Admiral Mike Mullen : The real miracle of Midway
Admiral Mike Mullen : The real miracle of Midway
San Diego, California -- Remarks as delivered by Adm. Mike Mullen, Chief of Naval
Operations at the Battle of Midway Commemoration. on June 3, 2006. On Board
USS Midway. Source: (NNS).
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman
Apprentice Joshua Valcarcel
Congresswoman Davis, Admiral Edney, Mayors Crawford,
Guerin, and Smisek. Distinguished Admirals, other Distinguished Guests, and
most importantly, the veterans of Midway and the families, of Midway.
It is great to be back in San Diego. It is a great Navy
town. It always has been and it always will be. And I appreciate the support of
the town and the community, for our Navy, for all the young men and women who
serve today and the support for their families for without which we would
struggle a great deal.
San Diego has such rich, rich naval history and heritage.
To echo Jim Zortman said, I can think of no better place for this event than
here aboard Midway – this fantastic living memorial to the battle. Although, I
am trying to get to 11 aircraft carriers, not 13 at this point. But I will tell
you that she works great.
So it is a special honor, a humbling privilege to be here
with ALL of you tonight.
I say humbling because I know we stand in the company of
men who remember Midway not only as a heroic victory, but also as the bloody,
ferocious fight for freedom that it was.
Historians often ask: What is it that distinguishes Midway
and draws so many to celebrate and remember it each year? Perhaps it is because
those who took part were so young and full of life. Or because the margin of
victory was so narrow that anyone there could claim they made the difference –
and they would have been right. Or maybe it is because the sacrifices were so
large – the stakes so high and the impact so wide.
Historian John Keegan called it “as great a reversal in
strategic fortune as the naval world has ever seen.” Author Herman Wouk called
it a battle that “tipped the balance of history.” Others simply dubbed it a
It was a battle won not just by chance – or luck – or good
intelligence – though those things were important. It was the miraculous
character of the men of Midway that made all the difference.
Their heart, their determination, an unshakeable belief
that they could win – their common commitment to liberty, to their country, and
more than anything else to each other.
This – more than any other factor – is what turned the tide
in favor of freedom in those four fateful days in June, 1942.
So it is to somehow gain strength for ourselves from their
valor …it is to honor their courage…and it is to express our deepest gratitude
that we are drawn together each year – to share memories of and with the
miraculous men of Midway.
Some of my fondest memories of those men are of when I
commanded USS Yorktown (CG-48) and I would correspond with the Yorktown
survivors of the CV-5 Club.
They would often ask how our current carriers are doing and
as was the case back then in the mid-90s and is the case today, they are still
the heart and soul of the United States Navy. More critical than ever in a very
uncertain world in which we now live.
One of those survivors was a Sailor named Peter Montalvo.
For me, Pete’s story speaks volumes about the character that bonded the men of
“In the Navy,” Pete often remised, “we have an old saying,
‘Shipmates forever’.” He not only said it – he lived it.
Pete’s first knowledge of combat came as he watched the
Japanese devastate Pearl Harbor in the early hours of December 7, 1941.
Seeing so many shipmates fall, sparked an overwhelming
instinct to fight back – and that is what he did.
During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Pete’s station had been
below decks in the aerial bombs compartment.
At Midway he wanted to be topside. He raised his hand and
volunteered to help man the one point one gun, mount three. Anyone who knew Pete,
knew he didn’t say much about himself – but he never ceased talking about and
caring for his shipmates – especially those of gun mount three. He would vividly
describe how his gun crew was decimated by a nearly direct hit from a Japanese
bomb on the first day of the battle.
He talked about how he admired the officer in charge –
Ensign John Lorenz, who rallied three survivors to re-man the guns by pointing
to the flag, our flag. Lorenz would later explain: “For the first time I
realized what that flag meant. All of us – a million faces – all our effort – a
whisper of encouragement.”
But as Peter Montalvo told it – at the height of
desperation –when the order came to abandon ship – they remained inspired by the
flag and encouraged by each other.
He spoke of Lorenz’s furious search for his crew. How the
Ensign found Seaman Second William Sullivan, badly wounded, in a pile of bodies,
and dragged him into the water.
Then Pete told of how he himself, having a severely injured
shoulder, would have never made it off the ship safely if it weren’t for the
help of a shipmate he had first met while at boot camp.
How they swam together in the water realizing they had
probably fought their last fight together, and how later they felt great
desperation when they heard how Yorktown had “slid gracefully like a lady, bow
first, beneath the sea.”
It was desperation that was felt many fold on the Japanese
side of the Battle.
A Japanese pilot at Midway, Haruo Yoshino described how he
felt the “bitter taste of war, the bitterness of defeat.” When he returned home
he was kept a virtual prisoner, unable to contact his family or anyone else – he
was told never to reveal the loss of the four Japanese carriers.
Japanese Captain Mitsuo Fuchida later acknowledged that,
“the catastrophe of Midway definitely marked the turning of the tide…that tide
bore Japan inexorably toward final capitulation.”
For the United States, Midway was truly an Incredible
Victory – a "glorious page in our history," as one of my heroes Admiral Nimitz
The military lessons to be gained from Midway are also
numerous, the critical importance of sound intelligence, the contribution each
Service brings to a joint fight ... the enormous power of decisive leadership.
The even greater power of the will to fight for a cause
that is right and just.
A spirit epitomized by everyone there – at every level –
from Admiral Spruance…down to the men of gun mount three.
So, to the men of Midway and their families here tonight,
on behalf of the Sailors of the United States Navy, and the entire nation, let
me express our sincerest gratitude.
And I would like to lead a round of applause.
Know that by your presence you honor all who served those
who can’t be here, those who have passed on and especially those who did not
live to remember Midway at all.
Your presence honors every act of bravery.
It was the Marine and Army Pilots based at Midway who while
vastly outnumbered took to the air to be the first to resist the enemy onslaught.
It was the scout planes that searched diligently to find
the enemy fleet. The Sailors who ran to their battle stations and opened fire on
the attacking Japanese planes. The crew of the submarine Nautilus that
skillfully delivered the final blow to one of Japan’s carriers. It was the
machine gunners on Midway, who under heavy attack, stayed at their batteries. The
torpedo plane squadrons that bravely took the full brunt to attack the enemy and
kept the enemy off balance. Boat crews that raced into the patches of burning
oil to snatch a Sailor from a watery grave. It was the dive - bombers that by
their keen skills found a way to deliver decisive blow after decisive blow –
sending the pride of the Japanese Fleet to the bottom.
And we also honor the thousands of stories that will never
be told, the letters home never finished, the carrier landings never made, the
watches never turned over, the homecomings never enjoyed.
Most important, we know that you will always remember the
lost by name.
Yet, you bear witness that none, not one of your comrades
died in vain. You not only witnessed it, you saw to it. Together with the
entire generation that lived through the war, you stayed committed to victory –
to liberty – and to building a lasting peace.
To all of those here from World War II we know that we owe
you for the freedoms we enjoy today. And that legacy grows stronger with each
You fought hard to crush totalitarian
regimes – and when that was done, you helped your enemies give birth to
You extended a hand, and in turn, made our enemies our friends.
You unleashed a wave of freedom.
Consider that at war’s end there were but 22 democratic
governments representing only 15% of the world’s people. Today there are more
than 120 acting on the behalf of 60% of all people.
You understood that this country is safer and more secure
when others are free.
We know the best hope for the future is to emulate this
great, great World War II generation. We look to their courage, to their
determination and to their commitment.
Today, our brave young men and women are doing just that
you see it in Iraq, you see it in Afghanistan, you see it in other places, you
see it across the globe.
I have visited them in the field , in the fleet, in the
And I can tell you that this generation of fighting men and
women are up to the challenge. Their eyes sparkle. Their resolve is as of steel.
Just as advancing freedom made the enduring goodness of
what has been called the greatest generation – this generation is doing their
job – because it is the right thing to do.
They know – just as the tide turned at Midway – so, too,
does it turn in our favor today. They also understand that all tides ebb and
flow and that the turning points of this war may be smaller and less pronounced.
They know we must stay patient and we must stay committed.
And, like generations before them, it is America’s
character and spirit – epitomized so valiantly by the miraculous men of Midway –
that will carry them through to win this war, this very long war we are now
And then, they will gather as we do tonight, with shipmates,
to remember, to learn and to honor the past, to tell sea stories and to hope for
That is what Peter Montalvo always did.
He would tell the story of when they were swimming together
in the waters off Midway, how Ensign Lorenz kept Sullivan’s spirits alive by
talking about the girl he intended to marry and by promising Sullivan – that if
he would only survive –he would name a son after him.
And survive they did. When Lorenz got home he talked
Delight McHale into marrying him, and they named their second son William
This just goes to show that Pete, John, and William – like
all those who served at Midway – were “Shipmates Forever.”
This also showed every Tuesday night, when Pete would
attempt to dial as many of Yorktown’s survivors as he could – sometimes he would
just let it ring once to remind them of their common bond.
It is that same bond he spoke of every time he visited
ships and Sailors of the Navy he loved. When he was ready to leave any function
he would tell them “goodnight and goodbye.” If someone asked him why he said
goodbye, Pete would reply simply, “On June 4, 1942, there were so many shipmates
that I did not say it to, and then could not say it to. It is in their memory
that I do this.” When Peter Montalvo said his final goodbye and slipped his
chain to join his shipmates on Yorktown – he did so knowing they had stood
together for freedom at a critical moment in history and that they had stood by
each other then and ever since.
Just as we must – as all Americans must – stand together
for freedom and by each other.
So in retrospect, if you ask why we gather to celebrate
tonight – I would tell you it is in memory of all the miraculous men of Midway
“that we do this.” And I think it’s only appropriate to close as Pete would,
with “goodnight and goodbye.”
God bless you all, our Navy, and this great nation.