He saw action during World War II and in “outer space.” His exploits inspired many to enter the engineering profession. One person even followed him to the moon.
He speaks with a Scottish accent even though he is not from Scotland. As far as the Scots are concerned, he has yet to be born.
For those who have not yet guessed who he is, does the catchphrase “Beam me up, Scotty” ring a bell?
James Montgomery “Jimmy” Doohan was born to Irish immigrants in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on March 3, 1920. His father, William, was a pharmacist who may have invented a form of high-octane gas in 1923.
Whether or not that is true, Doohan grew up familiar with science and creative invention. When the family moved to Ontario, he enrolled at the Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School, where he showed an aptitude for mathematics and science.
In 1938, he joined the 102nd Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps. The year after saw him with the Royal Canadian Artillery, 14th (Midland) Field Battery of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division.
Doohan did so well he became a commissioned Lieutenant with the 14th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. In 1940, he was sent to England for training.
Fast forward to D-Day, the Allied invasion at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. The British, Americans and Canadians were each assigned a portion of Normandy’s beaches for their amphibious assaults.
The Canadians were allocated Juno Beach, which was the code name for the area from the village of Courseulles all the way to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. The mission for Doohan’s division was to secure the Caen-Bayeux road and take the Carpiquet Airport west of Caen.
It would not be easy. Facing them were two battalions of the German 716th Infantry Division. There were also troops from the 21st Panzer Division holed up near Caen.
As if that were not daunting enough, the Germans had strewn the beaches with anti-tank mines.
The night before D-Day, Allied planes blasted the German positions. As the landings would happen before dawn the next day, the Canadians would not be visible as they landed in the dark—or so the thinking went.
That did not happen as planned. The preemptive aerial bombardment had not been as effective as the Allies had hoped due to lousy weather and poor visibility. The coastal defenses at Juno were almost unscathed.
It got worse. Rough weather and high waves delayed the landings until well after the sun had risen on June 6. No cover of darkness.
Out at sea, Doohan felt queasy, but it was not because of what lay ahead. He later told the Associated Press, “We were more afraid of drowning than (we were of) the Germans.”
Once the risk of drowning was behind them, what lay ahead of them proved to be worse. The first Canadians reached Juno Beach at 7:35 AM and were quickly cut down.
Fortunately for them, the light cruiser HMS Ajax had bombarded Juno Beach earlier, doing more damage to the coastal defenses than the planes had. After two hours, the Canadians had swept aside most of the Germans on their stretch of the beach.
Doohan led his men across the sands and got lucky. None of the anti-tank mines beneath their feet went off, for the men were not heavy enough to activate them.
As they made their way to higher ground, Doohan shot two German snipers—his first kills of the war.
By noon, they had secured their positions. However, they now had a new problem. The beach was so thick with Canadians, the later arrivals could not advance.
As darkness fell, there was a risk they would mistake comrades for the enemy and end up shooting at each other. This was exactly what happened, not only at Juno Beach but also at other landing sites.
At about 11:20 that evening, Doohan finished a cigarette and patted the silver cigarette case he kept in his breast pocket. It had been given to him by his brother as a good luck charm—and a good thing, too.
Some ten minutes later, he was walking back to his command post when he was shot six times with a Bren gun. The first four bullets slammed into his leg, the fourth whacked him in the chest, and the sixth took off his right middle finger.
The shooter was not a German sniper: in fact, Doohan had been shot by a nervous, trigger-happy Canadian sentry. Fortunately, the cigarette case stopped the bullet that hit his chest. Doohan later joked it was the only time being a smoker saved his life.
After recovering, he learned to fly a Taylorcraft Auster Mark IV plane for the 666 (AOP) Squadron. By then, he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Artillery, supporting the 1st Army Group Royal Artillery at RAF Andover, Hampshire.
In early 1945, he flew his plane between two telegraph poles just to prove it could be done. He got into trouble for that, and everyone called him the “craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force.”
After the war, he returned to Canada. Upon hearing a radio drama, he believed he could do a better job than the voice actors. Accordingly, Doohan switched his focus of study from technical schooling to drama.
His first job was with CBC radio on January 12, 1946. He would go on to do 4,000 shows on radio, 450 on TV, and earn a reputation as the most versatile voice actor in the business.
In 1965 he was assured of a place in film history when he landed—and helped develop—the role of Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in Star Trek. In addition to playing the role of Chief Engineer for the starship Enterprise, Doohan also helped create the Klingon and Vulcan languages for the show.
He became so iconic that fans credited him with their interest in engineering, astronomy, and other technical fields. Among these was the engineer-turned-astronaut, Neil Armstrong, who personally thanked Doohan in 2004.
Doohan died in 2005. To honor him, a Falcon 9 rocket took some of his ashes into space.
Two years later, the Scottish town of Linlithgow claimed him as one of their own with a predictive commemorative plaque. “Predictive” because it claims he will be born there on 2222.