While there are an infinite number of stories like this one, the acts of Torpedo Squadron 8 on June 4, 1942 serve as a vivid reminder of what Memorial Day is all about.

Torpedo Squadron 8 aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8) June 4, 1942. Photo: U.S. Navy

Torpedo Squadron 8 aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8) June 4, 1942. Photo: U.S. Navy

If worst comes to worst, I want each one of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only plane left to make a final run in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with us all. Good luck, happy landings, and give ’em hell!

Lt. Commander John Waldron, USN

You’ve probably heard of Battle of Midway. Movies, books, and word-of-mouth tales have forever cemented the significance of this conflict to world history. This battle marked the turning point of the World War II in the Pacific.  On that day, three squadrons of SBD scout bombers from the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown dove on the Japanese fleet and put the Japanese Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu carriers out of action.  Later that day, American carrier-based planes sank a fourth carrier – the Hiryu, effectively ending the dominance of Japanese naval power.

What is not so well known are the amazing circumstances that led to the United States Navy turning the tide of the war within minutes. While the story of the Battle of Midway is filled with many incredible events, any of which could have changed the entire outcome of the battle, one stands out.

Lt. Commander John Waldron led Torpedo Squadron Eight straight into the jaws of the Japanese fleet, unescorted by fighter cover. Japanese Zero fighter aircraft, protecting the fleet from high above, found the temptation of attacking the unprotected slow and lumbering American torpedo planes irresistible and quickly descended to sea level to stop the torpedo attack. The fast and maneuverable Zero fighters destroyed Lt. Commander Waldron’s entire squadron. Within minutes, every single plane in Waldron’s squadron was shot down. Worse yet, not one plane got close enough to the Japanese fleet to score a single hit.

What appeared to be total sacrifice without result by Lt. Commander John Waldron and those brave American pilots would arguably change the outcome of the war.  As the Zero fighters, now at sea level, finished off Torpedo Squadron Eight, the three squadrons of SBD scout bombers arrived high above, and commenced the attack, completely unopposed by the now out of range Zero fighters.  Within minutes, three Japanese carriers were burning out of control and the tide of the war had changed forever. What looked to be a total loss of men and machine proved to be the factor that made the dive bomber attack succeed. Had the Zero fighters remained in position above the fleet, the scout bombers never would have had the opportunity to destroy the carriers below. While not known by the lost pilots of Torpedo Squadron 8, their commitment and sacrifice changed world history.