Ceremony honors Battle of Midway

Staff Writer

 Joseph Waller Joseph Waller JOINT BASE McGUIRE-DIXLAKEHURST — The Battle of Midway, which was fought June 4-7, 1942, will always be remembered as the turning point of WorldWar II in the Pacific Theater.

The Battle of Midway was remembered and those who fought and died in it were honored during a special event that was held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in south central New Jersey on June 3.

“The Battle of Midway is often considered the most important naval battle of the Pacific campaign and the point in which the Japanese impetus was broken,” said Heidi Stark, 87th Air BaseWing historian. “During this battle, U.S. Navy carriers successfully defended Midway Island against an Imperial [Japanese] attack.”

Stark said Japan lost four aircraft carriers in the battle, which essentially equalized the two naval powers and allowed the U.S. forces to take the offensive.

 A member of the United States Marine Corps carries a wreath honoring the men who were killed in the World War II Battle of Midway, during a commemoration of the battle at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst on June 3.  PHOTOS BY DAVE BENJAMIN A member of the United States Marine Corps carries a wreath honoring the men who were killed in the World War II Battle of Midway, during a commemoration of the battle at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst on June 3. PHOTOS BY DAVE BENJAMIN This single event combined the grace and force of the U.S. carrier fleet, demonstrated the advantage of superior air power, and highlighted the benefits of exceptional intelligence and superior command and control, Stark said.

Inside Hanger One at Navy Lakehurst, approximately 350 military personnel and guests were on hand to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the battle and of the courage, heroism and sacrifice of the sailors who were there.

“I was at the Battle of Midway and at the Battle of the Coral Sea [May 4-8, 1942],” said Joseph Waller, 91, of North Plainfield, who was stationed on the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier from 1938 to 1942, when it was attacked by the Japanese. “It was good during peacetime, but during wartime you were on your toes.”

 Ed Breidenbach Ed Breidenbach Waller said he was a parachute rigger for the fighting squadron, and when the Yorktown was attacked by the Japanese at Midway, he had to abandon ship. He said the U.S. fleet had about 30 ships and the Japanese had about 150 ships.

“We didn’t battle with them [directly], except for the planes,” he said. “We were just lucky. Five minutes made the difference between victory and defeat. That’s when the dive bombers arrived over the carrier. It was the fourth [Japanese] carrier [planes] that bombed and torpedoed the Yorktown.”

Waller said people were trying to save the ship and had it under tow when a Japanese submarine came in and launched two more torpedoes. The Yorktown sank on the morning of June 7, 1942.

 William Askew William Askew Waller said the crew members were rescued by a destroyer.

William Askew, 91, of Brick Township, was also at the Battle of Midway. He served as a torpedo man on the destroyer USS Hughes.

“I got onboard the Yorktown after it was listing and was abandoned,” Askew said. “I got onto the Yorktown by stepping on a hangar deck. I went there to look for [survivors] and to destroy secret stuff.”

Askew said he had to crawl to make his way forward and then he went down as many decks as he could until he hit water and could not go any farther.

He said the USS Hughes was the only ship that stayed with the Yorktown through the night, picking up survivors.

Askew, who received 16 battle stars during his service, noted that he was frequently in the thick of the action, and said, “You just did whatever had to be done.”

Also present for the ceremony was Ed Breidenbach, 85, of Eatontown, who said he served in the Pacific and in the South Atlantic.

“I was on a destroyer chasing subs,” said Breidenbach, who was a radar operator. “I was on the USS Floyd B. Parks in the Pacific when they dropped the [atomic] bomb on Hiroshima.”

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Floyd B. Parks was killed in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.

During the Battle of Midway ceremony, Capt. Ken Skaggs, USN commander, Navy Operational Support Center, highlighted some moments in the 100-year history of naval aviation.

“Well, a century of innovation, that’s what naval aviation has been doing, [while] the Marines rapidly integrated close air support, and they have been doing that ever since,” Skaggs said.

The U.S. Navy began its aviation program on May 8, 1911, when its first officer in charge, Capt. Washington I. Chambers, issued requisitions for two Curtiss biplanes.

According to Naval History and Heritage Command, prior to that date, airplane builder Glenn Curtiss and pilot Eugene Ely had convinced Navy officers that aviation was ready for sea duty.

On Nov. 14, 1910, Ely flew a Curtiss biplane from a specially built platform on the cruiser USS Birmingham.

On Jan. 18, 1911, Ely landed a Curtiss pusher aboard the armored cruiser Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay and flew the airplane back to shore.

Skaggs said the Navy figured out what to do with its operations at sea with the USS Langley, CV-1, the first Navy aircraft carrier (commissioned in March 1922). The Langley had electric motor drive, while other ships of that era had steam engines, he said.

During World War II, as the Japanese advanced across the Pacific, the Army needed P-40 fighter-plane support into Java. The Japanese had taken the islands in between, and the P-40s did not have the range to get from Australia to Java, so P-40s were loaded onto the USS Langley.

The Japanese met the Langley with nine twin-engine bombers and stopped the Langley 94 miles short of her target, and the carrier had to be scuttled, he said.

Skaggs said naval innovations continue today with an electromagnetic launch system developed at Lakehurst, which replaces steam catapults. Navy officials are also looking at renewable energy sources.

The guest speaker was U.S. Navy veteran Lee Heydolph of the USS Intrepid Association of Former Crew Members. He described the Battle of Midway, which began on June 4, 1942, when four Japanese aircraft carriers turned into the wind and launched their aircraft for an attack on Midway Island.

“Midway was forewarned and armed,” said Heydolph. “[But] the Japanese Zeros hit them pretty well, although the damage sustained was not that considerable.”

The returning Japanese strike force commander convinced the admiral to hit Midway Island again, and while reloading their planes, a sizeable American force attacked the Japanese, whose planes were on their carrier deck, low on fuel and not armed.

Within six minutes, the war had changed in the Pacific, Heydolph said.

Three of the four Japanese carriers were left burning, but the remaining ships launched their dive bombers, which spotted the Yorktown, and a few got through and scored hits on the flight deck, the stack and the boilers, which went down, leaving the Yorktown dead in the water, he said.

Heydolph said the flight deck and the boilers were repaired within an hour, and the ship was on the move again, but a second wave of Japanese planes came through, scoring two more hits on the Yorktown.

The damage caused the carrier to begin a 23-degree list, and the ship had to be abandoned.

Later that day, the Japanese carrier was spotted and was sunk. In the days to follow, the Japanese lost several cruisers and other ships.

As a result of the Battle of Midway, three-quarters of the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack force was destroyed.

At Midway, the Japanese lost four aircraft carriers, 3,000 men and 228 aircraft, and their pilots were basically gone, he said.

“The games were over for the Japanese,” Heydolph said. “It was the turning point.”

American losses at Midway were 340 killed, 145 aircraft lost, and the USS Yorktown and USS Hammann lost.

After a special thank you to the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, the event concluded with a benediction by Navy Chaplain Kay Reeb and the playing of the “U.S. Marine Corps Hymn” and “Anchors Aweigh.”