“Midway Bravery,” the life story of a Montana Army Air Force pilot who became a surprise hero of the Battle of Midway in World War II, is now in print, local author Dennis Gaub has announced.
Gaub, a veteran journalist and former Belgrade News reporter, said the nonfiction book was recently released in hardback. E-book versions for Amazon’s Kindle readers and Kindle applications, and versions for other electronic readers such as Apple Books and Barnes & Noble’s Nook device will be released later. In addition, a soft cover version will be released.
“Midway Bravery” chronicles the life of James Perry Muri, a native of the Rosebud County hamlet of Carterville, who got the flight bug while attending high school in nearby Miles City. After graduating from Custer County High School in 1936, Muri enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He saw the military as a better way of getting ahead during the Great Depression than following in the footsteps of his father, a Norwegian immigrant who farmed and ranched next to the breaks and badlands along the Yellowstone River.
Muri wanted to be a pilot but the Army didn’t immediately put him in an airplane. Instead, he was a welder at the first base he reported to in central Illinois. It didn’t take long, however, before he was given a chance to go through flight training.
A National Honor Society member and a star athlete in high school, Muri advanced quickly. He honed his flight skills at Langley Field near Washington, D.C., and then was sent to Southern California where he met his wife of almost 60 years, Alice, a native of Riverside.
Along the way, Muri got a chance to learn to fly one of the most advanced warplanes of the 1940s, the twin-engine Martin B-26 bomber. Its short wings and high landing speed made it a tricky plane to fly – the B-26 was dubbed “Widow Maker” and other less polite nicknames – but those who flew it (including famed World War II aviator Jimmy Doolittle) loved it for its high performance. Unlike other bombers such as the B-25, or the four-engine B-24 and B-17, the B-26 was fast enough to have a chance of outrunning enemy fighter planes.
Muri’s most notable mission, which made him a national hero, came on June 4, 1942, during the first hours of the Battle of Midway. He was pilot of a B-26 nicknamed Susie-Q, the same nickname he had given his wife. Muri piloted one of four B-26s that took off at dawn that day from Eastern Island, in the Midway atoll.
Those B-26s carried torpedoes instead of land bombs; other B-26s fending off a Japanese attack on the Aleutian Islands on the same day also had torpedoes slung under their bellies. It was the only time that planes flown by Army Air Force pilots or by its successor, the Air Force, ever used torpedoes.
The Army bombers and six Navy Avenger torpedo planes delivered the opening attack on a massive Japanese fleet sailing towards Midway. The Japanese had delivered a devastating punch to the U.S. at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but, fortunately, American carriers in the Pacific were at sea that day and escaped destruction. Japan hoped a surprise attack on Midway would draw the U.S. carriers close enough so planes launched from Japanese carriers could finish the island nation’s strategic ambition.
Brilliant code-breaking tipped off top U.S. military planners to the impending Japanese attack. However, airmen at Muri’s level – he was a first lieutenant then – were not briefed on what they would find about 180 miles out from Midway in the Pacific Ocean.
Despite his surprise at coming across four Japanese carriers protected by dozens of destroyers, heavy cruisers and other ships, Muri managed to launch his torpedo.
It didn’t hit anything. Nor did at least one other torpedo, maybe two, fired from the other B-26s. Torpedoes from the Navy planes also missed the carriers.
The cost of that initial attack was enormous. Of the 10 planes that went out from 6-6:15 a.m., three came back – Susie-Q, the B-26 flown by squadron commander, Jim Collins, and one Navy Avenger. Each B-26 had a pilot and six crew members, for a total of 28 Army airmen. The Navy planes carried three men apiece, for 18 more airmen and a total of 46 scared young men who took off on what now must be called a suicidal mission. Only 16 men, seven apiece from Muri and Collin’s plane and two from the lone surviving Avenger, came back.
The other 30 men were in planes shot down and lost forever at sea.
“Midway Bravery” explains how the B-26s – Muri’s and Collin’s – and other torpedo planes launched on the first day of the three-day Midway clash helped win the battle despite not having any torpedo hits.
For his valor, Muri was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which trails only the Medal of Honor in prestige among military decorations. The other six members of his crew received the DSC as did Collins and his six-man crew.
Historians now rank Midway as one of the greatest naval battles in history. U.S. victory turned the tide of war in the Pacific, putting Japan on the defensive for the next three years. Some experts also believe Midway influenced the tide of war in Europe, allowing President Franklin Roosevelt and top military brass such as Army Chief of Staff George Marshall to pursue a Germany-first approach. That initially was unpopular with the American public, itching for revenge after Pearl Harbor.
Concentrating resources in Europe worked, though. Hastened by Allied troop landings on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944), the 75th anniversary of which was celebrated last month, Germany accepted defeat in May 1945. Three months later, the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prompting Japan’s unconditional surrender.
Gaub, author of “Midway Bravery,” was a reporter for the News from September 2018 until March 2018 when he resigned to become his wife’s primary caregiver after she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.
He logged 25 years as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Colorado, Michigan, Wyoming and Montana before changing careers to work in the software industry as a sales support professional. He worked first for RightNow Technologies and then for Oracle after it acquired RightNow. He retired from Oracle in early 2017.
Gaub’s longest employment in the newspaper industry was with the Billings Gazette where he logged about 20 years, including a part-time sportswriter job while he was in high school, an additional period as a sportswriter during the 1970s and almost 17 years of varied reporting in the 1980s and 1990s.
A Montana native, Gaub started high school in Miles City, at the same high school Muri graduated from him although he didn’t meet the Army hero before his death in Billings in 2013.
Signed copies of “Midway Bravery” can be ordered at midwaybravery.com. The book also is available for purchase on Amazon. It was published under the imprint of Treasure State Heritage Press by Ingram Spark.
Meet-the-author/book signing events are planned later in Billings and tentatively in Belgrade and Bozeman. A launch party also is planned in Miles City on Oct. 19, which would be Jim Muri’s 101st birthday.