Soul Survivor is a literate montage skillfully crafted by writer Ken Gross with the cooperation of Bruce and Andrea Leininger, the parents of a remarkable little boy named James. His name is significant, because he came into this life with clear and painful memories of another James: James Huston, Jr., who was killed in World War II when his plane went down in an air battle over the Pacific. At age
two, James Leininger started having nightmares. Accompanying those episodes was a flurry of sentences, not the kind of chatter one expects from a toddler. Little James plainly enunciated, “Airplane crash! Plane on fire! Little man can’t get out!”
Dr. Charles T. Tart, renowned expert on parapsychology and altered states of consciousness and author of the recent
The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, has this to say about Soul Survivor:
“In the '50s I was introduced to just how irrational and passionate scientists, whom we expect to sanely assess evidence, can be when faced with something they don't want to accept, like reincarnation, when the book by Morey Bernstein,
The Search for Bridey Murphy, became a best seller. Soul Survivor makes an even stronger case for reincarnation than the Bridey Murphy material did, so it will be interesting to see if everyone, ordinary people as well as scientists, can actually look rationally at this evidence.”
Dr. Tart’s reference to the story of Bridey Murphy is apt – Bridey Murphy was an Irishwoman of an earlier time whose life was described by American housewife Virginia Tighe under hypnosis. Murhpy’s case was minutely examined by experts in the 1950s and many inconsistencies were found; yet compelling evidence remains for some details described by Tighe. To believe either story, that of James Leininger or of Tighe, you have to believe, at least a little, in reincarnation, though Gross swears he does not (while admitting he still has no other explanation for the amazingly accurate accounts of death in a previous life by a child barely out of diapers).
Up until age six, James gradually revealed more chillingly credible facts about the death of James Huston, Jr. He so closely identified with Huston that he made childlike drawings of planes crashing (with the appropriate Japanese rising sun on the enemy crafts) and signed them James
3, as though he fully believed he was his own successor. He correctly supplied facts about the ship Huston served on and named his GI Joe toys after men Huston served with. He even appeared to recognize the voice of a man, now in his senior years, alongside whom Huston fought.
In the process of attempting to uncover (possibly to refute) the evidence that James was offering, his father and mother did extensive research, finding that in nearly every case, their little boy’s accounts were spot on. He knew the names of obscure aircraft and their location on the carrier he flew from, as well as the names of men on that crew. At age two he told his mother confidently that a certain fighter plane had a “dwop tank.” He even knew a secret about Huston’s sister Anne that no one but a family member could have: that she had a portrait of herself hidden away in her attic, a mate to the portrait of James Huston that she gave to the little boy. His immediate question, “Where’s her picture?” sent chills down Anne’s spine and convinced her absolutely of the authenticity of the boy’s connection to her beloved, lost brother.
The Leiningers' appearance on ABC Primetime caused an international stir. After a trip to the area near Chichi-Jima where James Huston’s plane went down for a TV special in Japan, the child seems to have reached a sense of closure. In most every way a normal kid, his nightmares abated and, thanks to his parent’s efforts, he made many friends from James Huston’s past who corroborated the tale of Huston’s lonely, terrifying death. At Chichi-Jima, weeping the bitter tears of a person much older than himself, he gave a final salute and let the memories go.
James Leininger’s account of his life and death as a World War II pilot (complete with photographs collected by his parents) could be seen as compelling evidence for what many take to be the fact of reincarnation. Doubtless the saga will be followed by scientists, skeptics and sincere believers alike for years to come. The child may lose his clear recollections, but luckily Gross and his parents have taken the time to catalog them for future analysis.