BILLINGS, Mont. — World War II pilot James Muri, who saved his crippled B-26 bomber and crew by buzzing the flight deck of a Japanese aircraft carrier during the Battle of Midway, has died in Billings.
He was 93.
Muri died Sunday of natural causes, according to Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary.
On June 4, 1942, Muri piloted one of four B-26 bombers that took off from Midway Island to attack a Japanese fleet planning to invade the U.S. outpost about 1,100 miles northwest of Hawaii.
Japanese fighter planes hit the bombers with machine guns and cannons. Muri’s bomber was struck and three crewmen were wounded, but he launched a torpedo at the aircraft carrier Akagi and then flew the plane down its flight deck to avoid the ship’s guns, which were all pointed outward.
Muri flew lower than treetop level above the deck of the massive ship, reasoning that skimming the flight deck gave him the best chance to survive.
After the plane crash-landed on Midway Island, officials counted more than 500 bullet holes in the bomber.
Muri and his crew were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. In 2003, Muri received the Jimmy Doolittle Award for outstanding service to the U.S. Army Air Corps in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Singer and radio host Lonnie Bell paid tribute to the feat in his song “Midway,” which he wrote in 1976.
June marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, which changed the course of the Pacific war. American forces sank four aircraft carriers despite being outnumbered in the three-day battle, diminishing Japan’s airstrike capabilities.
The U.S. lost one carrier, 145 planes and 307 men. Besides the four aircraft carriers, Japan lost a heavy cruiser, 291 planes and 4,800 men in the battle.
Muri left active duty in 1959 and returned to Montana in 1969. He and his wife, Alice, lived on Bridger Creek east of Big Timber for 30 years before moving to Billings in 1999. His wife died in 2001.
A memorial service for Muri is scheduled for Thursday at Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary.
He is to be buried Friday at the veterans’ cemetery in Miles City.