Lest We Forget
We had no right to win, but we did.
My wife and I will be dining-out with 250 of our close personal friends this Saturday. A dozen or so Batttle of Midway Vets will serve as Guests-of-Honor.
I hope you all get out to do the same.
BATTLE OF MIDWAY The Incredible Victory
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot 6/4/87
June 4, 1942. The date is as far away from us today as it was, then, from the Spanish-American War. Most Americans alive today were not even born then. Yet the battle for control of the tiny Pacific island of Midway fought that day – less than six months from America’s apparently crushing defeat at Pearl Harbor – was the turning point for the war in the Pacific, a victory won against all odds, almost against reason.
Hindsight tells us that Japan, in attacking Pearl Harbor, bit off more than it could chew. (Throughout the war, the United States allocated only 10 percent of its military resources to the Pacific theater.) But knowing what did happen, makes it hard, sometimes, to realize what might have happened. In particular, it makes it hard to remember how unlikely it was that the turning point in the Pacific should take place only six months after Pearl Harbor.
No one has ever improved upon this description of the significance and nearly miraculous nature of the Battle of Midway by Walter Lord in the foreword of Incredible Victory: “By any ordinary standard they were hopelessly outclassed. “They had no battleships, the enemy eleven. They had eight cruisers, the enemy twenty-three. They had three carriers (one of them crippled); the enemy had eight. Their shore defenses included guns from the turn of the century.
“They knew little of war. None of the Navy pilots on one of their carriers had ever been in combat. Nor had any of the Army fliers. Of the Marines, 17 of 21 new pilots were just out of flight school – some with less than four hours’ flight time since then. Their enemy was brilliant, experienced and all-conquering. “They were tired, dead tired. The patrol plane crews, for instance, had been flying 15 hours a day, servicing their own planes, getting perhaps three hours’ sleep at night.
They had equipment problems. Some of their dive bombers couldn’t dive – the fabric came off the wings. Their torpedoes were slow and unreliable; the torpedo planes even worse. Yet they were up against the finest fighting plane in the world. â€œThey took crushing losses – 15 out of 15 in one torpedo squadron … 21 out of 27 in a group of fighters … many, many more. “They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war. More than that, they added a new name – Midway – to that small list that inspires men by shining example. Like Marathon, the Armada, the Marne, a few others, Midway showed that every once in a while ‘what must be’ need not be at all. Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit – a magic blend of skill, faith and valor – that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.”
That incredible victory (the first naval action in history fought by airpower, with the fleets never coming within gunnery range) was won by men in their 20s and 30s, now aging veterans, who deserve to be remembered. Their battle was an epic – rarely equaled and never surpassed in history – of bravery against odds. It is a memory to cherish.