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USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (CVN 77) Hosts 68th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway Commemoration
From USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH Public Affairs

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (CVN 77) hosted two World War II veterans and hundreds of Sailors from across the Hampton Roads area, as they observed the 68th anniversary of the historic Battle of Midway on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier June 4.

The commemoration, hosted by Commander, United States Fleet Forces, Adm. J.C. Harvey Jr., was attended by Battle of Midway veterans William Eckel and Howard Snell. Both men served aboard ships during the battle, and traveled to Norfolk to attend the ceremony.

The Battle of Midway, which is often referred to as the turning point of World War II, took place June 4-7, 1942, when the Japanese sent the majority of their naval force to capture Midway Island, which was being used by U.S. forces as an airfield. The battle was primarily fought by aircraft launched from aircraft carriers. By the battle's end, the Japanese had to retreat after losing vital air superiority. The U.S. lost the carrier Yorktown while four Japanese fleet carriers were lost along with their crew.

The commemoration featured musical selections played by Fleet Forces Band, a moment of silence, remarks from Harvey and Kilcline, and an invocation and benediction led by Cmdr. Cameron Fish, command chaplain. A vintage TBM-1 Avenger conducted a fly over during the ceremony. The Avenger got its combat debut during the decisive battle and is also the same model of aircraft flown by the aircraft carrier's namesake George H.W. Bush.

The ceremony also featured a wreath-laying presentation, as Harvey was joined by Eckel and Snell to pay homage to the brave men who lost their lives during the battle.

"It was important to me that this event be by Sailors, about Sailors," Harvey said. The event that took place 68 years ago today was done by young American Sailors and pilots wearing dungarees and khakis. So to make that connection with them we are wearing our flight suits, our flight deck jerseys along with our Navy working uniforms, to pay honor to those young Sailors who stared everything in the face, when everything was on the table and rose to the occasion."

"We come together today to honor the brave men who fought to defend Midway, they were just ordinary Americans who responded to the call to serve their nation, but at Midway they were heroes," said guest speaker Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific, Vice. Adm. Thomas J. Kilcline.

Fish, whose father served in the Navy during World War II, recalled the huge impact that one naval battle had on not just the Navy, but countless individuals as well.

"The battle changed the tide of the war," he said. "I remember my father saying that things looked bleak. The success at Midway both halted the advance of the Japanese and lifted the spirit and morale of the whole nation. The Battle of Midway affects me very personally because it affected my father and mother. If it were not for that victory, I might not be here today," he said.

Kilcline said that our victory was not without a cost, we lost the aircraft carrier Yorktown along with 145 of our aircraft and 307 Americans lost their life in that battle while paying the ultimate cost for victory.

Fish also explained the significance of having two veterans on board for the commemoration.

"Having the veterans in attendance was absolutely wonderful," he said. "It's an honor and a privilege and extremely humbling to have them. These men were there, during the climax of World War II, and now they're here today."

Harvey discussed the importance of the commemoration being held on the Navy's newest aircraft carrier.

"It was important to me that we commemorate this day from the modern version of the Hornet, Yorktown and enterprise, which struck the decisive blow to the Japanese fleet and tie together what those Sailors did then to what our Sailors are doing now," Harvey said.