It has been called the most crucial battle of the war for the Pacific and Friday a small crowd gathered under the protective wing of a PBY Catalina aircraft in downtown Oak Harbor to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.
The annual ceremony was held this year by the PBY Naval Air Museum and PBY Memorial Foundation and staged at “Gigi,” the museum’s PBY Catalina aircraft, which represents the first aircraft to call Naval Air Station Whidbey Island home.
Congressman Rick Larsen and Oak Harbor mayor Bob Severns were among those attending the ceremony. Guest speaker was NASWI commanding officer, Capt. Geoff Moore.
“The Battle of Midway is often cited as the engagement when the aircraft carrier became our fleet’s capital platform. It signifies more than the turning point in the World War II Pacific theater,” Moore said. “It ushered in a new era with the U.S. Navy as the world’s greatest sea power, with our nation’s aircraft carriers the symbol of our power projection.”
The carrier, said Moore, still represents the premier combat capability in our country’s Navy, second only to one thing.
“The real story of Midway, however, is a story of the value of our people,” he said. “Midway was won by the courage, the skill and the innovation of the American fighter, from Admiral to the deck plate Seaman. Outgunned, outmanned and mostly untested in combat, American sailors, marines and soldiers stood against and stopped an overwhelming adversary.”
One of those sailors, WWII veteran Harvey Lasell, was honored at Friday’s ceremony. Lasell was a Fire Control Division Officer aboard the USS Yorktown, which came under Japanese attack one month earlier at the Battle of Coral Sea, where 37 crew members were lost. But the Yorktown’s flight deck was repaired quickly at Pearl Harbor and the ship went on to played a pivotal role at Midway.
“Actions by the pilots from the Yorktown were vital to the destruction of the Japanese carrier force, turning the battle into an American victory,” Moore recounted. The Yorktown suffered heavy damage at Midway and was hit with several torpedoes from a Japanese submarine on June 6, 1942. The ship sank the next day.
Moore also paid tribute to Battle of Midway survivor and longtime Oak Harbor resident, Commander Harry Ferrier, who passed away in April. A chair bearing Ferrier’s photograph was placed next to Lasell. Ferrier was just 17 years old when he took off from Midway Atoll in a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger. Ferrier’s Torpedo Squadron 8 helped keep the Japanese forces busy and their carriers vulnerable, clearing the way for bombers from Task Force 16 and 17 from the USS Enterprise and Yorktown to hit the Japanese fleet.
“Out of six Avengers that launched from Midway that day, the only one that returned was Harry’s,” said Moore. “Out of 48 airmen assigned to Torpedo Squadron 8, Harry, who was wounded in the attack, was one of three who survived.”
A moment of silence was observed in honor of Ferrier and all who sacrificed themselves. In all 307 Americans were lost at the Battle of Midway.
“Through their sacrifice, tenacity and valor, they still inspire us today through their selfless, shining example,” said Moore.
While the overall ceremony was to commemorate a battle that took place 74 years ago, Congressman Rick Larsen took the opportunity to point out the critical role NAS Whidbey will continue to play in the future of America’s Navy.
“As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I know that the base’s current role is one of a premier installation for naval aviation and is a direct legacy of the seaplane community that first flew here in the 1940’s,” said Larsen.
“I’d also like to note the future of the base here remains extremely strong,” he continued. “We have a massive capital investment taking place in the next several years. We just moved in the House of Representatives on the defense budget that includes a major build-out of the facilities here at the base. And so it’s not just that we think about the past and we think about the present, but the future of this base is strong with the legacy that was started here.”