Hundreds of Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and a handful of World War II veterans commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Midway during a ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., June 4.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert issued a Navywide proclamation declaring June 4 Battle of Midway Commemoration Day, and invited commands around the world to take part in celebrations honoring the event and the veterans who served.
The battle marked what is considered the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II, when only seven months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the outnumbered and outgunned American fleet halted the Japanese advancement across the Pacific Ocean.
“In the midst of so many losses, it is no wonder that President Roosevelt became frustrated with the lack of any naval victory,” said Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson at the ceremony. “He had had enough of defeat.”
Following the American victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese targeted Midway and sought to destroy the American fleet there. American intelligence broke the Japanese code and then sent out the message, “Many planes, heading Midway” as U.S. forces prepared for the coming attack, which took place June 4-7, 1942.
“It was a tremendous weight these men carried with them the night of June 3, 1942,” Ferguson said of the gathered veterans. “They carried the burdens of loss over six months, of wars raging off our own shores of America, and of a nation facing sacrifices at home.”
On the morning of June 4, Japanese aircraft attacked the island, and U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilots, combined with anti-aircraft fire, mitigated damage but took heavy losses to aircraft and crews. Torpedo and bomber aircraft attacked the now-discovered U.S. carriers, inflicting heavy damage against the USS Yorktown, which stubbornly refused to sink. Air groups from the Yorktown and USS Enterprise bombed the Japanese carriers, destroying three of the four carriers within minutes.
Torpedo planes from the remaining carrier found the Yorktown once again, and inflicted heavier damage as the crew abandoned ship. The ship still stayed afloat until June 7 when a Japanese submarine finally destroyed it. Meanwhile, American air crews located and destroyed the fourth Japanese carrier, as well as a heavy cruiser.
The attack effectively halted the seemingly unstoppable Japanese advance across the Pacific, and changed the course of the war with the monumental victory.
“Fortunately as history has shown, in our darkest hours, leaders emerge,” Ferguson said. “The victory at Midway teaches us many things—preparation, decisive action, the power of intelligence, the trust in commanders, and of course, the necessity of good fortune.”
Ferguson joined leaders from the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard in laying a wreath at the Navy Memorial and honoring six veterans in attendance 72 years after their battle on Midway and at sea, whom he called “living history.”
“Today, we gather again to honor these veterans and remind ourselves of our own capacity for greatness,” Ferguson said. “We honor those who took the risk to launch the attack, those who fought on despite the odds from their ships and the island of Midway, those who flew on when their gauges were low, those who attacked without regard for their own personal safety knowing they would not likely survive, those who risked their lives to save their shipmates, and those who never came home.”
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