WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2010 — When the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, America sought retribution and finally took up arms. It wasn’t until almost three years later that the country would receive its final closure.
In October 1944, Navy Cross recipient and fighter ace William E. “Bill” Davis participated in a bombing run on the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku, the last remaining aircraft carrier afloat that had taken part in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Davis recalled the harrowing experience during a Dec. 8 “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable.
“There were two clouds forming, one at 10,000 feet and one at about 4,000 feet, of continuously exploding shells, and I knew there was no chance to fly through that and come out the other end,” he said. “But I still didn’t care. I was going to get my hit. I went down, went through both clouds without taking a single hit, which is hard to imagine, and went fairly low. … I pulled the release and pulled out, and of course, blacked out.”
Moments later, Davis said, he came to. “Blood came back to my brain, or what was left of it, and I could see again, and I was actually clipping the spray from the waves,” he recalled. “Another five feet would have done it. But I had not been hit.”
Despite that miraculous escape, the pilot was not out of harm’s way yet.
“I was kind of marveling that I was still alive,” he said. “But I looked up and saw that I was flying into the side of a Japanese ship, the Oyodo. Before I hit the ship, I rolled the plane on its side, and went through between the No. 2 gun turret and the bridge. And I could see the Japanese crew in on the bridge manning the wheel, … all in dress whites. I have a feeling that that was because they expected to die that day.”
Having survived the run unscathed and earning the Navy Cross, Davis settled down with his family in California. Drives to the Sierra Mountains for annual ski trips inspired him to tell his story in book form.
“At that time, it was before FM radio and so forth,” he said. “You couldn’t get anything the other side of the Sierra. So we were driving up and one of my daughters said, ‘Daddy, tell us war stories.’ And I hadn’t thought of telling them, … and it became a routine. When we went skiing, I told stories going up and back. And finally, I had to tell more and more.”
While looking back at all his experiences may have been a bit challenging, Davis said, he had a little help from diaries he kept during the war. “I didn’t know we weren’t allowed to keep diaries,” he said. “Somehow that directive missed me. So I had something to work from and a map of all of our movements throughout the Pacific.”
The resulting book, “Sinking the Rising Sun,” documents Davis’ service in the Navy, his experiences in World War II, and even his first time in an airplane. “At the time I volunteered for the Naval Air Corps, I’d never been in an airplane,” he admitted.
The book has received favorable reviews, and the 89-year-old former pilot is considering opportunities to promote his memoir.
“I haven’t made it to a bigtime, on-camera interview with any of the talk shows, which I would love to do,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)