Early life in the Military

Arrival on Midway

Muri's part of the Battle of Midway

Muri's Torpedo Run on the Akagi

Returning to Midway

How to Attack Naval Vessels

After the Battle of Midway

Reflections on the Battle of Midway

I Couldn't Get My Guys to Shoot Back

Bullets Hitting the Airplane


James Muri joined the Army so that he could become a pilot. Growing up in Montana Muri did not see many airplanes. He and a friend were interested in becoming pilots and the only way to pursue that was to join the Army. He trained at Chanute Field for a year and a half. He also went to college for a year. Muri went out to Kelly Field and from there to Langley Field where he wound up being trained as a bomber pilot. Muri did not have a choice but certain cadets were chosen to go to different types of aircraft. If Muri could have chosen he would have chosen twin engine bombers. The war came along and one thing led to another. Muri ended up at Hickam Field in Hawaii. At this point all they had available was B-26s [Annotator's Note: Martin M-26 Marauder medium bomber]. Whenever they would get three or four assembled they would assign a crew to the plane and send them to Australia. Muri did not get assigned to Australia when many of the others were. His airplane was not ready and they needed someone there who had a maintenance background. Muri was a buck private in the Air Corps and when he graduated the school he became an aviation mechanic. His aviation background always helped him out. Muri does not remember talking with his buddies about going to war but they did talk about when they would be going to war. They would joke about war but as a young person he feels they never took it too seriously. Muri realized what war was the second he was in it. Muri clearly recalls the first time he saw Japanese Zeroes coming at him the first time. He did not realize that they were shooting at him at first but when he did it changed his views. When Muri was in Honolulu he was checking airplanes. The planes had been disassembled in Sacramento and shipped to Hawaii where they were reassembled by locals who had never seen a B-26 before. Muri spent most of the seven months he was in Honolulu checking the incoming aircraft.


James Muri landed on Midway around 29 May [Annotator's Note: 29 May 1942]. At that moment he did not know what the geo political status of the war was. There were a lot of airplanes on Midway Island but many were the older fighter and torpedo bomber aircraft. A jeep came racing down the line informing people there was a target 140 miles away. They always joked about how these targets would turn out to be an old freighter. No one told them this particular target was 150 ships. They had never been in combat. Muri could not get his gunners to shoot because they were not used to it yet. It took awhile for the guys to realize to shoot back because their lives depended on it. None of his gun crew on the B-26 [Annotator's Note: Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber] had fired a machine gun or any gun in training. Trying to get them to shoot the guns was hard because it takes a lot of training. Muri probably would have done the same thing if he had a machine gun but he did not. He was piloting the aircraft. When they went from flying school to Langley Field, Virginia they had no idea what war was. They were told to leave the day the war started and that was their introduction to the conflict. Before they left to go to war they went to San Francisco, California and then went by boat to Hawaii. Their planes went over with them. They were disassembled and had to be reassembled in Hawaii. The guys began to talk about the war more often once they knew they were going. They did not have any idea about combat and what it would be like to come under fire. Muri did not even know he was being sent to Midway. About two thirds of the way, three of the B-26s peeled off and went in another direction. Muri had to make a critical navigational decision. He was advised by the other aircraft to follow them but his navigator advised him the correct way to go and they found Midway. They saw two specks in the distance and they turned out to be US Navy PBY aircraft [Annotator's Note: Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat]. The PBY pilots informed Muri he was heading in the right direction. The PBYs had torpedoes under their wings which was unusual. Muri landed on the island on 29 May 1942. Life on Midway Island was dull.


[Annotator's Note: James Muri served in the USAAF as a pilot flying Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers in the 22nd Bombardment Group and took part in the Battle of Midway.] They built four big revetments for the group’s B-26s. The island is made of coral, not earth. They had dug four coral holes in the island for the B-26s. They had a good area to live and park the aircraft. They slept under the planes and lived by them. Twice a day they would have good hot food in a mess hall. There were no buildings other than the mess hall. Everything else was underground. They sat around waiting and wondering about what was going to happen. Muri’s guys mounted the torpedoes on their planes. The navy taught them what to do at Hickam. They were in the Army Air Corps but they were attached to the Navy. The Navy told them to put a bomb shackle under each plane that would hold a 1,000 pound bomb. They did what they were told and it worked. Having the torpedo under the plane made the lane fly a little different but not much. The only difference between them and the Navy is that they flew faster. The Navy told them not to drop the torpedo if they were flying faster than 145 miles per hour or high than 150 feet off the water. The torpedo had to hit the water at a certain angle then it could start its run and arm itself. When Muri dropped his torpedo the plane did not move. After he dropped the torpedo he had to run fast to get away from the enemy fighters. Muri knew he was going out but did not know what for. He had no idea that they would be going after a fleet of 150 ships. When he found the Japanese fleet he did not see 150 ships. Muri took off after all of the Navy planes took off. The B-17s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] that took part in the battle flew out from Honolulu, dropped their bombs, then flew back to Honolulu if they had enough fuel. If not, they stopped at Eastern Island to refuel. The planes that took off from Midway were some old fighters and old dive bombers like the Army A-17s [Annotator's Note: Northrop A-17 light attack aircraft]. Muri’s group was the last airplanes to take off because they were the fastest. The plan was for all of the planes to arrive at the target at the same time but that did not happen. When Muri got to the target he saw a big dogfight taking place. The planes from Midway had hit some of the ships. The Japanese had 12 transport ships of troops which they planned to offload onto Midway. Once they occupied Midway the Japanese could bomb Honolulu anytime they wanted to. When they went out that morning everything was in favor of the Japanese. When Muri got to the target area he saw a lot of parachutes and a lot of planes going down. Muri’s engineer asked for permission to shoot at the parachutes but he told him no because they could not identify who they were. Muri got off of Midway just in time before the Japanese bombed the island. When Muri got back his airplane was so full of holes and beat up that it was hard to fly. When they got into their approach, the Marines on the island opened fire on them and he had to go around and try it again. When he finally did land, his plane was in such bad shape that it just sat where he left it until it was scrapped.


It took James Muri 45 minutes or an hour to get to the Japanese fleet from Midway. After he left Midway, he was attacked by enemy fighters before he ever sighted the Japanese fleet. When the fighters came at him it was the first time he ever heard bullets hitting an airplane. He put the nose down and headed down to the water. He swung around and got into an open area where the ships had scattered a bit. Muri could see water spouts kicking up. There were fighters everywhere. To get lined up he had to fly slow, straight and level which he did not want to do. By that time the turret was gone and the tail gunner was down. The radio operator was also unconscious and the back of the aircraft was on fire. Muri’s tail gunner had been hit at least three times in the upper legs and back and was in bad shape. The others had been hit by ricochets. They were all bleeding but they were still able to work. Muri flew the plane but did not know where to go or what to do. He asked his navigator for a heading but he could not provide one. Muri began flying a search pattern. On the second leg he saw smoke and knew it had to be a ship or the island. He flew toward it and it turned out to be Midway. Muri’s copilot went into the back, possibly to run the tail guns or treat the wounded. Muri feels that someone he could not see was sitting in the copilot’s seat. Muri was hit by one slug. Nobody ever told Muri that the enemy ships were going to turn into him. He got to a point about 800 yards from the ship he was targeting he dropped his torpedo. Then he did his best to clear the area and evade the Zeros that were continually attacking his plane. He was only 400 or 500 feet off the water. The Zeros stuck to him. He tried to get up into the clouds but when he tried the Zeros would hit from underneath and he was forced to go back down. When he got back down on the water he realized that the carrier he had targeted was facing him and there was no defensive fire coming from the ship. Muri flew right up over the bow of the enemy ship then down the deck. He was only about 50 feet above the deck. After he cleared the ship he dropped back down on the water again. When he dropped back down he could see ships everywhere and they were all firing at him. Muri flew so close the enemy carrier Akagi that he hit the radio antennas.   


James Muri believes that his gunner shot up a Japanese antiaircraft gun crew on the Akagi but the Japanese claim that he had hit an area where officers would gather. Muri did not see it. He was too busy flying the plane. Muri has a picture of himself during the battle that a guy in Denver drew for the history of the group [Annotator's Note: the 22nd Bombardment Group]. The image shows him with a cigarette in his mouth. During the battle Muri put a cigarette in his mouth and swallowed half of without even realizing it. After Muri flew over the Akagi he got as low on the water as he could. He believes that if he had been trained he would not have been as nervous as he was. He tried to get up into the clouds but when he did the Zeros chasing him would fire at him which forced him back down. Finally, he just pushed the throttles to the fire wall and headed away as fast as the plane would fly. He skidded and pulled up and down and maneuvered various ways in order to evade the Japanese fighters. Muri felt that the further away from the fleet he got the safer they were. Just as he thought he had it made he ran into another flight of planes coming from Midway. The lead plane pulled off and flew up alongside of Muri. He was so close that Muri could have shot him with a .45 if he had one. Eventually the enemy plane pulled off and left. Muri does not know how long they were out. When they got back to Midway the Marines shot at them. The controls on Muri’s plane had been shot away and the plane was hard to control. When he finally landed he was happy to be on the ground. The plane was in very bad shape and had gasoline and hydraulic fluid leaking out of it from everywhere. The operations officer ran out and told them to load the plane back up and go out again. Muri would not have gone out if it had been a new airplane. Sending out one plane would have been suicide. The aircraft based on Midway suffered terrific losses. The planes coming from the fleet suffered heavy losses but did not suffer the casualty rate that those from Midway Island had. Muri was so happy that he had made it back that he would have landed with no wheels. He managed to get the plane down with one bad wheel. When he landed the plane shook so bad that the instrument panel fell off onto his lap. A navy tug came out and drug the plane off the runway. The plane was in terrible shape. Muri is surprised it stayed in the air and did not blow up. Muri had the throttles pushed all the way to the wall for 45 minutes and the engines ran normal the whole way. He even wrote to Pratt and Whitney and asked about it. After they landed the crewmen took the machine guns and ammunition off the plane and set them up by their foxholes.  


James Muri and his crew got on the first B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] they could get on to leave Midway Island. Many of the B-17 pilots had been classmates of his so it was not difficult to get a ride out of there. The number three engine caught fire during takeoff but they managed to make the seven hour flight to Honolulu on three engines. It was a testament to the durability of the B-17. When Muri saw blue specks in the sky which turned out to be PBYs [Annotator's Note: Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat], he was too far out to turn around. When he realized that the PBYs were heading in the opposite direction he knew where he was heading. Each of the PBYs had two torpedoes under its wings. Muri made it to Midway and the PBYs came in later. Muri believes that everything that happened was a lot of luck. He did not find one thing that they did that had been taught to them at Langley Field or anywhere for that matter. They flew out from Midway to the fleet in formation for protection. B-17s going to Europe did the same. There was a brigadier general or major general who was the commander at Wheeler Field that had all of the airplanes lined up and they were destroyed by the Japanese during their attack there. Muri was invited to a gathering held by General Davidson in an attempt to come up with a way for them to bomb navy ships. The B-17s had flown missions over the course of three days during the Battle of Midway and they had dropped a lot of bombs but did not score one hit. Muri was back on Midway when Harry Ferrier and Bert Earnest got back. Muri helped Ferrier get out of his airplane. One of the crewmen on the plane was dead. He had been hit in the head. After the crewmen were out of the plane, a navy tug pulled the plane off the runway. Muri had over 500 holes on just one side of his airplane. All of the hits to Collins's plane were in the nose gear. After Collins launched [Annotator's Note: after he dropped the torpedo his Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber was carrying] Muri saw him way up in the clouds. Then he saw another B-26 off to his left that was making a run on the Kaga, which was a sister ship of the Akagi. He could clearly see the enemy carrier. Many reports put Herbie Mayes in Muri's position. Mayes never came back and Muri does not know what happened to him. 


James Muri knew the Navy had sunk four Japanese carriers during the battle [Annotator's Note: during the Battle of Midway]. He figured that the dive bombers got them as he was leaving the area. Admiral Nagumo was in charge of the aviation part of the battle. He was making his turn after Muri flew down the length of the flight deck. The Japanese did not know where Muri had come from. The Japanese pilots who had attacked Midway had not seen any B-26s [Annotator's Note: Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber] there. Turning a carrier group is not a simple maneuver and the Japanese were still in the turn when the American dive bombers hit them. The dive bombers sank three of the carriers within about five minutes of each other. Early the next day they sank the fourth one. Muri learned that the carriers had been sunk while on Midway. Since he did not have a plane to fly anymore after the fourth [Annotator's Note: 4 June 1942], Muri was given permission to return to Honolulu if he could get a ride. The Japanese attack had knocked out their storehouse and there were warm pears and warm beer all over the island. That was all Muri had to eat or drink for a couple days. Finally they got back to Honolulu where he waited for another airplane. Muri always kept his B4 bag packed because he knew he would be going to Australia. He had the airplane about ready to go with two or three others when he was called over to the cave in Honolulu. He went to the adjutant's office where he was given a folder of classified documents and told to fly back to the United States immediately. At five that evening he was on a plane back to the United States. Upon arrival, Muri picked up his wife and car and drove up to Montana then headed east to Washington. He made his report to General Arnold's number one replacement, General Giles. Giles told Muri to report to Eglin Field by a certain date. At the time gas was rationed and the speed limit was 35 miles per hour. Muri and his wife enjoyed the drive. Muri spent two years at Eglin Field. From there he went to Watertown, South Dakota as the base commander and spent a year and a half there. After Midway, Muri stayed in the United States for the remainder of the war. After the war he was with the Air Transport Command. He went to McCord in Tacoma and did a lot of flying between there and Anchorage. He also flew the chain [Annotator's Note: the Aleutian Islands chain] and to Tokyo picking up soldiers and air evacuating wounded men.


Looking back, 65 years after the event, James Muri believes that the Battle of Midway had to be a turning point in the war. Had they [Annotator's Note: the Japanese] taken Midway Island and loaded it down with troops they could have bombed Honolulu at will. With no way to get troops and supplies into the Pacific easily, sooner or later the islands would have had to be abandoned. Midway had to be held. There was a lot of luck involved with the victory at Midway. The dive bombers that got the carriers had probably been well trained but Muri and his group had not received any training. New airmen with no training cannot be expected to go right out and sink ships with torpedoes. That proved itself when those six Japanese fighters came at their formation. They immediately scattered. Muri believes that it was luck that two of them [Annotator's Note: two of the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers] survived the battle. Muri is proud that he took part in the Battle of Midway. At the time however he did not know how important that victory was. Had the Japanese succeeded in taking Midway the whole aspect of the war could have been different. Muri believes that flying down the flight deck of the Akagi convinced the Japanese admiral that it was time for them to turn. Muri took off. It seemed to him that every ship out there was shooting at him. After the battle Muri kept in touch with some of his crewmen. One of the crewmen had become mute as a result of the wounds he had suffered during the battle. His navigator had a brain tumor which eventually killed him. Another crewman was crippled as a result of being shot during the battle but was able to get around well. His copilot died more than ten years prior to this interview. Muri is the last survivor from his crew. Muri did not speak to any of the B-17 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] guys after the war. They were in a different bomb group. They were with the 7th Air Force and Muri was part of the 5th Air Force. He did know a few of them but did not stay in touch with them.

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.