Seventy-seven years ago the violent sounds of war rumbled as a desperate and furious struggle took place around the lonely island of Midway. The Battle of Midway occurred 3-7 June 1942 and changed the tide of war in the Pacific and the course of world history.
The weeks leading up to the battle for Midway were America’s darkest hours in the Pacific. The Japanese were rapidly pushing southward to isolate Australia, and Admiral Yamamoto was leading his carrier striking force east to search out and destroy the United States Pacific Fleet, particularly, the American Aircraft Carriers missed at Pearl Harbor. His major goal was to occupy Western Pacific islands, including Midway, thus securing a broad Japanese defensive perimeter and preventing a repeat of the humiliating assault by Doolittle’s Raiders on mainland Japan.
By any standard, our brave forces were hopelessly outclassed and outnumbered. We had no battleships, yet the enemy had 11. We had only three Aircraft Carriers (Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown), and Japan had eight. We had no right to win.
In a single master stroke, a battered U.S. Navy and Marine Corps halted the ferocious Japanese advance. To this day, the American action at Midway stands out as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, victories in Naval history, abruptly ending Japan’s eastward thrust and turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.
There were many heroes at Midway. At the top of the list are Admirals Chester Nimitz, Raymond Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher; Ensign George Gay; Major Lofton Henderson; Medal of Honor recipient Captain Richard Fleming; and, of course, Captain Jack Reid whose sighting of the Japanese made all the difference. Then there was Lt. Cmdr. Wade McClusky, who in the words of Adm. Chester Nimitz, McClusky's decision to continue the search for the enemy and his judgment as to where the enemy might be found, "decided the fate of our carrier task force and our forces at Midway." There were the unsung heroes ranging from those who broke the Japanese code in Operation Magic that provided Admiral Nimitz the crucial element of surprise to those who repaired Yorktown in record time and gave our forces the needed edge. Of course, there are many, many more.
As we look back to those days in June of 1942, the death and destruction surrounding Midway were staggering. For the Americans, the price of victory was 307 courageous lives, 147 planes, a destroyer and an Aircraft Carrier. For the Japanese, the price was 3,500 lives, a heavy cruiser and four carriers, carriers that were present at the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor.
These tragic losses were a gruesome testament to the horror of war with losses that were felt all the way back home, to the anguish of a widow whose husband would never return and to the emptiness of a child who would never see his or her father again. Unfortunate and saddening as they may be, they are part of the price of victory.
Most of the young men who fought then were not that different from those you see in your lives today. They came from our towns, our cities, our farms and our homes. The summer before Midway, their minds were anywhere but there, yet these ordinary men were soon united by a common cause, the defense of their Country and willingness to sacrifice for what they believed in. Their challenges were daunting, but so were their strengths. They knew it was not enough to say, “We are doing our best.” Victory was the only option!
At the Battle of Midway, the single element that counted more than anything else was the fighting spirit of the American Sailors and Marines. They had within them the winning edge that spurred them on through the danger and the hardship, through the blood and the death, to the goal of ultimate success. Never in our 200 plus year history have American Bluejackets been called upon to endure more with less. We are right to single out their courage because it was this courage alone that guaranteed this victory!
The core of the battle at Midway is the all-important character of the American fighting man. From generation to generation, we have seen that weapons and tactics have changed, but time and time again, our fundamental beliefs and our willingness to defend them has driven us to prevail, so it was for the fighting men at Midway. It was not some complex code or even concern for self that drove these men to victory. It was patriotism and love for country, pure and simple.
The Battle of Midway is a hallmark of pride for the United States of America. We can be proud that our fighting force won a battle of such historic scope.