By Rear Adm. Roy Kelley
Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic
If time travel were possible, it would be interesting to go back and watch the Battle of Midway unfold. Sitting in the radio room, I could listen to pilots give updates on the position of the Japanese fleet. Then I would make my way to the flight deck and stand in awe watching Navy Avengers and Wildcats launch and recover. How amazing it would be to see and hear firsthand the actions of brave Sailors who literally reshaped history and the world as we know it today.
As a member of the Naval Air Force Atlantic team, the Battle of Midway is especially close to my heart because of the incredible impact it had on the Navy, Naval aviation and the evolution of how we conduct war from the sea.
Battle of Midway, June 1942. Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6) TBD-1 aircraft are prepared for launching on USS Enterprise (CV-6) at about 0730-0740 , June 4, 1942.Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
From 1942 to 2019, over the course of 77 years, many aspects of naval warfare have evolved—but some things remain resolute. During World War II, the aircraft carrier and its embarked air wing replaced the battleship as the most powerful naval offensive weapons system; that tide has not shifted.
It is amazing to see aircraft carriers are just as strategically vital to our nation’s defense now as then. While the concept of launching and recovering aircraft at sea has remained the same, the capability and lethality of our flattops has changed enormously.
The carriers at Midway were 820 feet long and dependent on oilers for fuel. Modern carriers are nearly 1,100 feet long and run on nuclear power. They can remain at sea for 25 years before needing to refuel.
As for our aircraft, the evolution is striking. Modern jets and helicopters have an increased lethality and can conduct a much wider range of missions, to include anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, search and rescue, precision strike, offensive and defensive counter-air and many others.
One area where you would find little difference, however, is the quality of our men and women serving in uniform. From the Revolutionary War through the Battle of Midway to our ships deployed around the world today, our Sailors transcend time, passing pride, patriotism and professionalism from one generation to the next.
Those serving today are a direct reflection of the Sailors that stood on the bridge, worked on the flight decks and sat in the cockpit of aircraft taking off from USS Yorktown, USS Enterprise and USS Hornet in June 1942. I have no doubt that just like their predecessors, these dedicated and extremely bright men and women will lead the next “greatest generation.”
In 1942, our Navy was the only thing standing between freedom and tyranny. And ironically, today we are facing similar global threats around the world.
GULF OF ALASKA (May 25, 2019) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Gulf of Alaska. Theodore Roosevelt is conducting routine operations in the Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erick A. Parsons/Released)
Our fleet of 11 aircraft carriers have traveled millions of miles across the world’s oceans to fight our adversaries, deter aggression and ensure international waters remain free. Our current adversaries may be flying a different flag than those in 1942, but their intent to restrict access and intimidate other nations on the high seas is something we have seen before.
The aircraft carrier proved its worth at Midway. And today and for decades to come, our Nimitz- and Ford-class carriers will remain the backbone of the fleet.
Three U.S. Navy aircraft carriers at Midway turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Today, at this moment, we have four carriers at sea: Lincoln, Reagan, Truman and Eisenhower. Each is manned by our nation’s best, prepared to take the fight to our enemies and ensure tyranny remains far from our shores.
For those who served at the Battle of Midway, we thank you for stepping forward to defend our great nation. For those who gave their lives during this historic engagement, your sacrifice was not in vain and will forever be remembered—especially by your shipmates in Naval aviation.