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When the Best Wasn't Enough, and Victory the Only Option
Prepared remarks by Adm. J. M. Boorda, chief of naval operations, the Midway Memorial Dedication, Thursday, August 31, 1995

Thank you very much. ... Fifty-three years ago, ... the violent sounds of war rumbled as a desperate and furious struggle took place around this lonely island. And now, we are here to honor those brave and dedicated Americans who willingly answered their country s call and many who courageously made the ultimate sacrifice.

The weeks leading up to the battle for Midway were America s darkest hours in the Pacific. The Japanese were rapidly pushing southward to isolate Australia, and Adm. Yamamoto was leading his carrier striking force east to search out and destroy the United States Pacific Fleet -- and in particular the American carriers missed at Pearl Harbor. His major goal was to occupy Western Pacific islands, including Midway, thus securing a broad Japanese defensive perimeter and preventing a repeat of the humiliating assault by Doolittle s Raiders on mainland Japan.

By any standard, our brave forces were hopelessly outclassed and outnumbered. We had no battleships; the enemy had 11. We had only three carriers -- Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown; they had eight. We had no right to win.

But in a single master stroke, a battered U.S. Navy and Marine Corps halted the ferocious Japanese advance. And to this day, the American action at Midway stands out as one of the greatest victories in naval history, abruptly ending Japan s eastward thrust and turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.

There are many heroes at Midway. At the top of the list are Adms. Chester Nimitz, Raymond Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher; Ensign George Gay; Maj. Lofton Henderson; Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Richard Fleming; and, of course, Capt. Jack Reid, whose sighting of the Japanese made all the difference. Then, there are the unsung heroes ranging from those who broke the Japanese code in Operation Magic that provided Nimitz the crucial element of surprise to those who repaired Yorktown in record time and gave our forces the needed edge. Of course, there are many, many more.

As we look back to those days in June of 1942, the death and destruction surrounding Midway were staggering. For the Americans, the price of victory was 307 courageous lives, 147 planes, a destroyer and a carrier. For the Japanese, the price was 3,500 lives, a heavy cruiser and four carriers -- carriers that were present at the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor.

These tragic losses were a gruesome testament to the horror of war, losses that were felt all the way back home, to the anguish of a widow whose husband would never return and to the emptiness of a child who would never see his father again. Sad as they may be, they are part of the price of victory.

Most of the young men who fought here were not that different from those you see in your lives today. They came from our towns, our cities, our farms and our homes. The summer before Midway, their minds were anywhere but here. Yet these ordinary men were soon united by a common cause -- the defense of their country and the willingness to sacrifice for what they believed in. Their challenges were daunting, but so were their strengths. They knew it was not enough to say, "We are doing our best." Victory was the only option!

At the Battle of Midway, the single thing that counted more than anything else was the fighting spirit of the American sailors and Marines. They had within them the winning edge that spurred them on through the danger and the hardship, through the blood and the death, to the goal of ultimate success. Never in our 200-year history have American bluejackets been called upon to endure more with less. We are right to single out their courage because it was courage alone that guaranteed this victory!

The core of the battle at Midway is the all-important character of the American fighting man. From generation to generation, we have seen that weapons and tactics have changed. But time and time again, our fundamental beliefs and our willingness to defend them has driven us to prevail. And so it was for the fighting men at Midway. It was not some complex code or even concern for self that drove these men to victory. No, it was patriotism, pure and simple.

The Battle of Midway is a hallmark of pride for the United States of America. We can be proud that our men won a battle of such historic scope. But we can be even prouder that their sacrifice was not given in vain.

It is fitting that we are here to dedicate a memorial to those who fought and to those who died. We are in the company of heroes. Many of them rest for eternity nearby; many join us here now. Those heroes who were fortunate enough to return home will never forget the welcoming arms of a grateful nation. And today, we return to show that we have not forgotten those who are resting silently in these waters.

Look around you. This is sacred ground to our country. The monument we are dedicating serves as a living tribute to America s veterans who made the supreme sacrifice for the cause of freedom. Their deeds have no equal. Wave after wave of American aircraft were launched, many never to return. But setbacks and disasters could not shake our unity. We have heard many stories of individual exploits, but only a few of them have ever been, or ever will be, told. And yet, any one of them is sufficient to fill a true American with emotion, with an intense pride of his countrymen, and the sacrifices that they made here at Midway, for us.

In this moment of sober memory of the sacrifices of so many of your friends, one thought that must discipline our emotions is this: We may not now, nor ever, relax our guard nor cease in our quest for peace. Indeed, we must never forget that the enemies of peace never rest and in fact wait for the chance to take advantage of those who are not as strong.

These forces are kept at bay by you who have devoted yourselves to preserving our way of life. I pray that we will never be wanting in our memory of your service or in our gratitude for your sacrifice.

Midway veterans, this is your day. You are the ones we salute. Your patriotism, your courage and your fortitude are beyond praise. No magic of human memory or speech can recall for us the pain and suffering that you endured, but rest assured your faith and endurance will never be forgotten.

Today, a flight will return to the grave of the grand carrier Yorktown, and there, the crew will leave a wreath along with our prayers and our eternal gratitude. There, too, they will return to his shipmates the ashes and spirit of George Gay to be with the members of his torpedo squadron from Hornet. He alone survived the battle. Today, he rejoins his comrades.

May God bless those of you who returned, those who did not and the families who love you still. And God bless America. Thank you.

 

Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/index.html