SAN FRANCISCO - Nearly 250 veterans, service members and their families gathered June 3 at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.
Hosted by the San Francisco Battle of Midway Celebration Committee, the ceremony was one of several official commemorative events held worldwide to honor service members who defeated the Japanese Navy in the battle that would prove to be the turning point in the Pacific during World War II.
Active and reserve Sailors from Navy Recruiting District San Francisco, Navy Operational Support Command (NOSC) San Jose, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 18 and Commander, Naval Forces Korea attended the ceremony and dinner in which Adm. Scott Swift, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, served as the keynote speaker.
“I want to talk about the history that binds us together and how that history continues to be brought to us in surprising ways. It was brought to me tonight in an unexpected way,” Swift said as he reflected on the experiences told of Lt. Cmdr. Philip Horne who served aboard the USS New Orleans (CA-32) at Midway. Swift’s father reported to New Orleans following completion of repairs from the battle. “To have that history be brought back to me, as his son, it’s pretty special.”
Five Battle of Midway veterans, now deceased, were honored during the dinner for their heroic actions during the historic battle. On June 3, 1942, Sailors and Marines stationed on the Midway atoll readied themselves to be the potential target of a “surprise attack” by Japanese armed forces. While they prepared for the worst on the small atoll, hundreds of miles off the coast, Task Force 17, with USS Yorktown (CV 5), and Task Force 16, with USS Hornet (CV 8) and USS Enterprise (CV 6), lay in wait for the Japanese to arrive.
Within months of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ subsequent entry into World War II, Japan led an aggressive offensive to seize control of Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and various island groups in the central and western Pacific.
Due to the Navy’s intelligence gathering efforts, innovative naval carrier airpower, strategic planning of U.S. Pacific Fleet and the heroic and valiant actions of U.S. Sailors and Marines, Japanese expansion was halted, thus securing a central Pacific guard post for Allied forces. The Japanese lost four carriers, 256 aircraft and 2,204 men, while the U.S. lost one carrier, 150 aircraft and 307 men. The strategic American victory at Midway made it possible for the U.S. Navy eventually to reclaim maritime superiority in the Pacific.
“Our challenge is the same challenge that the Navy faced in World War II, which is to fight the fight with the resources we have in hand,” said Swift. “When we talk about the importance of innovation, this is not a new concept. This is a concept that is born out of the necessity of war.”
During the 20th annual commemoration by the San Francisco Battle of Midway Committee, Sailors of the Year were honored from NOSC San Jose and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter USS Stratton (WMSL-752).
“I did my first tour in Hawaii so I built my Navy knowledge and my Navy history around World War II,” said Navy reservist and NOSC San Jose Sailor of the Year Master-at-Arms 1st Class Gail Kirk. “Being here at the Battle of Midway celebration rekindled all of those memories I have.”
Naval Forces Korea reserve unit’s Command Master Chief, Keith Metcalfe, enjoyed seeing junior and senior Sailors pay respect to the Midway veterans.
“I always love to see junior Sailors support functions like these because sometimes they get lost in the mix of officer and senior enlisted groups,” said Metcalfe, a Navy reservist from Columbus, Ga. “I think it enforces an importance of history and heritage that we can’t lose. We have to keep this going.”
Other commemorations include ceremonies on Midway atoll, the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, Calif., the Navy Memorial and World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Naval Support Activity Bahrain.
The Naval History and Heritage Command is promoting official Navy events as part of its 75th anniversary of the U.S. Navy's experiences in World War II that began with the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 2016, and will continue through the anniversary of the Japanese surrender aboard USS Missouri (BB-63) on Sep. 2, 2020.