Sunday, June 2, 2013

‘Midway Magic,’ Legacy of Battle of Midway

by Bill Doughty

Forty years ago, October 5, 1973, USS Midway (CV 41) -- named for the Battle of Midway -- pulled into its new forward-deployed port: Yokosuka, Japan.
Built in Newport News, Virginia and commissioned just after Imperial Japan’s surrender in 1945 in Tokyo Bay, near Yokosuka, USS Midway would become America’s longest serving aircraft carrier in the 20th Century, deployed near the Arctic and in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Midway projected power and presence in a variety of conflicts throughout the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War and beyond, including in Operation Desert Storm.

Scott McGaugh’s “Midway Magic: An Oral History of America’s Legendary Aircraft Carrier” is a tribute to the continually deploying, hard-working carrier.  “Midway became known as one of the best operating carriers in the Navy in the 1970s and 80s,” he writes.
The author recognizes by name many of the COs and deckplate Sailors who served aboard Midway over the decades.  He lauds Sailors and civilians -- including Japanese civilian workers who worked on the ship, including in drydock in Yokosuka.

“Each time Midway put in at the Yokosuka ship repair facility, Japanese shipyard workers overhauled a designated portion of the carrier.  Every few months, part of Midway was enhanced, repaired, or replaced.  Other carriers went into the yard periodically for two-year overhauls.  Midway was usually in port for no more than a month.  Hundreds of Japanese ship workers descended on Midway upon arrival in Yokosuka.  The honesty and dedication of Japanese welders, electricians, pipe fitters, and plumbers working on Midway became legendary.”
In 1942 it was American civilian shipyard workers in Pearl Harbor who repaired, refitted and rearmed the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) to play a key role in helping the Navy win the Battle of Midway.
If the Battle of Midway represented a turnaround in the War in the Pacific, 30 years later the arrival of the USS Midway in Japan marked a solidarity of partnership as allies, with the U.S. Navy and Japan Self-Defense Force as the best of friends.
It was the first time for a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to be assigned to the forward-deployed naval forces stationed in Japan.  While there were decidedly mixed feelings by the people of Japan, demonstrations against the carrier were mostly because of opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Midway’s arrival in October 1973 occurred just 36 weeks after the Paris Peace Accords were signed to end the war.  Coincidentally, that month saw the beginning of the world embargo of oil by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) during the Arab-Israeli War.  World War II in the Pacific began in 1941, in large part, because of an embargo against Japan because of that country’s expansion into other Asian countries for oil and other resources.
Lt. George Gay with his squadron just prior to the Battle of Midway.
The Battle of Midway, 71 years ago this week, was a historic milestone against fascism and for freedom.  It was a watershed moment for aviation, too, proving the era of battleships was ending and the time of naval aviation and aircraft carriers had begun.  The Battle of Midway showed the spirit of a bonded and enervated force, dedicated to working together using new technology and exploring innovative new tactics to achieve victory for the common good.
McGaugh’s “Midway Magic” begins with an introduction by a naval (and Air Force exchange program) aviator who served aboard USS Midway after his commissioning from the U.S Naval Academy -- astronaut Wally Shirra.  “I was one of the fresh-faced kids aboard Midway in 1950, a hot-shot aviator at the dawn of the jet age.”  Shirra writes:
Midway Pilot and Astronaut Wally Shirra

“For men and nations alike, Midway did more than influence our world.  Midway dictated the course of world events, sometimes by her mere presence as a beat cop stepping into the middle of a heated dispute, at other times as the fireman rushing into harm’s way to save lives.  For me and thousands of other young men over the expanse of nearly 50 years, Midway Magic showed each of us our backbone, inspired us to never cut our dreams to fit, and taught us values and ideals that served as guideposts for rest of our lives.  And in the hearts and souls of the men who served aboard her, the magic continues to this day.”
McGaugh describes with emotion the decommissioning ceremony of USS Midway 21 years ago, attended by, among others, aviators Adm. Riley Mixson, Mugs McKeown, Dick Parker and George Gay.  It was one of the last public appearances by Gay, the famed survivor of the Battle of Midway who was also present at the ship’s launching.
USS Midway was remembered for its role in war and peace, including in humanitarian missions such as its final mission in 1991, after the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption in the Philippines.  Along with USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), Midway provided emergency evacuation of 15,000 military and civilian personnel from Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base.
The decommissioning wasn’t the end of the Magic.
Ten years ago, Aug. 29, 2003, the ship was awarded to the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum nonprofit.  It was towed from Bremerton to Oakland to San Diego and opened as a museum in 2004.
Today, USS Midway Museum sits proudly at Navy Pier, off Harbor Drive, part of downtown San Diego.
“Midway Magic’s” appendix includes a work of poetry from the ship’s 1989-1990 cruise book.  Here’s an excerpt:
For more than forty-five years 
Midway has steamed,
Returning to safe harbor --
Mission following mission.

Amid the pulsation of four shafts
And the throb of jets at military power,
The true beat of her heart
Depends on the courageous --

Those who tread the decks,
Populate the compartments,
Operate the machinery,
Serve in Harmony.

Remember the faithful
Whose final service
Was given in full measure
On this Gray Lady...

(I was a student in Japan and worked for the Navy Exchange in 1973.  I watched the USS Midway arrive at its new forward-deployed port of Yokosuka in October of that year.  Several years later I served as editor of the base newspaper Seahawk.  -- Bill Doughty)

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