Know Your Military

Navy Helps 'Midway' Film Crew Bring Battle to Life

Oct. 29, 2019

The Battle of Midway was one of the most pivotal of World War II in the Pacific, and a major film depicting its events is about to hit the big screen. Defense Department historians who helped from start to finish say "Midway" does justice to the integrity, accountability and toughness of everyone involved in the real June 1942 battle.

Written by Wes Tooke, "Midway" follows the war from the attack on Pearl Harbor through the Battle of Midway, which ultimately changed the tide of the war in America's favor. The narrative follows two naval officers and includes several critical role-players, including Adm. Chester Nimitz, Gen. James Doolittle and Adm. William Halsey.

"I wanted to showcase the valor and immense courage of the men on both sides and remain very sensitive to the human toll of the battles and war itself," said director Roland Emmerich, who visited Pearl Harbor in 2016 to see firsthand the historic bases, facilities and memorials that framed much of the war in the Pacific.

Navy Seaman Aja Bleu Jackson
ALT: Actor Dennis Quaid holds a phone while standing between two female sailors to get a selfie with them on a ship. Others pose in the background.
Sailor Selfies
Sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Halsey get a selfie with actor Dennis Quaid on the ship's forecastle, Oct. 20, 2019. Stars of the upcoming film “Midway” visited sailors and airmen at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, before a special screening of the movie about the pivotal 1942 Battle of Midway in the Pacific during World War II.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Aja Bleu Jackson
VIRIN: 191021-N-XG173-1110C

Historians from the Naval History and Heritage Command helped writers and producers during script development and production. The goal was to make a movie that was as accurate as possible — give or take a few small Hollywood-style inconsistencies — and the historians who helped said they were impressed with the final product.

"Despite some of the 'Hollywood' aspects, this is still the most realistic movie about naval combat ever made," said retired Navy Rear Adm. Sam Cox, the NHHC director who personally supported each phase of the historical review. "It does real credit to the courage and sacrifice of those who fought in the battle on both sides."

The actors portraying the real heroes were committed to getting it right, too. 

Woody Harrelson played Nimitz, who took control of the U.S. Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor. In preparation for the role, Harrelson called on Navy Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii at the time, for help in understanding the man Nimitz was and the decisions he made. 

Actor Woody Harrelson signs an autograph for a female sailor as other sailors smile beside her.
Star Signing
Actor Woody Harrelson signs autographs for sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Halsey, Oct. 20, 2019. Stars of the upcoming film “Midway” visited Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, before a special screening of the movie about the pivotal 1942 Battle of Midway in the Pacific during World War II.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Aja Bleu Jackson
VIRIN: 191021-N-XG173-1028
Actors Patrick Wilson and Woody Harrelson pose on the deck of a ship to get selfies with three sailors.
USS Halsey
Sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Halsey get selfies with actors Patrick Wilson, left, and Woody Harrelson, Oct. 20, 2019. The stars of the upcoming film “Midway” visited sailors and airmen at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, before a special screening of the movie about the pivotal 1942 Battle of Midway in the Pacific during World War II.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Aja Bleu Jackson
VIRIN: 191021-N-XG173-1078

"Admiral Nimitz came in at an extremely difficult time for the Pacific Fleet. It was really important for Harrelson to understand not just the man, but the timing of his arrival and the urgency of the situation for the Navy and nation," said Jim Neuman, the Navy Region Hawaii historian who arranged the meet-up and spent time on the set during filming. 

A group of people converse in a room on a military ship.
Stennis Tour
Actor Woody Harrelson speaks with sailors aboard the USS John C. Stennis in the Pacific Ocean, Aug. 11, 2018. Harrelson portrays Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in “Midway,” a movie opening Nov. 8, ahead of Veterans Day weekend.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Miller
VIRIN: 180811-N-LI081-153Y

Harrelson also visited USS John C. Stennis while the ship operated in the Pacific. He got a close look at air operations at sea, saw the launch and recovery of various naval aircraft and spent time on the navigation bridge watching its operators. Harrelson also met with sailors, and even played piano at an impromptu jam session.

Two men look at framed photographs on a wall.
Pearl Harbor Tour
Patrick Wilson, right, who portrays U.S. Pacific Fleet intelligence officer Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton in the upcoming movie “Midway,” tours U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Sept. 11, 2018.
Photo By: Dave Werner
VIRIN: 180915-N-N0101-101Y

Actor Patrick Wilson plays intelligence officer Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edwin Layton in the film. He visited retired Navy intelligence officer Capt. Dale Rielage to compare notes about Layton's education, his pre-war experiences and his relationships with Nimitz and the codebreakers at the famed Station Hypo.

A man takes a cellphone photo of actor Patrick Wilson standing between two female sailors in dress uniform at a gala.
Navy Birthday Ball
Navy Ensign Alexandra Hoiles and Navy Lt. j.g. Rachael McKenzie take a photo with actor Patrick Wilson during the Navy Region Hawaii 244th Navy Birthday Ball in Honolulu, Oct. 19, 2019. Wilson, who plays Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edwin T. Layton in the new film “Midway,” was in Hawaii as part of a promotional tour culminating in a premiere on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles Oki
VIRIN: 191019-N-SF508-0159C

"We were thoroughly impressed with the amount of research he had conducted on his own, and it's evident he is committed to honoring Layton's legacy," said Dave Werner, who escorted Wilson during the visit.

"Midway" is set to hit theaters Nov. 8, ahead of Veterans Day.

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This article includes details that originally appeared in a Navy Pacific Fleet Public Affairs post on Navy.mil.