Friday, July 2, 1999

WWII veterans,
historians gather to
recall Battle of Midway

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Retired Navy Cmdr. Bill Cullin returned to Midway Island nearly six decades after his PBY Catalina squadron first landed on the eve of the battle, which was the turning point in World War II.

Only a 23-year-old ensign at the time and fresh out of naval flight school, Cullin said his squadron, VP-44, arrived on Midway, located 1,250 miles west-northwest of Honolulu, May 22-23, 1942.

"We were told when we arrived by Naval intelligence that the Japanese was going to attack Midway with four carriers, eight battleships and eight cruisers and an assorted number of destroyers," Cullin said. "After they told us four carriers, I didn't listen much. All I was thinking was where is everyone else who is going to fight this battle? ... Our PBYs were no match for those highly maneuverable Zeroes."

Cullin and numerous Pacific theater veterans from that historic battle and historians are in the islands this week to attend a seminar at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and to visit Midway for a dedication of a World War II memorial.

Six months into the Pacific war, the United States had lost all of its battleships at Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and Corregidor had been taken, and Wake Island had been captured.

"All we knew was that we were going out there to relieve another scouting squadron," Cullin said. "We didn't know anything about the eminent battle until we arrived."

On June 4, 1942, four Japanese carriers -- then part of the world's largest task force -- launched a strike on Midway as a steppingstone to an invasion of the Hawaiian Islands. The Japanese had hoped to destroy the U.S. Pacific fleet and all of its carriers.

But with the help of Navy codebreakers, the Americans already knew of the Japanese efforts.

At the same time, three American carriers, located 150 miles east of the island, sent fighters in search of the Japanese.

In the war's greatest naval engagement, four Japanese carriers were sunk. The Americans lost the carrier USS Yorktown in a battle fought mainly by torpedo bombers, fighters and submarines.

The mission of VP-44's 12 Catalinas was to fly 12-hour search patrols, looking for the Japanese fleet.

Cullin said his squadron also was involved in rescue operations on June 5 -- the day after the battle -- to find downed pilots and report on enemy damage.

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