June 6, 2017 – Thoughts from MDW

Recently I flew into and back from Chicago’s Midway Airport (MDW) and was struck by the history related to it.  Many people think that Midway was named for either its location in Chicago or its relationship to the “midway” that was constructed outside the Worlds Fair of 1892.  In reality, it was named after the Battle of Midway, which many believe to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific in World War 2.  That battle was interesting for a number of reasons.  First off, this year is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, which occurred on the 4th and 5th of June, a mere 2 years and a day before the allies stormed the beaches at Normandy, invading Fortress Europe and beginning the end of the Thousand-Year Reich, and while the Battle of Midway is a turning point, much more press and attention seems to be paid to D-Day, not that it is a competition.

Midway Atoll is a very, very tiny island in the Pacific, but the battle there changed the fortunes of the US in WW2 and changed the concept of warfare from the age of the battleships to the age of the aircraft carrier.  The Japanese Navy, led by Admiral Yamamoto, desperately wanted to cripple or destroy the US aircraft carriers in the fleet because of the success of the Doolittle raid which bombed Tokyo.  The Japanese had missed the carriers at Pearl Harbor because they had left port to patrol, and there was a strong desire to establish a foothold at Midway to use as a staging point for future attacks against Hawaii and the US mainland.  It was thought that the US might instead negotiate a peace if Midway was lost, allowing Japan to consolidate their gains in the Pacific.

Yamamoto decided that the best course of action would be a two-phased engagement, starting with an air attack on Midway from a carrier group, which was designed to draw the US carriers into the battle area.  At that time, the larger Japanese force trailing the carrier group would arrive and engage the US carriers, performing what they considered to be a mop-up action.  Unbeknownst to Yamamoto, however, was the fact that the US had broken the Japanese codes used to transmit their orders, allowing the US to gain game-changing intelligence about a significant portion of the plan.  In the end, the Japanese forces lost 4 aircraft carriers (Hiryu, Soryu, Kaga and Akagi), 1 heavy cruiser (Mikuma) and over 3000 pilots and naval personnel.  The US, in contrast, lost 1 carrier, the Yorktown, a destroyer and 300 personnel.  While the victory did not completely cripple the Japanese navy, it provided the US with our first victory against the Japanese in the Pacific, and gave us the strategic initiative to ultimately defeat the Japanese.

Noted movie director John Ford was sent to Midway to make a documentary about the sailors and marines stationed there, particularly those of Torpedo Squadron 8, and learned on June 2nd of the impending attack.  Despite being wounded during one of the bombing runs and armed with a handheld 16mm movie camera, Ford took the footage which later became the acclaimed documentary “The Battle of Midway”.  He also took footage he had previously taken of the 30 members of Torpedo Squadron 8 and turned it into a home movie which he sent to the families of the members of the squadron.  During the battle, 29 of the 30 members of Torpedo Squadron 8 were killed.

I know that I have related a lot of history over the course of my postings, but I think it is important to remember the history of this country, both the good and the bad.  There are very few veterans of World War 2 still with us, and each year that passes, the memories of the spirit, ideals and sacrifices that made this nation great grow a little dimmer and a little more sepia-toned.  I encourage each of you to look into and explore the history of our nation, how we grew, why our founders made the choices they made in establishing our system of government, and how we survived and thrived despite the challenges we faced.

Have a great day, and see you again tomorrow.


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