Remembering the 'incredible victory' at Midway


An underdog U.S. Navy broke the back of the Japanese fleet June 4, 1942, at the Battle of Midway. The ships never saw one another; the battle raged between carrier planes in the most decisive naval engagement of World War II.

Yesterday, three large wooden crates containing the pieces of carved granite that will be the permanent battle memorial arrived at Martin State Airport from a Thurmont monument company to begin their journey to the tiny Midway Islands, 1,100 miles northwest of Hawaii.

The Maryland Air National Guard's 135th Airlift Group will fly the crates today to Travis Air Force Base in California. From there the Air Force will fly them to Midway for the Aug. 31 dedication.

The monument has three sections. The center block, of black Impala granite from Canada, is carved on one side with a schematic map of the Battle of Midway and on the other with this quotation from author Walter Lord lauding the Americans:

"They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war. More than that, they added a new name -- Midway -- to that small list that inspires men by example. . . . Like Marathon, the Armada, the Marne. Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit -- a magic blend of skill, faith and valor -- that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory."

The two side blocks, Barre Gray granite from Vermont, are carved with the names of all the combat and support units involved, including the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, which repaired the damaged aircraft carrier Yorktown in three days, in time for it to join the battle, and the cryptographers who broke the Japanese code, allowing the Navy to prepare to meet the approaching enemy fleet.

Overseeing yesterday's operation were the stonemason, John A. Kinnaird, 41, from Thurmont, a fourth-generation monument-maker, and Dr. James D'Angelo, 58, of Rockville, president of the International Midway Memorial Foundation.

The 50th anniversary of the battle was commemorated in 1992, and that September the foundation was started to establish a permanent memorial, said Dr. D'Angelo, a Vietnam-era Air Force medical officer.

His private group, which includes many Midway veterans, has raised about $50,000 for the entire project, which includes the monument, silver medallions for Midway veterans and a documentary being filmed in the United States and Japan, he said.

The largest single contribution, $25,000, came from Baltimore's Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Memorial Foundation. Ensign Kelly, a fighter pilot flying off the carrier Hornet, was lost during the Battle of Midway. His father, C. Markland Kelly Sr., an automobile dealer, was president of the City Council during the war and established the foundation in honor of his only son.

Dr. D'Angelo said he became a student of the Pacific war, particularly Midway, as a teen-ager. He has lectured on the battle in schools and conducted a nine-hour symposium on it in Washington in 1992.

Mr. Kinnaird, a burly, bearded man, came to the United States at age 7, when his father immigrated from Aberdeen -- Scotland's Granite Capital -- to pursue his craft in Thurmont.

He said Dr. D'Angelo approached him two years ago with the concept. They eventually agreed on a design that satisfied the American Battlefield Monuments Commission and the Navy-Marine Historic Center, which ruled on the historical accuracy of the information on the memorial.

Once the design was approved -- after "many, many changes," Mr. Kinnaird said -- he obtained the granite and enlisted his family -- his wife, Karen, and two of their children, Christopher, 21, and Heather, 15 --in the painstaking task of carving the inscriptions, using rubber stencils and sandblasting. The work took about nine months, he said.

Dr. D'Angelo said he will make his second visit to Midway in about two weeks to pick the final site for the monument on Sand Island, which has the only airstrip in the islands able to handle cargo planes.

Speakers at the dedication next month are to include former Navy Secretary J. William Middendorf II; Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, the chief of naval operations.

A bronze plaque will be placed on Eastern Island to rededicate Henderson Field, named for Marine Maj. Lofton R. Henderson, who died in the battle.

A bill to be introduced in the U.S. Senate next week would designate the Midway Islands as a national memorial, Dr. D'Angelo said.

The Japanese plan of conquest was in high gear when Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto hatched his plan to lure the U.S. aircraft carriers toward Midway, where his overwhelming force could destroy the U.S. fleet and then move on to Hawaii.

Alerted by code-breakers, Adm. Chester Nimitz, the U.S. commander, was able to position his smaller force to surprise the Japanese fleet.

As part of the Aug. 31 ceremony, retired Navy Capt. Jack H. Reid, who spotted the first column of enemy ships 700 miles southwest of Midway from his PBY Catalina flying boat, will co-pilot a PBY to Midway.

The PBY will drop a wreath where the carrier Yorktown was sunk, along with the ashes of Lt. George Gay, who was the only survivor of his 15-plane torpedo squadron from the carrier Hornet. Mr. Gay died last year.

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