May 25, 2009
A Memorial in Naval HistoryBy Jan LaRue
National Geographic produced a DVD, "Battle for Midway," which includes actual combat footage of the historic WWII naval battle and Dr. Robert Ballard's search and discovery of the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown, at more than 17,000 feet below the surface on May 19, 1998. Two survivors from the Yorktown crew were on board Ballard's ship. The photography is extraordinary, as was our Navy's victory at Midway.
As a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, much of the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet was eliminated. We had only four aircraft carriers that stood between our Pacific coast and the Japanese.
One of our carriers, the USS Lexington, sank in the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942. Within days, our Navy Intelligence intercepted and decoded plans for the Japanese attack on Midway Island in June.
Midway lies between Japan and Hawaii. As a result of the interception, our Navy was prepared and set a trap for the Japanese fleet. Details of the Japanese plan, our interception, and the battle are available online by the Department of the Navy.
The Yorktown was badly damaged in the Coral Sea battle. Even so, her planes attacked two Japanese aircraft carriers, helping to sink the Shoho and damaging the Shokaku. The Yorktown steamed slowly back to Pearl Harbor for repairs that were estimated to take three months. Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet told the repair crews, "You've got three days." Hundreds of men went to work around the clock and completed the repairs as Nimitz ordered.
The Yorktown steamed toward Midway, along with our other two remaining carriers, the USS Enterprise and the USS Hornet. It would be the largest naval battle in recorded history.
The heroism of our Navy cannot be overstated. The average age of our men was 17-23 years. Young, inexperienced pilots left the decks of our carriers and willingly flew beyond the point of no return of their fuel. Many ditched in the sea. Some survived.
Our fleet was overwhelmingly outnumbered. We had no battleships -- the Japanese had 11. We had three carriers -- the Japanese had six. In the four-day battle of June 4-7, American losses included the Yorktown, a destroyer, about 145 planes and 307 men. Thankfully, before she rolled over and sank, destroyers rescued many of the crew from the Yorktown.
The Japanese lost four carriers, a heavy cruiser, three destroyers, about 291 planes, at least 4,800 men, and suffered heavy damage among the remaining vessels of their fleet. One of Japanese carriers, the Soryu, was the flagship of Admiral Yamamoto, who had conceived and led the attack on Pearl Harbor. He had been awakened and defeated by the "sleeping giant."
Japanese hubris contributed to the loss of their carriers. Their decks, painted bright yellow with the infamous red dot, were perfect targets for our bomber pilots. The decks of our carriers were painted blue, like the sea.
The losses inflicted on Japan at both Coral Sea and Midway turned the tide of war in the Pacific. Consider. "What if we had lost at Midway?"
Gordon England Secretary of the Navy spoke at a dinner on the evening before June 4, 2004, the day he laid the stone commemorating the Battle of Midway at the WW II Memorial in Washington, DC. England called attention to similarities with the current war against terrorism:
Although the military draft was begun as a result of Pearl Harbor, it was virtually unnecessary. The day after the attack, tens of thousands of American men stood in line to enlist in defense of America.
England also gave us a sobering reminder in 2004 of the unconscionable and unrelenting enemy we face:
This Memorial Day, let's remember to thank God for our volunteer military -- our truly audacious hope for the future.
Jan LaRue is an attorney and frequent contributor to American Thinker.