Seventy-one years ago this week, an under-equipped fleet of American aircraft carriers took the Japanese by surprise in a counterattack that would become a pivotal point in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
The Battle of Midway took place June 4-7, 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier. The American fleet was so greatly damaged it was only able to send three carriers, with limited pilots and provisions, to meet Japanese forces off the coast of Midway Atoll. Those men took to the sky and, against the odds, defeated the Japanese offensive.
In a ceremony aboard the USS Slater on Tuesday, Naval Support Activity Saratoga Springs brought together past and present naval personnel and members of the public to celebrate the battle that helped bring victory to America and the Allies.
The brief ceremony, which featured a wreath drop, was as important to the current naval personnel as it was for veterans who attended. Stephen Dennis, who served aboard the USS Atlanta during the Battle of Midway, was asked to drop the commemorative wreath as a bagpipe played “Amazing Grace.”
As remaining veterans of the Battle of Midway — and World War II in general — continue to dwindle in
number, the histories of those who served are often lost with them. Commemorating important events helps preserve what might otherwise be destroyed by time.
Chief Michael Mongiello, command chief of Naval Support Activity Saratoga Springs, said he was always told to understand the future of the Navy is to understand the past. He said his grandfather, who served in World War II in the Philippines, was part of a unique generation.
“He would never talk about [the war], and in talking to some of these other vets, you hear the same kind of thing,” Mongiello explained. “We’ll never have anything like them again.”
Nationwide, naval commemorations are held annually for the Battle of Midway, as well as other historical events, as part of an initiative to celebrate and remember those who served and those who gave their lives for their country.
Other World War II veterans present at the ceremony were Chief Clark Farnsworth of Scotia, who was stationed in Virginia in 1942, and John Petricco of Guilderland, a quartermaster sergeant who served on Navy ships throughout the Pacific Theater.
Petricco said it’s important to honor those who served in Midway and that it was an honor to attend the ceremony. He was stationed in Okinawa until Dec. 25, 1945, when he transferred to a carrier returning stateside.
Farnsworth, who didn’t leave the coast until after the war, served aboard the USS Leyte. He later came to work with the USS Slater/Destroyer Escort Historical Museum, where the ceremony was held.
Both Petricco and Farnsworth recall the first days of the Slater’s arrival and the hard work put into keeping it afloat. “I remember seeing it come up the river, and I couldn’t believe what garbage it was,” Petricco said.
Today, both agree the restoration went better than imagined.
The USS Slater was used during World War II to help supply ships get through enemy-infested waters and into England. It came to Albany in 1993.
Timothy Rizzuto, executive director of the museum, said the ship has brought tremendous riverfront development to Albany and was listed as the main tourist attraction in Albany last summer by TripAdvisor, an online travel and review site. He hopes to see nearly 15,000 visitors again this season.
Tours of the ship are given from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.