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Midway Currents Spring 2022

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Military history manuscripts, in many instances, give broad overviews of wars, campaigns and battles. While these chronicles often touch on the key individuals who took part in major military events, an understanding of the actual experiences of those involved is not necessarily always revealed.

Oral histories, however, are firsthand narratives of what it was like in the foxhole, on the ship or in a plane from those who were in the fight.

“Through these interviews, not only can I share the experiences of myself and my family, but I can speak for the guys I served with.”

The American Veterans Center (AVC) spent two days on the USS Midway Museum recording oral histories with museum volunteers who are veterans of World War II as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

World War II veteran and Midway docent, Al Hansen, is interviewed by the American Veterans Center for its veterans oral history program.

“Our mission is to guard the legacy and honor the sacrifice of American veterans from the last 75 years of our shared history,” said Wes Smith, program director for the American Veterans Center. “Through oral history preservation, educational programs and civic events, we preserve the stories and lessons of veterans from which future generations can learn.”

Established in 1978, the AVC has recorded the stories of thousands of American veterans from World War II to the present day. All interviews are provided to the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project for use by future researchers, and are made available for documentary production and museum exhibits.

“It is important that our future leaders have the opportunity to learn from our service members experiences and lessons on leadership,” said Wes.

For World War II veteran Al Hansen, being involved in these types of historical preservation programs is critical.

“These oral histories are important to let our younger generations and even the older ones know what going to war really means on a personal basis,” said Al, an aviation machinist mate who served as a gunner with Patrol Bombing Squadron 10 in the Pacific Theater during the war. “They can learn how World War II affected the service members and their families.”

The AVC, which is funded solely through charitable gifts from foundations, corporate supporters, and generous individual donations, interviewed 16 Midway volunteers whose military services spanned the course of more than 70 years and three major wars.

“These oral histories provide an opportunity for tomorrow’s leaders to listen, view and in some cases actually meet with and learn from the legends who have preceded them,” said Wes, who has been with AVC since 2010.

“Through these interviews, not only can I share the experiences of myself and my family, but I can speak for the guys I served with,” said Al, a Midway volunteer docent since 2005 who has more than 6,300 volunteer hours. “I was always the youngest, so it’s likely there are none of them left to speak for themselves.”

USS Midway Museum volunteers continue to shine in the first quarter of 2022. As the museum’s attendance increases, our volunteer corps has been more critical to ensuring an engaging guest experience. 

It is with great pride that we highlight Midway’s Volunteers of the Month for the first quarter of 2022. 

Derek Jensen, Docent – January 2022

While Derek has only been volunteering for Midway since 2020, he hit the deck running and hasn’t slowed down.

Derek in no stranger to hard work and is thrilled to be part of the Midway team. A retired lieutenant commander and former chief aviation boatswain’s mate, he spent 23 years of his career on sea duty and served on five different aircraft carriers. He also made an astounding 14 Western Pacific deployments while in the Navy.

In just a little over two years, Derek has amassed more than 1,600 volunteer hours on Midway. He quickly became a docent-of-the-watch and is now a member of the docent training crew. He is one of the up-and-coming leaders in the docent corps.

“Derek is one of our superstars who is exceptionally knowledgeable about aircraft carrier operations, very personable and a favorite of our guests because of his entertaining sea stories,” said Jim Reily, Midway’s docent program director. “He brings the Midway alive for visitors.”

Troy Prince, Curatorial – February 2022

A former Midway sailor, Troy joined the museum’s library team in 2020. However, he has been researching all things Midway for more than 30 years, and in 1998, started the website “MidwaySailor.org” where he shares various photos, documents and Midway history.

Troy is an accomplished researcher, searching the national archives and collecting and verifying data from various websites and social media sites. He then provides the museum’s library the material where it can be documented and shared. He has become one of the library’s principal researchers.

A long-distant volunteer, Troy does all his work from his home in Minnesota.

“Troy’s reputation has surpassed curatorial boundaries and he has recently been asked to assist with the preparation of the next docent manual,” said Pat Alderman, a fellow volunteer Midway research librarian. “He is becoming a ship-wide asset. Troy is truly exceptional and a one-of-a-kind resource.”

Gary Jasinski, Group Projects and Docent – March 2022

Little did Gary realize that when he was holding his retirement ceremony on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum in 2005, that he would be back as a volunteer nearly 15 years later.

Since coming back on board in 2019, Gary has accumulated more than 2,500 volunteer hours and taken a lead role in the volunteer office as a group projects manager. 

He has coordinated hundreds of meaningful volunteer projects for active duty, corporate, civic, school, and social groups that have been of tremendous benefit to Midway. These groups have painted the ship’s brows, scraped and resurfaced areas on the flight deck, cleaned the tour routes, washed airplanes and have even done a sailor’s favorite job – scrubbing and waxing decks. 

“Gary’s leadership has been exemplary,” said Steve Suslik, Midway’s safety operations specialist and volunteer coordinator. “His experience as a master chief is especially useful with the young active-duty military groups who volunteer with us on weekends. They have an opportunity to gain a better understanding of their military careers directly from someone who experienced it firsthand before them.” 

“The volunteer program is the cornerstone of the museum. They make up the majority of our team and cover assignments in almost every department from behind the scenes to frontline ambassadors.”

Laurie Switzer, director of volunteer programs

Private First Class Sarah Keys-Evans was riding a bus from Fort Dix, New Jersey to her North Carolina home in August 1952 when she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger. While wearing her Women’s Army Corps uniform, she was arrested and thrown in jail. Three years later, the Interstate Commerce Commission outlawed racial segregation on buses crossing state lines in the case of Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company. This case was pivotal in the early civil rights movement.

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who helped somebody along the way,” said Sarah, now 92 years old.

A Midway guest enjoys the Military Women’s Memorial exhibit.

Sarah’s experience as a women of color serving in the military is just one more than 20 fascinating stories told in the “Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Service Women” exhibit, created by the Military Women’s Memorial, that was on display on USS Midway Museum’s hangar deck during the month of March.

“The opportunity to host our Color of Freedom exhibition aboard the iconic USS Midway Museum was an honor and the perfect way to commemorate Women’s History Month,” said Cathleen Pearl, the executive director of the Military Women’s Memorial. “Through the perseverance, skill and grit of the women profiled in the exhibit, we hoped we inspired Midway guests of all ages and backgrounds.”

“I’d like to be remembered as someone who helped somebody along the way.”

Located at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, the Military Women’s Memorial is the only historical repository in the United States documenting all military women’s service. It features an education center, interactive exhibitions, a world-class collection of military women’s stories, and engaging programs and events for all generations.

The goal of the 40-foot-long traveling exhibition is to shed light on the sacrifices and contributions of a selection of minority women who served in or alongside the U.S. military throughout the nation’s history. The interactive display includes the accounts of 21 servicewomen of color and brings to light the impact that these women made while proudly serving in the armed forces.

“The public narrative surrounding the events of the summer of 2020 and racial injustice presented us with an opportunity to create an exhibit about military women of color and to tell their often untold and underrepresented stories,” said Britta Granrud, the director of collections and curator at the Military Women’s Memorial. “They have faced barriers on multiple fronts—gender, race, traditional cultural values—in their pursuit and right to serve.”

Sarah Keys-Evans was a civil rights pioneer while still a member of the Women’s Army Corps in the early 1950s.

The USS Midway Museum is where naval history comes to life. From engaging docents to full-motion flight simulators, a visit to Midway puts guests in the cockpit. With the 100th anniversary of the U.S Navy’s aircraft carrier being celebrated in 2022, it was the perfect opportunity for the ship’s exhibit team to integrate this historic military milestone into the guest experience.

“I am grateful to be able to use my creative talents and skills to tell stories,” said Mike Ozaki, Midway’s director of exhibits. “By updating or creating interesting exhibits, setting the stage for our docents, I’m helping provide them with an opportunity to tell their stories that inspire our guests and bring the ship alive.”

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, Midway’s exhibit’s team created a number of unique displays for museum guests.

Mike and his team use Midway as their artist canvas, crafting exhibits and displays that connect museum visitors to the legacy of naval aviation. The aircraft carrier centennial presented them with an exciting new prospect.

“I am always looking for ways to improve our guest experience,” said Mike, who has been with the Midway since 2015. “The history, evolution and size of the two aircraft carrier models in the USS Langley/USS Ford model case on the hangar deck are what I like to call the “oh wow factor” that our guests can easily relate to. I thought the Langley/Ford story was the perfect creative foundation for Midway’s participation in the centennial.”

A storyteller, Mike also transformed a series of unadorned barriers that cloak the carrier’s #2 aircraft elevator from guests into century-long history lesson.

“The timeline banners in front of the aircraft elevator are my favorite, and developing content with the help of our docents is where I learned the most about aircraft carriers, past and present,” said Mike, who, along with his team, have created more than 30 new exhibits and displays over the last six years. “Some carriers were quickly aged-out by emerging technology, some served gallantly and some were fortunate to have a long rich history
like Midway.”

The museum’s carrier centennial exhibits will be available to guests throughout the year.

“I have been fortunate to work with some amazing people, and my staff and our exhibit volunteers, past and present, are truly world class,” said Mike. “Like every display here on Midway, I hope we tell an accurate story of what it was like to live and work on an aircraft carrier, and pay respect to sailors who sacrificed and served for our freedom.”

Few 6-year-old children know beyond a shadow of a doubt what they want to be when they grow up.

Don’t be fooled, however, by Blake McKinley’s youth. Although only a first grader from the Pacific Northwest, he already has his eye set firmly on his future prize. He will be a Navy admiral.

“Blake is currently convinced he will join the Navy,” said Nicole McKinley, Blake’s mother. “He wants to fight bad guys and protect people.”

As a special treat to celebrate his birthday, Blake’s family flew to San Diego to visit the museum.

Midway docent Bill Lodin helps 6-year-old Blake McKinley practice his salute.

“His number one request was to visit the Midway,” said Nicole. “He learned about the Midway in anticipation of our San Diego trip and watched a movie about it. He wore his Navy admiral costume on the plane from Seattle and then we went straight to the Midway. It was an awesome experience.”

“When I first saw Blake in his uniform, I was proud to see how respectful he was of it and the tradition it represents,” said Steve Cross, a Midway docent since 2008. “He wore the uniform well and his parents clearly had a part in his maturity and understanding of the Navy tradition.”

Blake’s interest in the Navy is actually rooted in his family history.

“His great grandpa was in World War II and as he has learned about what happened, he became intrigued,” said Nicole. “He became even more inspired after learning about various battleships and watching some documentaries. Experiencing Midway made him all the more excited.”

The family trip to Midway only bolstered Blake’s desire to make the Navy a career.

“I think Blake’s visit to Midway will inspire and educate him to continue his interest in our Navy,” said Steve, who has more than 7,000 volunteer hours. “I am sure Blake’s interest will lead him to serving our country in a Navy uniform.”

“The visit to the Midway was the highlight of Blake’s trip and he told me the Midway was better than Christmas,” said Nicole. “He was truly over the moon and awe inspired by the aircraft carrier so much so that he told us he could really live on it forever.”

Although it’s been more than 30 years since the USS Midway was decommissioned, she is still helping teach our allies how the Navy operates as a cohesive force not only with other U.S. service branches but also with the militaries of foreign allies.

Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) is a biennial training exercise with multiple nations in the Indo-Pacific region designed to sustain cooperative relationship for ensuring the safety and security of critical sea lanes. Recently, the U.S Navy’s 3rd Fleet brought together the RIMPAC senior leadership and staffs from several partner nations for a planning conference in advance of the world’s largest maritime exercise scheduled this summer in the Pacific Ocean.

As part of the conference, the USS Midway Museum hosted more than 20 military leaders from Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Singapore for a tour and briefing of its combat spaces.

“Midway is an icon in San Diego,” said Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler, the 3rd Fleet commander. “I wanted to bring the officers here to really show them how we integrate in the Navy during warfare. It’s how we utilized a ship like the Midway for a long time. The ship is still a symbol of warfighting and how we did it together with our allies.”

While on board Midway, the group toured squadron ready rooms, the Combat Information Center, the Tactical Flag Command Center and got to look inside the technology-heavy E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.

“Being on Midway was a great opportunity to share history for all of us and to take forward this history,” said Commodore Paul O’Grady of the Australian navy. “It helped reenforce cooperation by connecting us to recent past and the continuity that goes with it. It also helped us focus on what we still need today.”

The visit to Midway was coordinated by Midway’s chief engineer, Len Santiago, who participated in multiple RIMPAC naval exercises when he was assigned to the the 3rd Fleet staff.

“It was great having these senior officers from all over the Pacific Rim visit Midway during their planning conference,” said Len, who helped coordinate RIMPAC exercises in 2008 and 2010. “It was an opportunity to show them, many who have not been on a U.S. aircraft carrier, how we coordinate very complex military operations in support of our mutual national defense.” 

For 18 years, Kaiser Permanente has supported USS Midway Museum services, education programs, and exhibits through marketing partnerships. In 2022, Midway’s first marketing partner continues its support as a naming rights sponsor of Midway University classroom #4, exclusive presenting sponsor of ship’s Sick Bay and Battle Dressing Station exhibits, and as a presenting sponsor of museum’s STEM education onboard field trip programs.

In the second year of our two-year partnership, Kaiser Permanente also continues as Commander sponsor of the Midway American Patriot Award Gala and sponsor of Midway’s “I Served” program that gives veterans onboard Midway the recognition for their service that they deserve.

“The Midway Museum is an invaluable asset to San Diego, and has been instrumental in building a stronger, healthier community for us all,” said Rodger Dougherty, senior director of public affairs and communications for Kaiser Permanente San Diego. “Kaiser Permanente is honored to continue our long-standing partnership with the Midway, in support of the museum’s mission to preserve the historic ship, honor the legacy of those who serve, educate and inspire future generations, and entertain the many visitors the museum hosts each year.”

“Midway continues to deliver quality STEM education programs for students and inspiring programs for Midway visitors and those who serve in part because of Kaiser Permanente’s generous support,” said Craig Fisher, Midway’s director of partnership marketing. “We are so grateful for their partnership and their commitment to Midway and the San Diego community.”

The organization that is now Kaiser Permanente began at the height of the Great Depression with an inventive young surgeon and a 12-bed hospital in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Today, Kaiser Permanente health plan membership is more than twelve million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Locally, Kaiser Permanente cares for nearly one in five (more than 630,000) San Diegans and continues to grow every day.