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The Corsair

Six-Year-Old Has Vivid Memories Death In The Sky


By Judy Kroeger



James Leininger, 6, of Lafayette, La., loves airplanes.


"He has always been extraordinarily interested in airplanes," said James' mother, Andrea Leininger, by telephone from their Louisiana home.


Lots of kids love airplanes, but James' story is unique. He has memories of being a World War II fighter pilot from Uniontown -- Lt. James McCready Huston, shot down near Iwo Jima in 1945.


At 18 months old, his father, Bruce Leininger, took James to the Kavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas, where the toddler remained transfixed by World War II aircraft.


A few months later, the nightmares began.


"They were terrible, terrible," Andrea said. "He would scream, 'airplane crash, on fire, little man can't get out!' He'd be kicking, with his hands pointing up at the ceiling."


When James was two and a half years old, he and Andrea were shopping and he wanted a toy airplane. "I said to him, 'Look, it has a bomb on the bottom' and he told me, 'That's not a bomb, it's a drop tank.' I had no idea what a drop tank was."


Neither of the Leiningers have ever served in the military, nor are they involved with aviation. Until James began showing an interest in planes, they had nothing aviation-related in their home.


Andrea's mother sent her a book by Pennsylvania author Carol Bowman, called "Children's Past Lives." The Leiningers started using Bowman's techniques of affirming James' nightmares and assuring him that the experiences happened to a different person, not the person he was now. "It helped. The nightmares stopped almost immediately," Andrea said.


However, the memories did not stop, but they do not come up all the time.


"I was reading him a story and he got a faraway look," she recalled. "I asked what happened to your plane? 'Got shot,' he said. Where? 'Engine.' Where did it crash? 'Water.' When I asked him who shot the plane, he gave me a look like a teenager, rolling his eyes, 'the Japanese,' like who else could it have been?


"What little kid knows about the Japanese," she asked. "He said he knew it was a Japanese plane because of the red sun. My husband and I were shell-shocked."


James provided other information. He said his earlier name was James, he flew a Corsair and took off on a boat called the Natoma, and he remembered a fellow flyer named Jack Larson.


Foods can set James' memories off, too.


"I hadn't made meatloaf in 10 years, so James had never had it," Andrea said. "When he sat down, he said, 'Meatloaf! I haven't had that since I was on the Natoma.' When we were getting ice cream one day, he told me that they could have ice cream every day on the Natoma."


Bruce began researching his son's memories and discovered a small escort carrier called the Natoma Bay, which was present at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Twenty-one of its crew perished. Bruce also discovered that only one of the Natoma's crew was named James, James Huston.


James Huston's plane was hit in the engine by Japanese fire on March 3, 1945, went down in flames and sank immediately. Flyer Jack Larson witnessed the crash.


James Huston was born Oct. 22, 1923, in South Bend, Ind., and lived in Uniontown during the 1930s. His father was James McCready Huston Sr., of Brownsville, and Daryl Green Huston, who was born in New Geneva and grew up in Uniontown. James was the only son.


According to Lt. Huston's cousin, Bob Huston of Flatwoods, the elder Huston started several newspapers and published 13 books. He was living in Brownsville when two Navy officers informed Huston of his son's death.


"I didn't know James," Bob Huston said. His parents were divorced, "but I knew his father. He stayed with us in Brownsville. James was on his 50th mission and would have come home if he'd lived another five minutes."


The Leiningers have been in touch with Bob Huston.


"I knew what happened to James (Huston)," he said. "I was excited to hear from them (the Leiningers). The boy's mother was flabbergasted when all this happened."


Andrea believes that her son is the reincarnation of Lt. James Huston. "There are so many little things. I believe in reincarnation now."


Her husband, Bruce, remains skeptical. "He started researching to disprove what James was telling us, and ended up proving it all," he said. "I think he believes that James Huston's spirit has manifested itself in our son somehow."


The Leiningers have been in touch with Natoma Bay veterans, too.


"We didn't tell the veterans for a long time," Andrea said, "but everyone has a story about having had a spirit visit them. James' sister, Anne Barron, was in California talking to him the day he was killed. Anne believes James' story, because he has provided so much information that only her brother could have known.


"Families of the 21 men who were killed are talking to each other," continued Andrea. "It's brought them together."


The Leiningers plan to attend this year's Natoma Bay reunion and bring their son, James.

Andrea doesn't know why this has happened.


"If he did come back, why? Maybe it was so my husband could write the book about the Natoma Bay," she said. "It helped turn the tide of the war in the Pacific and was one of the most highly decorated carriers, but it hasn't received much recognition."


She said her husband has been working on a chronology of what's happened to James and is researching the book. "He has flight plans from the missions and has spent a year and a half on research. In the introduction, he's writing about how he found out about the ship."

That discovery, through a toddler's fascination with airplanes and nightmares, has led to a segment on national television.


ABC contacted Carol Bowman about her work on children's past lives and James Leininger's experience was the most verifiable, Andrea said. "And we agreed to share his story."


Chris Cuomo hosted the segment, which recently airs.


Judy Kroeger can be reached at or (724) 626-3538.


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