There are events that are so significant that they change the course of history. For the U.S. Navy, milestone anniversaries of two of these monumental events were commemorated this year – the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first aircraft carrier and the 80th anniversary of its tide-turning victory at Battle of Midway during World War II.
The aircraft carrier would ultimately transformed how the Navy evolved the structure and deployment of its fleets, while the triumph at Midway helped resurrect the strength of freedom and democracy during one of the world’s darkest hours.
To mark their significance, the U.S. Navy hosted a tribute on board the USS Midway Museum.
Attending the commemoration were two veterans and heroes of the Battle of Midway – Ervin Wendt and Charles Monroe, both from the famed Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8).
“It was an opportunity to succeed,” said 106-year-old Ervin, who retired from the Navy as a senior chief aviation ordnanceman in 1967 after 30 years of service. “There was an expectation of casualties because it was war. The risk of losing lives was on the table. I lost a lot of my friends.”
At 99 years old, Charles still remembers how he felt about the Navy’s chances of winning at Midway.
“I was still very confident that U.S. naval forces would be successful,” said Charles, who rose to the rank of aviation radioman 1st class. “I always said I had an angel taking care of me because I got out of it alive.”
The Battle of Midway is seen by many military historians as turning the tide in the Pacific during the early days of World War II.
“For the U.S. Navy, the victory at Midway marked not only the turning point of the war in the Pacific, but it also marked the arrival of carrier-based air power as the centerpiece of our nation’s maritime strategy,” said Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the U.S. naval air force. “At Midway, America laid aside the shield and picked up the sword, never again yielding the offensive.”
Converted from a naval coal supply ship, the first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was commissioned a century ago. While it was impossible to predict at the time, the carrier’s emergence would, in short order, have a dramatic impact on the future of the naval strategy and tactics.
“The Navy is celebrating the centennial of the aircraft carriers by honoring their history while driving forward into the future,” said the admiral. “On March 20, 1922, the former collier ship USS Jupiter was recommissioned as USS Langley, the first aircraft carrier. Just 20 years later, carriers proved their combat capability and strategic significance at Midway.”