When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States was immediately thrust into World War II. The Japanese Empire was expanding rapidly, and it was up to the United States to stop her. The bulk of the war in the Pacific was fought by the U.S. Navy, which included the United States Marines.
The battles of the Coral Sea (May 4-8, 1942) and Midway (June 3-7, 1942) were the first naval battles in history where the opposing ships neither sighted nor fired directly on each other, and my father was a second Class Petty Officer in both battles. When not in combat, he was in the USS Yorktown CV-5 ship's band, but in combat he was an intra-ship radioman directing damage control squads.
On Feb. 16, 1942, the USS Yorktown was commanded by Captain Elliot Buckmaster. The Yorktown was the flagship of Task Force 17 under the command of Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Sailing out of Pearl Harbor, which had been devastated in the attack, Task Force 17 was headed for the Coral Sea, just off the Great Barrier Reef on the northeast coast of Australia.
On May 4, 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea erupted. We lost the USS Lexington, and the Yorktown was badly damaged. A 500-pound armor-piercing bomb plunged through the flight deck plus three more decks and exploded outside Dad's compartment. Had that bomb been five feet closer to the bulkhead (wall), it would have destroyed the bulkhead and killed Dad.
The Battle of the Coral Sea was a strategic victory because we stopped the Japanese empire from advancing and taking control of Australia. After that battle, the damaged Yorktown limped into Pearl Harbor. Captain Buckmaster requested six months to repair the ship, but Admiral Chester Nimitz knew what was brewing near Midway Island and gave Captain Buckmaster 72 hours.
In 72 hours, the USS Yorktown, The Fighting Lady, did sail out of Pearl Harbor toward what would be her final destination.
The Japanese fleet, advancing toward Midway, had about 180 ships and submarines assembled for the operation. This was not some spur-of-the-moment impulse; rather it was a strategic, well-planned full-scale attack -- as was the attack on Pearl Harbor. We might have had 52 ships in the area to counter the assault.
The Japanese intended to use Midway Island as a base of operations from which to finish the job they started at Pearl Harbor, but Admiral Nagumo betrayed his ignorance by saying, "The enemy [America] lacks the will to fight."
Admiral Yamamoto erred in underestimating America's willpower and industrial might. In an attempt to lure the American fleet away from Midway, Yamamoto feigned an attack on the Aleutian Islands, trying to divide our naval forces, but Admiral Nimitz, using native Texan wit, common sense and Naval Intelligence, outsmarted Yamamoto on the high seas.
Commander Joseph Rochefort with Naval Intelligence had broken the Japanese code and Nimitz knew that Midway was Japan's target. Admiral Nimitz brilliantly devised a plan similar to a west Texas ambush and caught Admirals Yamamoto and Nagumo off guard. Japan learned about America's will to fight when Japan lost the same four aircraft carriers they used in attacking Pearl Harbor. They also lost two heavy cruisers, three destroyers and 275 planes. America lost one carrier (the USS Yorktown), one destroyer (the USS Hammann) and 150 planes. This battle ended Japanese naval superiority in the Pacific.
Some call the Battle of Midway the turning point in the war of the Pacific. Others have said, what Gettysburg was to the American Civil War, Midway was to World War II in the Pacific.
After the war, Dad attended college and seminary, and re-entered the U.S. Navy for another 20 years, but this time as a Chaplain. Retiring with the rank of Captain, he said, "The eight years as an enlisted man and the hostile experiences in the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway helped prepare me for what lay ahead in life. We should not be afraid of negative circumstances; rather we should prayerfully face them and learn from them."
As I review the battles, I am reminded of what the Lord told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 20:1, "When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you."
-- S. Eugene Linzey is an author, mentor, and speaker. Send comments and questions to [email protected] Visit his web site at www.genelinzey.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.