WASHINGTON -- Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and World War II veterans gathered at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Midway during a wreath laying ceremony, June 4.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert issued a Navywide proclamation declaring June 4 Battle of Midway Commemoration Day, and invited commands around the world to take part in celebrations honoring the event and the veterans who served.
The battle marked what is considered the turning point in the Pacific theater of World War II, when only seven months after Pearl Harbor, the outnumbered and outgunned American fleet halted the Japanese advancement across the Pacific Ocean.
"On June 4th, 1942, brave ancestors of our sea services fought in a battle which turned the tide in the Pacific theater of World War II, " said Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard during her speech. "The Battle of Midway was defined by the courage of each and every individual Sailor."
Following the American victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Japanese targeted Midway and sought to destroy the American fleet there. Naval intelligence broke the Japanese code and then sent out the message, "Many planes, heading Midway" as U.S. forces prepared for the coming attack, which took place June 4-7, 1942.
"Yet the survival of the flame was not certain on this day, 73 years ago. Victory was not assured," said Howard. "In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the weight of full-scale war had yet to produce convicing wins in the Pacific."
On the morning of June 4, Japanese aircraft attacked the island, and U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilots, combined with anti-aircraft fire, mitigated damage but took heavy losses to aircraft and crews. Torpedo and bomber aircraft attacked the now-discovered U.S. carriers, inflicting heavy damage against the USS Yorktown, which stubbornly refused to sink. Air groups from the Yorktown and USS Enterprise bombed the Japanese carriers, destroying three of the four carriers within minutes.
Torpedo planes from the remaining carrier found the Yorktown once again, and inflicted heavier damage as the crew abandoned ship. The ship still stayed afloat until June 7 when a Japanese submarine finally destroyed it. Meanwhile, American air crews located and destroyed the fourth Japanese carrier, as well as a heavy cruiser.
The attack effectively halted the seemingly unstoppable Japanese advance across the Pacific, and changed the course of the war.
"At Midway the flame was lit through the concerted efforts of three groups of warriors: civilian workers, active duty service member and reservists," said Howard.
Howard joined leaders from the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard in laying a wreath at the Navy Memorial and honoring four veterans in attendance 73 years after the battle of Midway.
"Midway is our heritage," said Howard. Midway defined Naval courage. Let us never forget the hollowed actions that forged our sea services."