06.04.11 -Remarks by Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, Commander, NORAD and USNORTHCOM
69th Anniversary, Battle of Midway Commemoration Ceremony, USS Midway Museum, San Diego, CA
Wow, what a beautiful evening! . . . and how wonderful and how sweet it is to be back in San Diego.
Rick, thank you for that very kind introduction.
Admiral Hunt, Admiral Myers, Admiral Beaman, Admiral McLaughlin, Admiral French, numerous flag and senior officers out in the audience . . . but as Rick pointed out, and as John pointed out: most importantly, Midway Veterans and Midway Veteran families . . . it’s terrific to be with you.
Former POW Captain Southwick . . . and recipients of our nation’s highest awards, including Medal of Honor recipient Colonel “Ski” [Modrzejewski], and several Distinguished Flying Cross recipients.
Members of so many organizations that support our Navy, including people who support this wonderful Midway Museum. I was just last night at the Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida . . . And between that museum and this one we have the two crown jewels that allow us to remember all of the things that have happened in the glorious past of Naval Aviation.
Past and present Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen. All of you family members out there . . . and friends of the Navy . . . I assume everybody in the audience is a friend of the Navy!
It’s terrific to be back in San Diego, my home town, where I was born while my Daddy was at sea--in a dispensary right where the Pass Office is at the front gate of North Island. Many of you older folks know that that building used to be a dispensary. Well, that’s where I was born.
This is where I learned to love the water. It’s where I grew up cheering John Hadl and Lance Alworth, and later on Danny Fouts and Kellen Winslow. I’m back in my home town, and how sweet it is to be here on a beautiful night!
I also feel very lucky to be here before this gathering of veterans and families . . . as together we enjoy this very special and beautiful evening during the Centennial of Naval Aviation.
It’s truly an honor to speak at this event--the bookend, as Rick mentioned, to a very special day for me and for Mary that began in hot and humid Mobile, Alabama at the commissioning of a new destroyer . . . that will be lucky enough to be home-ported in this wonderful town . . . and that, as Rick said, is named for a remarkable man, a Vietnam POW, and a real hero of Naval Aviation, William P. Lawrence--a man who understood better than most the significance of this day, and who would love to be here with us on this beautiful night.
Many of the successes of our Navy are based on the sacrifices and the lessons we learned from the battle that we commemorate tonight.
Mostly, we celebrate the people--the amazing Sailors who fought in that battle, some of whom are with us this evening . . . and who had so much to do with shaping the outcome of the war in the Pacific, and who passed down so much to our generation.
There is little question that this battle continues to fascinate historians and students of naval tactics.
There are lessons for all of us in this battle . . . to understand the full meaning of the words resiliency, teamwork, and leadership.
One of the cornerstones of American success is indeed our resiliency. The Japanese, believing we had been demoralized by frequent defeats early in World War II, never thought we would come back.
They certainly never thought that USS Yorktown would make it into this fight . . . yet an amazing maintenance crew in Pearl Harbor patched-up her damage from Coral Seain an amazing 2 days--instead of the 60 that was predicted--and got her underway.
We also re-learned that it takes teamwork from an entire organization to win. This victory simply wouldn’t have been possible without tireless maintenance crews fixing airplanes . . . Sailors sweating it out in countless engine and fire rooms, or caring for the wounded, or flying patrol airplanes, or steaming in cruisers . . . and the damage control teams who kept our ships afloat as long as they did.
All were heroes of the Battle of Midway.
They helped secure the fruits of freedom and liberty for their descendants . . . gracing us with their humility, wisdom, sense of service, and appreciation for what our nation represents.
Of course, there are a number of our heroes here this evening. One of these men, LT George Bernstein, will speak to us tonight about his experience.
George, thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts about your colleagues who, like you, gave so much to support the nation we love today.
We see this same kind of teamwork everywhere in our Navy and our joint force today . . . with the latest example being the take-down of Osama bin Laden just last month.
At Midway, we re-learned that solid leadership is vital at every level of command:
. . . At the strategic level--where Admiral Nimitz so skillfully made a bold risk calculation to defeat an approaching threat.
. . . At the operational level, where Admiral Spruance positioned his forces in exactly the right place for an inferior force to lie in wait.
. . . And at the tactical level, where decisiveness on the part of a single individual can tip the course of an entire battle, or even a war.
Let us imagine for a moment what that day was like for one of these tactical leaders.
The time is now 0630 on the 4th of June 1942, and Hornet, Yorktown, and Enterprise are steaming northeast of Midway Island.
This late spring day is already in full daylight--excellent visibility, a few clouds, and a slight chop on the water under a gentle breeze from the southeast.
It’s all a pilot could ask for, if his job is to go out and find enemy carriers . . . and the worst thing a carrier CO could ask for, in trying to hide his ship from the enemy.
At this moment aboard "Big E . . . The Galloping Ghost of the Oahu Coast,” Carrier Air Group Six pilots are streaming from the carrier's catwalks out onto the flight deck.
Their Mae West life jackets are worn over khaki work uniforms and leather flight jackets--needed for warmth at altitude on this morning where the temperature is well below freezing at altitude.
Most of these pilots are between 21 and 25 years old, and are less than a year out of flight training.
Most have been up since 0130 this morning, responding to various false alarms and false starts. The atmosphere is a mixture of expectation and anxiety.
We observe one raw-boned but well-built aviator, many years older than the others, manning-up a Dauntless dive bomber in the middle of the flight deck.
He is Lieutenant Commander Clarence Wade McClusky, the Air Group Commander. At 40 years old, he is literally "the old man."
McClusky is not a bomber pilot. Until a month earlier, he had been the skipper of Enterprise's fighter squadron, and had never flown the Dauntless.
He has a lot on his mind, and is already tired from having been up most of the night discussing this day's operation with Admiral Spruance and his staff.
Enterprise heels as she turns southeast into the wind. It’s just after 0700.
When McClusky's turn to launch comes, his plane staggers off the flight deck under the weight of the 1,000-pound bomb slung under his aircraft’s fuselage.
Spruance is throwing the kitchen sink at the enemy, and as this big launch progresses, it becomes sloppy due to the inexperience of the deck crews and the aviators.
By 0745, an impatient Spruance--with only half of Enterprise's and Hornet's air wings in the air--can no longer wait, and he sends a blinker light message to a fuming McClusky, circling near the Enterprise: "PROCEED ON MISSION ASSIGNED."
The late-launching torpedo bombers and escorting fighters will just have to follow as best they can.
So, finally, McClusky is on his way--but with only part of his air group. He’s in a sour mood. He is aware that his air group is a critical player in the drama now rapidly unfolding, and he has a late start.
His two squadrons--33 Dauntlesses--claw upwards at 110 knots . . . one to 18,000 feet and the other--led by McClusky--up to 20,000 feet . . . on a southwesterly course toward the estimated position of the enemy 150 miles away.
As he looks around, he sees his wingman and the rest of his 33 airborne Dauntlesses flying in loose cruise formation, in order to conserve fuel, because he expects a long flight.
McClusky prides himself on his overwater navigation. But at 0920, when he arrives at the point where the Japanese carriers are supposed to be, he has a nasty surprise.
The visibility is still superb. BUT NO ENEMY CARRIERS. What to do? Fuel is already a problem, and the anxiety level is rising as his pilots nervously watch their fuel gauges.
He doesn't know it, but the original contact report was 20 miles off, and on top of that the Japanese have been forced to take evasive action to the northeast.
Realizing his dive bombers are critical to the outcome of this battle, McClusky decides to fly on another 35 miles.
STILL NO ENEMY CARRIERS.
So now, at 0935, he makes the critical decision to turn northwest and fly out another 25 minutes, just in case the enemy carriers have reversed course.
McClusky simply can’t believe that the Japanese carriers have evaded him. Now, fuel is indeed critical. Imagine his frustration, and the dryness in his mouth as he contemplates the potential for catastrophic failure.
But then, at 0955, after nearly 3 hours airborne, on the horizon through the scattered clouds he sees a streak on the water. Could it be a ship? Yes, it is--a destroyer traveling at high speed to the northeast.
McClusky asks himself where a single Japanese ship would be going at high speed.
His answer: it’s been left behind and is trying to catch up with its carriers. So he decides to follow it.
Ten minutes later, SUCCESS! Imagine now what must be going through McClusky’s mind as he spots three carriers and all their escorts.
Around them, a buzzing armada of Japanese fighters at low altitude, finishing the slaughter of three unescorted U.S. torpedo squadrons--yet another story of heroism.
It is now 1024 . . . McClusky and one of his squadron skippers, Dick Best, pick out the two biggest targets and push over.
McClusky’s Dauntless is heading almost straight down in a 70-degree dive, at 240 knots.
There is some confusion as to who is going to hit which carrier, but they sort it out literally in the dive.
At 1,800 feet, McClusky releases his bomb--and misses . . . typical fighter pilot trying to fly a bomber! He raises a big splash in the water adjacent to Kaga's bridge.
But enough others in his and Best's flights--and Max Leslie’s flight from Yorktown--quickly turn the three carriers into blazing infernos, with fires raging from stem to stern.
A fourth carrier, the Hiryu, is not observed, but will be destroyed by a re-strike that afternoon.
Japanese fighters, distracted by the American torpedo bombers, never had a chance to climb and engage McClusky’s Dauntlesses. But now they’re mad, and the pilots of the surviving dive bombers are nearly unanimous in stating that the worst part of the flight was trying to shake the Japanese fighters after their strike.
It’s a running scrimmage for about twenty miles--think about how exhausting that must have been--until the Japanese Zeros have to break off, facing the dim prospect of returning to their burning carriers.
Wade McClusky returns to Enterprise--with a bucket full of fuel . . . his plane shot up . . . he with painful arm and shoulder wounds. He will not fly again today. He has done his job.
Imagine the talk among exhausted aircrews climbing out of their aircraft, knowing that they have just made history . . . perhaps feeling the same as a few U.S. Navy SEALS did on the 1st of May, after they had just dealt justice to Osama bin Laden.
Imagine the maintainers who carefully groomed their machines and anxiously waited for them to return . . . and who now piece together bullet-ridden aircraft . . . all regrouping for an unknown fight that afternoon and the next day.
And imagine the excitement of the ships’ crews, as word gets out of the success.
And finally, imagine the excitement among the American public--badly in need of a victory--when the true magnitude of this victory becomes clear.
What are we to make of Wade McClusky's morning? What is so remarkable about it?
Sure, he did his job, just as he had done his job in the peacetime Navy. But how he did it is what matters.
He overcame adversity--a late launch and join-up, an unexpected enemy change of course, the constant worry about fuel, and his own inexperience as a bomber pilot.
He understood the stakes, he took a calculated risk, he made gutsy decisions that risked the loss of most of his air group to fuel exhaustion . . . and he used his uncommon common sense to draw the right conclusions both from the evidence--and from the lack of evidence.
Then he pressed home the attack, like a true warrior, distributing his force in such a way as to maximize the damage at a critical juncture of the battle.
It is rarely left to a single junior officer to turn the tide of a battle, or even a war.
This has been called the single greatest feat of airmanship and tactical decision-making at sea in World War II.
But McClusky was no superman. He was merely a man who had prepared himself to do his duty, and who--when faced with a decision--fearlessly chose what turned out to be the right course.
The good news for us here today is that there are young men and women in our Navy . . . flying airplanes, sailing ships and submarines, and using unconventional warfare to track down terrorists . . . who do their duty in exactly the same way every day.
We should all give thanks for these many heroes . . . past, present, and future.
I’d like to leave you with a personal note: I would probably not be here tonight if it were not for Wade McClusky and his courage and skill. Let me tell you why.
My father, a retired Naval Aviator, never met McClusky . . . but he remembers an issue of Life magazine in the summer of 1942, when the full ramifications of the Battle of Midway started to sink into the public's understanding of the war.
The Life article discussed the courageous actions of the U.S. Airmen and all of the other people involved in that battle, including McClusky--and he said to himself, "I want to join that outfit."
Although Wade McClusky never knew it, he was the most instrumental person in my father attending the Naval Academy and becoming a Naval Aviator.
Had he not inspired my father, and my father not subsequently inspired me, I have no idea what I’d be doing right now . . . but I doubt I would have embarked on this wonderful journey of service called the United States Navy.
By the way, years later in the summer of 1976, my Dad was the Naval Academy's representative at Wade McClusky's funeral and burial.
That is where McClusky lies today, serving as an inspiration to midshipmen and Navy Airmen past, present, and future.
On this day, let us give thanks for what happened at Midway, and for all the people who made it happen . . . thanks that it opened the door to our nation and our allies winning the war in the Pacific . . . and all the fruits of peace and prosperity for our world that this victory enabled and that endure to this day.
And thanks for the baseline tradition that Midway has given our Navy for resiliency, teamwork, and leadership that serves us so well.
Traditions and comradeship are the glue that holds the service together, that inspires us to great feats, and that allows us to measure whether or not today we are up to our historical standard.
And--thanks to people like Admirals Hunt, and Beaman, and Myers, and all of the wonderful men and women who work for them--we are living up to that standard.
As we leave here tonight, let us not forget how we came to this place, literally and figuratively . . . and why we served, and why we continue to serve this wonderful country.
Thank you for giving me the honor of speaking on this occasion so rich with history and tradition.
And may the maker of sea and sky continue to shower His blessings on our nation and our Navy, and on the wonderful men and women who have served and continue to serve it so well.