JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Navy veterans—and the nation—marked 80 years Saturday since the Battle of Midway, the decisive victory at sea that was the turning point in the fight for the Pacific during World War II.
A ceremony hosted by members of the Fleet Reserve Association on Mayport Road in Jacksonville recognized the significance of that battle, which took place six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
Tommy Stephens, president of Fleet Reserve Association Branch 290, served in the Navy for 23 years before retiring as a chief.
“If you walk away with anything, I hope that it is to take a minute and be thankful for what you have because it came at a price, a very deep price,” Stephens said of Saturday’s remembrance ceremony. “The men and women that have come before us gave us the freedom that we enjoy. If we do not pause and take time to remember those sacrifices they made, it was all for naught.”
Most of the combat at Midway took place by the end of June 4, 80 years ago Saturday, but the United States pressed the attack for two more days until Japan retreated.
Lee Austin, who got his father’s permission to enlist in the Navy at age 17 -- a few years after Midway -- said he vividly remembers the battle and its significance to the war.
“The Japanese started the war, but we finished it,” he said.
Because of the U.S.’s overwhelming victory in the battle, Japan ultimately abandoned its plan to extend its reach in the Pacific and boost its defensive perimeter.
During the battle, the U.S. lost 360 men, 145 planes were destroyed and the aircraft carrier the USS Yorktown and destroyer the USS Hammann sank.
The major blow to the Japanese fleet at Midway was the loss of four of its six aircraft carriers—as well as about 3,000 men—and nearly 300 planes.
“Of all the responsibilities we do carry, to remember our legacy and those who have come before us is a pretty heavy responsibility to bear,” said Lt. Cmdr. Shawn Bootsmd, Command Chaplain at Naval Station Mayport. “Seeing all of these older service members and how much they cherish their own history and their own service is a great honor to be a part of. It was inspiring.”
Austin, 94, served for 30 years until he retired in 1975.
“I think every young man that is capable should join the armed forces and represent their country because it is a great country and we are here to protect it against all evils,” Austin said.