NAS Pensacola observed the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Midway Atoll on Thursday morning, in a ceremony at the Museum of Naval Aviation.
Fought just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Midway is often referred to as the turning point in the Pacific Theater.
“Our Navy and Marine Corps’ defense posture transitioned into an insurmountable offensive weapon that inflicted irreparable damage to the Imperial Japanese Navy on 4 June 1942,” said the event’s narrator. “Modern naval warfare was changed.”
The keynote speaker was Marine Corps Col. Eric Buer, C-O of Marine Aviation Training Support Group 21, based aboard NAS Pensacola. He said the name “Midway” conjures up images of men and machines facing impossible odds, while engaging a seemingly invincible foe.
“The Imperial Navy was viewed as this mystical shadow force,” said Buer. “Undetectable and attacking unseen like a shark that swam the oceans, patiently stalking and waiting to devour American forces. And to some, America itself. But fear would not carry the day.”
Japan targeted Midway in order to eliminate the American carriers in the aftermath of the Battle of Coral Sea, which was considered a tactical victory for the Japanese but a strategic win for the U-S. Buer said Coral Sea was one of two significant events that helped shape the decisions of the Navy’s senior leaders. The other was the air raid on Tokyo led by Jimmy Doolittle in April, 1942 -- four months after Pearl Harbor.
“It wasn’t a tactical victory, little damage was done, but it was a strategic victory – and a stroke of genius,” Buer said. “U.S. morale improved, the Japanese government moved forces to defend their homeland. And [it] also demonstrated how aviation can combine with sea power to form a devastating combination.”
The victory at Midway was costly for both sides – The U-S lost the flattop Yorktown, the destroyer USS Hammann, 145 aircraft, and suffered 307 casualties. Japan lost four carriers, a cruiser, and 292 aircraft, and had 2,500 casualties.
Buer spoke just a few feet from a special exhibit on the Battle of Midway at the museum, including display of an SBD-2 Dauntless – the lone surviving aircraft from that fight. Patches covering battle damage remain visible on the fuselage.
Could there be another battle similar to that of Midway? Col. Eric Buer is doubtful, given the advances in technology and tactics over the past 73 years.
“Fighters and bombers are giving way to hybrids, helicopters, drones,” said Buer. “But know within living memory, men left Earth in 100-plane formations and fought major battles five miles high; leaving a legacy that remains timeless.”
One senior Japanese official said at the time that Pearl Harbor was avenged at Midway. Two months later, Japan’s loss of its aircraft carriers would come back to haunt them at Guadalcanal -- America’s first major land offensive in the Pacific.