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Emmett Davis, an eastern Utah native who was one of the first American pilots in the air during the attack on Pearl Harbor, bombed Japan shortly before its surrender and then flew jets in the Korean War, died Tuesday. He was 96.
Davis' son, Tucker Davis, said his father died at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray where he had been receiving treatment for circulation problems. Emmett Davis, who retired from the Air Force in 1963 with the rank of colonel, had lived in Highland.
Davis joined the Air Force's predecessor, the U.S. Army Air Corps, in 1940. The next year, he was assigned to Wheeler Field on the island of Oahu. There, he invented a spiral maneuver to flummox his airborne adversaries.
A training opponent said flying against him was like flying against a cyclone. "Cyclone" would be painted on the side of Davis' aircraft, and comrades and admirers called him by that name for the rest of his life.
The night of Dec. 6, 1941, then-2nd Lt. Davis and his comrades had gone to a dance and stayed up late partying and playing poker. When Japan struck, Davis was asleep on a friend's daybed at Wheeler Field, about 16 miles north of Pearl Harbor.
According to a 2011 account he gave The Tribune, Davis' roommate shook him and said, "Cyclone, wake up, the Japanese are here."
Davis looked out a window and saw a Japanese dive bomber. Davis and another officer raced in a convertible toward the airfield. On the way, they were strafed by a Japanese plane.
At the airfield, personnel began moving U.S. fighters, lined up wingtip to wingtip, out of the flight line to keep them from burning in a spreading fire. Davis used an ax to break into the armory and load his plane with machine guns.
The battle was largely over when Davis took off in a P-40 fighter only to be shot at by the U.S. Navy. Davis radioed to whoever was listening to quit firing at him.
Davis flew the duration of World War II in multiple fighters. He became a lieutenant colonel at just 25 years old. He was credited with three kills, though he claimed seven, and earned the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The same day or the day after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki there's a discrepancy as to which Davis lead 62 P-38s that dropped napalm on Kumamoto.
"The two big bombs got their attention, and my 62 P-38s brought them to the table," he told The Tribune in 2012.
In his last mission of World War II, Davis flew among the aircraft that escorted the Japanese delegation to surrender to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Emmett Smith Davis was born Dec. 12, 1918, in Roosevelt, the fifth of eight children born to John Henry Davis and Nora LaRena Smith. His father had joined Torrey's Rough Riders, the Wyoming infantry that went to the Spanish-American War. The family moved to Duchesne when Davis was in the third grade.
The husband of Davis' fourth grade teacher flew a mail plane.
"I used to go up and watch him fly that old airplane, and I guess that was really when I got struck with being an aviator," Davis told KUED in 2006.
After the seventh grade, the family moved to Salt Lake City. Davis went to Roosevelt Junior High School then East High School and the University of Utah. He joined the Air Corps cadet program in April 1940.
After Pearl Harbor, Davis was sent to Australia and New Guinea. In New Guinea, he survived a bout of malaria that ravaged his squadron.
When he took control of the 8th Fighter Group, comprised of three squadrons and about 4,000 men, "Cyclone's Flying Circus" was painted on a sign at the group's base.
Davis knew Marjorie Gwen Poulton, of Salt Lake City, before he left for the Air Corps. They married Jan. 23, 1946.
Davis remained in the military as the Air Corps became the Air Force. He commanded a team that was to introduce and evaluate the new F-84 and F-86 in Korea. Tucker Davis said his father wasn't supposed to fly combat missions himself, but he sneaked into a few missions in the F-86.
In 1957, Tucker Davis said, Davis crash-landed an F-100 in New Mexico and was nearly killed. When Davis retired, he had a post at the Pentagon.
Davis and his family moved to Southern California, where he was employed by Hughes Aircraft Co. working on bombing and radar systems. In 2005, Marjorie and Emmett Davis moved to Highland.
Marjorie Davis died in December. Besides Tucker Davis, Davis is survived by two daughters, Pamela Lyn Mull and Kimberlee Davis Richards, and seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
A viewing will be Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the LDS Hollowcrest Building, at 10962 N. 6400 West in Highland.
Services will be 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Hollowcrest Building. Interment will follow at Highland Cemetery, 11000 N. Timpanogos Highway (6100 West).
Davis told KUED that he remembers being a leader from the time he began playing with neighborhood boys.
"I don't know if I was natural born, but I always assumed [leading] was my job," Davis said.