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Age: 91

Unit: 42nd Squadron, 11th Bombardment Group, 7th Airforce

War fronts: Hickam Field during the attack on Pearl Harbor; flew in the battles of Midway, the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal as part of the "Cactus Air Force," an ensemble of Army, Navy and Marine aviators.

His words: During Pearl Harbor, faulty Japanese intelligence had said that the Hickam Field fuel supply was hidden underneath the baseball field. So, as Davis sprinted to the dugout for cover, Japanese planes bombarded the diamond. A blast threw him across the field and more blasts buried him with dirt.

"I looked, and here's twin-engine Jap bombers in formation -- coming, coming and coming -- dropping bombs. I couldn't move. I never did get to that dugout."

A U.S. airman was superstitious about his plane. He'd rather disassemble a new one for parts than replace the ship that had carried him through bullets, shrapnel and violent storms. When a replacement arrived, crews swarmed in, picking it apart piece by piece, fixing the planes that had delivered them to the ground intact.

Or mostly intact.

Eugene Davis felt that way about the Alley-oop. His B-17 bomber always carried her crew home, even after some of the fiercest battles of the Pacific.

Davis enlisted in 1939 in Williamstown, Mass. He'd been flying since 14, so he joined the Army Air Corps.

On Dec. 7, 1941, he was a ground crew chief at Hickam Field in Oahu, Hawaii. He awoke to the sound of the blinds banging against the barrack walls. Nobody got too excited. The Air Corps had been dropping flour bombs on the Navy for a while, training for a surprise attack. The Navy had been doing the same to the Air Corps.

This wasn't the Navy.

The airmen stared at the sky as Japanese Zeroes dropped bombs and maneuvered to shoot at anything that moved. Maj. Ramey ran by, shouting at the airmen to disperse.

Eugene Davis jumped face down between two piles of lumber. Another airman named Eugene jumped on top of him. Machine gun bullets kicked up the dirt and splintered the wood. Davis knew he needed better cover, but the Eugene on his back had grown heavy. As Davis struggled to crawl out from under him, he realized he was dead.

A week later, a letter was delivered to Davis -- the wrong Eugene. The dead airman's mother had probably written it before she'd heard the news.

"If he hadn't done that," Davis said, "I would have been the victim."

After the attack, a fleet of new B-17s arrived. Pilot Maj. Kermit Messerschmitt picked his crew, naming Davis as his engineer. They named their ship Alley-oop after the navigator who could steer them through anything, Lt. Alley.

"He was -- boy, I tell you -- he was the best," Davis said.

The Alley-oop patrolled the waters around Hawaii using a search pattern the crew members called the Wagon Wheel. They flew out 750 miles, made a dog-leg turn, and flew back in, eventually circling the island. The ship also served as a transport for the commander of the Hawaiian Army Air Forces, Major General Willis Hale. On June 3, 1942, the Alley-oop flew him to Midway Island, joining the second bombing wave in a battle many consider the turning point in the Pacific Theater.

Davis looked down. A hundred or so Navy and Marine pilots floated in the water, waiting for rescue. Their planes, out of fuel, were sinking.

"We always thought we had a chance of that, too."

After Midway, the Alley-oop landed in Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, in support of the Guadalcanal campaign.

Bombs were already falling. The crew jumped into a foxhole not knowing that it belonged to the fighter pilots. The fighters threw in a hand grenade, unloaded but rigged to fizzle. The bombers clambered out of the hole in a hurry.

Over the Solomon Islands, Alley-oop's luck ran out. She was leading three planes on a bombing mission when her No. 3 engine stalled. Messerschmitt flew her low over the target while ordering the other two planes up 1,000 feet. Two Japanese Zeroes attacked.

Machine guns blasted the cockpit. Copper from a bullet jacket hit Messerschmitt in the forehead. Another bullet sliced through the co-pilot's leg, exposing bone from his knee to his hip. A third grazed Davis' foot, but he shot down the Zeroes anyway.

Though her run of scratchless missions had ended, the Alley-oop carried everyone home.

In 1943, Davis had enough points to return to the states. He spent six months at the Casper Army Air Base training other airmen. One of his duties was to fly a tow plane with a target trailing 3,000 feet behind. Gunners-in-training used it for target practice.

Once, a B-24 showered Davis' B-26 with 50-caliber bullets, almost hitting the radio operator. Ground control told the planes to land right away. The colonel was waiting with two military policemen.

What the heck were doing up there? The colonel shouted.

I was sick and tired of shooting at that target, the gunner answered. Davis never saw that guy again.

But it was the Alley-oop Davis likes to remember.

He got his Distinguished Flying Cross with her, during a Pacific storm that was tossing the ship like a basketball. Davis wrapped his elbows around the stocks of the twin 50-caliber machine guns.

One second, Davis was staring at the swirling, gray clouds. The next, he was looking at a four-engine Japanese flying boat. The Alley-oop seemed to be right on top of it.

He knew those flying boats had a bullet that would explode on contact, and the Japanese used to get close enough to American planes to shoot at the wing crew. "If they could knock a wing off, of course, it would do us in in a hurry."

So Davis started firing. He shot out one of the engines and likely shot the tail gunner before the flying boat disappeared back into the clouds.

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