World War II Navy Ace Recalls Harrowing Mission

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)

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