On the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Midway, three veterans of that epic fight were honored for their courage and devotion to duty during the American naval victory over the Japanese during the early months of World War II.
American heroes Henry “Hank” Kudzik, Erwin Wendt and Charles Monroe received standing ovations during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration dinner on board the USS Midway Museum. The three veterans are only a few who fought at Midway who remain with us today.
Although the battle took place more than eight decades ago, the memories for each of them is as vivid today as they were in 1942.
“I was frightened,” said Hank, who is 98 years old and served as a gunners mate on the submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168) during the Battle of Midway. “I wanted combat. I wanted to see what I could do. The enemy was trying to get us and we were trying to get the enemy. We could have died right there just like that. I thought what I was doing was going to save our young people from the war.”
Erwin and Charles were squadron mates who both served in the famed Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8). Erwin, who just celebrated his 107th birthday, reflected on his friends who are no longer with us.
“I wish my other shipmates were here, but they’re all gone,” said the former aviation ordnanceman. “Everybody’s gone.”
For Charles, an aviation radioman, he remembered the prayer he said when the gun in his aircraft jammed while they were under attack.
“I said Lord, get me out of this mess and I’ll go to church,” said the 99-year-old retired physician. “Then my gun started working, and I went to church. 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 most military historians as turning the tide in the Pacific. The Japanese Imperial Navy was never again able to regain the offensive during the remainder of World War II.