Active duty, reserve and retired Sailors and Marines gathered to celebrate the 71st Anniversary of World War II’s tide-turning Battle of Midway, during a dinner at the Army Navy Country Club in Washington, D.C., June 4.
The ceremony hosted seven veterans of the battle and featured remarks from former Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work.
The Battle of Midway, fought near the Central Pacific island of Midway, is considered the decisive battle of the war in the Pacific. Because of communication intelligence successes, the U.S. Pacific Fleet surprised the Japanese forces, sinking the four Japanese aircraft carriers, which had attacked Pearl Harbor only six months before, while only losing one aircraft carrier. After Midway, the Americans and their Allies took the offensive in the Pacific.
Midway veterans in attendance included Capt. Jack Crawford, Chief Steward Andrew Mills and Lt. Cmdr. Bill Roy (stationed aboard aircraft carrier USS Yorktown), Marine Corps Maj. Albert Grasselli, (air support for Midway Island), Chief Gunner’s Mate Henry Kudzick (from the submarine USS Nautilus), Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Miller (from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet) and Sonar Technician Chief Howard Snell (from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise).
“Tonight we celebrate the heroic and even epic efforts of the Navy, Marine Corps team in their greatest ever victory at sea, the Battle of Midway” said Work. “During my time as undersecretary I had reason to think a lot about the Battle of Midway, because it was a victory that occurred only seven months into a war that was fought after a prolonged period of peace. I think that victory was even more impressive because it occurred on the heels of a stunning surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, which literally rocked the Navy, Marine Corps team, and the entire nation, back on its heels. So this was fought by professional officers and Sailors who had known only peace in their long careers.”
Director of Naval Staff Vice Adm. Richard Hunt was pleased to meet the Battle of Midway veterans and he told them so, before introducing the former undersecretary.
“I am glad to have each and every one of you with us tonight,” said Hunt. “It means so much to us and really means a lot to our Sailors. The biggest thing, I think, is seeing our vets, the folks that sacrificed so much in World War II and the other engagements that followed. You are the leaders that set the stage for those of us who serve today.”
According to Work, the U.S. had not fought a war in more than 24 years and had not fought a major naval battle in 44 years.
“[The] Navy and Marine Corps team were ready when called upon, even in the direst of circumstances,” Work said.
As undersecretary, Work was responsible for training and equipping the Navy and Marines, which led to his question. “How did the Sailors, like the seven heroes who are here with us tonight, do it?”
Work asked the audience if they thought the victory at Midway was luck or skill. He pointed out that the assembly point for the Sailors and Marines was named “Point Luck.” But, he did not think luck played a large role. In his research into the speech, he came across a quote from Major League Baseball executive Branch Rickey from early 1900s, which he thought explained it well.
“Branch Rickey said, ‘Luck is the residue of design,'” Work said. “In the Branch Rickey school of luck, the people we call lucky are simply those are better able to recognize and take advantage of circumstances because they have a preplanned design or plan.”
He recognized that chance did play a part in the battle, but not its outcome.
“If luck had any overriding influence on the final outcome of the Battle of Midway, it was primarily because of the residue of a coherent design and plans that were developed over decades of peace.”
Work said that the teachings of the Naval War College were at the forefront of developing those plans, through their wargames. The wargames, incorporated into the college after WWI, allowed officers to study the development new technologies and ideas and their effects on battles. More importantly it allowed them to question the Navy’s strategy and tactics.
“The wargames became a time to test new warfighting and organizational concepts on the floor, and the fleet exercises that followed them tested out the most promising of these concepts,” Work said. “It created a nimbleness of mind in the entire officer corps of the Navy and a willingness to make changes.”
It was this nimbleness of mind and the drive of Sailors he believes that was the real “luck” that helped the United States take the offense during Midway.
“If the sailors and Marines of that time were trying to send all of us who followed a message, it was that there was nothing lucky about “Point Luck” at all. It was simply a point on a map and the product of a battle plan that was two decades of strategic thought and technical innovation by a professional officer corps supported by great Sailors.”
The dinner also hosted Cmdr. Everett Alvarez, Jr., one of the first pilots shot down over Vietnam, who endured one of the longest periods as a prisoner of war in American history, more than eight years. This year, 2013, marks the 40th anniversary of his and 661 prisoners of war return with honor.
The Naval Historical Foundation, one of nine sponsors of the event, was pleased at the turnout and the excitement for history generated by the veterans and the former undersecretary.
“This dinner provided a great opportunity, as Under Secretary Work described, to recount how the Navy used its wargaming, fleet training, technology and individual initiative to win the pivotal Battle of Midway,” said Naval Historical Foundation Executive Director, Capt. Charles (Todd) Creekman (ret.). “We at the Naval Historical Foundation, along with our partner naval heritage nonprofits, are proud to have sponsored this dinner for the past decade and into the future.”
The Battle of Midway Dinner was part of the U.S. Navy’s commemoration of the Battle of Midway. An annual event, the commemoration is an opportunity for Sailors, past and present, to pause and reflect on the historic significance of the battle and how is continues to shape our Navy today.
For more information about the Battle of Midway visit http://www.history.navy.mil/Midway/midwaybattle-index.htm.