James Leininger

The Case of James Leininger

The Boy Who Remembered Himself as a WWII Pilot

James Leininger was born in 1998 to Bruce and Andrea Leininger of Dallas, Texas, who later moved to Lafayette, Louisiana. At the age of two, James began to have recurring nightmares where the boy would shout “Airplane crash! Plane on fire! Little man can’t get out!” This would happen three or four times a week. Brunce and Andrea later would often hear from James utterances that showed that James seemed familiar with propeller planes. Once, at a store display, Andrea picked a model propeller plane and told James, “There’s even a bomb at the bottom.” The two-year-old boy looked at the toy plane and said, “That’s not a bomb, Mommy. That’s a dwop tank.” Andrea did not even know what a drop tank was. (A drop tank is an external fuel tank of an airplane that can be removed or dropped.) When Andrea later asked Bruce about it and learned what a drop tank was, she asked, “How would he know that?”

 James Leininger  James Huston

At about this time, the family went to Dallas and Bruce went to visit the display of planes of World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. James shrieked as he saw an old F-105 Thunderchief plane and was mesmerized by it and stayed in the museum for three hours. James refused to leave until Bruce promised to bring him to see real planes taking off.

The sisters of Andrea thought that James was simply too wrapped up in airplanes and should be distracted with other toys, such as cars. So they bought other kinds of toys for him. Despite these, the nightmares of James about an airplane crash continued.

Then one day, when Andrew was telling James a story from a book, James lay down beside Andrew and said, “Mama, the little man’s going like this,” and then he kicked both feet towards the ceiling, and said, “Ohhh! Ohhh! Ohhh! Can’t get out.” James was doing this without emotion.

Andrea asked, “Who is the little man?”

James said quietly, “Me.”

Andrea called Bruce, and James repeated the action and the story.

“Son, what happened to your plane?”

“It crashed on fire,” James replied.

“Why did your airplane crash?”

“It got shot.”

“Who shot your plane?”

“The Japanese!” he replied with an expression of disgust.

Next day, when he was asked by her aunt Jen on how he knew it was the Japanese, James replied, “The big red sun.” Jen was the sister of Andrea, who, together with another sister Becky, formed the Scoggin girls.

Bobbi, their mother, was the first one to consider the possibility of a “past life” memory, a view which was contrary to their Christian upbringing. Andrea was open to this possibility, but Bruce was adamant. He was firm in his Christian beliefs. He said, “Never, never, never. Not in my house. There will be no such thing as a past life. Never!”

On the next occasion when James began to talk again of the plane crash, he stated that the name of the “little man’s” name was also James.

Bruce asked, “Do you remember what kind of an airplane the little man flew?”

“A Corsair,” said James without hesitation.

Upon being asked where the boat took off from, James replied, “A boat.”

“Do you remember the name of your boat?”


“That sounds pretty Japanese.”

“No, it’s American.”

Bruce was stunned that the two-year-old James, still in diapers, knew the name of a plane that was used during WWII and that it was launched from aircraft carriers. Later, when he googled for Natoma, he found that indeed Natoma Bay was the name of an aircraft carrier that was used during World War II.

On another day, Bruce asked James whether he could remember any friend in his dream. “Jack,” he replied. While James could not remember his own family name in his dream, he remembered that Jack’s family name was “Larsen” and that he was also a pilot. One time when Bruce and James were looking through a book, they saw a photo of Iwo Jima. James exclaimed, “Daddy, that’s when my plane was shot down.” Bruce immediately checked whether the carrier Natoma had been to Iwo Jima. It had, in 1945.

At the age of three, James began to draw. What he drew were always about planes and battles. He named the planes of his drawings – Wildcats and Corsairs. He called the Japanese planes Zekes or Bettys. When asked why these names, he said that “The boy planes were fighters and the girl planes were bombers.” Bruce checked this in the internet and again James was right.

Puzzled by all these, Andrea sent an email to the author of a book on reincarnation, Carol Bowman, after reading the latter’s book entitled Children’s Past Lives: How Past Life Memories Affect Your Child, which was given to her by her mother, Bobbi. Carol replied and advised Andrea on how to handle the nightmares of James. Carol later called to say that the TV program 20/20 wanted to feature children who remembered their past life. The program’s producer, Shalini Sharma, came to visit James. After telling Carol his story, James told her about the Corsair that he flew. “They used to get flat tires all the time! And they always wanted to turn left when they took off!” This was another information that was correct. When filming James looking at a real Corsair, James pointed to the tailhook that showed that it was a naval plane, because only naval planes need a tailhook to grab the arresting wire when landing on carriers. Shalini checked this with a naval historian and found that it was again correct.

The parents pursued their research into who James might be. After a long period of contacting the veterans of the carrier Natoma Bay, they finally found that the pilot’s name was James Hutton.

One day, after raking leaves together, Bruce told James how happy he was to have him as a son. James replied, “That’s why I picked you; I know you would be a good daddy.” Bruce did not understand. James continued:

“When I found you and Mommy, I knew you would be good to me.”

“Where did you find us?”

“Hawaii. . . . I found you at the big pink hotel. . . . I found you on the beach. You were eating dinner at night.”

Bruce was dumbfounded. In 1977, Bruce and Andrew indeed went to Hawaii and stayed at the Royal Hawaii, a pink hotel on Waikiki beach. On the last evening, they had a moonlight dinner at the beach. Five weeks later, Andrea became pregnant with James.

Leninger, Bruce and Andrea, with Ken Gross, Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot. (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)