The unsung heroes of Midway – May 1942


Damage to USS YORKTOWN (CV-5)
(Naval Historical Center)

65 years ago this week three carriers arrived in Pearl Harbor – two of them, USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) and USS HORNET (CV-8) had participated in Doolittle’s raid against Japan. The other, USS YORKTOWN (CV-5), had been damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea, and was in desperate need of repair. More importantly, she was badly needed for the impending battle in the waters near Midway. In one of the most remarkable feats of ship repair in history, major damage in YORKTOWN was repaired in two days (despite estimates ranging from three weeks to several months), allowing her to join RADM Fletcher’s Task Force 17 and sail into glory.

What you rarely hear about is the herculean effort put forth by those 1300 shipyard workers in Pearl Harbor 65 years ago. Most accounts of Midway include a reference to quick repairs or a rapid turnaround, and not much else.

Without YORKTOWN, the other two carriers (part of Task Force 16 under RADM Spruance) would have faced a Japanese carrier force twice its size. But YORKTOWN was there. Her aircraft sank the carrier SORYU and participated in the attacks on HIRYU before being mortally damaged. In the end, four Japanese carriers were lost; the only U.S. carrier lost was YORKTOWN.
(Naval Historical Center)

Midway has been commonly called the turning point in the war in the Pacific, but its role was much larger when viewed in a wider context. As former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger put it, “Midway was far more than a decisive naval victory. It was far more than the turning of the tide in the Pacific war. In a strategic sense, Midway represents one of the turning points of world history.”

So to those unnamed shipyard workers who played such a pivotal role in the victory at Midway, we remember. And to those men and women who continue to build and repair our ships and submarines today, we appreciate the role you play in defending our nation. You’re our heroes of the week.

There are several books and articles written about the Battle of Midway. Good synopses can be found at the Naval Historical Society’s Midway page, or “Stopping the Tide – The Battle of Midway 4-6 June 1942.


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