By William E. Davis

Bill Davis was a senior in college, and ready to embark on a career as an engineer with RCA when on December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched their surprise raid on Pearl Harbor. Putting his other plans on hold, Davis immediately decided to join the Navy—ready to do his part in avenging the attack. Davis always had a passion for flight, and would become a pilot in the Naval Air Corps, assigned to the Pacific flying combat missions against the Japanese. His squadron would amass a remarkable record, shooting down 155 enemy planes while only losing two of their own in aerial combat. He would see action at Guam, Palau, Iwo Jima and Haha Jima, and Formosa. But it was in October of 1944, just days after General MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, that Davis would find himself attacking his most satisfying target yet—the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku, the last remaining Japanese carrier to take part in the attack on Pearl Harbor…

Once again we hit the airfields of southern Luzon. There was no air opposition, but the antiaircraft fire was heavier than ever. The number of planes parked on the fields was small, but I managed to find one and blow it up. Then, it was on to the docks, where sampans were waiting. I caught one tied up to the dock and blew it up, taking the dock along with it.

We passed another field on our return, and Smiley led us in a dive on the aircraft on the field. I was flying behind and slightly to the right of him when he took a hit. His plane headed for the ground as I held my breath. Smiley disappeared under my wing, but I was surprised to see him still in the air when he reappeared. Then it hit me: the part of his plane forward of the cockpit was skewed twenty degrees to one side. He’d already hit the ground and bounced back up. I hoped he might make it, but it wasn’t to be. The plane nosed over and crashed in a giant fireball. We were losing skippers at an alarming rate.

I lined up on another plane and started to fire as I caught a glimpse of Masoner’s plane taking a hit. I broke off my run and pulled over next to him. He gave me a thumbs-up as we rendezvoused and headed back to the fleet. As it turned out, all was not well with Bill. He almost made it to the ship but went into the ocean. He was quickly picked up and was back aboard before nightfall.

The next day was memorable. Weather was building to the west, which was where we were going. Shortly after takeoff, we ran into a front that seemed to slope down to the sea. We couldn’t get underneath it, so we had to climb through it. With the dive-bombers and torpedo planes, we numbered forty aircraft. Flying formation in clouds is not recommended for long life. You could go one of two ways: The first was to fly very tight formation so that you could see your leader, but someone competent had to be on instruments, or the whole flight would go in. The other choice was to spread out, but now you couldn’t see another plane, and you had to fly instruments, and there was always the chance of a midair collision. I elected to stay tight and was flying blind a few feet from the next plane.

We continued to climb for what seemed an eternity and were still in thick clouds. Suddenly, at fifteen thousand feet, we broke out—right in the middle of a flight of Japanese planes rendezvousing for an attack on our fleet. In some cases our planes were within two feet of a Japanese plane. I didn’t have to aim; I just pressed the trigger and shot down a twin-engine bomber only twenty-five feet away. We were so close that if the plane had blown up, it would have taken me with him.