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World War II Pilot Was Initially Embarrassed By Hero Status After Battle Of Midway

Robert Siegel talks with Sylvia Saadati about her father, Jim Muri, a hero pilot at the Battle of Midway. Muri earlier this month at the age of 93.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

People used to ask Jim Muri about the 4th of June 1942. And according to his family, he tended to be surprised by their interest. On that day, Mr. Muri, who died earlier this month at the age of 94, was a B-26 bomber pilot in World War II. Deployed to the isolated Midway Atoll - midway between California and Japan - Muri and his crew scrambled into the air after news that a Japanese carrier group was approaching. Their ensuing torpedo run became the stuff of legend. Jim Muri's plane was riddled with anti-aircraft fire as he flew toward a Japanese carrier to torpedo it, then he had to fly back, pursued by Japanese planes firing at him. As he said in an interview that we found on YouTube, he essentially flew right over the carrier.

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JIM MURI: We were - had been coming in from 45 off the bow, so it was almost a straight shot down the flight deck, which was fortunate simply because every gunner in the carrier was firing out and up. But nobody had prepared for some airplane flying the full length of their deck. And that's where we went. Down the deck and tack low, and that's when I think we could've touched the deck with our wheels if we would've put them down.

SIEGEL: Mr. Muri's daughter, Sylvia Saadati, joins us now from Kingsport, Tennessee. Thank you very much for joining us.

SYLVIA SAADATI: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: And how did your dad deal with his status as a hero, a hero of the greatest battle of the Pacific that turned the tide in the war against Japan?

SAADATI: Well, it's our opinion after years of watching that he was embarrassed by the status initially. And he was surprised. He simply wanted to be sent on to Australia and be with his crew. But instead, he was held in the United States and written up and finally sent to Florida to help train torpedo bombers.

SIEGEL: That plane, after that run, they found, I gather, 500 bullet holes in the fuselage. He said the propeller was perforated with bullet holes. Half his crew was wounded. It sounded like a nightmarish moment up there.

SAADATI: It had to have been. It was essentially a nonexistent aircraft after that. They were tough, and he managed to fly it. But it was not flyable afterwards, of course.

SIEGEL: By the way, that torpedo that he himself practically kicked loose off the plane, did it actually hit the aircraft carrier?

SAADATI: No, it didn't. Initially, he was awarded credit for that. It was discovered later after further studies were done. But none of their actually - the Marauders' torpedoes actually struck anything - sp wounded badly. And it was their act that allowed the Zeros to come down out of the sky where they were no longer able to provide protective cover then for those ships. And our next fleet of bombers that came in, and torpedo planes, were the ones that made the actual kills.

SIEGEL: So they had effectively cleared the path.

SAADATI: Exactly.

SIEGEL: I'm just curious. When he related this story, did he feel that he had been prepared for the moment, that he had been well trained to do all this or was it just instinct that it was...

SAADATI: Well, let's put it this way. They didn't know where they were going. They weren't told. They were given coordinates. And they were told: You'll know the target when you see it. They had no idea the whole Japanese Navy was going to be in front of them. So he was well trained as a pilot. He just did what he could do to keep himself and his crew alive after dropping the torpedo. And he did a damn good job of it.

SIEGEL: Is there a favorite story you have about your father when you try to sum up what he was all about?

SAADATI: He was the raconteur of the family. If you read one of his obituaries that my brother and my nephew and I sat around in a Billings bar and finalized, we put humor in there because we said maybe it wasn't always 100 percent true, but it certainly was fun to listen to.

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SAADATI: All of the different adventure stories of their growing up in Montana, et cetera. So I like to remember him with a group of kids sitting around him, telling stories.

SIEGEL: Well, Ms. Saadati, thank you very much for talking with us about your father.

SAADATI: OK.

SIEGEL: Sylvia Saadati was speaking with us about Jim Muri, who died earlier this month. He was a fabled pilot in the Battle of Midway.

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