WASHINGTON — When Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson strode to the center of the United States Navy Memorial to lay his wreath commemorating the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Midway on Tuesday morning, his salute was accompanied by a drum roll.
That dull faraway sound of battle gave way to a lone bugle playing “Taps,” a tribute to the 307 American service members killed in what became a strategic victory for the United States against a Japanese invasion force, forever turning the tide of World War II in the Pacific.
In the speech that followed, Richardson placed the Midway commemoration into the context of recent somber celebrations — the Battle of the Coral Sea, Memorial Day and the upcoming 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
These commemorations recalled moments in American history when “our nation’s future literally was held in the balance,” Richardson said.
He motioned to a row of Midway veterans seated behind him and thanked them for their humble efforts to “preserve a nation in a battle that has been called ‘the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.’"
Fought from June 4 - 6, 1942, the Navy under the leadership of Admirals Chester Nimitz, Raymond A. Spruance and Frank Jack Fletcher turned back a Japanese invasion fleet, destroying four enemy carriers and a heavy cruiser.
“It might be tempting to attribute success at Midway, at the end of the day, to the stroke of luck, a series of lucky events that when strung together add up to something a little less than a miracle,” Richardson said. "But I’ll tell you what — this is luck that we made.
“This was luck that was formed by the tenacity and the fighting spirit and the fortitude of everybody involved.”
Gazing across the long years that followed from Midway, Richardson praised the strong alliance that formed between the United States and the Japanese democracy that emerged from the war. He credited it partly for the peace, prosperity and security enjoyed by Pacific Rim nations since the end of World War II.
But he also urged today’s sailors and Marines to study and honor the heroism of the generation of service members who fought in World War II and the Navy they forged in the crucible of battle.
“Today, across the fleet, ships are celebrating the Battle of Midway,” Richardson said. "Every sailor takes a moment to pause and think about what happened on this glorious day.
"And to mark that today, across the Navy, at morning colors ships are hoisting the traditional Union Jack — a version of this jack that flew in ports across the Pacific as the Navy island hopped its way across that vast ocean and in the Atlantic as it supported operations to liberate the European continent.
“It’s deeply connected to our maritime heritage and our rise as a global nation and our continued role as a global superpower.”
In the waning days of his command, CNO Richardson called on his sailors and their officers to rededicate themselves to the core lessons learned at Midway — initiative, integrity, toughness and accountability.
“We can’t ever predict what our efforts might lead to, but as you’ve seen, and as so many other examples bear out, these things add up,” Richardson said.
“These small contributions add up in ways that we can never understand. And they add up to victory.”