James P. Muri was born in Carterville, Montana, to a cattle ranching family on 19 October 1918, grew up during the Great Depression and developed a love for football and pole vaulting. In 1936, he graduated from Custer County High School, and immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Chanute Field near Rantoul, Illinois. There he received training in the art of aircraft welding, and in 1937 he was transferred to March Field, California. After serving as an aircraft welder for two years, Muri was selected for initial flight training where he earned his pilot wings and a commission in the Army Air Corps as a second lieutenant. He transferred to Langley Field, Virginia, where he learned to fly the Martin B-26 Marauder.
On 8 December 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Muri’s unit was reassigned to Muroc Army Airfield, California, where he trained and waited for orders to deploy and fight in the Pacific theater. After seven months of training in California, Muri’s unit received orders to Hawaii with a follow-on to New Guinea. While in Hawaii, he picked up Susie Q, the Martin B-26 named for his wife Alice. However, after delivery, Muri and his crew received new orders and were diverted to Midway for a special mission designed to thwart a Midway invasion by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and his Japanese naval armada.
Muri’s task was to deliver a single 2,000-pound torpedo against an unknown opposing Japanese vessel. With no training or experience, Muri launched in the slot position of a four-ship of Martin B-26s and sought his target. During the ensuing attack, Muri was intercepted by 30 Japanese Zero fighters and was forced to make his attack at 200 feet above sea level. After attempting to deliver his torpedo against the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, Muri’s only egress route was to fly down the deck of the Akagi from bow to stern and attempt to outrun the pursuing Zeros. He successfully outran the aircraft, evaded further attack and limped his aircraft back to Midway where he landed Susie Q without a left main landing gear, with more than 500 bullet holes and with every major system degraded.
For this action, Muri was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and was reassigned to Eglin Field, Florida, to establish and lead the 1st Proving Ground Torpedo Squadron. He quickly moved up the chain of command, and as a major was reassigned to Watertown Air Force Base, South Dakota, as the base commander. Later in his career, he served as the director of material for United States Army Air Force Military Air Transport Command, and also served as a State Department liaison in Brussels, Belgium. In 1962, Muri retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel after serving 24 years in uniform and accumulating more than 5,000 flight hours. Muri currently resides in Billings, Montana, and he and his wife Alice have two children.