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Battle of Midway: The Legacy of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour

Battle of Midway
Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the torpedoing of USS Hammann (DD-412) and USS Yorktown (CV-5) by Japanese submarine I-168, during the afternoon of June 6, 1942. (Official U.S. Navy photograph)

06/01/20 02:43 PM

By Jim Neuman
Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

On Sunday morning June 7, 1942, exactly six months to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the sun arose on a far different world. While wreaking havoc and destroying the Allied navies, the once feared First Air Fleet of the Imperial Japanese navy prowled the Pacific Ocean, seemingly at will. Now four mighty carriers, the backbone of the Imperial Japanese fleet lay at the bottom of the sea.

Where once the United States and the free world toiled in a cloud of doubt, fear and defeat at the seemingly unstoppable Imperial Japanese juggernaut, the American people would now begin to breathe a sigh of relief and a sense of hope would begin to replace dread.

With the decisive victory of June 4, 1942, the United States Navy would begin the long struggle to roll back a proud and determined foe.

The Battle of Midway was a turning point in the war in the Pacific. As author Craig Symonds writes, “at ten o’clock that morning, the Axis powers were winning the Second World War…An hour later, the balance had shifted the other way…Though the war had three more years to run, the Imperial Japanese navy would never again initiate a strategic offensive.”

In the Battle of Midway, each Sailors’ initiative, accountability, integrity and toughness won the day.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz exhibited bold decision-making when he chose to commit the precious few carriers remaining in the Pacific Fleet with scant but solid intelligence. This led him to believe they would catch the Imperial Japanese navy by surprise en route to their intended target. As the events unfolded and opportunity presented itself, taking a "calculated risk" and trusting each Sailor to seize the initiative was not a reckless abandon. 

Black shoe and brown shoe Sailors fought and won the battle. Surface warriors like Adm. Raymond Spruance fought alongside Adm. William Halsey’s chief of staff, Capt. Miles Browning. Spruance’s character and sense of personal accountability led him to rely heavily on Browning’s judgement as an aviator in what would become arguably the greatest naval air-battle in history.

We will never forget the valiant attack of the VT squadrons who flew into the face of near-certain death, refusing to flee danger until they had launched their torpedoes.  Without a single hit scored

in the attacks, a few survived. Their actions would cause enough distraction for the enemy to allow dive-bombers to reign down the destruction that ended Imperial Japanese naval supremacy in a matter of moments.

Once again, historian Craig Symonds writes, “Every single officer, from Nimitz down to the plane pushers on the decks, played a role in what happened.  History is not something that happens around us while we are doing our job, history is the job we are doing.”

Sailors raised on the traditions of the past, who embraced those values of integrity, accountability and toughness who seized the initiative and won the greatest naval battle since Trafalgar by so doing changed the course of history.

This is the legacy of the United States Navy at the Battle of Midway.

A virtual ceremony to mark the 78th anniversary will be held on June 5 at 9 a.m. at the Lone Sailor statue on the grounds of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.  The ceremony will include remarks from Rear Adm. Robb Chadwick, commander, Navy Region Hawaii; live music from the Pacific Fleet Band and a wreath presentation which will be available via live stream on CNRH Facebook at www.