TR Robertson …. On Monday, June 5th, the USS Midway was once again the scene of a special celebration to honor the survivors of The Battle of Midway, during the World War II engagement with the Japanese fleet. The celebration honored survivors of this battle, called the most significant and decisive naval victory the United States has ever been involved in. I was able to attend this morning brunch program as my father-in-law, Lieutenant Commander Rudy Matz, USN (Ret) is one of the survivors of The Battle of Midway and one of the 9 gentlemen present and being honored this day. Unfortunately only 7 were able to show-up.
A crowd of close to 300+ attendees were at the celebration, family members of those being honored, family members of survivors who have recently passed away, members of various military units past and present and a number of dignitaries. On hand were a number of television channels, like KFMB Channel 8 and KUSI Channel 9, as well as numerous newspaper reporters. After a delicious breakfast buffet, Rear Admiral John “Mac” McLaughlin, USNR (Ret.), President and CEO of the USS Midway Museum began this part of the ceremony with a welcome address and detailing what the ceremony would include. He then introduced Admiral Scott H. Swift, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, who read the names of those to be honored and told a little about the gentlemen. The ages of those being honored ran from 95 years old to 102 years young. Those being honored included Lt. Commander Geoffrey A.L. Blackman, USNR (Ret), Aviation Radioman Third Class Ronald W. Graetz, USN, Captain Francis S. Knight, USN (Ret), Lt. Commander Rudy Matz, USN (Ret), Chief Steward Andy Mills, USN, Aviation Radioman First Class Charles Monroe, USN, Commander Ellis Dee Skidmore, USN (Ret), Aviation Chief Machinist’s Mate Joseph Lee Waller, USN and Senior Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Ervin Wendt, USN (Ret). These gentlemen would each be presented with an American Flag that had flown over Midway Island and a 75th Anniversary commemorative coin.
Out gunned and outmanned at Midway, the U.S. Naval forces faced odds that clearly were not in their favor. But fate was on their side as prior to the battle, U.S. Intelligence had been able to break the Japanese transmission codes and decipher intelligence indicating what the Japanese were planning and where they were going to be. Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and his command put together a battle plan to intercept the Japanese fleet and stop their advance through the Pacific island chain. Marine forces on the island of Midway engaged the enemy and held them at bay. Surprising the Japanese with a series of air attacks and bombardments, U.S. forces were able to inflict tremendous losses in the main part of the Japanese fleet. The Japanese would lose four of their carriers and numerous planes and were forced to withdraw in defeat, never returning to this part of the Pacific island chain.
The main part of the program would move to an area directly next to the main conning tower of the USS Midway. The ceremony began with the presentation of the colors by a joint unit of servicemen from all of the branches of service. We were welcomed once again by Mac McLaughlin, heard a fly over of Naval Hornet planes (the cloud cover was too dense to see them), and watched a live stream from the Midway Atoll in a ceremony honoring this famous battle. The island of Midway today is a wildlife refuge controlled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the Battle of Midway National Memorial and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Nearly three million birds nest at the Midway Atoll and numerous marine mammals and green sea turtles. We were to hear an introduction from Mr. Jim Kurth, Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the connection was lost. We did hear from Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, USN (Ret), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command. He spoke about the three day Battle of Midway and its importance in turning the tide of victory for the United States. A wreath was lain on the monuments on Midway, Taps was played and the Naval Hymn Eternal Father was sung.
Next on the program was a most informative address by the guest speaker for this occasion, Admiral John Richardson, USN, Chief of Naval Operations. He spoke about how many successful military engagements are determined by the slimiest of margins of victory and most of these are determined by razor thin occurrences. He spoke about some of the unknown parts of the Battle of Midway, such as US Naval submarine encounters and their importance, and the bravery of the men who fought in this battle.
The ceremony ended with the showing of a video made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the Battle of Midway. My father-in-law Rudy was one of the survivors interviewed for the informative video.
The flight deck of the USS Midway is the perfect location for this commemoration and honoring the men who served during the Battle of Midway. This carrier was the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. It still holds the record of longest carrier deployment at sea: 327 days in 1973. Today the carrier serves as a teaching museum, last year welcoming over 1.4 million visitors. Numerous students come on board to study and tour. The USS Midway is San Diego’s top-ranked major attraction and the most visited museum ship in the world.
This is a wonderful yearly ceremony sponsored by the USS Midway and serves as a way to not only honor these brave men who fought and died and survived this battle, but serves as a way to remember the importance and significance of what all of those men and women accomplished who serve in the armed services protecting this country.