The Fish and Wildlife Service required the lowering of street signs on Midway to get them out of the path of low-flying birds. A few wildlife workers and a lot of birds live on the atoll.

Battle of Midway
lessons likened
to war on terror

5 veterans remember the fateful
encounter on its 60th anniversary

» Modern Midway is wildlife haven

By Gregg K. Kakesako

MIDWAY ATOLL >> As the nation faces another war, Americans should look to a decisive battle 60 years ago when the Pacific Fleet was able to turn the tide following the demoralizing defeat at Pearl Harbor, a key Interior Department official said yesterday.

Referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, H. Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the interior, said, "If, as some say, we have experienced another Pearl Harbor, we must recognize that there will be another Midway."

Manson was one of the speakers at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Midway, where the U.S. Navy destroyed the major elements of the Japanese fleet just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Manson said one of the lessons of the naval battle that took place about 250 miles north of this 5-mile-long atoll is that "we must persevere with the same courage, integrity and selfless service in the decisive battle yet to come."

Speaking directly to five veterans of the Battle of Midway -- which took place June 4-6, 1942 -- Manson added: "We need always to be vigilant. This is one of the lessons you have taught us. This is the gift of the sacrifice of Midway."

This juvenile albatross didn't seem to appreciate the solemn ceremony that was taking place yesterday on Midway. Despite the comic antics of the bird, the Navy color guard stood fast. About a million Laysan albatrosses live on the atoll.

Rear Adm. Anthony L. Winns, also emphasizing the Midway legacy, said "We humbly honor those sailors and Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation 60 years ago."

Winns, commander of Kaneohe Bay-based Pacific Fleet's patrol and reconnaissance force, said "Thank you, Midway warriors, for your devotion and dedication. I promise you that we will continue to build on your legacy of war-fighting heroism as we protect our nation's freedom."

Bill Tunstall, 83 and a veteran of the historic battle, expressed similar thoughts after attending the 90-minute ceremony, which he described as part of "a marvelous day."

"Education and respect for one another -- that is what we need more of today," Tunstall said, noting that there should be more emphasis in public schools on teaching history.

Tunstall, a crew member of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, was among more than one hundred veterans and their families attending the remembrance ceremony. The visit was Tunstall's second return to the historic World War II battle site since the battle.

Tunstall said, "I can't help but think, especially when they were playing the national anthem, of all those guys who were lost in the Pacific Ocean that day."

On June 4, 1942, the Japanese -- which boasted the largest carrier task force in the world -- launched a strike at Midway. It was supposed to have been the next move in the plans to take the Hawaiian Islands. The Japanese had hoped to lure the Pacific Fleet into a false sense of security by a feint attack with two light carriers on the Aleutian Islands off Alaska while its four major carriers struck Midway. The Japanese had hoped to lure the Pacific Fleet into a trap.

However, U.S. naval intelligence had broken the Japanese code in May 1942, and Adm. Chester Nimitz sent three carriers -- Hornet, Enterprise and Yorktown -- to Midway in search of the enemy fleet.

Early on June 4, 1942, 108 planes from four Japanese carriers attacked Midway but left its runway intact.

Although the initial counterattack of U.S. attack planes on the Japanese carriers was nearly wiped out, it did draw off enemy fighters, leaving the skies open for later waves of U.S. dive bombers.

The United States lost the aircraft carrier Yorktown, the destroyer Hammann, 105 planes and 307 men.

The Japanese lost four carriers -- Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu -- and 253 planes and 3,500 men. The Japanese never took the offensive after Midway.

Tunstall was an enlisted sailor in charge of one of 15 planes in Torpedo Squadron 8 that first found the Japanese carriers. None of the Devastator torpedo bombers survived the attack, and only one pilot returned.

Another Midway veteran, Ralph Brevik, 81, said he could not put into words what it meant to return to the Pacific atoll for the first time since that battle.

Brevik, who lives in Eugene, Ore., was on the third deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise when the battle began.

He survived 17 battles as a crew member of the Enterprise from April 1942, when Lt. Col. James Dolittle launched his B-25 bombers in the first retaliatory strike against Japan, to the Philippines campaign.

Brevik said: "It's a great memory day, "but it's very sad that we lost so many planes for that victory, but victory was something that had to happen or they (the Japanese) would have been back to Honolulu (and Pearl Harbor)."

Today's military is better prepared than 60 years ago when the Battle of Midway occurred, Hansford Johnson, assistant secretary of the Navy, said. He said the Navy entered the war in 1941 "with inferior planes and inferior numbers," and the Battle of Midway was fought by pilots on their first combat mission.

Only a skeleton crew of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and maintenance workers now inhabit the atoll which is the home to almost a million Laysan albatrosses, affectionately known as "gooney birds," and 14 other species of migratory seabirds; green sea turtles; endangered Hawaiian Monk seals; and other wildlife. It was established as a national wildlife refugee in 1988. The Naval Air Facility on Midway was closed in 1993, and the atoll was turned over in 1996 to the Interior Department.

Until January the Midway Phoenix Corp. held the contract with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to run the airport and harbor facilities and conduct ecotourism operation. After a disagreement the two parted company in March. The Interior Department is seeking to reopen the island with another contractor.

GeoEngineers, of Portland, Ore., has been providing maintenance under a six-month contract while the National Wildlife Service reviews its options. The airport was reopened June 1 to trans-Pacific traffic and steps are now underway to recertify Midway as an emergency airfield.

Yesterday Manson told the Star-Bulletin: "The Department of the Interior is fully committed to restoring public access to Midway".



Modern Midway
is a wildlife haven

Associated Press

The site of the battle that turned the tide in favor of U.S. forces in the Pacific 60 years ago, Midway Atoll is a National Wildlife Refuge today.

>> Background: The United States took formal possession of Midway in 1867. The laying of the trans-Pacific cable, which passed through the islands, brought the first residents in 1903. Following the Battle of Midway on June 4-6, 1942, the islands served as a naval station until 1993. In 1996 the atoll was turned over to the federal Interior Department to be managed as a national wildlife refuge. In 2000 the atoll was designated the Battle of Midway National Memorial, as authorized by Congress.

>> Location: About 1,200 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian islands and a third of the way from Honolulu to Tokyo. The atoll includes Eastern, Sand and Spit islands.

>> Area: 2.5 square miles

>> Population: No indigenous inhabitants; about 150 to 200 people make up the staff of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Laysan albatross or gooney birds abound.

>> Roads: 10 miles paved and 2 miles gravel

>> Buildings: Nearly 120 buildings, including cable company buildings, maintenance shops, hangars, warehouses, barracks, residences, cold storage, theater and gymnasium

Sources: Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2001,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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