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Naval District Washington (NDW) is scheduled to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the historic victory at the Battle of Midway with a ceremony June 4 at the U.S. Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, D.C.

Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen will join several of the surviving veterans of the battle to remember what is considered to be the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II.

“Considering that it is probably the single greatest victory in our naval history, it is an opportunity to celebrate that, and also to remind the public in general about the Navy and what they have done for us and continue to do,” said Stuart McLean, director of ceremonies and special events for NDW. “This was the first step to actually winning the war in the Pacific for us, and the legacy they leave, obviously, is the tradition of victory, service and going all out for our country.”

The Navy Band is scheduled to perform, and the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard will parade the 56 state and territorial flags as part of the memorial service.

The ceremony, known as the “Sea of White” due to the hundreds of Sailors attending in their dress whites, will feature remarks by flag officers from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, as well as a formal wreath-laying to remember the lives lost during the battle and veterans of the battle lost in the mounting years and decades since the battle.

While their numbers are dwindling, McLean said event organizers still expect to see several local Midway veterans in attendance.

“One of my favorite things is seeing younger Sailors talking to these guys,” McLean said of the older veterans. “The younger Sailors may be two or three generations removed from these guys, and the sharing of this history is pretty fascinating. There’s a constant thread of service and going into harm’s way that’s never changed.”

Less than seven months after the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, an outnumbered and outgunned American fleet broke the Japanese code and used the element of surprise to halt their march across the Pacific. Losses were heavy on both sides, but Japan lost the core of its aircraft carrier group, along with hundreds of aircraft and pilots.

Midway Island—located roughly halfway between the United States and Japan—served as one of the last strategic footholds keeping the Japanese from reaching Hawaii and the U.S. Had U.S. forces failed to defeat the Japanese at Midway, historians theorize that the outcome of the entire war, both in Europe and the Pacific, would have been drastically different.

“Midway was the turning point in the Pacific war in that we dealt a devastating blow to the Japanese fleet and they never completely recovered from that,” McLean said. “It had a similar impact to what they had on us at Pearl Harbor.”

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