Why this book? Why this author?

This book provides the life story of Jim Muri, an Army Air Force pilot who flew his B-26 Martin Marauder into combat at the Battle of Midway. Muri and six other Army airmen comprised the crew of one of four Marauder bombers that took off from the Eastern Island airstrip at Midway atoll early on the morning of June 4, 1942. Their mission: attack the Japanese fleet spotted in the Pacific Ocean, probably the most powerful naval armada in world history. The result of their mission will come to light in the pages that follow.

Still, since World War II produced hundreds, likely thousands, of legitimate American heroes, one might ask  how and why did I choose Jim Muri as the hero to feature in my book?

First, some background. As I wrote, I thought often of another World War II veteran — my father, who after graduating from high school in the tiny Eastern Montana town of Terry in May 1945 was drafted. He was inducted into the Army a few weeks after V-E Day, when Germany surrendered to end European conflict, but the war in the Pacific still continued. By the time William “Bill” Gaub finished basic training, two atomic bombs had fallen on Japan, forcing Emperor Hirohito to accept unconditional surrender. So when my dad boarded a troop ship in the New York harbor in 1946, he headed to Europe as a member of the Occupation Army.

Thus, I grew up hearing about his non-combat but still vital service, helping to maintain peace and rebuild war-torn Germany. When my father died in April 2012 in Missoula, Montana, he was buried with military honors, and one of his grandsons — my son Julian, a high school band member at the time — played taps at the gravesite. Normally, a veteran’s flag goes to his or her surviving spouse if any, but because of my mother’s advanced age and dementia, Julian also was designated keeper of the next-of-kin flag.

Not quite a year later, on February 13, 2013, I was in my home office, working in a sales support role for a major software company (from which I retired in January 2017). I was listening to Yellowstone Public Radio, the public radio station in Billings, Montana, during the airing of Morning Edition, the National Public Radio news program. Just then, program host Robert Siegel introduced a segment about a hero of the Battle of Midway who had died 10 days earlier. The man’s name was James P. Muri, and an interview with his daughter, Sylvia Sadaati, comprised most of the program.

I bolted out of my office and exclaimed to my wife, Carolyn, “I wonder if this man is related to the Muris I knew in Miles City?” I was referring to Miles City, Montana, where my family lived from when I started the sixth grade until early in my junior year at Custer County High School. Our family then moved to Billings, Montana’s largest city, where I graduated from high school. While at CCHS, a classmate of mine was Kathy Muri, and I knew of her two younger brothers.

My wife, to her everlasting credit, said not just that I should find out the family relationship, if any. “Well, there’s your book, Dennis,” she said. That represented support and, more, faith because Carolyn and I married several years after I changed careers, leaving the newspaper industry where I had been a reporter and editor for about 25 years. She had seen me take on freelance writing assignments for magazines and corporations, and I also had put my writing skills to work in my jobs in banking operations and the high-tech world of customer relationship software. But Carolyn had never seen me race back from a high school or college athletic event or a city hall meeting and write an 800- to 1,000-word story in barely an hour to meet a daily newspaper deadline.

Yes, I said to her. I will write a book about Jim Muri. I put on my tattered reporter’s hat and started calling. My first call was to Miles City, to speak to Kathy Muri, now Kathy Boutelle after her marriage to another of our of CCHS classmates. It turned out she was a niece of Jim Muri. Soon the old instincts kicked in, and I located Sylvia Sadaati in Tennessee and her older brother, Jim, in Washington state. They are the only two children of James P. Muri and his wife, Alice, who preceded her husband in death. Through Sylvia and Jim, I obtained contact information for Josh Muri, Jim’s son and grandson of James; Josh is the keeper of his grandfather’s military records and other artifacts.

It became obvious why I had never met James P. Muri, nor known until after his death about his B-26 bomber flight in plane number 1391, named Susie-Q just like his wife’s nickname. Muri had left Miles City after graduating from high school in 1936 and enlisting in the Army. Six years later, he ended up in the thick of action in the Pacific Ocean off Midway on June 4, 1942. Altogether, he had a career in the Army Air Corps/Army Air Force and Air Force that spanned about 25 years and took him and his family around the U.S. and overseas to Japan and Belgium. Not until the early 1970s did Jim Muri return to Montana to live; retired by then, he and Alice bought a ranch near Big Timber, Montana, and lived there largely out of the spotlight for a couple decades. Alice’s failing health necessitated being closer to hospitals and doctors in Billings, so the couple moved to Billings in the early 1990s, a new home that also left them close to Laurel, Montana, where Jim’s brother, Andy, lived, in the early 1990s.

Ironically, my first book, “Win ‘Em All — Little Laurel Wins Montana’s Biggest Basketball Championship,” mentioned a member of the Muri family: Sherri, a daughter of Andy, niece of Jim, a cheerleader during Laurel’s storybook run to an undefeated season and the 1969 state basketball championship. Sheri Muri also was a high school track standout for the Locomotives. 

That’s the way Montana is. Forget six or seven degrees of separation. In Montana, it only takes having a normal professional and personal network to come within one or two degrees of separation from another Montanan. It’s happened to me and to others: find yourself waiting in a major airport with time on your hands and you strike up a conversation with someone. You find out that you’re both from the Treasure State. You could be from Alzada, in the far southeast corner of the state, and the other person from Yak in the opposite northwest corner. Within five minutes, you’re likely to find you know someone in common.

So while I regret never having met James P. Muri, I felt a bond with him, thanks to people I’ve met in Montana and elsewhere while researching this book, including two of his friends in Billings, Lonnie Bell and Roger Nelson. I also extend heartfelt gratitude to my former Billings Gazette colleague, Tom Howard (now retired from reporting) who wrote several articles about Jim Muri and the honors accorded him late in life, starting early in this century. Tom, good reporting and cycling buddy, you did the spadework. Hope this book lives up to the standard you set as you chronicled the feats of a genuine, albeit surprised, hero of one of the world’s greatest naval battles.

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