s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

A hard-scrabble childhood in Depression-era Oklahoma steeled the young Jim Morehead for even rougher days ahead in dogfights with Japanese and Nazi pilots in World War II.

Retired Col. James B. Morehead, 94, became one of the country's most highly decorated fighter aces, winning two Distinguished Service Crosses, a Silver Star and 16 other air medals.

Next month, the Petaluma resident will be honored as part of an exhibition at the Petaluma Museum called "Flight: A Tribute to Aviation." The exhibit opening Feb. 2 will include a personal tribute on Feb. 5, which will be dedicated as James B. Morehead Day in the city of Petaluma.

The exhibit will trace American aviation history, including the 100th anniversary of first airmail flight, when the young flyer Fred Wiseman braved dicey weather on Feb. 17, 1911 and delivered mail from Petaluma to Santa Rosa.

Today, Morehead lives on a ranch on the outskirts of Petaluma where he displays his huge selection hunting and fishing trophies and memorabilia from his military service, which started in 1940 at Stockton Field. He retired from a desk job at the Pentagon in 1967.

Morehead, who friends address simply as "Colonel," graduated in April 1941 from the Army Air Corps flight school and was the sole pilot trainee among 120 students to be selected for assignment to a fighter unit at Hamilton Army Airfield.

He credits his experience as a youth hunting wild game to help feed his family for his success and composure as a fighter pilot.

If he hadn't been in the hospital recuperating from a mid-air collision, Morehead would have been sent with the rest of his unit to the Philippines after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He said many of his buddies ended up being captured and forced to death in the Bataan Death March.

Morehead fought and survived against the odds during the "early, dark days" of fighting in the southwest Pacific, when the Japanese were scoring victory after victory, said his friend and military historian Leon Delisle.

"He is a great man and a true American treasure. There is no one like him," Delisle said. "He represents everything that is good about America. He is a kind man who has seen a lot of war, and he is not jaded by his experiences."

Morehead is credited with seven enemy kills as a flying ace, seven Japanese fighters and one Nazi, he said.

April 25, 1942 was a pivotal day in Morehead's life and, he believes, for the war in the Pacific.

Every day for more than a month, Japanese forces had bombed the Australian city of Darwin. Morehead's unit had recently lost two commanders in battle.

Just 25 years old, then-2nd Lt. Morehead — exactly one year out of cadet school but with several air battles already behind him — led a flight of eight P-40 fighter planes toward a formation of 31 Japanese "Betty" bombers and their accompanying fighter escorts returning from Darwin.

"I did a slow roll," he recounted, and surfaced out of the way of the bomber's rear-facing guns.

"I led the lead bomber by 90 feet," he said, recalling how he timed his fire to strike the plane. "My bullets went right into his cockpit and engine."

He then raked a second bomber, destroying it as well. Then, Morehead shot down one of the Japanese Zero fighters protecting the bombers. In all, 11 enemy planes went down with no losses for Morehead's crew.

For his actions that day, Morehead, his own plane heavily damaged in the firefight, was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the Army.

Although modest about his individual actions, Morehead counts the battle as a decisive one.

"I think the Japanese changed their objective from the pearl of the Pacific, Australia, to Guadalcanal, where they got bogged down there fighting our Navy and Marines," he said.

Later in the war, Morehead began training rookie pilots for combat in Europe and the Pacific. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Morehead downed a German Messerschmitt 109 fighter. For two years during the Korean war, he helped train Chinese Nationalist pilots.

Morehead takes the local honor, complete with a day dedicated in his honor and a proclamation from the mayor, with humility.

"If they must," he joked, "I will comply."

Show Comment