Montana pilot Jim Muri thundered into military history 75 years ago during the Battle of Midway by steering his badly crippled bomber just a few feet above the deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi.
Muri likely saved his own skin and the lives of his crew members with his brilliant maneuver. After flying the length of the Akagi’s deck and shaking off attacking Japanese fighters, he managed to nurse the stricken twin-engine B-26 back to Midway Island, the remote American outpost that the Japanese failed to conquer during a decisive three-day battle June 4-6, 1942.
Decades after the battle Muri explained that his desperate maneuver was his only option. By buzzing the Akagi’s deck, he reasoned, the ship’s antiaircraft crews couldn’t swing their guns around fast enough to blast him out of the sky. “The guns were all pointed out. It was the safest place to be,” he said.
“I always said we would have touched down if we had lowered the gear,” Muri said in a 2002 interview.
When Muri died in 2013 at age 93, his obituary was published in the New York Times and many other national publications.
Dozens of books and numerous movies and at least one song have been devoted to the epic Battle of Midway, which turned the tide against the Empire of Japan less than a year after a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.
Despite a mountain of research already devoted to the battle, Montana author Dennis Gaub hopes to shed new light on the life of Muri, who, like Gaub, grew up in Miles City. He knows several of Muri’s relatives and has interviewed his daughter, Sylvia Sadaati, during the course of his research.
“When you realize that this guy from my home town rated an obituary in the New York Times, he was a genuine hero. That’s big stuff,” Gaub said.
“Buzzing the Deck: The Jim Muri Story,” is the working title of Gaub’s forthcoming book, which he hopes to publish later this year. Gaub lives in Belgrade and is a graduate of Northwestern University. His career in journalism includes a stint as a staff writer for The Billings Gazette. He left journalism to work in the technology industry for more than a decade, but has again taken up writing. He recently published “Win ‘Em All,” the story of Laurel High School’s undefeated basketball team.
Declaring that he’s swimming in information surrounding Muri’s role in the battle, Gaub said he has learned that there are still a few secrets that warrant sharing. But don’t expect a comprehensive blow-by-blow account of the battle.
“There are a lot of moving parts to the battle,” Gaub said. “What I have to avoid is retelling the whole complex story of the Battle of Midway. More knowledgeable people have told that story.”
Muri’s plane, the Suzy Q, and three other B-26 bombers were part of an American attacking force that took off from Midway early June 4 after the powerful Japanese invasion force was spotted. The fast twin-engine bombers were armed with torpedoes, a role for which they weren’t designed. Muri said he managed to launch his torpedo at the Akagi, although it never hit its target.
Japanese fighters tore into the American planes as they approached the enemy fleet. Two of the four B-26 bombers were shot down, and Gaub hopes to recount details of the relationship between Muri and another B-26 pilot who survived the battle, Jim Collins.
Muri was also saddened by the loss of a close friend, Herbert Mays, who piloted one of the two B-26 bombers that were shot down. Muri’s daughter said that he apparently suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for years after the battle.
Muri and three crew members received the Distinguished Flying Cross, but the Battle of Midway was the tall Montanan’s only fight. After recuperating in Hawaii, he was transferred back to the mainland, where he trained other pilots.