Scudder Hall galley is a familiar site to many Sailors, Marines and civilians onboard Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. Inside, its staff of culinary specialists and civilian employees serve up hearty meals daily to sustain those assigned to tenant commands at both NWS Yorktown and Cheatham Annex.
In addition to the lunchtime meal, on June 7, 2021, a handful of service members and civilians enjoyed a hearty portion of naval history in the form of a historical presentation by Laura Orr, Director of Education at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk.
Orr’s presentation centered around one of the U.S. Navy’s most historically significant battles in the Pacific during World War II, the Battle of Midway. June 2021 marks the 79th anniversary of the multi-day naval engagement with Japanese forces. The battle centered around tiny Midway Atoll from June 3-7, 1942.
During the presentation, attendees had the opportunity to hear about the American naval experience and specifically about the sacrifices they made during this pivotal moment in history.
The presentation started with the narrative of a Narwhal-class submarine, USS Nautilus (SS 168). The 12-year-old submarine’s skipper, LCDR William Brockman, was on his first war patrol at the time. Nautilus escaped strafing from Japanese aircraft on the morning of June 4, 1942 and managed to move into an attack position to fire torpedoes at the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga. The Mark 14 torpedoes fired by Nautilus did not detonate as anticipated.
Lt. Cmdr. Brockman would later report, that “Ships were on all sides [of us] moving across the field at high speed and circling away to avoid the submarine’s position…. A battleship was on our port bow and firing her whole starboard side battery at the periscope.”
The presentation shifted to reflect some of the experiences of naval aviators from USS Enterprise (CV 6), USS Yorktown (CV 5), and USS Hornet (CV 8). One of them, LCDR Lance Massey, was in command of Torpedo Squadron 3 from USS Yorktown (CV 5). His squadron attacked the Japanese carrier Hiryu and only three crewmen from this squadron survived. One of them, Radioman 3rd Class Lloyd Charles Childers, recalled LCDR Massey’s final moments noting, “I watched their plane hit the water, exploding in a mass of churning fire. Those were the final seconds in the lives of LCDR Massey and Chief Perry. The only good part was that it was quick.”
During the morning portion of the battle, American dive bombers managed to sink three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers, coming back later in the day to sink the fourth carrier. During the intervening hours, USS Yorktown (CV 5) fell victim to attacking Japanese aircraft and suffered significant bomb damage. One of her crewmen, Yeoman Dan Kaseberg, recalled the horrific scene, reminiscing: “Fire hoses were in shreds, shrapnel had scattered all over. How the bombs missed me I’ll never know. One thing I do remember quite vividly, was having a very one-sided conversation with the man in the sky.”
At 1455 on the afternoon of June 4, 1942, Yorktown’s Commanding Officer, Captain Elliott Buckmaster, ordered the crew to abandon ship. Kaseberg and over 2,000 Sailors did so and were rescued by escorting ships. As Yorktown was being towed back to Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine found the ship and loosed its torpedoes, sinking Yorktown and an accompanying destroyer, USS Hammann (DD 412). Yorktown, despite efforts of salvage crews, sank on June 7, 1942.
The pivotal battle involved 26 U.S. ships, 360 planes, and 19 submarines. 307 Sailors, Marines and aviators perished or were lost at sea, while Japanese forces suffered a similar fate, and sustained the loss of over 3,000 casualties, along with a cruiser and four fleet aircraft carriers.
NWS Yorktown’s Commanding Officer Captain Jason Schneider provided some closing remarks after a short question and answer session.
“Today our service members and civilians had an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with one of America’s most important naval victories of World War II, the Battle of Midway,” stated Captain Schneider. “The ability to combine the lessons of our past with today’s U.S. Navy strategies are key to mission success.” There was a brief cake cutting afterwards, and those present at Scudder Hall for the presentation departed after learning and reflecting on this pivotal naval engagement.