“His lips trembled and the tendons stuck out in his neck. His shoulders grew tight. Fear filled the plane.”
So this was war, writes author Dennis Gaub, describing the feelings of U.S. Army Pilot Jim Muri, whose isolated impact on the battle of Midway helped turn fortunes in the Pacific during World War II.
Gaub details the battle of Midway and Muri’s unique role in Midway Bravery: The Story of the U.S. Army Pilot Whose Famed Flight Helped Win a Decisive World War II Battle (Treasure State Heritage Press).
MURI’S MYSTERIOUS MISSION
There’s no mystery surrounding the battle of Midway Island, a major strategic base in the Pacific that Japan hoped to control to minimize U.S. naval strength. There was, however, great mystery about Muri’s mission and his assigned target.
“They gave us a heading and a distance and away we went, not knowing if it was a merchant ship or carrier, or what it was,” says Muri.
Unbeknownst to Muri, his B-26 crew and several others — about 46 “scared young Americans” — what awaited them was some combination of 190 Japanese ships, including 11 battleships, eight aircraft carriers, 23 cruisers, 65 destroyers and dozens of support vessels, hundreds of sea and land-based warplanes, and 100,000 troops.
Quite the understatement, Gaub writes, “The warm waters of the Pacific Ocean northwest of Midway contained mortal danger, a threat to the survival of Muri and his compatriots.”
The Midway theater occurred some six months after Pearl Harbor, with the American military sensing a battle with Japan’s juggernaut and still fresh from the devastation that vaulted the country into war. A hunger for revenge permeated the troops.
MURI: THE MAN OUTSIDE OF BATTLE
Gaub’s work provides a detailed narrative of Muri’s life, from his humble roots in Montana to the moment he caught the bug for flying, up through his training, eventual thrust onto combat’s greatest stage and his daring, spur-of-the-moment, lifesaving in-flight decision. The author, a former reporter, uses his investigative and research skills to reconstruct Muri’s life to the greatest possible detail — conversations with friends, insights into his feelings, and, of course, the rarefied sensations of war.
Gaub quotes Brig. Gen. Willis Hale, Army Air Force commander at Midway, as saying of the battle, “It is not the final chapter in the Allied struggle in the Pacific, but it was a chapter written the way Americans wanted it written.”
Midway Bravery will appeal to anyone who enjoys detailed character studies and relishes the actions and mettle of ordinary men thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Quoting from the diary of Muri’s friend Merrill Dewan, Gaub writes, “‘I ask God to somehow right the horrible world situation as soon as possible with the least suffering to everyone … Thousands of young men … at heart do not desire to slaughter each other but, like myself, only ask for peace, and the right to live and love, and to let other people do the same.’”