Battle of Midway commemorated as Pacific WWII turning point

Capt. Nicholas Mongillo, commanding officer of Pacific Missile Range Facility; Chaplain Lt. Steven Voris, from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam; and Col. Dann Carlson, deputy joint base commander, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam; stand at parade rest during the 69th anniversary commemoration of Battle of Midway. Navy Region Hawaii celebrated the Battle of Midway with a ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial.

Story and photo by Don Robbins

Assistant Editor

Commander, Navy Region Hawaii commemorated the 69th anniversary of the crucial World War II Battle of Midway with a harbor tour and solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the Arizona Memorial on June 3. Significantly, this year’s ceremony also coincides with the centennial of naval aviation.

Capt. Lawrence Hill, deputy commander, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, served as master of ceremonies, while Gary Jackson of the National Park Service also assisted with narration during the historical boat tour.

“As a representative of the hundreds of shipyard workers in 1942 who helped make USS Yorktown ‘fit to fight’ and win at Midway – and representing the many thousands of men and women who have served at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in the years since, I am honored to serve as your MC for today’s ceremony as we commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Midway,” Hill said.

In memory of the historic U.S. naval victory at Midway, Capt. Nicholas Mongillo, commanding officer of Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), Barking Sands, Kauai, and Col. Dann Carlson, deputy joint base commander for JBPHH and commander of 647th Air Base Group, presented wreaths.

As Mongillo and Carlson walked to offer the wreaths aboard the Arizona Memorial, Hill said, “These wreaths – and wreaths being presented around the world – are in honor of our Midway veterans. We pause to remember and honor the spirit of the Midway victory in our Navy and our nation. We also pause to honor all those who have served and are serving with honor, courage and commitment.”

Musician 2nd Class Bryan Parmann, Navy bugler, played Taps in memory of veterans during the ceremony on the Arizona Memorial.

Chaplain Lt. Steven Voris from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam delivered the invocation.

Voris stressed that war is always tragic and he looks forward to a day when there will no longer be a need for it. He said, “We pledge never to forget the sacrifices made to ensure our freedom.”

Rear Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, emphasized in his remarks that the Battle of Midway served as a turning point, perhaps the major one, in World War II.

“What makes this commemoration so special, compared with the dozens of related ceremonies held across the nation this week, is that we are here at Pearl Harbor where the war in the Pacific started,” Smith explained.

Cmdr. Joe Rochefort and his team at Pacific Fleet’s Combat Intelligence Unit, Station Hypo, cracked the code, identified Midway as the target, and fooled the enemy.

Adm. Chester Nimitz had unimpeachable intelligence, exceptional ships and aviators, United States Marines and Army bombers, and superior leadership, Smith noted.

“In this centennial year of naval aviation, we remember that the Battle of Midway demonstrates our Navy’s flexibility and forward presence in a decisive victory,” Smith said.

“We salute the warriors of the Battle of Midway of 1942. They helped us win the peace we preserve in 2011,” Smith said.

“The Battle of Midway changed, not just the outcome of World War II, but also the nature of war itself. On Dec. 7 our big battleships were destroyed by Imperial Japan. Six months later at Midway, it was clear that aircraft carriers and aviation were the future, and would be key to our Navy’s maritime strategy,” emphasized Mongillo.

“Today, we remember a lesson of Midway – to embrace change and innovation. That’s especially important in this centennial of naval aviation and as we face challenges, work to prevent war, and respond to threats. We must be flexible, adaptable and willing to innovate,” he added.

A Pearl Harbor survivor, Army veteran Allen Bodenlos, attended the 69th anniversary commemoration. He recalled that after the war, he met a Japanese woman who wanted to hug him and expressed sorrow, asking him to forgive her country. Bodenlos said he told her, “I had forgiven her country many years ago, and now we are friends.”

As explained in a historical account from commander Navy Region Hawaii, the Battle of Midway was fought above and near the tiny U.S. mid-Pacific base at Midway Atoll. It was planned as the strategic high water mark of Imperial Japan’s Pacific Ocean war. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent actions in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, Japanese Combined Fleet commander Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto moved on Midway in an effort to draw out and destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carrier striking forces.

Superior American communications intelligence gathered by Station Hypo located at building one at what is now Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam thwarted Yamamoto’s intended surprise. Station Hypo deduced his scheme well before combatants joined the battle.

This allowed Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, to establish an ambush by having his carriers ready and waiting for the Japanese.

One of the three American carriers at the Battle of Midway was USS Yorktown. Severely damaged during the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, she was only available at Midway due to the efforts of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

The actual sighting of the Japanese on June 3, heading for Midway, vindicated Nimitz’s trust in the intelligence information he possessed, information that had been vital to the formulation of his strategy. On June 4, 1942, in the second of the Pacific War’s great carrier battles, the trap was sprung.

The battle cost Japan four irreplaceable fleet carriers, while only one of the three U.S. carriers present was lost. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals, and the base at Midway, though damaged, remained operational, later a vital component in the coming American trans-Pacific offensive.

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