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Ceremony recognizes turning point in World War II

Sailors stand at parade rest during Tuesday’s commemoration ceremony for the Battle of Midway. - --
Sailors stand at parade rest during Tuesday’s commemoration ceremony for the Battle of Midway.
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Retired Cmdr. Harry Ferrier still owns the baseball cap he wore the day he was hit in the head by Japanese gunfire and fell unconscious.

Some 20,000 feet in the air, 17-year-old radioman and gunner Ferrier came to with a gunshot to the wrist, the aircraft’s turret gunner dead and his pilot wounded in a malfunctioning TBF-1 Avenger.

“On the morning of (June) fourth, as we were flying out, we saw (Japanese aircraft) flying in,” Ferrier said.

“That was when we were caught by Japanese combat air patrol.”

Ferrier’s Torpedo Squadron 8 was sent into battle after the military famously cracked Japanese communication codes, revealing plans to take over the Midway Atoll, northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. He described how the gun shot to his wrist “initially felt like burning” and that when he regained consciousness, his gun was covered in blood from his head injury.

Thinking quickly, Ferrier and the pilot were able get the aircraft functioning, away from the combat air patrol and orient themselves without a working compass. They navigated themselves back to Pearl Harbor, guided by the smoke billowing up from the Japanese attack on Midway June 4, 1942. The battle continued until the U.S. Navy’s victory June 7.

“I’m honored to have served my country for 30 years,” Ferrier said.

Ferrier, and fellow survivor, retired Cmdr. Harvey Lasell, were guest speakers at Tuesday’s 71st Anniversary of the Battle of Midway on Seaplane Base.

The two shared their experiences with a crowd of more than 50 military personnel and fellow veterans.

Out of the six the Avengers who launched from Midway in response to Imperial Japanese Forces, Ferrier’s was the only one to survive. And of the 48 airmen of Torpedo Squadron 8, Ferrier and two other sailors were the only survivors.

Later in the battle, 27-year-old Fire Control Division Officer Lasell was serving on the USS Yorktown (CV-5) when they came under attack at Midway. The aircraft carrier suffered several torpedo hits, making it the only carrier during the battle to be lost. The Battle of Midway was the second major naval battle Lasell had seen, and the Yorktown had just been repaired from the damage it sustained at the Battle of the Coral Sea when she was sent to Midway.

Lasell described one instance where a torpedo was headed straight for him, which, he joked, “he didn’t like at all.”

It came within 1,500 feet before it veered off in another direction.

Lasell said another torpedo dropped down into the stacks and extinguished the boiler fires, ceasing propulsion ability. Because of the heat in the boiler room, Lasell said they would have had to wait over an hour before relighting them.

For that reason, they were ordered to abandon the ship, a decision that Lasell mourns because he believes they could have saved the USS Yorktown if they had waited.

“Some of the things he shared, I hadn’t heard before,” said Lasell’s daughter Joyce Kuhn, who attended the event. “I think of [the Yorktown] as just a ship my dad was on. But when you hear the whole story, it makes me realize what heroes those people were.”

“And I realize how lucky I am.”

Tuesday’s commemoration of the battle included a presenting of the colors, taps, remarks and a laying of a wreath at Crescent Harbor. A wreath has been used since ancient times to “crown” victors and the brave as a mark of honor.

The Battle of Midway is considered by military historians as a victory that marked a turning point for Pacific naval combat in World War II, according Capt. Christopher Phillips in his remarks.

In addition, “it provided the foundation for the Navy’s ascent as the preeminent sea power of the world.” The ceremony was followed by a reception and cutting of a commemorative cake.

Capt. Mike Nortier, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, happened to be on leave this week and said, “there was no way I was going to miss this.”

Nortier, who wanted to be an airman all of his life, said his favorite books as a boy were about the military, including “Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway,” by Walter Lord.

Nortier said that book was an inspiration.

“I told my mom, ‘when I grow up, I’m gonna fly,’” he said.

“And so I did.”

Air Controlman 1st Class(W) Jeremy Saunders, who has served 16 years in the Navy and attended Tuesday’s event, said he was familiar with the stories but that “it’s always good to hear them again. We have a strong sense of tradition here in the Navy.”

For Saunders, the event was a reminder that this country was built on the strength of its military.

“They say you should do your part,” Saunders said.

“This is my part.”

 

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