Friday, June 05, 2009

70th In Command, USS Constitution

That is how the Navy identifies CDR Bullard. These are the remarks he delivered on an incredibly perfect late spring day aboard USS Cassin Young DD-793. We were gathered on the fantail to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.
Thank you, XO.

Distinguished guests, guests, fellow commanding officers and friends thank you for joining us today as we recognize the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Midway and reflect on its meaning, both past and present. I would like to specifically thank Terry Savage and the Boston National Historic Park for allowing us to hold our ceremony here aboard CASSIN YOUNG. Thank you to all veterans or wars past and present and veteran’s organizations present today; we are proud to follow in your footsteps and uphold your legacy of service. I especially want to thank Aviation Machinists Mate 1st Class John Chayka, Commander Armand Legare USN(Ret) and their families. By taking the time to attend you allow us to personally connect with this pivotal event, in the same way that Old Ironsides allows us to connect with the origins of our sea services.

Why commemorate Midway? And why here, in one of the parts of America that is farthest from the place? I can think of several reasons.

First, the Chief of Naval Operations told me to. As the 67th anniversary of Midway approached, he directed that “Now is the time to renew and build upon our obligation to preserve our rich naval history and heritage. As the World War II veterans pass from our lives, we must carry their legacy forward by speaking to our Sailors and the public about their contributions to the Navy and the nation.”

And what exactly was this “contribution”? The Battle of Midway is unfortunately not among the more widely recognized and commemorated events in our nation’s history, so allow me just a brief minute or two to explain. In the six months since Pearl Harbor Japan’s advance across the Pacific had gone largely unchecked. The battered allied navies were on the ropes, Japanese expansion was threatening India and Australia, and even an invasion of Hawaii was a distinct possibility. On this day in 1942 the only thing standing between the weight of the combined Japanese fleet – including a carrier force, and large invasion and surface forces - and the reality of an invasion were three American aircraft carriers, a handful of escorts and a small joint force of Sailors, Marines and Airmen on Midway Island. They were where they were because Naval Intelligence had broken Japan’s naval code allowing Admiral Chester Nimitz to determine the Japanese were heading there. This in itself proved a great advantage, but everyone knows you need to do more than just show up to win. Through a combination of great leadership, judicious application of “calculated risk”, boatloads of courage, determination and sacrifice, and more than a little luck the American forces decisively defeated the Japanese navy at Midway. Four Japanese carriers – along with their air groups - were destroyed, to the loss of one American carrier, USS YORKTOWN. The Japanese advance was stopped dead in its tracks, and ultimate victory was forever put out of their reach.

Second, I see some interesting comparisons between the great victory at the Battle of Midway and the victories won by Boston’s very own Old Ironsides. The United States Navy faced an opponent superior in numbers that was, quite frankly, on a roll and not accustomed to defeat. The balance of sea power was clearly against the United States. In 1812 and 1942, the relatively new ship types – heavy frigates and aircraft carriers - were facing their first tests in combat and earned widespread recognition because of their success. As CONSTITUTION remains the centerpiece of Navy heritage and history today, so is the carrier the centerpiece of America’s power projection capability in the joint force. And, just like Old Ironsides, six of the ships at the Battle of Midway – four destroyers and two cruisers - were built right here in Boston.

But that’s where these faint similarities end. As proud and biased as I am toward CONSTITUTION and her victories, in importance they do not even register on the same scale as The Battle of Midway. The victory at Midway leveled the playing field in the Pacific, and shortly thereafter the allies would take the offensive. More importantly it bought time – time for the United States to execute the “Europe First” strategy agreed upon by the allies. Without the victory at Midway D-Day – which we rightfully hold in all due reverence – may have been delayed (or, worse yet, not have happened). Make no mistake – the Battle of Midway was a world-shaping event.

Finally, we should do it for the veterans - those who were there. There are many books, each with many hundreds of pages that go into excruciating (but very interesting) detail about every aspect of the battle, the ships, the equipment, the role of luck, who made mistakes, etc. etc. ad infinitum. But one fact remains immutable; the victory belongs to those who were there. And all that it gave our nation and the world was bought by the courage and sacrifice of young American Sailors and Marines, in spirit very much the same as those who walked the decks of Old Ironsides two centuries ago. Men like John Chayka and Armand Legare who, in the spirit of those who went before, paved the way for those veterans who came after, and so forth passing on this great American legacy to the young men and women who today sail into harm’s way.

Interestingly enough, I have found one more connection between Old Ironsides and the Battle of Midway. Both have a poem named after them. Many who have taken a tour of my ship (and I hope you all have…it’s free you know) have heard “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Among some material that Mr. Chayka has generously provided, is the poem “Men of Midway” by CAPT John W. Crawford, USN(Ret) who, as an Ensign, served aboard USS YORKTOWN at Midway.


Men of Midway, still on duty,
Far beyond the western shore,
Strong in courage, love of country
Unconquered, as in days of yore.

To the nation, send your message.
Down the years, a clarion call
Whate’er the odds, the answer, courage.
Bravery still will vanquish all.

When the call of duty beckons,
Proud to fight for home and nation,
Rise and meet the foe that threatens
As T’was done on Midway station.

Men of Midway, still on duty,
Down the ages, at the fore
Leading, guiding, still inspiring
As you did in days of yore.

I’m going to quote my boss one more time and leave with you a request (my crew can consider it an order). The CNO further said “In 2010, I intend for each region to host a similar ceremony as a focal point for commands and the community at large”. CONSTITUTION, the origin of our Navy’s history, must keep this day in 2010 and the years that follow. I would respectfully ask that our brothers and sisters in arms, and the communities and organizations of this great city and state, who provide such outstanding recognition and support to our military and veterans, keep this day with us. It is only fitting that we, who together keep and care for the origin of the world’s greatest Navy, take the time to honor and commemorate its greatest victory.

Thank You.

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