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World War II veterans remember the turning point of Battle of Midway

13 June 2022

From Anna Marie G. General, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - The Battle of Midway, referred to as the turning point of the Pacific War of World War II, took place from June 3 to 7, 1942, near the Midway atoll in the Pacific. The U.S. Navy's quick and decisive action led to an historical victory at Midway atoll where many Americans served and sacrificed during the battle.
This year marks its 80th anniversary of one of America’s most historically significant naval victories, which blunted the Imperial Japanese navy’s striking force and its advance across the Pacific.

“The 80th anniversary is significant because you have so few veterans that are still alive that were there, there’s a lot of history books that are written about it,” said Jim Neuman, historian, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs. “Having the veterans here is really important because you hear from them and their experience, and you can find out what they learned and how their story can be passed down to us.”

In coordination with the Naval History and Heritage Command, several events took place in Hawaii to remember the anniversary, including a commemoration at the site of Station HYPO located in Building 1 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which was the location of naval intelligence gathering for the Battle of Midway and the rest of World War II in the Pacific. A ceremony also took place at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on June 7, with visits to Midway atoll and a veterans harbor tour to the Arizona Memorial.

“The main part of the battle happened on June 4, 1942. What’s really powerful about the Battle of Midway is it was really just a few moments of time when American forces arrived. Three of the four Japanese carriers were hit and were disabled and sunk on that morning,” said Neuman. “The ability for the Americans to be in position on that day was largely a result of the military intelligence that was collected and the fact that Adm. Chester Nimitz, then commander-in-chief of U.S. Pacific Fleet, trusted the intelligence that was collected.”

The Midway atoll, located approximately 1,500 nautical miles northwest of Hawaii, also serves as a national wildlife refuge for more than a million Laysan albatross, also known as “gooney birds” or moli in Hawaiian. On the atoll stands a monument dedicated to the preservation of the memory of Midway where the most decisive naval battle in military history was fought.

“Our remembrance of Midway illustrates how our battle achievements in innovation, intelligence, and courage serve as a model and as inspiration as we continue to face the challenges of the future,” stated in a Chief of Naval Operations execution order message.

According to Naval History and Heritage Command, the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Army used Midway as an air base, which also served as a Navy submarine base.

Eighty years later, Battle of Midway veterans Navy Watertender 1st Class Julian Eugene Hodges and Marine Corps Sergeant 1st Class Edgar R. Fox visited Hawaii and Midway atoll to attend several commemorative events.

The days have been eventful for both veterans who were recognized and honored by service members, civilians and other organizations.

Hodges, who was assigned to the USS Yorktown, saw action in the Battle of the Coral Sea and sustained injury to his shoulder working in the boiler room when his ship was torpedoed during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

“Everything was doing fine until the battle began and then all of a sudden we had two torpedoes hit at the same time, then the lights went out. I was in Boiler room 9 of the ship when the battle began, I couldn’t see anything in the boiler room. The first thing that came to my mind was that if we go down, this is the end and that we won’t be making it,” said Hodges. “We did go down a bit but we had abandoned ship. As far as I knew, it was sinking, I was thinking there was no way out for me. I didn’t know I was going to make it.”

His brother, Bill, also a Sailor assigned to the Yorktown, was rescued several hours in the ocean.

“I was fresh out of one battle and into another, and I had a brother on the ship too. I was concerned about him because I had been told that Fireroom 2 was destroyed by a bomb going down the stack and my brother had to be in Fireroom 2, I was in Fireroom 4. So I thought there was a chance of both of us getting lost at the time and that mom and dad, all my brothers will be feeling bad about it, but fortunately I made it out and my brother did too."

Filled with emotions, he wept as he explained the relief of seeing his brother alive.

“When I heard that Fireroom 2 was destroyed, I thought that my brother was gone. But when the USS Portland came to pick me up, my brother was sitting on top of the gun mount,” he tearfully sighed with relief as he remembered that moment. He was fine, he was alright, and had no injuries. The Portland then took us to Pearl Harbor to be treated at a hospital.”

Not knowing much about Pearl Harbor, he joked aside thinking Pearl Harbor was a woman’s name on a side note.

Being here to commemorate the Battle of Midway is the greatest thing that happened to Hodges since it was his first time to come back since the battle 80 years ago.

“This has been the greatest experience with exception to meeting the Lord Jesus and marrying my wife. I never ever had any idea I would have a chance to relive it. This experience here will certainly be high on my roster for a very long time, if I live a long time,” he chuckled. “I realize that being age 99 and 4 months, I’m surging to get to 104 years old. It’s what I’ve been told on how long I’ll live in a dream I had. In my dream, my church had a party for me to celebrate my 104th birthday dinner. I told them if I do live to be 104, make it a good one.”

Fox, on the other hand enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on June 1941, and his unit was sent out to the Pacific Theater when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. While his unit was aboard ship at sea, Wake Island fell to the Japanese, and his unit was sent to Midway.

“When we knew the battle was going to take off and arrived, we prepared with new stores and supplies, but when the battle started around 7:05 in the morning, I was ordered to be underground in my bunker,” said Fox. “My job was to deny the enemy access to the beach. It lasted about 27 minutes in the air…I could feel the bombs dropping, I could hear machine guns going off strafing on planes and our guns firing back. When it was over with, I went outside and saw smoke and people running around gathering debris. I was then ordered to go into an aerial position in case they were to come back.”

“I’m probably one of the luckiest men to be alive today because of the men that didn’t make it to make it available for me to be here to tell other people what they did, how and why,” Fox added. “What I will never forget is the brotherhood; we always covered each other’s back. This is my fifth time to visit Midway which I will always remember. There’s always spirit, respect, and camaraderie. I just feel proud about being a part of the Battle of Midway group."

Both Battle of Midway veterans were 19 years old during the attack on June 4, 1942.

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