Seventy years ago to day, the Battle of Midway began. Many Americans know at least something about the story of the massive naval battle that turned the tide in World War II.
But there is another story from Midway that few know about and is worth remembering.
In 1942, the American military broke the Japanese Navy’s top-secret code. They figured out that the Japanese were going to attack the strategically located Midway Island. Midway would be the jumping off point if the Japanese were going to try and attack Hawaii, so Midway had to be defended at all costs.
Marines were rushed to Midway Island to defend it against invasion. They had no illusions about what would happen if the Japanese got their invasion force ashore. Among the Marines, there was another group who knew the long odds they faced.
These were the Marine aviators.
They knew they would be facing the Japanese Zero, which at the time was the best fighter plane in the world. A few of the Marines flew modern Wildcat fighters, which could hold its own in a fight against a Zero. Most of the Marines flew old Buffalo fighters.
The Buffalo was an old, obsolete fighter that was being removed from service as fast as it could be replaced. It was no match for the Zero. The Marines at Midway were among the last combat units still flying the Buffalo.
On June 4, 1942, the radar units at Midway showed the approach of a large fleet of Japanese aircraft. The air raid alarm was sounded and the Marines in a few Wildcats and more of the old Buffalo aircraft took to the skies.
The Marines fought well and caused serious damage to the attacking Japanese.
Most of those Marine aviators who answered the call of duty that day gave their lives for this nation, seventy years ago today.
Their sacrifice was not in vain.
The Marines’ defense of Midway delayed the Japanese attack. The next day, the United States Navy attacked the Japanese, sinking four of their aircraft carriers and wiping out their corps of pilots.
The Japanese fleet never sailed that far east again.
It would take another three years and hundreds of thousands of American lives, but our enemy would be defeated.
Today, over 90% of that greatest generation are now gone. The few remaining survivors of those fateful days are now in their 90s.
Few today remember the sacrifices of those Marines seventy years ago. Today, we should take a moment to remember those fallen Marines and if you are fortunate enough to still have a relative who served during World War II take a moment to thank him.
We won’t have many more chances to express to them the thanks of a grateful nation.
God Bless their Souls!!!!
This day will be remembered.
If only more Americans knew this bit of history better we would far better off.
My dad was Army Infantry in the European theater. But your sentiments are perfect for remembering all who served and left some or all of their young lives on some God-forsaken piece of ground that was made holy by their sacrifice. Thanks dad and all of your friends and comrades in arms. The remaining question is....will we ever learn from the serious mistakes our leadership made in under-cutting our ability to defend ourselves which only serves to invite aggressors to misread what we are willing to do when we are attacked. What are we to think when we watch the first branch of our gov't that sees it's budget cut dramatically as being Defense. Since liberals can't be taught or reasoned with when it comes to this Constitutionally mandated job to protect our country through a strong and effective military, it is up to those who truly love our country and all it's people to teach and demonstrate through our votes that we must never weaken our defense capabilities because the elite won't pay the price for their folly. The average Joe sent out there, is the one who has to do it! God bless America all who truly love her.
Thanks Judson. It's good to be reminded now and then to whom we owe such a debt of gratitude. They were all so young.
I thank them and all those before and after for their bravery in defending this country, and all of the freedoms we have! We must never lose those freedoms!!!!!
If only these stories of heroism were known as well as the tales of Japanese internment, our nation would be much better served. Thank you for reminding us. When I think of the thousands of young lives lost in WW II I cannot feel guilty about the temporary discomfort of japanese americans who were actually fortunate to be here rather than in Japan. .
Another thing that most people never think about is that this was merely 6 months (almost to the day) from when the Pacific Fleet was decimated at Pearl Harbor. Yet, in three days of battle, the USA turned the tide of war in the Pacific and kept the Japanese on the defensive from then on. Just 6 months after Pearl Harbor. That's amazing.
Actually, the US code-breakers didn't have the new Japanese code anywhere near broken. What they did know was that a lot of traffic was referring to "AF", which they suspected to be Midway and they managed to trick the Japanese into revealing that "AF" was indeed, Midway. Almost everything else was guess-work.
The other thing to remember is that several squadrons of US Navy bombers and torpedo planes attacked the Japanese carriers, without fighter cover, which was effectively suicide. Few survived. But what those brave pilots did do was to pull down the Japanese fighter cover and delay the carriers launching any more planes. This made it possible for Bombing Squadron 3 (VB-3) and Bombing Squadron 6 (VB-6), along with Scouting Squadron 6 (VS-6), to attack basically unmolested by Japanese fighters and the decks of the carriers were full of bombs. Thanks to those brave pilots who gave their lives earlier, the pilots of VB-3, VB-6 and VS-6 were able to sink three of the Japanese carriers. The remaining carrier, Hiryu was sunk the next day.
Contrary to popular lore, mostly from the movie, Midway, the Yorktown, though heavily damaged at Midway (twice), was not sunk at Midway, but was sunk by a Japanese submarine on the way back to Pearl Harbor, after it spotted the oil that the Yorktown was trailing.
All in all, if you include the Yorktown, the US lost one carrier (a carrier that by all rights, should have sunk at the Battle of Coral Sea a few weeks earlier, but was too stubborn to sink), to the four best carriers in the Japanese Navy. The Japanese never recovered.
The only other battle that I can think of that as effectively showed the courage of American sailors and that ended with a major Japanese defeat, is the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In that battle, generally considered to be the largest naval battle ever, a small group of ships composed of a single large carrier, two small carriers, light cruisers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts fought so hard against the main body of the Japanese Navy that the Japanese thought they were up against the main body of the US Navy. In fact, one small destroyer escort did a tremendous amount of damage to the Japanese Fleet, after it was heavily damaged, making repeated runs at the Japanese fleet, so close that the Japanese could not train their guns low enough to target the USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413). After that battle, the largest Japanese ships never ventured far from Japan. It was the last major sea battle of WWII and it was saved by the smallest ships in the US Navy.
There were other great battles that showed American fighting spirit. But I am convinced that there has never before or since been such bravery at sea, as was seen at Midway, near the beginning of the war and Leyte Gulf, near the end. All that I can say is, "Wow!" and "Praise be for such heroes."
My Dad, who is still alive at age 89, was at Talcabon, Leyte, with the US Army, when the Battle of Leyte Gulf was faught. He had no idea what was going on, but he said there were allot of Army planes launched from the airstrip there really fast, and then he could hear what sounded like distant thunder coming from the NE (off Samar Island).
BTW, you mentioned that the Battle at Midway occured 6 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Yamamoto, who led the Japanese Combined Fleet in it's attack on Pearl, had been reluctant about starting a war with the US. Prior to the attack, he had promised his superiors only 6 months of operation success, after that he could promise nothing.
My Dad, who passed away in '96, was the OOD aboard USS California (BB-44) at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked. He was then reassigned as a gunnery officer aboard USS Columbia (CL-56). Columbia was one of the light cruisers mentioned in your post that fought so gallantly at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Dad served 30 years active duty, retiring as a captain, then served 10 more years by commissioning the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) unit at Norview High School in Norfolk, VA. He finally "retired retired" in 1970.
He was quite a guy and I miss him every day.
Thanks to all of the "Greatest Generation" whether they served in the military or not. All did their patriotic duty.