MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) _ George H. Gay Jr., a pilot who drifted in the sea as one of the most important naval battles of World War II unfolded around him, is dead at age 77.

Gay died Friday of a heart attack at Kennestone Hospital.

As a 25-year-old Navy pilot, Gay flew a Douglas Devastator in an attack on Japanese war ships near Midway Island on June 4, 1942.

All of the planes in his squadron were shot down. He was the only one of 30 men in Torpedo Squadron 8 to survive. Wounded and wearing a life jacket, he watched American dive bombers hurtle out of the clouds to attack Japanese aircraft carriers and found himself ''cheering and hollering with every hit.''

Later, Gay made personal appearances on behalf of the Navy, spreading the news of the nation's first sea victory in the Pacific, a turning point in the war.

Gay was a TWA pilot for 30 years after the war. He also spoke to civic groups around the country, retelling his Midway experiences and calling for greater military preparedness.

In 1975, he was a consultant for the movie ''Midway.'' Kevin Dobson played his part. Gay toured the country with the film's stars, Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda, to promote the movie.

A native of Waco, Texas, Gay eventually moved to Marietta for the convenience of air travel from Atlanta to travel to speaking engagements.

He is survived by his wife, Esther Huffman Bevacqua Gay, and two stepchildren.