For years after he stared down death, Ray Daves couldn’t forget the face of the Japanese fighter pilot who came close to killing him.
The event occurred on Dec. 7, 1941, when Daves – a U.S. sailor stationed at Pearl Harbor – was witness to the Japanese surprise attack. Serving as an impromptu ammo carrier for a machine-gun team, Daves barely missed being smashed by a Zero that crashed just short of his position.
Later, when he was finally able to sleep in an actual bunk, the images came.
“(I)t felt so good to lie down,” Daves recalls. “The only thing that bothered me was the Japanese pilot. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw him. When I finally dropped off to sleep, he was still there, and he was still trying to kill me. I woke up screaming several times.”
Daves related his memories of World War II to Spokane author Carol Edgemon Hipperson, who has become a chronicler of the average soldier/sailor’s WWII experience. Hipperson tells Daves’ story in “Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific” (St. Martin’s Press, 284 pages, $25.95).
She’ll read from “Radioman” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday – which just happens to be Veterans Day – at Auntie’s Bookstore.
Hipperson is also the author of “The Belly Gunner,” a 2001 young-adult war memoir of the late Dale Aldrich, a Coulee City man who was a WWII gunner on a B-17.
In fact, she says, it was the response to “The Belly Gunner” that led her to write “Radioman.”
“I started getting phone calls and e-mails that said, ‘Gee, this is great, you did real good, but when are you going to write what it was like for us guys in the Pacific?’ ” Hipperson said.
Hipperson, a 58-year-old one-time history and English teacher at Wilbur (Wash.) High School, soon discovered that Spokane was home to a chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. After meeting several association members, she finally met Daves, who is the current chapter president.
“The minute I met him, which happened to be his 82nd birthday, I knew immediately (he was the one),” Hipperson said.
Her intent, she said, was “to tell the story of World War II, the story of millions through the eyes of one.
“I had discovered that no one had ever written the history of World War II from the perspective of an ordinary enlisted man,” Hipperson said. “There were a lot of collected accounts, like ‘Band of Brothers’ and so on. … But no one had written the whole story of the war from the point of view of a common enlisted man.”
Daves met all the criteria. He had first traveled to the Inland Northwest at age 16 to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was at a camp in Worley, Idaho, that Daves met Adeline Bentz, the woman he would eventually marry and settle down with.
The couple now lives in Deer Park.
But that would come long after Daves lied about his age to join the Navy, after he trained to be a signalman, survived Pearl Harbor, deployment on a submarine and combat during the Battle of the Coral Sea on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.
Daves was still serving on the Yorktown when, on June 4, 1942, it was sunk during the Battle of Midway.
As he recalls in Hipperson’s book, “The sun was shining on the water, making rainbows on the oil leaking from the stern. The men on either side of me were jumping, and the officer was yelling at me, ‘Go! Go now! I could feel the next group of guys crowding behind me, pressing against my back. It was too late to change my mind. I took a deep breath and jumped into the rainbows.”
All of “Radioman” is written with this kind of I-was-there lucidity. Hipperson’s writing style is best described by a reviewer of “The Belly Gunner” who wrote that Hipperson captures the manner in which “a person would speak, not always in complete sentences or in the most grammatical manner… the narrative unfolds matter-of-factly with no pretense of grandeur or heroism.”
No pretense, of course. But heroism certainly.
“It was a miracle,” Hipperson said of finding Daves. “I just prayed on it for the Lord to lead me to the one that could tell me the whole story from start to finish that included combat at sea.”
Beyond honoring the ordinary men and women who fought WWI, Hipperson hopes that her books help those who, she said, growing up “have no idea why their dads woke up screaming in the night.
“For those whose parents are still alive,” Hipperson said, “I would hope that they will, after reading this story, go to their dads or grandfathers and say, ‘Is this true?’ And he’s gonna say, ‘Yeah.’ And then he’s gonna tell his variation of the story.”