On June 4, 1942 — a long time ago today — 15 Douglas TBD Devastators under the command of John C. Waldron went to seek out the Japanese fleet off Midway Island. They didn’t even know precisely where it was. But it was estimated to be 160 nautical miles, 240 degrees from the Hornet, 90 minutes flying time away. Half an hour out Waldron’s squadron was observed to change course, but it’s true heading from the scouting line was never accurately determined. What we do know is that Waldron’s Torpedo 8 found the Japanese fast carriers and attacked without support at about 9 am local time.
Every one of the airplanes was shot down by the superlative Japanese Zeros and anti-aircraft fire. Only one aviator, Ensign George Gay, survived the carnage. But what he saw next while bobbing in the water was remarkable.
Torpedo 8’s action had drawn the Japanese combat air patrol down to the water. Just then dive bombers led by Clarence Wade McClusky, Jr. and Max Leslie arrived and plunged down unopposed on the fuel and ordnance laden decks of the Japanese fleet. In three minutes Kaga, Akagi and Soryu were smashed and burning wrecks. The film maker John Ford, who filmed actual footage of the Japanese attacks on Midway Island, subsequently made a memorial film for the family members of Torpedo 8. “Only 30 copies of this movie were made, and all were sent to the families by the navy.” After 56 years John Waldron’s daughter, who had seen it only once in 1955, shared it with the public. It is now on YouTube.
The memories came home. As for Torpedo 8, it is still out there.