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8-year-old Boy Remembers Past Life as Fighter Pilot

By Patti Dobranski
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

James Leininger's parents want their 8-year-old son to have a great life -- his own life.

But for the past 5 1/2 years, the Louisiana boy has been reliving pieces of the life of another James -- Lt. James McCready Huston, a World War II fighter pilot from Uniontown who was killed near Iwo Jima more than 50 years before James was born.

At 2 1/2 years old, James began expressing aviation knowledge that surpassed not just a typical toddler's ability, but that of his parents.

The child began reciting a collection of information and had recurring nightmares about being shot down by a Japanese plane with a red sun on it.

James' parents, Bruce and Andrea, eventually realized their son's assertions were accurate and that something beyond the tangible was occurring. Their lives have not been the same.

Beginning in 2004, James made a couple of TV appearances for ABC News and on the Montel Williams Show.

Tuesday morning, James will tell his story live on ABC's "Good Morning, America," during a segment set to air between 8 and 8:30 a.m.

Bruce Leininger said although there are no new, earth-shattering revelations from James, he is glad to see his son's experiences help keep the memories and sacrifices of soldiers like Huston alive.

"I am writing a book about these men as a tribute to the men of the Natoma Bay -- the ship Lt. Huston was stationed on. That's the way I've eternalized it. We shouldn't forget. We need to remember and realize all of our spirits are on a journey. That's what this is all about," he said in a telephone interview from his Lafayette home.

Huston's sister, Anne Barron, 87, of Los Gatos, Calif., said she believes the boy's accounts.

"It's very hard to describe, but I just can't help but say it has to be true," she said. "He knows too many things. For some reason, he knows these things."

Huston's cousin, Bob Huston, 74, of Franklin Township, Fayette County, agrees.

"To me, it's amazing," he said. "The way the boy explained how (Huston) got shot down, that's what the people told my mother and his father."

Barron said her brother wanted to fly since he was a child, and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy after one year in college.

Huston was shot down March 3, 1945, while on his 50th mission. The mission was to be his last before coming home in April, Barron said.

James' nightmares, which began shortly after his father took him to visit a Dallas flight museum when the boy was 18 months old, center on a plane crash.

"They were terrible, terrible," Andrea Leininger told the Tribune-Review News Service in 2004. "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."

Andrea Leininger believes her son is the reincarnation of Huston. Neither Bob Huston nor Barron know exactly what to think.

"I don't think when we die we just stop," Barron said. "I don't think I'll know until I go there myself."

Bruce Leininger said James' recollections have been fewer as he's gotten older. And that's a good thing.

"He feels kind of special that he attracts this type of attention, but we don't try to dwell on it," he said. "We want him to be who he is and have his own life. He used to be interested in airplanes, but now he's into Star Wars, so that's a development."

Still, in some ways, James remains an old soul.

"He uses some dated expressions that we have never used. He has interests in seeing historical things, rather than just wanting to go to Disney World," his father said.

In September 2004, when James was 6, his father took him to a reunion of veterans who served on the Natoma. James was able to recognize one of Huston's former shipmates after 60 years.

"His comment was, 'They're all so old,' " he said.

Foods sometimes spark memories.

"I hadn't made meatloaf in 10 years, so James had never had it," Andrea Leininger told the Tribune-Review News Service in 2004. "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 Leininger said he is considering penning a book about their experiences with their son.

"I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to do," he said.

Bob Huston and Barron plan to be tuned in when James appears on television.

"I just have to see it," Barron said. "I've met the Leiningers, and they're such nice people. And they're honest people. I'm going to watch it."


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          • What Happens After "Death"?
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