Former Airport Authority Director and President's Story of WWII Heroics Told in New Book
Former director and president of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority Willard M. Fletcher and the Navy attack squadron in which he served during World War II are the subject of a new narrative book published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group Inc., in July of this year. Intrepid Aviators: The True Story of USS Intrepid's Torpedo Squadron 18 and Its Epic Clash With the Superbattleship Musashi tells the tale not only of Fletcher's personal heroics, but the squadron of which he was a part.
First deploying in August 1944, Torpedo Squadron 18 participated in Admiral William F. Halsey's fast carrier raids over the Palau and Visayan Islands, Luzon, Okinawa and Formosa, and he fought continuously in the three-day running air-sea battle that became known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, three of the most intense days of carrier combat in the Pacific War. Fletcher was in the first wave of American carrier planes to strike at the Japanese fleet in October 1944, and he was credited with making the first confirmed torpedo hit on Musashi, which sank later in the day. Fletcher's airplane was set afire in the effort, and he crash-landed in the Sibuyan Sea. Rescued by Filipino guerrillas, he fought with guerrilla forces on Panay until his repatriation by submarine in December 1944. Of the 28 pilots who deployed with the squadron, 15, including Fletcher, won the Navy Cross for gallantry.
Mr. Fletcher, who retired from the Navy as a captain, became director and president of Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority in 1975 and also served as president of the Southeastern Airport Managers' Association, president of the Tennessee Association of Air Carrier Airports, and as vice chairman of the Airport Operators Council International until his death in 1985.
The book was written by Captain Fletcher's son Gregory Fletcher, himself a former naval aviator and now a Memphis attorney.
Gregory Fletcher, author of Intrepid Aviators, signs a copy of his book for Larry Cox, President and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, at a book signing recently held at the Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis.