made me a better person. I see the love other people have for me too and how I matter. My life is without depression, bitterness and anxiety. Everyday I’m happy and fulfilled. My heart is content. It’s sooo good. I hope you never go through what I have physically, but wish the same peace for each of you.

  5. An interesting case. Perhaps James Leininger was actually a former life WWII pilot and have true past life reminiscences on this former life. But the identification/association with the historical person James Huston is not correct. There are two completely different “spiritual identities” with significantly different development stages.
    Viewed externally, you can not detect these significant differences. To see it, you need the ability for clairsentience or clairvoyance.

    I know only about a dozen cases among some hundreds, where the identification/association is traceable to a historical person also on the spiritual level. I want to emphasize the words “identification” and “association” – for reincarnation as a whole and the possibility for true and spontaneous reminiscences are facts for me.

    • So the fact that James L remembers having the name James, remembers being on that ship, remembers his plane being shot down by Japanese, and remembers having that friend – and the fact that the same friend recognises him, as does Huston’s sister – and the fact that James H and James L are the spitting image of each other – and the fact that James L had a cathartic experience when he visited the actual scene of his remembered death … all these count for nothing in comparison to your clairvoyance. Interesting approach.

    • Barry, I do not see myself as an advocate for clairsentience. I would merely point out when something strikes me. One can say many things, and then logically argue for or against. Clairsentience could bring in more clarity in this uncertainty.


    • But if you’re right, steve – whose clairsentience? As a minimum, several clairsentients must view the case unknowing of each other.

  6. Hi there,

    The Reincarnation phenomenon has been proved by several researchers, such as Ian Stevenson, Jim Tucker, Brian Weiss etc.
    Then why is so difficult for many people to believe in this natural fact? Because most of them just try to understand the “life” based on the materialist paradigm… that’s the problem. It is necessary to shift the paradigm to understand the world, the life, who we are, what we are doing here etc.
    My suggestion: read Allan Kardec’s books.


  7. I love these stories of kids remembering – even when kids can’t recall, they are so much closer to the great unknown than adults, and each new child I encounter fascinates me to pieces. What kind of energy are they all bringing over? I’ve stumbled upon a small handful in years of working with them that really raise my eyebrows. In one classroom, my co-teachers and I joked that one of the kids was the “reincarnation of Jesus” – it’s not every day that you feel compelled to toy with that idea. I mean, whoa.

  8. Hi Barry, I would like to know if James Huston still in the presence of James L. I want to know what happen right after you went to the harbor where the plane blown up. Did James H. Leave the body of James L.? Did you ask James what is his purpose why he go back to earth? Is there an unfinished business that he needs to fulfill? or is it really normal that souls reincarnate to humans and they just decide to live a new life. I am also wondering who I was in my past life and I want to know as it may be the answer to what am I searching for. :- I

    • Hi Gladys

      Just to be clear, I personally don’t know James L and have never met him. But I think it is safe to assume that his soul had no special purpose in returning – it is just the norm. We all come back again and again until we are done with it.

      Your first questions suggest that you might be equating reincarnation with something like spirit possession. It’s not that the spirit of James H has turned up inside James L and then departed again. The soul of James L and the soul of James H are one and the same, just in two different bodies. In cases like this, where a child recalls a recent past life trauma (especially the death), it is because the suddenness and violence of it left a deep mark in the soul’s emotional structure. Usually our past life memories are left behind at the start of each new life, but in a few cases there is an emotional impact that “leaks” through into the present life. It *feels* like something in the present, yet it happened decades ago. Revisiting the scene of death, or simply reviewing it with a therapist, helps to lay the memory to rest. So it’s not that James H left the body of James L, it’s simply that James L has finally put the memories of being James H behind him.

      Unfortunately I have no idea who you were in any of your past lives, but there are psychics who might be able to tell you. You can also try past life regression with a regression therapist.



  9. I am Buddist person , I belived reincarnation what ever happen in life karma come behind us . Lord Buddha say we need get our life never born again and again… We must go to Nirwaana…

  10. My Dad, Frank Woolard was on the Natoma Bay. He was a great man, I miss him . I wish he had had a chance to Speak with James … God Bless !

  11. My son, at the age of 3 (now he´s 14 years old) started to give us informations about my mother´s life and about me as well. Details of things that he never had heard before…in this life. Reencarnation is the norm for everybody! This is God´s plan for our evolution! James history it´s one of the proves of it!

  12. I just have this question on reincarnation: A person and I fell madly in love (friends introduced us) and we planned to get married. We had this deep-love connection and we had never met in person because of hectic work schedules but the connection was so strong. Sadly, he passed away in an accident – 1 week before we were about to meet in person and get engaged. The funny thing is, the connection was so, so strong and unconditional
    between the both of us. I was the last person he spoke to that day of the incident. I don’t think he even had a chance to spoke to his own folks.

    While he was around, he made strange statements that pierced me (as if something was going to happen) but I brushed them aside. When we confessed that we loved each other, I asked him if he would walk with me for the rest of my life. This is what he had to say: I will be behind. This time you will lead me and show me the world. I want to see the world through your eyes. I found it very weird because, he was such a well-travelled person and I have hardly seen the world myself.

    I am now wondering if that means he will be back, but in a different form. Is that possible? Meeting a true loved one again in the same lifetime (mine) but he is in a different form?

  13. It’s a norm for each life to be born again after their present life has ended. Their new form is depend on their previous deeds and their mentality at the moment of death. The spirit is not the same spirit of the previous incarnation but there are some resemblance of the characteristic on a new life but certainly it’s not the same spirit. The spirit or the consciousness is like passing the flame from an old candle to the new one.The new spirit continue with some qualiies ie: heat and light but not its size or fragrance of the candle. It’s a kind of pure energy. There’s a lot more to explain and it’s not easy to understand for most of the people.

  14. People who believe in reincarnation usually point to lots of weak evidence for it, and think that lots of weak evidence adds up to strong evidence. By weak evidence I mean evidence where this a plausible alternative explanation. But my point is that lots of weak evidence is still weak evidence. It only takes a single item of strong evidence to prove that reincarnation is real, and that is more significant than any amount of weak evidence.

    Reading Soul Surviver I see lots of weak evidence for reincarnation, but what stood out for me was a single incidence of strong evidence. That evidence was when young James was casually asked why he had named his three GI Joes, Walter, Leonard, and Billy. He replied equally casually that they were the names of the three friends who met him when he entered Heaven. Later checking by his Dad revealed that the three pilots in James Huston’s squadron that had died in the six months before him were named Walter, Leonard, and Billy.

    Now think about it. My guess is that there are around 100 first names in common use in the States. So the probability of James getting the names of the pilots who died before him right by sheer chance are 100 x 100 x 100 = 1,000,000 to one. So if you don’t believe in reincarnation you are betting that James Leininger pulled off a 1,000,000 to 1 shot by luck. If you are a scientist then I the evidence is clear. There is only a one in a million possibility that reincarnation doesn’t exist.

    , .

💬 Leave a Reply 💬