Midway Currents summer 2023


Evelyn Sharp was only 17 years old when she earned her private pilot’s license, and in 1938 started flying at county fairs, rodeos and community celebrations giving rides to people who, in many instances, had never seen an airplane before. She quickly became a seasoned aviator and in the early 1940s, qualified as one of the first pilots in the U.S. Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. The following year, she became a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. Evelyn and the other women flyers in this unit were known as WASPs.

Over the next two years, Evelyn qualified to fly nine different military aircraft ferrying them to bases all over the country. In April 1944, she was transporting a high-performance P-38 Lighting fighter from an air base in Pennsylvania when one of the aircraft’s engines failed shortly after takeoff. Evelyn fought valiantly to turn the plane back to the airfield, and miraculously managed to make an emergency wheels-up landing. The impact with the ground, unfortunately, was so hard, it broke her neck. At the age of 24, Evelyn Sharp gave her life for her country.

Female aviation pioneer, Evelyn Sharp

On Memorial Day, the USS Midway Museum once again held a flight-deck commemoration ceremony to honor all service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. With this year also being the 50th anniversary of women in naval aviation, the ceremony made a special emphasis to underscored the service and sacrifice of women in the U.S. military – women like Evelyn Sharp.

“First and foremost however, we gather to remember those who have paid the ultimate price in service to this nation,” said retired Navy Capt. Tamara Graham, a naval helicopter pilot and guest speaker at the ceremony. “The patriots who have given their lives for this great country and the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.”

As a trailblazer for women in naval aviation, Tamara is also keenly aware that women have served and lost their lives defending the United States throughout the history of the country.

“Women have served and died in our nation’s wars since the American Revolution,” said Tamara, who was one of the first women to lead a naval aviation squadron when she became the commanding officer of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 4 (HS-4) in 2011. “Our armed forces have always been a reflection of society, so as society changed, so did the military, albeit a bit slowly.”

Tamara, along with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and local Girl Scout Mari Beck, laid a wreath of remembrance to honor the more than half a million sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have fallen while serving in the U.S. military.

“On Memorial Day, let the sacrifice of those interned at Rosecrans, Miramar, Arlington, across this country and around the globe be a reminder of our immense blessing as free people, an inheritance that so many around the world unfortunately do not enjoy,” reflected Tamara, who amassed more than 3,200 flight hours during her 30-year naval career. “Although the benefits of freedom and liberty are our collective birthright today, they are not a guarantee for the future. We must ensure them in the actions we take as everyday Americans, and also appreciate the everyday Americans who gave their lives so that we might have that opportunity.”

U.S. Navy Capt. Tamara Graham was the guest speaker at the annual Memorial Day ceremony on board the USS Midway Museum.

USS Midway Museum volunteers are well known as being the face of the ship, the people guests engage and interact with during their visit. Many of the museum’s volunteers, however, work quietly in the background supporting important programs that make for a first-class guest experience and provide valuable support to the community.

“We have a wide variety of personalities volunteering for Midway, and every one of them is equally important to the success of the museum, “said Mark Berlin, Midway’s director of operations who enjoys working with volunteers throughout the ship. “Some enjoy being out front, while others like to contribute behind the scenes. Together, Midway’s volunteers make the ship a special place.”

We salute our Volunteers of the Month for the second quarter of 2023. 

Gary Ely, Airwing and Safety – April 2023

Gary Ely has been a member of Midway’s airwing and docent teams since 2008 and has more than 5,000 volunteer hours. The Iowa native enlisted in the Navy in 1969 and was assigned as door gunner in Huey helicopters with the famed Seawolves of Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 (HAL-3) flying combat and search and rescue mission for 18 months during the Vietnam War.

A retired aero-space engineering technician, Gary worked for decades at the Naval Air Rework Facility at NAS North Island after leaving the Navy where he specialized as a sheet-metal mechanic and rising to an engineering tech for helicopter rotor blades. This experience has been vital in the restoration of the aircraft displayed on Midway.

“With background and good character, Gary has been a valuable member of Midway’s volunteer team,” said Walt Loftus, Midway’s director of aircraft restoration. “Within the airwing, he’s involved in many projects, and as his teammates say, ‘if you need something, he’s always there.’”

Sal Medina, Knot Team and Outreach – May 2023

Sal Medina has been an outstanding Midway volunteer since 2018. With nearly 2,100 volunteer hours, he’s been extremely supportive of his fellow teammates, particularly with the Knot Team. The Knot Team has raised more than $1 million for education scholarships and Sal has been a major contributor to that milestone.

“Sal is always willing to pitch in and his effort and dedication has allowed the Knot Team to grow and thrive,” said Ken Heilman, Midway’s guest service manager. “He also helps with the museum’s effort to connect with the community via the outreach team by marching in parades and manning our information booth at various events.”

Having served eight years in the Navy as a photographer’s mate, Sal spent more than 30 years in the printing field once he left the service. Along with his volunteer work on Midway, he also contributes his time to the AARP Foundation and the San Diego Futures Foundation. 

Cheryl Brierton, Citizenship Tutor – June 2023

A retired attorney, Cheryl Brierton volunteers her time on Midway helping foreign nationals become U.S. citizens. She became a citizenship tutor after responding to a newspaper article on the program run by the San Diego Community College District. Once the program became a special project of the museum, Cheryl continued tutoring as a Midway volunteer.

Since 2016, she has contributed more than 1,000 hours to tutoring citizenship students bringing extensive knowledge and experience that benefits the entire citizenship project.

“Cheryl has been diligent attending to the needs of the various citizenship applicants,” said Laurie Switzer, director of Midway’s volunteer program. “Her commitment, consistency, and reliability are invaluable to the citizenship program. She’s an inspiration to the citizenship applicants and to the other volunteer tutors as well.” 

While Cheryl has received many awards throughout her career, she is most proud of being able to help students succeed in becoming U.S. citizens.

For those interested in becoming a USS Midway Museum volunteer, more information along with the volunteer application can be found

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.

It may not be pretty, it may not have been fast, and it wasn’t even all the comfortable to fly in, but the C-2 Greyhound was the workhorse for U.S. naval aircraft carrier operations for nearly 60 years. 

Known as the COD – Carrier-Onboard-Delivery – the Greyhound is a twin-engine, high-wing aircraft that was used to fly passengers, cargo and mail to and from aircraft carriers operating at sea since the mid-1960s.

With the Navy currently replacing the Greyhounds with the V-22 Osprey, the USS Midway Museum got the chance to have a C-2 as its newest aircraft exhibit on the ship’s flight deck.

“In 2021, I was approached by Pence Parsons, one of our long-time docents, and Cmdr. Eric Ponsart, then the commanding officer of the C-2 squadron at NAS North Island, asking if I’d be interested in displaying one of the decommissioned Greyhounds on Midway,” said Walt Loftus, Midway’s director of aircraft restoration. “I immediately said ‘yes’ and contacted the Naval Air Systems Command about the possibility.”

The Navy agreed to provide the museum with a Greyhound on a long-term loan basis, and in late-2022, a C-2 from San Diego-based Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC-30) was towed to Midway’s Hangar 805 at North Island for restoration.

“Fortunately, because the aircraft was coming directly from an active-duty squadron, we only had to do minor modifications to get it ready for exhibit,” said Walt. “We mounted safety handrails on the loading ramp to allow guests access to the plane’s cargo bay, as well as installed some new interior lights. We also repainted it with VRC-30’s operational squadron colors.”

After committing nearly nine months and more than 500 volunteer hours to its restoration, the C-2 was floated by barge across San Diego Bay from North Island and craned on board Midway.

Midway’s airwing team was very excited with the acquisition of the Greyhound, which was flown by a crew of four (two pilots and 2 cargo specialists), had a range of more than 1,000 miles and could carry up to 10,000 pounds of cargo. It was often a disorienting experience for sailors flying to the carriers in the cargo area of a C-2 as all of the installed passenger seats in the aircraft faced backward.

“This is a great new aircraft exhibit for Midway guests to experience during a visit to the museum,” said Walt. “It gives me great pride for myself and our aircraft restoration team to work closely with the Navy to be able to bring a new plane on board for public display.”

For military veterans, the transition from a few years to decades on active duty to the civilian world can be as difficult as it is daunting. It’s often confusing to understand what your veteran’s benefits might be and how to access them, and even more of a challenge is finding a new job on the outside. 

Through their REBOOT workshops, the National Veterans Transition Services helps those getting ready to leave the armed forces make a successful jump to life as a civilian. Focusing on personal, lifestyle and career transition, REBOOT use research-based methods in its approach to prepare soon-to-be military veterans for the next chapter in their lives.

“Providing a reserve boot camp, or REBOOT, is important to helping military members and their spouses transition out of military because it helps them to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully integrate into civilian life,” said Maurice Wilson, a retired Navy master chief petty officer and president of the National Veterans Transition Services. “REBOOT also provides an opportunity for veterans to learn about the resources available to them in their local community, such as job training programs, education opportunities and mental health service.”

As part of its ongoing commitment to the community, the USS Midway Museum has stepped in to assist REBOOT with its workshops.

“Holding REBOOT workshops on the Midway is a benefit for our organization and the military folks attending because it provides a unique and inspiring environment for them to learn about the resources available to them,” said Maurice, who also sits on the board of directors for the San Diego Veterans Coalition. “We appreciate the partnership we’ve developed with the Midway.”

“I wish I had this program when I transitioned from military service as it not only assists the administrative and procedural requirements for military transition, but it also supports the mental, emotional and physical aspects in making this critical leap back into the civilian world,” said Len Santiago, the museum’s chief engineer who is facilitating the REBOOT workshops on Midway. “REBOOT provides that tailored program to our service members while the Midway provides a friendly atmosphere and culture that is familiar to them.”

By providing knowledge and tools to servicemembers, REBOOT helps give them the confidence to successfully navigate the twist and turns inherent in transitioning to civilian life. By holding some of its workshops on Midway, the environment also helps put them at ease.

“Providing a reserve boot camp, or REBOOT, is important to helping military members and their spouses transition out of military because it helps them to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully integrate into civilian life.”

“The Midway’s staff and volunteers are dedicated to providing a safe and welcoming space for our workshop attendees to connect with each other and learn about the resources available to them,” said Maurice. “The Midway is also a symbol of patriotism and service which helps remind the attendees of the sacrifices they have made.”

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Chuck Erickson, a Midway docent since 2014 with more than 5,600 volunteer hours, was joined by his wife Penny and grandson Wayland at Meet the Aviators day.

One of the most anticipated events of the USS Midway Museum’s Legacy Week is Meet the Aviators. Held on Memorial Day weekend, more than 100 former military aviators, mostly Navy and Marine Corps, dug their old flight suits out of steamer trunks in the garage and stood on the flight deck with the aircraft they once flew giving museum guests a firsthand glimpse into the world of military aviation.

Not only was it an opportunity to discuss the missions of the various aircraft on exhibit on Midway’s flight deck and the experiences of the aircrew who flew them, but it was also a chance to reinforce the importance of honoring those who lost their lives in service to our nation.

“I flew in Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War,” said Scott Milner, a retired Navy captain and former SH-2 Sea Sprite helicopter pilot. “It’s all them, it’s not about veterans, it’s not about guys like me who did come home. It’s about those that didn’t.”

“It’s very important that the general public remembers the service and sacrifice that all those warriors, both men and women, who paid the ultimate price in defense of our nation,” said Dave Koontz, Midway’s marketing director and a former Navy SH-3D Sea King and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter pilot. “We want to ensure that our guests don’t forget about those who laid down their lives for the country.”

For museum guest Campbell Taylor, the chance to talk to the former naval aviators helped fuel his desire to become a Navy pilot when he grows up.

“I really hope I can be a pilot in the Navy someday,” said 14-year-old Campbell who was visiting Midway with his family from Orange County. “I think flying off of an aircraft carrier would be awesome.”

With the shining voice of freedom, the USS Midway Museum’s new up and over lights are once again beaming brightly over San Diego Bay.

Stretching from stern to bow, and rising high above a flattop’s island super structure, up and over lights have long been a fixture for aircraft carriers when in port to enhance the ship’s visual silhouette at night during special occasions. Permanently moored at Navy Pier, Midway’s decorative lights have been illuminating the city’s waterfront for nearly two decades.

“The tradition of hanging up and overs on maritime ships is to celebrate significant holidays and special occasions and events,” said Len Santiago, Midway’s chief engineer. “For us on Midway, it’s important that we celebrate this naval tradition every day.”

Unfortunately, time and weather took its toll on the museum’s original lighting strand over the years, so new lights were recently installed. Using advanced LED lights, the new bulbs are waterproof, unbreakable and long lasting with a lifespan of up to 35,000 hours.

With the cables and lights weighing a combined 500 pounds, it took Midway’s engineering department nearly three months to prepare and install the modern strands. The dazzling new red, white and blue lights are now easily seen and enjoyed by all those living around and visiting San Diego Bay.

“We want our lights to help to celebrate the rewards of our freedom every day,” said Len. “From those who have served on Midway, and all who have worn the uniform of the Navy, we want everyone to know that Midway is still the best looking ship in the fleet.”

One of San Diego’s most popular educational programs is being able to spend the night on the USS Midway Museum. Youth groups from around Southern California rejoice in the chance to sleep in the same bunks where former Midway sailors slept more than 30 years ago.

One of the groups that returns year after year are students involved in the School Safety Program (SSP) developed nearly 90 years ago by the San Diego Police Department. The SSP assists elementary school students cross uncontrolled road intersections on their way to and from school. Under the guidance of mentors from the police department, the students also develop leadership skills that are important as the grow into young adults.

Recently, more than 125 SSP students along with 34 police-officer chaperones descended upon Midway for a sleepover and fun activities that centered on teamwork and leadership.

“I enjoyed the survival lesson on the lifeboat, putting on the colored vest that the flight-deck crew wore and visiting the engine room to see how the ship ran,” said Katherine Ward, a 5th grade student at Vista Grand Elementary School. “I learned that it takes a lot of people working together to make things happen on a ship, and it really helps if we all get along.”

The students were formed into 10 groups and Midway’s education staff provided tours of the ship as well as guided the evening’s activities.

“The youths that attend got an opportunity to practice the skills they’ve been learning in a new environment,” said Rachel Cremering, Midway’s youth overnight coordinator. “The experience also helps develop relationships with their school resource officers and builds a network of trust with their fellow classmates.”

Nearly 2,200 “Top Gun” movie fans plunked down their beach and lawn chairs on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum to watch the classic film’s sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” over Memorial Day weekend. Decked out in flight suits, flight jackets and all types of Top Gun attire, the “need for speed” party goers once again reveled in this cinema tribute to naval aviation that makes for one of San Diego’s best movie-night events of the year. 

Here’s just a taste of what the “you can be my wingman anytime” crowd thought of movie night on Midway:

“Everything about the event was amazing! The movie was phenomenal, and the atmosphere aboard the USS Midway was so much fun. I loved the photo ops and the dog tags that I got at the door. Will 100% come again.”

“The venue and event blew my mind! We had never been there before the movie night, and choosing Top Gun was the perfect fit. The gorgeous sunset, the flyover, and the military jets from the movie parked in front of us! Wow!”

Top Gun superfan, John Merritt, attends movie night each year in full flight gear.
Evan Ferrante, a.k.a. Maverick, and Moose wowed the crowd during Top Gun Movie Night.

“Love that it was all ages. Happy to bring our kids and happy to see so many others there as well. The fly over was great and it was a beautiful evening! So thanks to whoever ordered the sunset. We had a really great time all around.”

“We loved being outdoors on the deck. We are huge fans of both movies Top Gun and Maverick and try to come to this event often. We drive in from Los Angeles. The fly over was a nice surprise. Everyone that worked there was so nice and helpful as well.”

“The atmosphere was incredible. Being in the historic middle of naval aviation to view this film ties the whole naval aviation story together somewhat seamlessly. Being on the flight deck of the carrier at sunset didn’t hurt either.”

As official airline of the USS Midway Museum, Southwest Airlines supports the museum in many different ways. From lending its name to the Southwest Airlines Flight Academy Lab, to the sponsorship of Midway’s patriotic-themed events including Legacy Week, the July 4th Family Celebration, and Midway’s Veterans Day Celebration, the dual commitment Southwest Airlines and Midway has to the San Diego community is readily apparent.

Midway’s mission is to inspire, educate, and entertain visitors. Southwest Airlines partners with the museum to bolster their focus of delivering meaningful and memorable experiences for visitors. For example, in the Southwest Airlines Flight Academy Lab, students learn the principles of flight and use state-of-the-art flight simulators during youth education and overnight programs. The programs include Operation Wing Scout, modeled after the original 1940s Girl Scout program. 

“Midway and Southwest Airlines are completely aligned in our objectives for guest experience and our commitment to service and the San Diego community,” said Craig Fisher, Midway’s director of partnership marketing. “Southwest Airlines also leads by example when it comes to civility, corporate kindness, and caring.’”

“Patriotism runs deep at Southwest which is one of many reasons it’s been such an honor to support the work of the Midway,” shared Kayla Valencia, community outreach regional manager, at Southwest Airlines. “The impact of the education and workforce development programs can be seen firsthand in the San Diego community and beyond. This is yet another reason we love partnering with this institution. Whether in the air or on the ground, we believe community is more than a place, it’s at the heart of what brings us together.”

Southwest Airlines strives to be a globally trusted citizen by fostering authentic relationships that empower communities to thrive. The carrier leverages a unique legacy and mission to serve communities around the world by focusing on three principles: loving People, building resilience, and living responsibly. To learn more about how Southwest brings these principles to life, visit