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A San Diego native, Gary Chapman grew up in Navy town. As a boy, he watched with fascination naval ships steaming in San Diego Bay as well as military aircraft flying from Naval Air Station North Island. So it was no surprise what his future held.

“Sailing in the bay growing up, watching the ships and seeing the seaplanes take off and land, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion the Navy would be my branch of service,” said Gary, who graduated from Point Loma High School in 1962.

After graduating from the University of Utah on a Navy ROTC scholarship, Gary was commissioned an ensign and assigned to the destroyer USS Ault (DD-698). Later, as the gunnery officer on the destroyer USS Rogers (DD-876), his ship came under attack off the coast of North Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin during Operation Sea Dragon in 1967.

Gary Chapman

“The Rogers was bracketed by North Vietnamese artillery on one of our Sea Dragon firing missions,” remembered the 76-year-old Gary. “There was a big splash on the port bow, then a bigger splash off the starboard side aft. We went to right full rudder, all ahead flank, and returned counter-battery. Fortunately, the ship did not take a hit, but it was close.”

Combat operations for Gary didn’t end when he left the Rogers. His next tour kept him in Vietnam and even closer to the action. Assigned to River Assault Flotilla 1 (RAF 1), he spent a year in the Mekong Delta. 

“RAF 1 was a joint Army-Navy task force in the Mekong Delta and I was weapon’s boss on the USS Colleton, one of two mother ships for the RAF,” said Gary. “We had the 9th Army Division assigned to us and their smaller craft would tie up to pontoons we had lashed alongside.”

The Colleton, and another mother ship, would go up the main river channels as far as the Cambodian border. The smaller assault boats would carry Army troops up the smaller channels to seek out the enemy. The boats would return to the anchorage at night and the troops would sleep safely aboard the Colleton.

“The enemy learned quickly that it did not pay to launch rockets or shoot recoilless rifles at us while we were at anchorage as our return fire was devastating,” recalled Gary. “Many people didn’t realize how successful the mobile riverine force was. The enemy was effectively driven out of the area after some hard fighting.”

After leaving the Navy in 1972 and earning his MBA from the University of Southern California, Gary spent the next 20 years in the computer industry as a systems analyst, project manager and product marketing vice president with several national and international companies.

Gary ultimately started his own multimedia production company called Imagix Studios before retiring in 2006.

It wasn’t long into his retirement when some friends suggested that he consider volunteering for the USS Midway Museum.

“I was interested, but was already heavily involved in another volunteer group, so I kept putting off going to check out the Midway,” said Gary. “But one day, I figured I might as well go visit the ship. I thought I would spend an hour or two aboard, but was blown away and didn’t leave the museum until it closed. I knew then how I would spend the rest of my retirement.”

He began volunteering on Midway in 2009 and has amassed more than 10,000 volunteer hours as a docent over the last 12 years.

Gary on deployment to the Western Pacific in 1967.

“It’s best job I’ve ever had,” said Gary. “It’s lots of fun and you feel like you are doing something really meaningful. The museum is a unique organization and the people you meet are incredible, from all over the world.”

On top of being a docent interacting with Midway guests and telling Navy and Midway stories, Gary is also an instructor for new docents, and produces training and continuing education videos for the volunteers. He also built the docent information website.

“Gary immediately took a leadership role in the daily operations of the museum after becoming a docent,” said Jim Reily, Midway’s director of docent programs. “During COVID, his efforts were largely responsible for the ship having more than 90 percent of our pre-pandemic volunteers return to the museum to continue inspiring and educating our guests.”

“Both my Navy service as a young man and serving in my retirement as a docent on the Midway are two very formative periods of my life,” said Gary. “I’ve learned a lot during both periods, and found both to be worthwhile and significant.”

Information on volunteer opportunities at the USS Midway Museum can be found at www.midway.org/give-join/volunteers.

Two years before the start of World War II in Europe, and more than four years before the United States enter the Second World War, the Empire of Japan invaded China. In July 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War began. Over the course of the next eight brutal years, it’s estimated that tens of millions of Chinese perished.

By 1941, Japan controlled a substantial portion of eastern China, including Beijing (known then as Peking) and Shanghai. That same year, a small cadre of American volunteer pilots arrived in China to help fight the Japanese – the Flying Tigers.

“A group of us Americans went to China 80 years ago to help fight the war against the Japanese,” said Harry Moyer, a 101-year-old former Flying Tigers’ fighter pilot.

Eight decades later, a moving photo exhibition celebrating and commemorating this famous and highly decorated unit was displayed on the USS Midway Museum’s hangar deck.

The original Flying Tigers were comprised of three fighter squadrons of American military pilots known as the First American Volunteer Group (AVG). These pilots were recruited and trained to defend the Republic of China against Japan prior to the United States entering World War II.

“The Chinese impression of the first fighter pilots that were there knocking down the Japanese bombers was that of a tiger,” said Harry. “We became known at the Fei Hu or Flying Tigers. That designation, given to the American flyers by Chinese people, continues to be held in high esteem through these many, many years.”

Flying the Curtis P-40 Warhawk aircraft, marked in Chinese colors, these pilots flew bombing and fighter missions against the Japanese military. Although the group flew under American control, the squadrons were officially part of the Republic of China Air Force. The Flying Tigers flew their first combat missions in December 1941.

The pilots quickly became known for their innovative tactical victories. While the AVG was officially disbanded in July 1942 and replaced by the 23rd Fighter Group, the squadrons’ pilots were officially credited with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed while only suffering 14 losses in the initial six months of combat action.

Former Flying Tigers Harry Moyer and Mel McMullen discuss the new exhibit at its opening ceremony on Midway.

“The Flying Tigers fought fearlessly in fierce air battles and achieved brilliant combat results,” said Zhang Ping, the consul general of the People Republic of China in Los Angeles. “They stuck heavy blows against the Japanese aggressors.”

The photo exhibition consisted of 36, 8-foot-high panels containing hundreds photos and extraordinary stories of the courage displayed by the American pilots.

“We are deeply touch by the Flying Tigers’ bravery,” said Zhang. “The Chinese people have high regard for their noble spirit and we’ll always cherish and remember their sacrifice and contribution.”

“It was an honor for me to be a member of the Flying Tigers and today speak for all those who have gone before,” said Harry, who also holds the world record for the oldest person to make a solo flight at the age of 100. “I’m thankful we’re being recognized for all that we did for an honorable and hard-fought cause. Through our joint efforts, we finally prevailed.”

An estimated 50,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed on the island of Oahu when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 80 years ago. While no one knows for sure, it’s believed there may less than 100 of the survivors of that fateful day still alive.

For the first time, there were no Pearl Harbor survivors in attendance for the USS Midway Museum’s ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the attack that thrust the United States into World War II. The focus of the ceremony turned to honoring the families of the survivors.

“It’s been 80 years since Pearl Harbor, so finding survivors who are healthy enough to attend is difficult at best,” said Bob Schenkelberg, the son of Clayton Schenkelberg, a Pearl Harbor survivor who died last April at the age of 103. “Even without survivors in attendance, I think it is still worth the effort the Midway goes through to put on this ceremony. It was important to dad. There were too many lives lost and people critically injured to not remember Pearl Harbor.”

It was also the first year that Bob and his younger brother Patrick attended the ceremony without their dad, a torpedoman at the Pearl Harbor submarine base during the attack.

Cmdr. Bralyn Cathey, commanding officer of the USS John Finn, was the commemoration’s guest speaker.

“It’s really hard,” said Patrick with a tear in his eye. “When we were driving here, I thought about dad and what all this meant to him. Now it’s up to us to carry on. It’s why I’m here.”

The ceremony on Midway included a wreath laying and 2-bell ceremony to honor those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor as well as the tens of thousands of survivors who have passed away over the last eight decades.

Ben Value performs the Two Bell ceremony in remembrance of the Pearl Harbor survivors who passed away in 2021.

“On this 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we honor the memories of the more than 2,400 Americans who died,” said Paul Ward, Midway’s volunteer chaplain. “We must remember the courageous resolve of those who stood and fought for our cherished ideals, and their sacrifice in the cause of freedom.”

The guest speaker was Cmdr. Bralyn Cathey, the commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn (DDG-113). The ship was commissioned in 2017 in tribute to John Finn, who was chief petty officer at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Oahu during the attack. Finn was the first Medal of Honor recipient in World War II for his heroic actions on the morning of Dec. 7.

“Today is a stark reminder of the many planes, ships and lives lost,” said Bralyn. “It’s also a reminder of who we are as Americans. People who love this country, serve in this Navy and what it means to fight for other people.”

A missing-man flyby accompanied by echo taps concluded the ceremony.

“This is the best way for me to honor my father, by making sure people never forget,” said Kathleen Chavez, daughter of Ray Chavez, who was assigned to minesweepers when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He passed away in 2018. A San Diego County post office was recently named in his honor.

Ellen Derby McCollum’s father, Woody Derby, was serving on the battleship USS Nevada that morning. Woody passed away at the age of 101 two years ago.

Roy Zanni plays taps following the wreath laying.

“It’s on us now,” said Ellen. “We need to make sure people remember who these guys were, and what they did.”

This year marks the centennial of the American aircraft carrier. The USS Langley (CV-1), the Navy’s first flattop, was commissioned on March 20, 1922. In the 100 years since that auspicious event, the carrier proved a decisive weapon in history’s largest naval war, and largely defined the naval character of the Cold War that followed. Over last 30 years, carrier-based aircraft were critical strike elements of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States, however, cannot claim first prize in the operational deployment of the carrier. Although America took an early lead in trying to operate aircraft from ships, there wasn’t any urgency. The British Navy, on the other hand, was challenged by Germany for naval superiority during World War I, not just with guns, but with zeppelin airships. Though massive, the hydrogen-filled zeppelins cruised at high altitudes with enough agility to evade anti-aircraft artillery. They not only spied effortlessly on the British fleet’s movements in the North Sea, but were capable of dropping aerial bombs on Britain.

Although airborne interception could destroy zeppelins, the Royal Navy found its seaplanes were not up to the task. The answer lay in land-based aircraft, but their short range and lack of landing areas at sea were formidable obstacles to overcome. Pilots could ditch into the sea, but a water landing and rescue from the frigid North Sea were dicey. Fortunately, England enjoyed an embarrassment of riches in capital ship construction, and a large swift warship soon became available.

The battlecruiser HMS Furious was altered in early 1917 replacing its forward gun turret with flying-off deck. Even with the conversion, she retained her high speed, but now had the capacity for several wheeled aircraft on the partial flight deck. The trouble was in finding a way to recover those aircraft back aboard after their missions.

HMS Furious reconfigured with forward and aft flight decks.

The landing speeds of fighters of the day were just within Furious’ speed racing into the wind. On Aug. 2, 1917, Squadron Leader Edwin Dunning approached Furious from behind and flew his Sopwith Pup alongside the ship’s towering superstructure just above the stall speed of the aircraft. Several of the ship’s officers stood waiting on the blustery forward flight deck, ready to grasp leather loops fastened under the wings of Dunning’s aircraft. 

As Dunning eased past Furious’ bridge, he side-slipped the Pup over the flight deck and reduced power, allowing the wallowing wings to momentarily hover over the outstretched arms, permitting a completely manual landing. Upon touchdown, Dunning became the first pilot to land a plane on a moving ship. Five days later, another landing attempt by Dunning met with tragedy when his engine choked as he slid across the deck pitching the aircraft over the starboard bow of the ship. He drowned in his sinking aircraft.

A separate landing space for returning aircraft was now undeniable, so the ship’s aft gun turret was removed and replaced with second partial flight deck. The towering bridge structure and massive exhaust funnel, however, remained amidships. Predictably, attempts to land aircraft directly into the face of severe air turbulence and hot stack gasses frequently pitched even experienced pilots into the ship’s wake, so landings on Furious were ultimately forbidden.

Sopwith Camels on the HMS Furious flight deck prior to the raid on the Tondern zeppelin base on July 19, 1918.

Furious, however, could still launch warplanes and on July 19, 1918, seven

bomb-armed Sopwith Camels set off from her deck to attack a German zeppelin base at Tondern, Denmark. Six of the aircraft were able to continue the mission and destroyed a hangar housing and two zeppelins. Half of the pilots landed in neutral Denmark, and two were rescued at sea. Although the sixth pilot was lost, history’s first aircraft carrier strike was deemed a rousing success.

By now, the British Admiralty realized that a continuous flight deck was the correct form for an aircraft carrier, and once again, England’s ship surplus supplied a solution. An incomplete ocean liner destined for Italy received a redesign including a full flight deck and elevators to move aircraft from the hangar deck below. In November 1918, as the war ended, the new HMS Argus emerged as the first true aircraft carrier, more than three years ahead of the USS Langley’s commissioning.

Following World War I, Furious underwent a complete overhaul and was outfitted with a full-length flight deck. Reclassified as an aircraft carrier in 1925, she served the Royal Navy through World War II before being decommissioned and ultimately sold for scrap in 1948. Although her final chapter was less than glorious, Furious is hailed as playing a key role in the birth of carrier aviation.

Eat, Drink and Get Ugly!

USS Midway Museum’s first-ever public Parade of Lights viewing party took holiday fun and the ugly sweater contest to a new level.

More than 500 guests and members kicked off the Christmas season with a community celebration on the museum’s flight deck with holiday music, festive food and some of the gaudiest sweaters ever witnessed in public.

“I saw some really creative Christmas sweaters and a couple of weird ones too,” said Adriana Mendoza, a Los Angeles native attending the viewing party with friends. “You could tell some people put a lot of thought into their sweaters. It was tons of fun to see.”

The “Choose Your Santa” photo opportunity was a big hit.

Along with the ugly sweater contest, holiday music from a local DJ filled the flight deck and an assortment of unusual Santa Clauses joined in the fun. Hip Santa, Country Santa and Reggae Santa spent the evening taking photos with hundreds of smiling guests. 

The flight deck proved to be the perfect vantage point to watch nearly 100 boats decked out in an array of holiday lights make their way down San Diego Bay.

“This was an amazing event,” said Chelle Steely, who spent the evening on Midway with her family. “Our kids just loved it. Any chance to come to the Midway is always wonderful for us. We had a great time and plan to come back next year.”

Julie Harlan was the winner of the ugly sweater contest.

Julie Harlan, as the winner of the of the ugly sweater contest with her homemade Christmas tree sweater, was awarded two round-trip tickets from Southwest Airlines.

“I want to thank everyone who voted for me,” said an excited Julie. “I have three boys in their 20s in three parts of the country, so this is going to help me get there.”

Julie is looking forward to visiting her sons in Chicago, Orlando, Fla. and Boulder, Colo.

For nearly five decades, the flight deck of the USS Midway was the stomping ground for sailors wearing brightly colored yellow, blue, purple, red and green jerseys. This past Halloween, however, sailors gave way to dozens of zombies who took over the flight deck in their tattered blood-stained shirts!

For the last 15 years, the annual Thrill the World event has been a global community happening where local groups from all over the planet simultaneously perform the famous zombie dance to Michael Jackson’s 1982 hit song “Thriller.”

“We wanted to have a Thriller event on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum because San Diego is a huge military town, in fact my husband is in the Navy,” said Larisa Hall, executive director at Tap Fever Studios and the zombie dance organizer. “Midway is such an iconic naval vessel and a cool place to have the opportunity to dance.”

Surprised Midway guests weren’t sure what to make of the zombies as they crept onto the flight deck one by one.

“It was fun to watch peoples’ faces when they saw us,” said Janice Magnuson, one of the zombie dancers. “They got so excited to see us up close looking like zombies and then hearing the Thriller song.”

The zombie troop staged the entire six-minute dance choregraphed exactly as it was performed in the Michael Jackson music video nearly 40 years ago.

“I’ve been doing this dance since 2008, and every year it gets more fun,” said Debbie Fowler, a retired teacher. “Over the years, I’ve made new friends who are now zombie friends forever.”

The dance, for some, also has a therapeutic quality.

“I had a mid-life crisis about 15 years ago,” said Seattle native Karen Vogel with a smile. “This dance has really helped me. It’s been great meeting wonderful people. While I still haven’t perfected all the moves, I keep working on it.” 

For all the zombies, the Thriller dance is just fun and being able to do it on Midway’s flight deck was its own special thrill.

“Being on the Midway was a blast,” said zombie dancer Debra Doiron from Vancouver, Wash. “It was a fun way to spend the afternoon and honor the memory of Michael Jackson.”

San Diego is home to the largest concentration of military personnel in the country with more than 100,000 active-duty servicemembers assigned to hundreds of units throughout the region. There are also nearly 250,000 military veterans living in the county.

San Diego is still a Navy and Marine Corps town.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, a long-time supporter of the men and women in uniform, held a press conference on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum in  November 2021 to announce the formation of his new Military, Veteran and Families Advisory Council with the goal of making San Diego the most welcoming city in the nation for the military, veterans and their families.

“I believe we have a responsibility to ensure that our city and our administration cultivates a supportive environment to help those who serve and have served,” said Todd. “Our military servicemembers and veterans, along with their families, are intrinsic to the fabric of San Diego. It’s a huge part of who we are as a city and region.”

The new advisory council is tasked with reviewing the city’s policies and procedures, and to propose new opportunities on connecting, mobilizing and empowering the San Diego veteran and military communities.

“The council will work to provide the city with a list of recommendations,” said Todd. “This is a group that’s going to deliver.”

Retired U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Jody Breckenridge, who is currently the chair of the California Governor’s Military Council, strongly supports the establishment of San Diego’s new military advisory group.

“I applaud Mayor Gloria’s initiative creating the Military, Veteran and Families Advisory Council which recognizes the integral role the military plays in San Diego,” said Jody, the former commander of the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area who retired in 2010. “Our council looks forward to working with the mayor and the advisory council to address issues, innovate and leverage opportunities.”

The mayor’s advisory council is a diverse group spanning the continuum of lived experiences. Members include veterans from each of the service branches, as well as blend of different races and genders.

“I’m proud of the diversity of this group,” said Todd.

The mayor felt the USS Midway Museum was the perfect location to announce the formation of his new military advisory council.

“I want to thank my friends at the Midway for hosting us,” said Todd. “I couldn’t make this announcement anywhere but the Midway. It’s a wonderful San Diego institution.”

On Dec. 12, several hundred Midway Members and their guests were thrilled by San Diego’s own The Voices of Our City Choir as they performed on the flight deck during the 50th Annual Parade of Lights on San Diego Bay. While enjoying colorful and twinkling boat lights, everyone had a great time as they made fun holiday hats, were serenaded by strolling carolers and posed for photos with Santa Claus.

Bank of America, a long-time sponsor of Midway programs, has underwritten the museum’s project to design and produce banners that hang from the light poles on Navy Pier. The colorful and beautifully designed banners set the stage for guests arriving to visit Midway. 

“For more than 100 years, Bank of America has supported veterans, active-duty service members and their families,” said Rick Bregman, president of Bank of America San Diego. “We do this through our commitments to hiring and lending to active military and veterans as well as supporting many educational programs and services.” 

“Our friends at Bank of America have always made it clear that they would support whatever programs would be of most value to Midway,” said Craig Fisher, Midway’s director of partnership marketing. “So, when it came time to create new banners for the Navy Pier light poles that would inspire and excite Midway visitors, they agreed to underwrite those costs. We’re really grateful for our relationship with Bank of America, a brand concerned about families, veterans, and community.”

In 2021, Bank of America announced that it had surpassed its five-year goal to hire 10,000 veterans, National Guard and reservists. The company prioritized military hiring as part of its broader commitment to responsible growth by addressing the unique challenges military personnel face in finding employment after service. 

In addition to this milestone, Bank of America started a $20 million Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program, donated more than 2,000 homes to veterans and just this year, is celebrating 100 years of supporting the military – a tradition that started in July 1920, when the company began providing financial services and products for service members and their families at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Honoring its commitment to “connect people to what matters most through lending, investing and giving,” Bank of America has become an ardent supporter of Midway’s various programs and services, as well as the San Diego community and the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

Booz Allen Hamilton, now in its eighth year of partnership with Midway, will continue to focus its support on Midway’s “No Child Left Ashore” scholarship fund and STEM education field trip experiences in 2022. Booz Allen will also use its partnership benefits to generate awareness for other worthy causes like the Military Women’s Memorial which will display their traveling exhibit “The Color of Freedom” on board Midway in March. 

The Military Women’s Memorial exhibit will be featured on Midway’s hangar deck from March 10-30, during Women’s History Month. The exhibit honors and celebrates the dedicated service and considerable sacrifice of women in America’s armed forces through images and stories.

Continuing their support for Midway’s onboard STEM education field trip experiences, Booz Allen’s commitment this year will also underwrite scholarships for roughly 750 San Diego students from Title I schools and classrooms in underserved communities who would like to participate in STEM education field trip experiences.

“Booz Allen is dedicated to supporting impactful and inclusive STEM educational opportunities. Midway field trips bring STEM principles to life for students and we are proud to help make those experiences possible for local Title I schools,” said Jennie Brooks, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. “We also look forward to joining with the Midway to honor the remarkable accomplishments of women who have served. The Military Women’s Memorial exhibit aboard the Midway will provide a meaningful opportunity to learn about and honor the courageous and inspiring stories of diverse women in our armed forces.”

Booz Allen’s partnership with Midway has always been about developing and supporting educational opportunities and strengthening the Midway’s impact in the community. In eight years of partnership, Booz Allen has contributed half a million dollars and innovative programming to support Midway’s education programs. 

For Booz Allen, the partnership extends far beyond the onboard programs. As Booz Allen Hamilton Principal Kevin Burke said, “When Booz Allen employees visit the ship, they see our partnership with Midway at work and the spirit of service that connects us with the Navy and our local San Diego community.”

The relationship between Booz Allen and Midway is one of shared values and commitment to service. Booz Allen Hamilton was founded by a veteran, has continuously supported the military since working with the Department of Defense in 1940, and nearly one-third of the firm’s employees are military-connected—including veterans, National Guard members, reservists, and spouses. 

About Booz Allen Hamilton

For more than 100 years, military, government, and business leaders have turned to Booz Allen Hamilton to solve their most complex problems. As a consulting firm with experts in analytics, digital solutions, engineering, and cyber, they help organizations transform. They are a key partner on some of the most innovative programs for governments worldwide and trusted by its most sensitive agencies. They work shoulder-to-shoulder with clients, using a mission-first approach to choose the right strategy and technology to help them realize their vision.