USS Midway Museum


On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Doris “Dorie” Miller, a mess attendant on the battleship USS West Virgina (BB-48), was serving breakfast and collecting laundry while the ship was moored at the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. A few minutes before 8 a.m., the ship was struck by the first of seven torpedoes dropped by Japanese aircraft during their surprise attack on the base.

Dorie immediately raced to his battle station, but found it had already been destroyed. He was then ordered to the ship’s bridge to help move the ship’s captain, who was wounded in the initial attack, to safety. 

Retired Chief Warrant Officer Ben Valeu performs the 2-bell ceremony.

Although untrained in the ship’s weapons systems, Dorie later seized control of one of the West Virginia’s .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun and began firing at enemy aircraft. He was officially credited with shooting down at least two Japanese warplanes.

“I think I got one of those Jap planes,” Dorie would say later. “They were diving pretty close to us.”

As the West Virginia continued to sink, the order was given to abandon ship. Dorie’s selfless and courageous efforts to help save members of the crew and protect his ship were not forgotten. In May 1942, he became the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross, which was presented to him by Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Dorie Miller’s heroic actions were the emphasis of the USS Midway Museum’s annual Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day commemoration ceremony, held on the ship’s flight deck. Dorie’s story was told by the ceremony’s guest speaker, retired Master Chief Petty Officer Keith Goosby. He reminded the more than 350 attendees not only of Dorie’s gallant efforts during the attack, but what they meant for sailors, especially African American sailors, moving forward.

“Dorie Miller opened up doors for people like me,” said Keith, who served 30 years in the Navy. “He helped make it possible for all of us to be sitting here today.”

Unfortunately, Dorie and 643 other sailors, lost their lives when their escort carrier, the USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56), was sunk near the Makin Atoll in the South Pacific in November 1943, after being struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. For Keith, he reflected on what a sailor like Dorie Miller meant to him decades later.

Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Keith Goosby told the Dorie Miller story as the ceremony’s guest speaker.

“There are many things that I have achieved and people tell me that I had a great career,” said Keith, currently the work and family life coordinator for Navy Region Southwest. “I have to go back in time and say, yeah, but there were people like Dorie who paved the way for me.”

The valor shown by Dorie Miller 82 years ago was reflected in the actions of many who were at Pearl Harbor that fateful day.  For Patrick Schenkelberg, his father was no less of a hero.

“While under attack, he drove a torpedo train from his shop out to Ford Island,” said Patrick, whose father, Clayton Schenkelberg, passed away in 2021 at the age of 103. “He then ran all the way back to the shop, picked up a weapon and began shooting at the enemy to defend the shop.”

With the loss of Pearl Harbor survivors like Clayton, there are very few of those who fought in Hawaii more than eight decades ago who are still alive today. Patrick feels it’s critical that their stories of service and sacrifice are passed down to future generations.

“I want to make sure that people today still try to remember this day and remember what Dec. 7 meant to this country,” reflected Patrick. “There are few survivors left to tell the story today, but it’s important to remember and talk about it.  These are stories you don’t read in books or see in movies.  They are real stories of how they fought and how they survived.”

“My dad was an amazing man,” said Clayton’s daughter Carrie. “There was a reason why they called them the greatest generation. They did what they did for their country. He did what he had to do because it was his duty.”

Patrick Schenkelberg, son of Pearl Harbor survivor Clayton Schenkelberg, performs the wreath laying with Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alec Marshall.

The stories of Dorie Miller and Clayton Schenkelberg are just a few of the thousands upon thousands of narratives that reflect the solidarity of the country and its ability to act collectively for a common cause, especially during the most challenging times.

“There are things and issues that we deal with in life, but when it comes down to the defense of the nation, it seems that Americans can put their differences aside and come together as a team,” said Keith. “We serve and do what it takes to defend our nation.”

Midway volunteer named Runner of the Year in San Diego.

At the age of 30, Robin Paine thought that physical exercise might help relieve some of the stress she was experiencing from her job. She decided to try running. More than 40 years and 70,000 miles later, the USS Midway Museum volunteer is still running and has no plans on stopping.

“I have been so lucky to have all the experiences that have been connected with running,” said Robin who began volunteering on Midway in 2012. “Little did I know that this simple act of putting on running shoes, shorts and a singlet would lead to such adventures, travels and friendships. Nowadays, my neighbors call me the neighborhood teenage runner even though I am 73. Running has been good to me, and I love the person that it has helped to make me.”

Shortly after she began running, she found that she was rather good at it, so she joined the San Diego Track Club (SDTC). In 2023, she was awarded the SDTC Masters Woman Runner of the Year. 

“This was a real honor, as the membership of the SDTC is around 300,” said Robin, who has more than 5,500 volunteer hours. “I mostly compete in 5K and 10K road races, as well as some half and full marathons. I’m consistently placing in the top three of my age group.”

Robin was part of the Summer Olympic Games torch relay in 1984.

Although she’s been running for more than four decades, Robin is exhilarated each time she’s out on the open road or a trail.

“I have experienced runner’s high and it’s a happy euphoric feeling,” said Robin. “You are aware that you are experiencing it and you don’t want to lose the feeling. I feel like I am doing something that is good for me and that I am focusing my energy. I’m keenly aware of my surroundings and I am usually doing my best thinking and problem solving.”

Most of her running is for exercise and training.  She runs virtually every day, varying her distances, speed and types of terrain.  However, over the course of 40 years, Robin feels that she’s competed in more than 1,000 races around the world.

“It’s nice to have a race as a training goal and to place in a race and get an award,” said Robin. “My real joy is when I know that I ran a really good race, either by the way I feel at the finish line or by my clock time.”

One of her most memorable experiences was when she, along with her running team from her work, was asked to be part of the torch relay for the 1984 Summer Olympics.  She and the group ran for a week, carrying the torch from Texas to Colorado.

“It was like being invited to be in the actual Olympics,” remembered Robin. “Everywhere we went we were treated like celebrities. Whole towns came out to see and cheer us. Every little community welcomed us with picnics and barbeques. We were even asked for our autographs. I was so lucky to have this very special time, and I still stay in contact with several of the people that were a part of the torch relay.”

Along with her daily running regimen, Robin also finds tremendous pleasure in the camaraderie with the friends she’s made and continues to make.

“Because we live all over the county, we seldom have a time where we can all workout or train together,” said Robin, who buys a new pair of running shoes every three to four months. “Many of us are training for individual events, but we are all proud to wear our track club uniform when we’re together, whether it’s at a local event or one halfway around the world. We also stay connected via email and texting. So even though we are all focused on our own running, we have a wonderful social side. I have team friends that I have known for over 30 years.”

Being an 11-year Midway volunteer brings her almost as much joy and gratification as running.

“Volunteering for the Midway is a perfect fit for me in many ways,” said Robin, who is a member of Midway’s outreach and knot tying teams. “I not only get to educate our guests, but I get to be the face of the Midway, which I take very seriously. It’s also really fun. We volunteers are a family, a community, and we all have the same goals when it comes to the ship. This feeling of belonging is hard to achieve in such a large diverse city, but it is truly Midway Magic on our ship.”

Robin actually first started volunteering in her hometown of San Jose when she was 12 years old. Giving back to the community was instilled in her by her family, and it has turned into a lifetime goal. Some of her best experiences have come from helping others.

Robin has been running competitively for more than 40 years.

“Volunteering gives people the opportunity to stay connected and give back to their community,” said Robin. “It also provides an environment to learn new things, work, make friendships, and practice kindness. And most important, it gives me a feeling of satisfaction that I did something good.”

As much as she enjoys her time on Midway, running will remain her true passion, and with continued support from her husband and fellow Midway volunteer, Tom, she’ll keep pounding the pavement.

“It’s a joy to support Robin because she is such a determined and talented person,” said Tom, who has more than 3,500 volunteer hours over the last 12 years as a member of the museum’s safety, knot tying and outreach teams. “With Robin being such a gifted runner, I have been able to share many of her adventures. We have also met some people that became very good friends. We probably would not have come by them otherwise.”

“I hope to be running until I hit the grave,” joked Robin. “Seriously, I do weight lifting and specific stretching exercises every day in addition to my daily run. Experience has taught me to rest, or cut back, or stop when my body tells me I need to back off, and now I listen and respect these warnings. If the time comes that I can’t run, then I’ll do a different sport.”

Leaving its homeport of Norfolk in late 1947, the USS Midway (CV-41) steamed to the Mediterranean Sea for its first overseas deployment since being commissioned two years earlier. In conjunction with its primary mission of patrolling the waters of Europe’s soft underbelly at the start of the Cold War, the ship’s crew was also treated to several exciting port visits from Gibraltar and Africa to Italy and France.

It was during some much deserved R & R along the French Rivera that tragedy struck. While returning to Midway from the port city of Hyeres on Feb. 16, 1948, the ship’s motor whaleboat capsized and sank in heavy seas, claiming the lives of eight members of the crew.

To honor the lost crew, the USS Midway Museum is now exhibiting a completely restored motor whaleboat that is suspended on the aft starboard quarter of the ship where it can be seen by the public.

“I think this is a great tribute to these men,” said Scot Whaley, Midway’s facilities manager and a retired Navy chief boatswain’s mate. “We have also mounted a plaque with the names of the crew inside the boat on the gunnel. We want to ensure that they will never be forgotten.”

The plaque honoring the Midway crewmembers who died in the 1948 motor whaleboat accident is part of the exhibit.

It is estimated that more than 1,500 motor whaleboats were built and used aboard almost every Navy ship for more than 40 years before being replaced in the 1980s. A multipurpose vessel, the motor whaleboat served as a lifeboat, mail and cargo boat, and liberty boat.

The restoration of the diesel-powered boat actually began nearly a decade ago. A group of volunteers from the museum’s ship restoration and exhibits teams patched and painted the boat and restored all its brass. New gauges and stainless steel were also installed. Following its refurbishment, the 6,200-pound craft was placed in storage for eight years.

“I was really very proud of the work the volunteers did,” said Bill Coleman, the museum’s exhibits manager. “The boat looked brand new when they finished.  It’s been a long time coming. The boat truly adds to the appearance of the aft starboard quarter.”

“This was a great team effort and the boat really fills out the starboard side of the ship,” said Scot, who was a coxswain in motor whaleboats during his naval career. “Motor whaleboats were the work horse of the Navy for decades, and I’m proud that we’re not only able to display the boat to the public, but that we can honor the Midway crewmen who were lost off the coast of France more than 75 years ago.”

The motor whaleboat exhibit being installed.

“Our debt to the heroic men and women who have served this country can never be repaid, but we should always remain committed to honoring their legacy and fulfill our obligations to all veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free. Our bonds formed through service are strong, and we should seek to remain connected to our veterans and their ongoing needs, while encouraging ongoing efforts to provide them with resources and support.” 

– Brig. Gen. James Ryan, commanding general, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego

“We need to remember that our country is no different than any other country that has fallen into the hands of dictators. If it weren’t for the brave men in uniform, we would not be living in freedom as we have for more than 200 years. Younger generations need to be aware of the sacrifices made so that they can live in freedom and not take their freedom for granted.”

– George Sousa, Korean War veteran and Purple Heart recipient

“We rightly celebrate many national holidays and observances each year. However, I think it’s especially important to set aside at least one day of the year to honor our nation’s military veterans, especially in a community like San Diego with such a large veteran population. Without those veterans’ devoted service in helping preserve all the freedoms we enjoy in this country, chances are we wouldn’t be able to celebrate any of those other holidays and observances.”

– Jack Ensch, retired naval aviator, Vietnam War veteran and former prisoner of war

“San Diego has a long and distinguished history as a military and military-friendly town and the parade is important to recognize all the contributions military members, both active duty and veterans, make to the vibrant life and economy of this great city. The parade and the Midway Museum also help remind people of the history and honor the sacrifices made by our military every single day.”

– Joellen Oslund, retired naval aviator and the first Navy female helicopter pilot

After a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the San Diego Veterans Day Parade returned to the Embarcadero in 2023, and the USS Midway Museum was at the helm. More than 90 entrants participated in the parade, ranging from marching bands, floats, ceremonial vehicles and marching units from veterans organizations, military commands, local businesses, and community service and civic groups. 

Midway formed a coalition of representatives from the city and county, active-duty military commands, and veteran support organizations to continue the tradition of holding this tribute parade in America’s Finest City.

“The San Diego Veterans Day Parade is more than a parade, it’s a living tribute for all San Diegans who’ve served our country in uniform,” said Mayor Todd Gloria, the parade’s grand marshal. “San Diego is a proud military town, and I am always thrilled to see such enthusiasm and support for our veterans and servicemembers. I want to thank the USS Midway Museum and all the volunteers who helped make the parade’s return a success, and I look forward to seeing this annual tradition continue to flourish in the years ahead.”

San Diego County boasts one of the largest veteran populations in the United States, with more than 200,000 former and retired military members living and working in the county. While this year’s parade honored all those who have worn the uniform of the nation, it placed a special emphasis on several important military milestone anniversaries that date back 100 years. 

Marine Corps Band San Diego marching smartly.
The San Diego Veterans Day Parade returned after a three-year hiatus.

“It’s just important to take the opportunity to step back and honor the legacy that lies before us because it hasn’t always been that way,” said Chief Warrant Officer Randel Matzinger, who led Marine Corps Band San Diego’s participation in the parade. “We’re taking the opportunity to express our gratitude for the service. It’s important.”

As in previous parades, several military heroes, past and present, were honored. This included the grand marshals who served as representatives of last year’s major military anniversaries.

“Our military veterans have given so much to this country that it would be a crime to not publicly thank them for their service and sacrifices,” said David Koontz, Midway’s marketing director and parade chair. “With so many important military anniversaries taking place in 2023, we also felt it was critical to recognize veterans in the parade who had direct connections to those important events.”

Twin brothers and retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeants, Gary and Larry Soper, represented all Vietnam War veterans as the grand marshals for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Both received Purple Hearts for their courageous actions and wounds suffered in combat during the war.

“When we got back, nobody cared about us at all,” said Gary, who served 22 years in the Marine Corps. “We were honored to be the grand marshal for all Vietnam veterans. Larry and I will never forget it. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Jack Ensch, a Navy F-4 Phantom naval aviator flying from the USS Midway (CV-41), was shot down on his 285th combat mission over Vietnam in August 1972. He remained a prisoner of war (POW) until his release from Hanoi on March 29, 1973. Jack served as the grand marshal representing the 50th anniversary of the return of the Vietnam War POWs.

“I felt honored when asked to represent my fellow Vietnam War POWs in the Veterans Day Parade,” said Jack, a retired Navy captain who served in the Navy for 30 years. “As a group, we POWs feel privileged to have served our country and are proud to have returned with honor after performing our duty under very arduous conditions. The Veterans Day Parade came back better than ever and the USS Midway Museum deserves to be commended for re-establishing this important San Diego tradition.”

It wasn’t until 1973 that women were finally allowed to join the male-dominated arena of naval aviation. Joellen Oslund, who would become the Navy’s first female helicopter pilot, was the parade’s grand marshal on behalf of the 50th anniversary of women in naval aviation.

“It was a great privilege to represent not only women in naval aviation, but all women veterans, and it was a thrill to see the positive crowd response to my presence,” said Joellen, who retired as a Navy captain and was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2017. “I could not have imagined an honor like this when I received my Navy wings 50 years ago. I participated in the Rose Parade in Pasadena in 2014 and I think this parade was just as well run. I really enjoyed the whole experience.”

More than 6,000 American servicemembers died in combat during the battles for Heartbreak Ridge and Bloody Ridge on the Korean peninsula in late 1951. George Sousa, an Army corporal, was the only member of his unit to survive, although he was seriously wounded. The Purple Heart recipient represented all Korean War veterans on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

“I have received many honors over the years, but this has got to be the greatest honor of my life,” said George, who graduated from Pt. Loma High School in 1948. “I feel very privileged to have represented my comrades of all military branches. It was an incredible event and I’m grateful to have been a part of it.”

The U.S. Navy accepted its first helicopter in late 1943 during World War II.  A quarter century later, Gary Ely would be flying into harm’s way along the Mekong River as a door gunner in a UH-1 Huey during the war in Vietnam. Gary, who was the grand marshal honoring the 80th anniversary of naval helicopter aviation, flew nearly 700 combat missions in Southeast Asia.

The USS Midway Museum float took center stage in the parade.
More than 90 entrants participated in the parade including the Scripps-Miramar Saddlebred Horses.

“I really enjoyed greeting the kids along the way during the parade,” said Gary, who spent 18 months in Vietnam as a member of Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 (HAL-3). “I also saw a couple of my HAL-3 shipmates enroute as well. It turned out to be a good time.”

In August 1923, Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), San Diego began training young Marines. Over the past century, more than 1.5 million Marine recruits have completed their basic training in San Diego. The depot’s history is one of resilience, adaptation and dedication to producing highly-skilled and disciplined Marines. The grand marshal for MCRD’s 100th anniversary was its commanding general, Brig. Gen. James Ryans.

“It was a great honor to represent the Marine Corps, MCRD San Diego and Western Recruiting Region in this year’s parade,” said Brig. Gen. Ryans, who has been serving in the Marine Corps for 35 years and is the recipient of the Bronze Star. “Veterans Day is a time to honor and pay tribute to the brave men and women who served in our armed forces and to express our gratitude for their great service to our country. It was incredible to see and interact with so many people who share such a strong bond with our military.”

The San Diego Veterans Day Parade, which was proudly sponsored by Verizon, began in 1987 and continues to be the largest parade on the West Coast that salutes military veterans. For military veterans living in San Diego, a staunch Navy and Marine Corps town, remembering the service and sacrifice of those who have worn the uniform of the nation is important.

“The parade was marvelous,” said Ray Flores, a Marine Corps veteran who participated in the parade. “I’m just so thankful that everybody could come out and enjoy the day, and thank all those who have served.”

Whether it’s helping Navy SEALs with tactical training, supporting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with bomb-dog instruction, or assisting local firefighters with scenario-based exercises, the USS Midway Museum has long provided the ship as an unparalleled platform to help military units and first responders develop critical real-world skills.

The ship’s education department has advanced Midway to the next level as an important community asset by partnering with the San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE) on a pilot program to help welding students.

As part of SDCCE’s tuition-free welding certificate program, students are now gaining practical experience while contributing to the restoration of Midway.

“San Diego College of Continuing Education’s welding department has long made an impact in the community of Southeastern San Diego,” said Tina King, president of SDCCE. “We are proudly embarking on the critical work to preserve the USS Midway Museum, a landmark of our great nation.”

Students selected for the Midway pilot program are enrolled in advanced shielding metal arc welding or gas metal and flux cored arc welding courses. The courses are taught by master welder Brad Dorschel.

An SDCCE welding student prepares a new railing for Midway.

“The benefit for the students being on the Midway is they’re exposed to an environment we can’t recreate in the lab,” said Brad, who is also a SDCCE faculty member and the program chairman for all skilled and tech trades. “They work on projects we can’t simulate that offer them hands-on training. To see them succeed and be so well equipped to go out into the workforce and achieve living-wage jobs, career paths with tremendous growth and opportunity is the most fulfilling thing for me.”

Ariana Espinoza is one of the welding students training on Midway.  Although the path to become a welder wasn’t always clear, she’s now excited to be following in her grandfather’s footsteps, a former welder at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) in San Diego.

“I did not know what I wanted to do, but I was always passionate about learning how to weld and I know this industry needs more women,” said 23-year-old Ariana. “By learning here on the Midway, I want my career to take off and that I am making my grandpa proud.”

Welding is one of the highest paying skilled trades in the country. In San Diego County, welders are annually earning more than $73,000 on average, according to the California Employment Development Department, which projects nearly 43,000 job openings for welders and similar professions over the next decade.

SDCCE and Midway have plans to expand the partnership to more students enrolled in the college’s HVAC and plumbing certificate programs this year.

“This program is exceeding all of our expectations,” said Tina Chin, Midway’s director of education. “It gives Midway an opportunity to be connected to our community, to be of service, to create safe and real-world spaces to learn, to provide mentorship and support, and bolster the trades in an industry in dire need of workers. The students themselves also get the opportunity to be part of a historic icon like Midway and have a key role in the ship’s preservation for years to come. It’s a win-win for all those involved.”

The pilot program quickly proved to be a tremendously successful training initiative and very beneficial for each of the welding students.

“Welding is almost like an art because it’s about your hand movements,” said Liam McGeheath, a 24-year old student who views the museum as more than just an important training ground. “A lot of people come to the Midway when they are in San Diego, so it’s cool to know that my work and the projects we tackled will be here for a majority of the life of the ship.”

The USS Midway Museum decked out the carrier from bow to stern with hundreds of thousands of twinkling and shimmering lights to celebrate the holiday season with “Jingle Jets,” its inaugural festive lighting experience. This joyous evening event, 18 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, was the newest holiday tradition in San Diego.

Midway was transformed from a mighty warship into a winter wonderland with an aviation twist to bring an extraordinary holiday spirit to the San Diego Bayfront.

“We were very excited to bring Jingle Jets to San Diegans,” said Mark Berlin, Midway’s director of operations and guest services. “This was not only an incredible holiday experience, but was totally unique in San Diego.”

Jingle Jets encompassed Midway’s flight deck and hangar deck, as well as a portion of its lower deck.

“Jingle Jets was my favorite experience this holiday season,” said Karla Fernadez. “There were so many different activities that everyone in my family enjoyed, from the Christmas lights throughout the ship, to writing letters to those serving in the military. My daughter even pretended she was an actual pilot in a helicopter. It was a wonderful experience filled with Christmas magic. We hope to visit again next year.”

As visitors entered the hangar deck, they were greeted by holiday carolers as they meandered through a wintery forest of illuminated trees filled with brilliantly lit tunnels, life-size holiday ornaments, reindeer, and a polar bear or two. Overhead truss lighting filled the hangar with hues of red, green and blue, and additional lighting from above projected simulated snowflakes.

“This was one of the best Christmas light events I have ever attended,” said Bradley Johnson. “The women’s trio singing Christmas carols was fantastic, and the lights were beautiful. We heard about it on the news and were so glad we went.”

The carrier’s flight deck showcased an array of overhead white icicle lights crisscrossed from decorative truss towers, while the fantail was brought to life with three 20-foot rope-light Christmas trees. Nearly a dozen of Midway’s aircraft were wrapped in holiday lights, while the others received unique lighting treatments. The flight-deck superstructure was awash in traditional seasonal colors and featured a prominent holiday wreath projected onto the island to complete the flattop’s festive atmosphere.

“It was a fabulous event,” said Roxanne Dyer. “We took the entire family and enjoyed our greatest treasure here in San Diego.”

Guests who ventured down to the 2nd deck were guided through the mess deck that was brightly decorated with Christmas trees, as well as red and white candy cane poles adorned with ribbon, garland and wreaths. Midway staff made holiday stationery that was available on the mess-deck tables and encouraged visitors to write letters to service members. Over the course of Jingle Jets, guests wrote more than 2,500 letters that were later delivered to the Navy to be given to San Diego-based sailors.

“We really enjoyed writing letters to deployed service members,” said Lacie Page. “The lights were beautiful, and it was so much fun. It was definitely the highlight of our Christmas season.”

Along with the opportunity to send holiday wishes to those serving in the military, the flight deck featured dancing with a DJ spinning holiday tunes, as well as multiple photo opportunities. In the hangar, a naval aviation-styled Santa Claus interacted and took photographs with visitors in his red flight suit while sitting in his holiday ejection seat. Specialty holiday-themed treats, along with seasonal merchandise, were also available at the museum’s Café 41 and Jet Shop giftshop.

News media coverage of Jingle Jets spread not only across the country, but also into Canada where a husband and wife in Toronto found the story fascinating.  A few days later, when the couple was visiting their daughter, who now lives in San Diego, they had to check it out for themselves. They said Jingle Jets was a fantastic experience and well worth coming all the way from Canada.

“We wanted our guests to feel like they’ve stepped into an amazing holiday world, a place that brought joy and magic like they’ve never experienced anywhere else,” said Cheryl Carlson, Midway’s director of special events. “The response from the more than 20,000 guests that visited Midway for Jingle Jets was  phenomenal. I’m sure our holiday lights extravaganza will become a great new and memorable holiday tradition in San Diego.”

It was something out of Hollywood movie. A young Navy pilot flying life-and-death missions during the Korean War, takes on seven Soviet MiG-15 fighters in aerial combat, and comes out victorious in an unprecedented one-man dog fight.

This is exactly what happened to Lt. Royce Williams, an F-9 Panther fighter pilot with Fighter Squadron 781 (VF-781) flying from the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA-34) in November 1952. 

Royce and three of his squadron mates were launched from the Oriskany to intercept the Soviet aircraft heading towards them from an airbase in Vladivostok. Over the course of 35 minutes, Royce, through one of most skillful demonstration of flying in military history, shot down four of the MiGs and likely damage two others.

Out of ammunition and with his aircraft heavily damaged, Royce then limped back to the carrier making a difficult high-speed landing while the ship pitched violently in heavy seas. Royce emerged from the cockpit amazingly uninjured, however, his aircraft was not so lucky. His squadron’s maintenance crew counted more than 260 bullet holes in the jet. Deemed unrepairable, the Panther was pushed over the side into the cold dark ocean.

Politics soon entered the picture. Because the Soviet Union was not officially a combatant in the Korean War, it was feared that publicizing this incredible aviation feat would draw them further into the conflict. With Cold War sensitivities in play, the decision was made at the highest level of the U.S. government to cover up the dogfight. Royce was sworn to secrecy. For decades, he told no one about the mission, not even his wife.

The F-9 Panther, like the one Royce flew during the Korean War, is not only on exhibit on the flight deck of the USS Midway Museum, but is painted in his squadron’s colors and has his name stenciled on the side of the fuselage beneath the cockpit. This has always been a source of pride for Royce who still remembers the dogfight like it was yesterday.

“A lot of it was awareness of where they were and how I had to maneuver to avoid them,” said Royce, who also flew more than 100 combat missions during the Vietnam War. “They were taking turns. I decided if I concentrated on shooting them down, then I’d become an easy target. So my initial goal was to look for defensive opportunities when they made mistakes.”

Congressman Darrell Issa, representing California’s 48th District, had worked for years to petition the Department of Defense to upgrade the Silver Star medal Royce had previously received for that mission to a higher award.

“If we don’t recognize the valor of our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen sooner or later, then we miss the opportunity to thank them for their service,” said Congressman Issa. “Williams is a Top Gun pilot like no other, and an American hero for all time.”