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Prologue: At the alpha of World War II, Midway Atoll was a key U.S. abject in the axial Pacific. Alone 1,200 afar from the Hawaiian Islands, it was the alien absorber for the strategically important argosy abject at Pearl Harbor. In aboriginal May 1942, U.S. Navy codebreakers abstruse that the Japanese brash to access Midway with a able active beneath the command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, administrator of the Pearl Harbor attack.

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Midway’s aeriform defenders, Marine Air Accumulation 22 (MAG-22)—Marine Scout-Bombing Active 241 (VMSB 241) and Marine Angry Active 221 (VMF 221)—hurriedly able the atoll’s defenses. MAG 22’s Activity Address acclaimed that on May 26, “USS Kitty Hawk accustomed with 22 admiral and 35 men … additionally 19 SBD-2 and 7 F4F-3 aircraft. Of the 21 new pilots, 17 were beginning out of flight school.”

“Many Bogies Branch Midway”

MAG-22 was based on Eastern Island, two afar west of Sand Island, the armpit of the Argosy Air Base and address of the Sixth Marine Aegis Battalion, the atoll’s arena aegis unit. On June 3, 1942, a PBY5A Catalina aeriform baiter from VP-44 was on the outboard leg of its chase arrangement aback the pilot, Ensign Jack Reid, spotted specks on the horizon. “I anticipate we hit the jackpot,” he exclaimed.[text_ad]

He anon radioed Pearl Harbor: “Sighted capital body,” followed by, “Bearing 262, ambit 700 miles.” Midway went to abounding alert.

Early the abutting morning, the radio base at Sand Island beatific out the message: “Many bogies branch Midway, address 320 degrees, ambit 150 miles, angels 11.” The heart-pounding bawl of the island’s air arrest siren beatific the Marine pilots scrambling to man their aircraft—no one capital to be bent on the arena in a bombing raid. Additional Lt. J.C. Musselman, VMF-221 assignment officer, jumped in the active barter and raced forth the band of aircraft revetments gesturing wildly. “Get airborne,” he yelled. Within minutes, the taxiway was awash with an array of aircraft actively scrambling to get into the air. Above Floyd B. Parks led off with a five-plane analysis of Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters.

Parks was carefully followed by three added F2A-3 capacity and one three-plane analysis of Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighters led by Captain John F. Carey. Altogether, VMF-221 put 26 aircraft into the air. One aircraft aureate by 2nd Lt. Charles S. Hughes developed agent agitation and angry back. Above Lofton R. Henderson’s VMSB-241 Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless and Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator dive bombers abutting the stampede. Within account MAG-22’s two squadrons were airborne, abrogation an alone acreage and a aberrant calmness afterwards the agitated barrage of abandonment aircraft.

Diving on the Adversary Formation

Once aloft, Captain Carey peered attentively through the windshield of his Wildcat fighter. Broadcast white cumulous clouds cut visibility, authoritative it difficult to see the appear “many bogies branch Midway.” Carey’s three-plane analysis was at 14,000 anxiety analytic for entering Japanese raiders; 2nd Lt. C.M. Canfield was echeloned appropriate and hardly to the rear, while Captain Marion E. Carl was several hundred yards behind. Canfield slid abaft his baton as Carey “made a advanced 270 amount turn, afresh a 90 amount diving turn.” Canfield’s radio aback came animate with Carey’s electrifying, “Tallyho! Hawks at angels 12”… a slight abeyance … “accompanied by fighters.”

Two thousand anxiety below, 72 Japanese Nakajima B5N2 Kate abate planes and Aichi D3A1 Val dive bombers arrayed in bristles “V” formations roared adjoin Midway. An escort of 36 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters flew aloof aloft and abaft them. The Zeros were out of position, acceptance the Americans one chargeless canyon on the draft of the flight.

Carey started his run “high ancillary from the right” on the baton of the aboriginal “V.” He waited until the adversary alike abounding his gun afterimage and afresh mashed the battlefront button. Four .50-caliber apparatus accoutrements disconnected the bomber, ambience it on fire, but not afore its gunner put a annular through Carey’s windshield. Milliseconds later, the Kate blew up, bushing the air with debris.

Canfield followed Carey through the adversary accumulation and “fired at the cardinal three alike in the cardinal three area until it exploded and went bottomward in flames.” In the average of the run, the thoroughly angry Zero escort affable on the three Americans, cannons and apparatus accoutrements blazing. Carl “made a aeriform ancillary canyon on one of the fighters some 2,000 anxiety below. My blaze anesthetized through my ambition and I pulled abroad and up. I was afraid to see several Zeros already accepted into position on my tail.” The activity was on.

“AF”

By the summer of 1942, the Japanese juggernaut appeared to be unstoppable. Afterwards the abruptness advance on Pearl Harbor, American bases at Guam, Bataan, Corregidor, and Deathwatch Island fell, sending bags of American servicemen into captivity. Abounding in the United States anticipation that Hawaii would be next, a acceptance adequate by the bootless bombing of Oahu by a distinct Japanese seaplane on the night of March 4, 1942.

About this time, U.S. Navy cryptologists at Base Hypo in Hawaii had accomplished some success in breaking the Japanese active code, JN-25B. However, the cipher was so complicated that alone fractional decrypts—every six or seven words, 10 to 15 percent—were produced, abrogation the analysts with a difficult addle to solve. Several of these partially decrypted letters adumbrated that a above Japanese operation was activity to be conducted adjoin “AF” in backward May or aboriginal June 1942.

Another still taken from a Japanese newsreel bold a Mitsubishi/Nakajima A6M Zero demography off from an anonymous aircraft carrier.

The advance was to be led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the artist of the Pearl Harbor attack, and was to comprise four of the six aircraft carriers—Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, and Soryu—that devastated the American activity band at Pearl Harbor on December 7.

Navy codebreakers argued over whether “AF” stood for Midway, an island amidst about 1,200 afar northwest of Oahu, or some added location, including Hawaii or alike the U.S. West Coast. A bend was developed to boldness the argument; Midway was brash to advertisement in the bright that the island was experiencing a baptize shortage. Within days, a Japanese bulletin was intercepted advising of a “water curtailment at AF,” and appropriately catastrophe the controversy. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Active (CINCPAC), rushed reinforcements to Midway.

Brewster Buffalo vs Mitsubishi Zero

Major Parks led his division’s anachronistic Buffalos adjoin the Japanese dive bombers and was anon jumped by the faster, added active Zeros. One pilot declared the asperous dogfight: “[It] looked like they were angry to a cord while the Zeros fabricated passes at them.”

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Parks, one of the aboriginal victims, bailed out of his afire aircraft. His parachute opened and, as he dangled from the abutting lines, one of the Japanese strafed the alone pilot all the way down—and connected to blaze alike as the anatomy landed on a reef. Parks may acquire had a apprehension the night afore his . Normally an extrovert, he was angry and distracted. Captain Kirk Armistead approved to acclamation him up. “By this time tomorrow it’ll all be over.”

“Yeah,” Parks replied, “for those of you who get through it.” All the pilots in Parks’s analysis were advance down.

Armistead’s seven-plane analysis (six F2A-3s and one F4F) attacked in column, starting their battlefront run at 17,000 feet. His ambition consisted of “five capacity of from 5 to 9 planes each, aeriform in analysis ‘Vs.’” He fabricated a aeriform speed, bang approach. “I saw my damaging bullets biking from a point in advanced of the leader, up through his alike and aback through the planes on the larboard addition of the V.” Armistead looked aback as he connected his dive and saw three Japanese planes falling in flames.

Captain William C. Humberd formed in abaft Armistead. He advance bottomward one adviser in a high-side access and attacked afresh from the added side. “I was center through addition run aback I heard a loud babble and, axis around, saw a ample aperture in the awning of my alike … and two Jap Zeros on me about 200 yards astern.”

Humberd pushed over in a abrupt dive to escape, but an adversary alike was alert to his tail. “I backward at baptize affiliated with abounding throttle,” he reported, “until I acquired abundant ambit to about-face into him. We met arch on. I gave him a connected access at 300 yards and he went bottomward on fire.”

Already aged at the beginning of war, this Marine Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo is credible during refueling at Ewa Field, Oahu, aloof weeks afore the Activity of Midway.

Armistead pulled out of his dive and zoomed aback to 14,000 anxiety for addition run. “I looked aback over my acquire and about 2,000 anxiety beneath and abaft me I saw three fighters in column, aggressive adjoin me, which I affected to be planes of my division. Aback the abutting alike was about 500 anxiety beneath and abaft me, I accomplished that it was a Japanese Zero fighter. I kicked over in a agitated breach ‘S’ and accustomed three 20mm shells, one in the appropriate addition gun, one in the appropriate addition tank, and one in the top larboard ancillary of the agent cowling. I additionally accustomed about 20 7.7mm circuit in the larboard aileron … which sawed off a allocation of the aileron.”

He went into a ability dive, about in ascendancy as his aircraft corkscrewed adjoin the ocean. The Japanese fighters pulled off, bold that the American was done for. However, Armistead acquired control, affairs out at 500 anxiety afore shakily landing on Eastern Island. Humberd landed anon afterwards with his battle-damaged aircraft. “My hydraulic aqueous was gone, and my flaps and landing accessory would not lower, so I acclimated my emergency arrangement to lower my wheels.” He landed safely, although his alike had a cardinal of holes––three or four in the larboard gasoline tanks and two 20mm holes in the fuselage.

Second Lieutenant William B. Sandoval was not so fortunate. One of his wingmates anticipation that he was fatigued access on his battlefront run and got “nailed” by a rear gunner. He bootless to acknowledgment and was listed as in activity forth with 2nd Lts. Martin E. Mahannah and Walter W. Swansberger.

Lone Survivor in the Additional Division

Captain Philip R. White was the alone pilot in the additional analysis to survive. “After the aboriginal pass, I absent my addition man and the draft of the division,” he reported; Captains Daniel J. Hennessey and Herbert T. Merrill, and 2nd Lts. Ellwood Q. Lindsay, Thomas W. Benson, and John D. Lucas were all advance down.

After a alternation of agitated maneuvers, White was able to ambush the enemy’s Zeros while cutting bottomward one and possibly two Val dive bombers. In an after-action report, he stated, “The F2A-3 is not a activity aircraft. It is inferior to the planes we were angry in every respect.”

As the aeriform activity continued, Captain Carey pulled out of his dive and started to accomplish a aeriform addition over advance aback his Wildcat was raked by a access of blaze that tore through his appropriate knee and larboard leg. In acute affliction and in crisis of accident consciousness, he “dove at about a 40 amount bend and headed for a ample billow about bristles afar away.”

At the aforementioned time Canfield’s Wildcat was “hit on the appropriate elevator, larboard addition and accessory and aloof advanced of the appendage caster by a 20mm cannon shell. There was additionally a .30-caliber aperture through the appendage caster and one that entered the awning on the appropriate ancillary about six inches up, casual aloof over the larboard adviser pedal and damaging the landing gear.” He wisely followed Carey to safety.

“I went about the billow in the adverse direction,” he reported, “and abutting up with him again. Carey headed in the accepted administration of the island on an capricious advance and kept bottomward and falling behind. I kept throttling aback so he could accumulate up. His wounds kept him from alive the rudders and his alike was ‘all over the sky.’”

The two pilots accomplished the field, which was beneath attack, and able to land. Canfield credible that he did not acquire any flaps to apathetic him down. “When the auto affected the ground, the landing accessory access and the alike slid forth the runway. Aback it stopped, I jumped out and ran for a arroyo aloof as a Japanese alike strafed my alone plane.”

Marion Carl was additionally lucky. He “headed beeline bottomward at abounding throttle” and managed to agitate his pursuers. He pulled out of the dive, climbed to 20,000 feet, collapsed off, and looked for addition target. Beneath him, three Zeros were circling, absorbed on award addition victim. They didn’t see Carl “drop aback and to the central of the amphitheater fabricated by one of the fighters. I gave him a connected burst, until he fell off on one addition … out of control, headed beeline bottomward with smoke alive from the plane.”

Despite actuality advance up, Carl was able to bending aback to safety. Carl went on to become the Marine Corps’ seventh-ranking fighter ace with 181/2 victories. He retired in 1973 as a above accepted with 14,000 flight hours.

Heavy Casualties For VMF-221

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The active had been all but wiped out as a angry unit. Of the 25 aircraft from VMF-221 that rose to claiming the Japanese, 15 were advance bottomward and alone two of the butt were flyable afterwards the abrupt but baleful encounter. The Air Accumulation listed 15 pilots missing in action, afterwards afflicted to in action, and four blood-soaked in action. Carl wrote, “Most of the absolute pilots were abashed by their acquaintance … the CO and exec both were missing; cipher seemed to apperceive if any of the others ability acquire bailed out … VMF-221 was a access command.”

The absolute pilots could booty some alleviation in downing six accepted Japanese planes and damaging 34 others, appropriately extenuative the island from an alike added bombing. One eyewitness acclaimed that the aboriginal and additional beachcomber of Japanese dive bombers larboard the carriers with 72 planes; alone 38 accomplished the island. But there was added ball to come.

“Here They Come!”

Radio-Gunner Corporal Eugene T. Card of Marine Scout-Bombing Active 241 (VMBS-241) anxiously absorbed the stick of his Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive bomber, aggravating to accumulate it beeline and level, while his pilot, Captain Richard E. Fleming, feverishly formed out the area of the Japanese aircraft carriers on his blueprint board. The adjustment they had been given—“Attack adversary carriers address 325 degrees, ambit 180 miles, on advance 130 degrees at a acceleration of 25 knots”—seemed simple enough, but aggravating to locate the Japanese ships in the huge amplitude of ocean was affiliated to award the accepted aggravate in a haystack.

Suddenly, Card noticed 1st Lt. Daniel Iverson’s SBD-2 closing up fast. As he came alongside, Iverson and his gunner, Corporal Wallace J. Reid, gestured aimlessly bottomward to the left. Card craned his neck, but all he could see was dejected sea through the broadcast billow cover. His absorption was absent by Fleming’s articulation over the intercom, “We’ve fabricated contact. There’s a address at 10 o’clock, do you see it?”

Card looked afresh and there it was––a slender, atramentous appearance abaft a connected white watch as the address sped adjoin Midway. Fleming retook ascendancy of the aircraft while Card anchored his ascendancy stick and manned the distinct .30-caliber apparatus gun in the rear cockpit. Within minutes, added and added Japanese ships could be seen, including the credible shapes of two aircraft carriers.

Card watched absolutely absorbed as the carriers angry into the wind and started ablution aircraft. His absent-mindedness was abruptly access by the active commander’s voice: “Attack two adversary carriers on anchorage bow.” The SBD-2 fell away, accident distance for a low-level glide-bombing attack. All at once, two streaks of smoke flew accomplished the starboard addition and Fleming’s aflame articulation alleged out, “Here they come!”

A Japanese Zero flashed by, aggressive about beeline up. Card angry his .30-caliber apparatus gun on the fighter but it was already out of range. Addition bargain through the formation. Out of the bend of his eye, Card saw a afire aircraft coast adjoin the ocean; a white parachute blossomed, but he could not accomplish out whose it was. His SBD connected to bore in adjoin the ambition amidst a coil of diving aircraft.

Henderson’s Plan of Attack

Major Lofton R. Henderson, CO of VMSB-241, cringed at the anticipation of demography his amateur pilots—“the ‘greenest’ accumulation anytime accumulated for combat—into battle. Ten of 28 pilots had abutting the active in the aftermost anniversary and alone three had any time in SBDs. However, there was annihilation abroad to be done. Yamamoto’s immense argosy assignment force was abutting Midway. Lt. Col. Ira L. Kimes, CO of MAG-22, remarked, “It [Japanese assignment force] appears to acquire aggregate but Hirohito with an outboard motor on his bathtub.”

An adventitious access in the ammunition dump acquired a curtailment of gasoline (300,000 gallons were lost), which bound pilot training to “two or three hops with convenance bombs,” and larboard Henderson with little best but to devise an advance plan that would accord his green pilots the best adventitious for success. He disconnected them into two arresting units—one led by himself (18 SBD-2s with the more-experienced pilots) and the added led by Above Benjamin W. Norris with 12 of the earlier SB2U-3s; the SBD-2’s achievement was far above to that of the added aircraft.

Henderson planned on a bank glide-bombing access because it appropriate beneath accomplishment than a diving attack. In a alternation of briefings and book talks, he instructed the pilots that he would advance them in a fast ability coast to 4,000 anxiety and afresh about-face them apart to hit the carriers at a absolute low altitude—500 anxiety or less. He cautioned the youngsters to get out fast by adhering the baptize and application the billow awning to escape. Everyone knew their SBDs were acutely outclassed by the Japanese Zero, but there was annihilation to be done about it.

Lastly, Henderson instructed them that, aloft apprehension of an admission raid, they were to get off the arena as bound as accessible and accumulate at Point Affirm—20 afar east of Midway.

Corporal Card heard a “Wuf!”… and addition and another. Atramentous puffballs appeared abreast his plane, and he accomplished the complete was from Japanese antiaircraft fire. He was too active angry off the Zeros to pay abundant added absorption until “somebody threw a brazier of bolts in the prop,” and baby holes appeared all over the cockpit. He told Walter Lord, the acclaimed author, that he “felt a thousand all-overs prick his appropriate abate … and commodity adamantine bang his larboard leg to one side.” Blood streamed bottomward his legs but he had no time to stop the bleeding, as the Zeros kept arid in and he had to accumulate them at bay.

Henderson was advanced of Card’s plane, arch the attack, and Dan Iverson was aloof behind. “The aboriginal [enemy fighter] attacks were directed at the active baton in an advance to put him out of action,” Iverson recalled. “After about two passes, one of the adversary put several shots through his alike and the larboard addition started to bake … it was credible that he was hit and out of action.”

Henderson’s wingman, 2nd Lt. Albert W. Tweedy, followed him anxiously until he, too, was advance down. Captain Armond H. DeLalio, baton of the third section, watched abashed as 2nd Lt. Thomas J. Gratzek’s alike access into bonfire and plunged adjoin the sea. Three added SBDs bound followed—2nd Lts. Maurice A. Ward, Bruno P. Hagedorn, and Bruce H. Ek, forth with their radio-gunners, Pfcs. Harry M. Radford, Joseph T. Piraneo, and Raymond R. Brown.

Striking the Adversary Carriers

The survivors, led by Captain Elmer G. “Iron Man” Glidden, apprenticed the advance through a attention band of clouds. “On arising from the cloudbank, the adversary carrier was anon below,” Glidden recalled, “and all planes fabricated their runs.” They were assailed on all abandon by fighter planes and abundant antiaircraft fire, but the radio-gunners fought aback valiantly.

Card had the achievement of seeing a Zero access into flames. Pfc. Reed T. Ramsey got a hit at absolute range, however, Private Charles W. Huber’s gun jammed; all he could do was point it, acquisitive to fool the advancing Japanese. In the calefaction of battle, Pfc. Gordon R. McFeely got so agitated abroad that he riddled the appendage of his own aircraft.

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Glidden best out a carrier that had “a huge Rising Sun amidships of the flight accouter … [which] itself was a aflame ablaze yellow, authoritative it a appetizing target.” The draft of the active followed, bottomward three 500-pound bombs that neatly affiliated the warship. “Looking back,” Glidden reported, “I saw two hits and one absence that were appropriate alongside the bow. The carrier was starting to smoke.”

Dan Iverson apathetic in on addition ship, “a carrier that had two Rising Suns on the flight accouter … two adversary fighters followed me in the dive. I appear my bomb at 300 anxiety afore affairs out. It hit aloof aback of the deck, a absolute abutting absence … [but] may acquire damaged the screws and council gear.”

The SBDs Run Aback to Base

Having expended their ordnance, the SBDs exhausted a hasty retreat. “The fighters pursued us,” Iverson related, “making aerial runs for 20 or 30 miles. My alike was hit several times.” This was an understatement, as over 250 holes were counted in his aircraft. His throat mike was burst by a bullet, the hydraulic arrangement was advance away, and alone one landing accessory would lock down.

Second Lieutenant Richard L. Blain and his crewman, McFeely, begin themselves in the water. “The address backward afloat for two or three minutes,” Blain reported, giving them a adventitious to get in their activity raft. Afterwards two canicule on the ocean, they were best up by a casual convoying plane. Additional Lt. Harold G. Schlendering and Pfc. Edward O. Smith had to hit the silk. The pilot survived but the gunner did not.

As the aged debris of Henderson’s analysis austere the scene, Norris’s apathetic and clumsy Vindicators arrived. “The clouds became our haven,” remembered 2nd Lt. Allen H. Ringblom. “Major Norris led us after accident to the ambition … radioing instructions to dive beeline advanced on the target.”

Second Lieutenant George T. Lumpkin observed, “Major Norris started his dive anon from 13,500 anxiety through the billow awning … and came out on the anchorage ancillary of a ample battleship.” Lumpkin followed, active a gauntlet of blaze that was so abundant it was “practically absurd to authority the address in a accurate dive.” During his dive, Ringblom “received identical holes, about 6 inches in diameter, in anniversary aileron.” The Japanese battleship zigzagged frantically, aggravating to bandy off their aim.

The Marines appear their bombs and “saw the battleship about belted with abreast misses, additionally one absolute hit on the bow,” according to 2nd Lt. George E. Koutelas. Additional Lt. Sumner H. Whitten came out of his dive and begin himself amid two curve of adversary ships that were battlefront angrily aggravating to beating him down.

“Eight Out of 16″

Sergeant Frank E. Zelnis, Whitten’s gunner, anticipation it was demography always to get abroad and he alleged out impatiently, “You alone your bomb; let’s get the hell out of actuality afore we get hit!” Whitten recalled, “I fabricated a aciculate appropriate about-face and started home at 100 feet.”

As they pulled out of their dives and attempted to escape, the Zeros swooped down. Additional Lt. Daniel L. Cummings absent his gunner, Private Henry I. Sparks, about immediately. He accompanying that Sparks “had never afore accursed a apparatus gun in the air and could not be accepted to be an able advance abundant beneath assure himself.”

Cummings counted bristles adversary planes on his tail. “In the hit and run, and dog fighting, which was my admission to absolute war, my old, anachronistic SB2U-3 was about advance out from beneath me. About bristles afar from Midway, my gasoline gave out and I fabricated a blast landing in the water.”

Ringblom had “a Zero canyon appropriate abaft me as I aerated into a bound turn, alone luck authoritative controllable the abundant passes fabricated by the Zeros.” Like Cummings, Ringblom additionally ditched. “I chose to acreage appropriate in advanced of a PT baiter and all went so able-bodied that I alike forgot to aerate my activity jacket.”

After abounding perilous encounters, the draft of the active fabricated it aback to the island. Ringblom accustomed decrepit wet. A associate greeted him, saying, “Well, I never accepted to see you again.” A absolute abundant adequate Ringblom blurted out, “Hell, neither did I!”

Fleming accomplished a absolute three-point landing admitting a shot-out tire. As Marines rushed up to booty Card away, Fleming announced, “Boys, there is one ride I am animated is over,” and befuddled his blood-soaked gunner’s hand.

Second Lieutenant Thomas F. Moore remembered calling to his buddy, 2nd Lt. Jesse D. Rollow, Jr., “How abounding got back?”

“Eight out of 16,” Rollow replied, afraid his arch sadly.

“Their Cede Was Not in Vain”

Of the 16 SBD-2s and 11 SB2U-3s that accolade aloft to advance the Japanese active on that acute June morning, 12 were advance bottomward (eight SBDs and four SB2Us), seven acutely damaged above repair, and four hardly damaged. The Marine claims of the cardinal of adversary aircraft destroyed and ships hit accepted to be wrong. Subsequent analysis of Japanese annal showed that little absolute accident was done—no adversary ships were addled by VMSB-241’s bombs and alone six aircraft bootless to acknowledgment to the carriers. Abounding can altercate that the cede of so abounding Marine pilots and crewmen was in vain. However, Admiral Nimitz was not one of them.

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“Please acquire my accord for the losses abiding by your attentive aerodynamics cadre based at Midway,” he wrote. “Their cede was not in vain. Aback the abundant emergency came, they were ready. They met durably the advance of awfully above numbers and fabricated the advance ineffective. They addled the aboriginal draft at the adversary carriers. They were the spearhead of our abundant victory. They acquire accounting a new and animated folio in the account of the Marine Corps.”

This commodity by Col. Dick Camp (Ret.) aboriginal appeared at the Warfare History Network several years ago.

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