The Battle of Midway
This week (June 3-7) marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway which was the second naval battle in history where opposing ships were not in sight of each other. (The Battle of the Coral Sea several months earlier was the first.) Some have called the Battle of Midway “the turning point in the war of the Pacific.” Others have said, “What Gettysburg was to the American Civil War, Midway was to World War II in the Pacific.”
Many of you have seen the movie “Midway” starring Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda. But what you may not know is Japan believed that their gods mandated that Japan should rule the world. Before attacking China in 1932, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations. They attacked China again in 1937 and planned the Pearl Harbor attack in the early spring of 1941. The seeds for their plan may have actually sprouted in 1938.
On May 4-8, 1942, the USS Yorktown was in the Battle of the Coral Sea just northeast of Australia. In that battle, an armor-piercing bomb plunged through the flight deck and exploded five decks below — adjacent to my father’s radio room. The blast killed more than 35 men instantly but the buckled steel wall shielded dad from death. Although we lost the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, the Battle of the Coral Sea was the first naval engagement the Japanese did not win. After that battle, the damaged Yorktown limped into Pearl Harbor. Captain Elliott Buckmaster requested six months to repair the ship, but Admiral Chester Nimitz knew what was brewing near Midway Island and gave Captain Buckmaster only 72 hours.
The Japanese fleet advancing to attack Midway included four attack carriers, two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers, twenty-eight submarines and eight refueling tankers. Altogether, they could have had about 150 ships assembled for the operation. This was not some spur-of-the-moment impulse; rather it was a strategic, well-planned full-scale attack — as was the attack on Pearl Harbor. We might have had about 50 ships in the area to counter the assault.
The Yorktown did set sail in three days. However, only half the boilers that ran the ship were operating, so repairs continued as she slowly headed toward what would be her final voyage and final battle.
As the Yorktown approached Midway, a paralyzing fear gripped my dad. He couldn’t shake it off. Finally he prayed, “Lord, I’m saved and I know it. If I must die, I must. It is okay with me. Only one thing I ask of You: take this numbing fear out of my heart and mind so I can do my duty. Amen.”
Dad, an intra-ship radioman and musician, said the fear lifted immediately. The change was so dramatic that he thought someone had entered the room. Then Psalm 91:7 came to mind — “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.” Dad said he experienced no fear throughout the rest of the war.
The Japanese intended to use Midway Island as a base of operations from which to finish the job they started at Pearl Harbor; and Admiral Nagumo betrayed his ignorance by saying, “The enemy [America] lacks the will to fight.” But when U.S. intelligence broke the Japanese code, Admiral Nimitz brilliantly devised a plan similar to an old western ambush and caught Admirals Yamamoto and Nagumo off guard. Japan learned about our will to fight when they lost the same four aircraft carriers they used in attacking Pearl Harbor. They also lost two heavy cruisers, three destroyers, and 275 planes. This battle ended Japanese naval superiority in the Pacific. We lost one carrier (the USS Yorktown), one destroyer (the USS Hammann), and 150 planes.
My father was a survivor from the USS Yorktown, CV-5, that sank on June 7. After the war, dad attended college and seminary, and re-entered the U.S. Navy for another 20 years; but this time as a Chaplain. Retiring with the rank of Captain, he said that the eight years as an enlisted man and the hostile experiences in the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway helped prepare him for what lay ahead in life.
We should not be afraid of negative circumstances in life; rather we should prayerfully face them and learn from them. Let’s remember Jesus’ words in Hebrews 13:5 — I will neither leave you nor forsake you.
— Gene Linzey is a speaker, author, mentor and president of the Siloam Springs Writers Guild. Send comments and questions to email@example.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.