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Larger Than Life – Cyclone Davis

Guest Blog by Tiffany Mull, for her Grandfather on Father’s Day

Maj. Davis, Commander of the 35th Squadron by his P-40N, Tsili, Tsili, New Guinea, 1943. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Emmett Smith “Cyclone” Davis was a Colonel from World War II, and he got the nickname “Cyclone” for a reason.  This cocky fighter pilot was renowned for his “dog fighting” skills.  He was one of a dozen pilots that made it into the air the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, and he saw the war through to its end, serving as the escort for the Japanese envoy to set the terms of surrender.  

Pearl Harbor.  Credit: Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

He stopped an F-100 with his teeth and lived to tell about it.  In a night landing, his nose-gear collapsed.  He opened his canopy fearing the plane would explode and wound up hitting the barrier at the end of the runway. The barrier slid up and whacked him across the jaw.  

Major Emmett S. Davis being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Gen. George C. Kenney, 1943. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Born in Roosevelt Utah, to a cowboy daddy and a pioneer mom who lived in a tent, Emmett was small in stature, but tough.  Whenever his family moved to a new place, other kids would pick on him and his brothers because they were small and poor.  Without fail Emmett would lick those bigger kids and rule the roost.  He began work early, selling apples on the roadside.  He placed value on hard work and always helped support his family (he was still sending his mother monthly checks when she died at one hundred and three).  He had to work for everything he got, and this scabrous upbringing helped make him larger than life.

Lt. Col. Davis, second from the left, and three of his brothers, visiting their four-star mother. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

This poor boy from Northern Utah saw the world as a respected Commander, and then Colonel, in the air force, and he brought his rough-and-tumble Western attitude into the sky with him.  Emmett earned the nickname “Cyclone” in the war, and he goes by it to this day. 


Col. E.S. “Cyclone” Davis. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

As a Colonel in the Air Force he survived high flying rodeos of fire and death and his nickname is credited to a tactic he used to shoot down enemy aircraft.  When he got in a “dog fight,” he’d let the enemy follow him around in a circle.  Cyclone would spiral his plane upwards, with the enemy in pursuit.  At just the right moment, Cyclone would pull the throttle back and rocket his plane straight upwards in a vertical line.  The enemy was confused.  After going straight up for a little bit, Cyclone would stall the plane and let himself freefall until he was sufficiently below the enemy.  Then he would wrench the plane back in gear, and shoot down the bogie.  This is how he came to be known as “The Cyclone.”  The group he commanded was known as “Cyclone’s Flying Circus” because of the wild and successful aerial tactics they employed.

Cyclone’s Flying Circus. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Cyclone lived life to the brim – and was never afraid to see it spill over once in a while.  He married his sweetheart after the war on January 23rd 1946, and together they travelled the world. 

Cyclone with his sweetheart Marge. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Cyclone, Marge, Tucker and Pam. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

In the fifties he and Grandma would hold sock hops and invite ten or fifteen couples from the base to their house to dance shoeless until the sun came up. He served in the military, usually as a commander, for twenty-four years.

Cyclone with Marge, Pam, Tucker and Kim, the youngest. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

After retiring, Cyclone worked for Hughes Aircraft for another twenty years. After his second retirement, he had more time to enjoy golf, and even took up painting.  In later years he found out he had macular degeneration and would slowly go blind. Rather than give up or enter into depression, he went to the Veteran’s Blind School in Palo Alto where he learned to use a talking computer, and how to perform safe woodworking.  To this day he continues woodworking, building shelves, desks, or birdhouses.  He goes by feel, memory, and the little peripheral vision he has left.  He’s never too busy to help with a scout project or a pinewood derby car.

There was a period during the war when foot soldiers were getting accosted and killed by Japanese infantry men who laid in wait in caves on the island of Biak.  As a kid Grandpa was a dead-eye pitcher in baseball.  He decided to take matters into his own hands.   Cyclone got in his plane with a pile of grenades and flew by the caves, chucking grenades into them out of the cockpit.  He was a hero, in actuality, but also in the eyes of his children and grandchildren. 

Cyclone with grandchildren: Brandon, Bryson and Summer Mull. Credit: Mull Family Archive all rights reserved.

Emmett is still a cyclone of a man.  At five foot eight, he is larger than life.  He turned ninety-two in December, 2010.  Nowadays he’s pretty tired, and pretty fragile.  He has to sleep with an oxygen tank.  He has a pacemaker.  He can’t go for long walks as he used to just a decade ago, but he still walks laps about the house.  His mind is as sharp as ever, his wit sharper than the radial arm saw he loves so much, and he hasn’t lost his thirst for adventure.  Just two years ago he took a neighbor up on an offer to ride around on the back of his motorcycle.

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Reader Comments (3)

Having met Cyclone a couple of times, I can attest to his nickname fitting him. He is a hero in every sense of the word. Sometimes as I ponder the number of men whose lives he saved, I think of their children, grandchildren, and on through the ages who will owe their very existence to his bravery, instinct, and skills.

Cyclone is such a strong presence in the lives of his descendants, one of them, his grandson, Brandon Mull, wrote a New York Times bestselling young adult fantasy series featuring his larger-than-life grandfather in many of his hero characters. Cyclone was there in the audience to wish his grandson well for each books release.

Good men grow good children, who in turn produce more good children, building a nation of strength. In the end, it is not in our weaponry where our nations strength lies, but in the exemplary lives of its citizens. Emmet Smith "Cyclone" Davis is one of the best. May he continue to inspire his generations, and mine.

June 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKjirstin Youngberg

I've known & loved Cyclone all of my life. He's been like a grantfather to me in many ways. What a wonderful man! Thanks for sharing his story & the photos are fantastic! He truly has been God's instrument to bless countless lives...mine included. I love you all, Davis family!

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Fuentes

I'm Cy's first cousin (once removed I guess is the correct genealogical delineation) . I met him twice when I was a kid and he was an adult seeing my Dad. He was very impressive then to a boy and I've talked about my amazing cousin ever since. I still keep in touch now and then with his kids and am so honored to be a part of his family. Just so you know. One of his cousins, Lorenzo Neilson was on the first ship to land at Nagasaki after the bomb and brought home a Samurai sword we had in my house for years. Another Uncle, Jay Diediker,, was caught fighting on a Japanese island in WW2 for months before rescue. My Dad, Fred Neilson, was stationed in Berlin and another uncle. Flloyd Massey, worked manufacturing the warplanes. As a kid growing up I was steeped in WW2 stories and surrounded with the patriotism of not just CY (the greatest of them all) but a slew of heroes and great men that only my Dad and Cy are still alive today. This generation is almost gone and are so sadly needed now again. Will our current population be able to rise up to our countries need at this time? I wonder.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Tucker Neilson

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