Naval Air Station Pensacola Wednesday morning marked the 72nd anniversary of the Battle of Midway in World War II, in a ceremony at the base’s Five Flags Pavilion.
Fought just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Midway is considered the turning point for the United States in Pacific Theater. In his opening remarks, base Executive Officer Dave Jasso said the battle shifted the momentum, transforming the U.S. Navy from a defensive force to an offensive one.
“Although American aircraft carriers were outnumbered 4 to 3 we equaled with air power from those three carriers and land-based aircraft at Midway,” said Jasso. “Out naval aviators were able to launch an offensive attack on the Japanese carriers, at their most vulnerable moment, determining the outcome of the battle.”
Japan targeted Midway, in order to eliminate the American carriers in the aftermath of the Battle of Coral Sea in May of 1942, which was considered a tactical victory for Japan, but a strategic win for the U.S.
Guest speaker was Rear Admiral Michael White – Commander of the Naval Education and Training Command aboard NAS Pensacola. He said the key was Navy cryptographers breaking the Japanese code – which referred to an objective being sought by its fleet as “Alpha Foxtrot” or “AF”.
Armed with that information, Admiral Chester Nimitz reinforced the atoll, while sending other forces to the Aleutian Islands. White says the Americans were able to meet the Japanese with air power.
In closing, White said that the legacy that sprang from Midway reaches across all branches of the armed forces.
“As I look into the faces of our young sailors, soldiers, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen here today, I see the same light that must have been in the eyes of those young men at Midway,” said White. “It’s the light of freedom, and I’m here to tell you it shines very brightly in our military.”
After White’s address, a wreath was placed in the water near the pavilion by the crew of a Coast Guard cutter, who also rendered a 21-gun salute which was followed by Taps.
Among those attending was Wiley Bartlett, who was a 19-year-old bombardier, gunner and navigator whose aircraft was aboard the carrier USS Hornet. Now approaching his 91st birthday, Bartlett says the victory at Midway opened the door for the island-hopping by U.S. ground forces.
“Midway was a turning point in the United States’ war against Japan,” said Bartlett. “I lost a lot of friends.”
After the battle, one senior Japanese official said at Midway, the United States avenged Pearl Harbor. Japan’s loss of its aircraft carriers would come back to haunt it at Guadalcanal -- America’s first major land offensive in the Pacific and the start of the “island hopping” campaign -- which began two months after Midway.