Remembering Battle of Midway 69 years later
Chief Petty Officer (ret.) Joseph L. Waller, local New Jersey resident, attended the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Battle of Midway ceremony June 3, 2011, where he was honored for his courage and heroism during the famous battle. Mr. Waller was approximately 22 years old while serving aboard the USS Yorktown when it was sunk by a Japanese submarine. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Wayne Russell)
by Airman 1st Class Dennis L. Sloan
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs
6/14/2011 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Chief Petty Officer (ret.) Joseph L. Waller, local New Jersey resident, served upon the lone U.S. aircraft carrier sunk during the Battle of Midway in 1942.
The Battle of Midway showcased U.S. naval and air power in defending the Pacific island of Midway and regaining naval superiority over Japan during World War II.
Waller was approximately 22 years old while serving aboard the USS Yorktown. He served upon the carrier from September 1941 to June 1942 as an aviation machinist, aircraft refueler and parachute rigger. He made sure the aircraft landing on the carrier were repaired and refueled. He also made sure the pilots had a parachute in case they had to bail-out from their aircraft.
The USS Yorktown was an aircraft carrier built in 1936 and commissioned in 1937. Its capabilities consisted of carrying more than 2,000 crew members, 90 aircraft and weighing almost 20 tons while traveling at a speed of 32 knots or 37 miles per hour. Its aircraft inventory included: dive bombers, torpedo and fighter aircraft. The carrier served in the Pacific from 1939 to 1942.
The carrier fought in the battle of Coral Sea one month prior to the Battle of Midway losing or seriously injuring 66 men and receiving extensive damage. The carrier returned to Pearl Harbor May 27 for repairs and set sail for a coral atoll known as Midway. The Yorktown was so badly injured during the Battle of Coral Sea it was mistaken for another carrier in the Battle of Midway. The Japanese thought they had sunk the carrier a month prior.
Waller's duties were consolidated to aircraft refueling and damage control during the Battle of Midway. The Yorktown was a critical landing and take-off point for aircraft used to bomb the Japanese carriers. The aircrews who took off from the Yorktown are credited with finding and bombing the Japanese carrier Hiryu. The carrier and her crew are also credited with sinking three of the six Japanese carriers used to launch the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. claimed the victory as the Japanese retreated following the loss of four carriers and a large number of aircraft.
"Without support personnel, no mission can occur-especially not one as critical as the Battle of Midway," said Ms. Heidi Stark, 87th Air Base Wing historian.
The Yorktown lost power to its engines from several Japanese torpedo and dive bomber aircraft attacks. Waller, along with the crew, were tasked with performing their regular duties while also scrambling to repair the ship amid a barrage of incoming artillery. The crew was desperately trying to maintain the capability to receive and refuel the aircraft. A total of 307 Sailors lost their lives during the Battle of Midway.
"It is one thing to perform your everyday duties in a safe location, but when you are under live fire it is extraordinary," said Ms. Stark. "The carrier served as a base for the aircraft, so it must have been even harder knowing it was their duty to keep the ship afloat."
Aircraft were still using the deck as a landing and refueling point even though the ship's engines were no longer functional and the ship was listing 29 degrees to port. As the battle ensued, the Yorktown crew faced an increased volley from the enemy.
When the carrier began to capsize the captain, of the Yorktown, gave the order to abandon ship. The Sailors who worked so hard to defend and keep the carrier afloat had to jump off the side of the carrier and await rescue.
"I escaped the ship and swam until I was rescued by a destroyer," said Mr. Waller. "I had no injuries but I did experience ringing in my ears for three days straight following the battle."
The USS Hammann, a close by destroyer, threw down its lines and rescued the exhausted and battle weary survivors from the water.
The Yorktown floated throughout the night of June 4 into dawn. A crew of 100 battle stricken volunteers from the Yorktown, aboard the Hammann, went back to the carrier to relight the boilers and assist with the towing operation, said Waller.
Two crew members, aboard the mangled carrier, were still alive and needed to be rescued. The volunteers rescued the two injured Sailors and began putting out fires. By noon the plan to salvage the Yorktown was paying off, damaged aircraft were pushed over the side of the carrier and the listing on the carrier was being corrected. The USS Hammann assisted in the salvage effort by pumping a large amount of water out of the engineering spaces.
An enemy Japanese submarine, unknown to the six destroyers guarding the Yorktown salvage effort, gained a favorable firing position on the carrier and fired four torpedoes.
The crew of volunteers from the Yorktown spotted the torpedoes and fired into the water, but were unsuccessful. Three of the four torpedoes struck the Hammann and Yorktown. The Hammann was hit by one torpedo breaking its back causing it to sink rapidly and two torpedoes struck the Yorktown causing it to finally capsize and sink.
The Yorktown survived two pivotal battles, receiving severe damage, within a two month period. Through several barrages of dive and torpedo bombers a lone submarine, that found its way through five destroyers, fired the final blows that took down the ship nicknamed "Lucky Lady". The Yorktown earned three Battle Stars for her World War II service, two of which came from stopping the Japanese expansion and turning the tide of the war at Coral Sea and Midway.
Waller said, despite his 91 years, the memory of June 4, 1942, was still fresh in his mind 69 years later. The Midway survivor attended the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Battle of Midway ceremony where he was honored for his courage and heroism during the famous battle.
"I'm proud to have met Joseph Waller, a man who served our nation when we needed it most," said Petty Officer Second Class Kenneth Walls, 87th Air Base Wing Protocol specialist. "I am honored to carry on his legacy and serve in his wake."