Three young U.S. Navy recruits met history over the weekend in the weathered faces of veterans of the Battle of Midway. They looked into each others’ eyes and shook hands.
And with hands raised, the duty of protecting the nation was assigned by members of the Greatest Generation to Generations Y and Z.
On San Diego’s historic USS Midway, three veterans up to age 103 acted as enlistment officers in a twilight Passing of the Torch ceremony on the 77th anniversary of the pivotal Pacific battle of World War II.
Calling the encounter “surreal” and “incredible,” the new sailors, not yet at boot camp, said meeting the veterans will propel them in their military careers.
One of them — Paige Dominquez of Tacoma, Washington — said: “This will help me remember why I am doing this.”
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Retired Rear Adm. John “Mac” McLaughlin, president and CEO of the USS Midway Museum, addressed an audience on the flight deck that included 31 family members of veterans of the June 1942 battle.
“The young men and women need to inherit the DNA of survivors of the Battle of Midway,” he said. “They need to hear the stories. They need to learn the lessons.”
Referring to some of the last surviving veterans of the battle, McLaughlin said the enlistees “need to understand that it’s their responsibility in their time in history to step forward and possibly sit in the front row like this at some time in their lives in the future.”
Midway invitees were treated Saturday night to a preview of a remake of the 1976 movie about the Battle of Midway to be released Nov. 8, starring Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz.
A replica of a Douglas TBD Devastator, an American torpedo bomber used in World War II, was built for the movie. It will be donated to the USS Midway Museum.
McLaughlin said no other Devastator copy exists and this fall it will join other historic aircraft on display.
“God bless our Navy and keep taking care of us” was the wish spoken to the new sailors by Ervin “Judge” Wendt, 103.
Born in Iowa, Wendt served in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. He made 11 torpedo aerial fights as an air bomber and tunnel gunman with the VT-8 Torpedo Squadron in the 1940s. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
Veteran Truxton “T.K.” Ford, in his mid-90s, was an aviation pilot 1st class on the USS Yorktown. He told the young enlistees: “I don’t know what they paid you. But when I signed on, they paid us $21 a month. If you wanted to buy life insurance, it cost you $6.45, and they took that out of the $21.”
He told the audience that he traveled up the ranks but balked at a potential promotion when the choice was becoming an admiral or going home and “cuddling with my wife.”
“I chose my wife and 40 years of marriage to a wonderful woman,” Ford said as his daughter, Merry Wiseman, smiled.
“Who wouldn’t take this wonderful lady” over decorations on his hat? he said, referring to his wife, Ruth, who died in 1986.
Ford was on the USS Yorktown when the Japanese bombed it, and he had to survive in the ocean without a life preserver until being rescued. He also fought in the earlier Battle of the Coral Sea.
Veteran Charles “Chuck” Monroe, a former aviation radioman 1st class, joined the Navy in 1941. He was assigned to Torpedo Squadron Eight and flew as a turret gunner in a torpedo bomber.
Monroe’s advice to the enlistees: “I’ve never been sorry for having been in the Navy. Enjoy the Navy because being in the Navy is a good experience.”
Enlistee Miles Dixon of San Diego talked about his reasons for entering the military.
“I thought it would be a really good opportunity to get into a new lifestyle that would really keep me on top of things and help me set up a future for myself and for my future family,” said the 18-year-old.
Enlistee Dominguez, 26, joined the Navy to “do something that made me feel like I was a part of something bigger, where I can make a difference. I wanted to better myself, but also wanted to take advantage of the college opportunities that are there.”
The San Diegan is a certified nurse assistant with a goal of becoming a registered nurse.
New sailor Emerson Albright, 17, has her sights on making the military a career and serving 20 plus years. She is assigned as an aviation ordnanceman.
Guest speaker Adm. John Christopher Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, told the guests of the newly launched tradition: “The memory of this historic battle represents the pride of a generation and the soul of our Navy. The ceremony reminds the next generation of sailors of the moral character, the personal sacrifice, selfless commitment and courage of the those who came before us.”
Aquilino spoke in support of the current crop of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The Ford class of aircraft carriers is innovation on a grand scale, he said.
“There are those who say our carriers are past their prime and are at risk due to adversary weapons systems. Well, I disagree,” the commander said.
“Today’s carrier and escort ships — and mostly importantly the sailors who man them — are also ready to show anyone who might challenge that thought that we will prove that they have it wrong.”