This Week in Maritime History: 71st Anniversary Battle of Midway Commemoration

By MarEx 2013-06-04 14:35:00

The Battle of Midway took place June 4-7, 1942, where U.S. Navy carrier strike forces prevented the Japanese from capturing control of Midway Island in the Pacific. The victory proved to be a pivotal point of World War II and is an important marker in naval heritage.

The Battle of Midway, fought over and near the tiny U.S. mid-Pacific base at Midway atoll, represents the strategic high water mark of Japan's Pacific Ocean war. Prior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority over the United States and could usually choose where and when to attack. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals, and the United States soon took the offensive.

Japanese Combined Fleet commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto moved on Midway in an effort to draw out and destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carrier striking forces, which had embarassed the Japanese Navy in the mid-April Doolittle Raid on Japan's home islands and at the Battle of Coral Sea in early May. He planned to quickly knock down Midway's defenses, follow up with an invasion of the atoll's two small islands and establish a Japanese air base there. He expected the U.S. carriers to come out and fight, but to arrive too late to save Midway and in insufficient strength to avoid defeat by his own well-tested carrier air power.

Yamamoto's intended surprise was thwarted by superior American communications intelligence, which deduced his scheme well before battle was joined. This allowed Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, to establish an ambush by having his carriers ready and waiting for the Japanese. On 4 June 1942, in the second of the Pacific War's great carrier battles, the trap was sprung. The perserverance, sacrifice and skill of U.S. Navy aviators, plus a great deal of good luck on the American side, cost Japan four irreplaceable fleet carriers, while only one of the three U.S. carriers present was lost. The base at Midway, though damaged by Japanese air attack, remained operational and later became a vital component in the American trans-Pacific offensive. [Source: Naval History & Heritage Command]

Active duty, retired service members and civilians observed the heroism of World War II veterans at the 71st Anniversary Battle of Midway commemoration aboard the USS Midway Museum, June 1.

"History has shown that the Battle of Midway was absolutely the turning point in the war in the Pacific and probably the entire war of World War II," said Vice Adm. Thomas H. Copeman III, commander, Naval Surface Forces, commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. "It was the end of the Japanese offensive six months into the war."

During the ceremony, 13 surviving veterans, along with family and friends of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Battle of Midway, were honored by current military personnel and civilians, for their extraordinary service 71 years ago.

"The event is to honor the veterans of Midway," said Copeman. "It's to make sure that the memory of the Battle of Midway and the heritage of what it stands for is not lost upon the younger generation of Sailors."

Photo: Retired U.S. Navy officer Lt. George Bernstein gives a salute during the playing of the National Anthem at the 71st Battle of Midway commemoration ceremony.

The commemoration included a special video presentation that was voiced by World War II veterans involved in the historic battle.

"The video gives us an idea where our veterans are coming from," said Damage Controlman 1st Class Mike Minotti. "We got to see the veterans perspective of what happened, and it ties us closer to our heritage."

The observance also included several speakers. Retired U.S. Marine Corps officer Lt. Col. Jerry Coleman, who also served during World War II, gave the keynote speech.

"If every Sailor gets a chance to interact with these veterans, they need to," said Minotti. "It instills a sense of pride and makes the Sailor proud."