Battle of Midway ceremony held in shadow of ‘Gigi’


Midway is an atoll of two islands in the Pacific Ocean barely big enough to hold an airport.

Yet this was the site of the most decisive single naval battle in U.S. history, a fight that determined the outcome of the War in the Pacific.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the PBY Memorial Foundation hosted a Battle of Midway remembrance ceremony June 3. The ceremony took place under the sturdy wing of the PBY Catalina aircraft “Gigi” on display off Pioneer Way in downtown Oak Harbor.

On hand were U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns, veterans, active-duty personnel and other supporters. Special guest Harvey Lasell watched the ceremony from a special seat up front. During the battle he was a 27-year-old fire control division officer aboard the USS Yorktown. He fought the Japanese aerial attack from the flight deck. A month earlier he survived the Battle of Coral Sea.

Also honored with an empty chair was the late Harry Ferrier who died in April. At the Battle of Midway, 17-year-old Ferrier was a radioman and gunner who flew into battle in a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger. He and his crew kept the Japanese Carrier Striking Force busy, carrying out five attack waves without cover. Out of the six Avengers that launched that day, his was the only one that returned.

Under the wing of a PBY was an especially appropriate place to remember, given the importance of patrol and reconnaissance aircraft in the battle, said NAS Whidbey Commander Capt. Geoff Moore, who delivered the keynote address.

Capt. Geoff Moore and Air Traffic Controller 3rd Class Junie Whitson lay a wreath during a Battle of Midway memorial a the Patrol Boat Consolidated Museum June 3.

“They were the vital eyes and ears that gave us the advantage of first strike,” Moore said. “Crews flying the PBY-5A ‘Catalina’ patrol bomber similar to the one behind me made first contact on the morning of 3 June, with pilot Ensign James Lyle sighting a pair of Japanese minesweepers.”

Moore recounted the highlights of the battle, which occurred six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thanks in major advances in code breaking, the U.S. was able to put a stop to Japan’s planned ambush of our country’s remaining aircraft carriers. American scouts found the Japanese early the morning of June 4. Then American carrier-based planes turned the tide. Japanese carriers were caught while refueling and rearming their planes.

In all, the Japanese lost four fleet carriers and a heavy cruiser, 322 aircraft and more than 3,500 sailors. The U.S. lost the Yorktown and 307 lives.

“As important as the loss of the carriers themselves, the loss of over 100 aviators and 700 maintenance workers would have an equally damaging effect on their ability to carry out effective aviation operations,” said Moore. “Showing the world that a squadron’s capability is more than just those in the air. It requires the skills of every person assigned.”

Moore said the loss of Japanese maintenance expertise symbolizes the incredible value of U.S. aviation maintainers.