Memorial Day

It’s not talked about openly, as if the very idea of suicidal Americans is somehow un-American. I think a lot of this aversion to the truth has to do with the Japanese’s tactics of suicide pilots ramming their planes into American ships, but the hard old truth of the matter is that the nature of War demands that those who win wars to openly, and knowingly, walk bravely into the arms of Death.  I will submit to you here the outcome of World War Two would have been different had there not been Americans who committed their own version of Kamikaze.


On April 18, 1942, just four months after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor the United States launched 16 B-25’s off the deck on aircraft carriers for a strike against the Japanese homeland. They took off knowing they would not return to the carriers. They took off knowing they were going to be low on fuel after the raid. The 16 pilots and the crews of the B-25’s took off knowing that the raid would have almost no tactical value whatsoever, but psychologically, it was going to be the biggest surprise an enemy could receive. The crews of sixteen planes flew off into Hell to make a point. Incredibly, twenty-eight men survived the raid, most landing in Chine, and two were captured by our allies, the Russians. Most of the survivors returned to action.


As intense at the Doolittle Raid was the Battle Of Midway was to set the stage for how the conflict between the Americans and Japanese would be fought. Outnumbered, outgunned, and hopelessly behind in technology as far as aircraft was concerned, the Americans sought to ambush the Japanese near a tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. America put everything she owned on the table with the hopes of dealing the Japanese some sort of setback in their seemingly unstoppable wave of conquest. The Japanese meant to finish the Americans off in the Pacific once and for all. The Japanese took four of their top of the line carriers into battle, over two hundred fifty of their best pilots, and over one hundred and fifty support ships. The Americans arrived with two carriers, and less than fifty support ships. The single advantage the American had was they had broken the Japanese war code, and knew when the attack was coming, and where the Japanese would be.


The key to victory at Midway were American torpedo planes, which were hopelessly slow, had no agility, and were armed with torpedoes that didn’t always work. Three squadrons of American torpedo plans attacked the Japanese fleet and only a handful of American flyers lived to tell the tale of their bravery. All three squadrons knew when they took off their job was not to sink ships, but to draw the enemy fighters down, and to tie up the carriers. No one took off in those lumbering, ancient, and slow planes thinking they would make the trip back. None of these men made a run at an incredibly larger force with any hopes of doing very much more than opening a window of opportunity a very tiny crack.


It was all the American dive bombers needed.



The Japanese, refueling their fighters and trying desperately to rearm after the suicide run by the torpedo planes, were caught totally unprepared. In less than ninety minutes, three of the four Japanese carriers were dead in the water, and burning brightly. The fourth launched an attack that sank the American carrier Yorktown, but in turn was sunk by dive bombers from the American carrier, Enterprise. The American victory was as stunning as it was complete. The Japanese had lost their four best carriers, two hundred fifty planes and their pilots, and three thousand men. They had sunk the Yorktown in return, but their war plans lay in total ruin. The psychological effect of the victory was electric. American knew now that the Japanese were not invincible, and they could be beaten, and beaten badly. The Japanese concept that the Americans were weak and ineffectual fighters vanished in the thick black smoke of their carrier’s death at Midway.


The war would last another four years. Many more Americans would sacrifice their lives in ways vastly different than those at Midway, but for the same reasons. Men would die on beaches, and they would die in caves. Men would die in the jungles, and they would die in on the waves. They would fall from the sky, they would be shot, stabbed, and they would die by the hundreds, and by the thousands, and finally, before it was over with, they would die by the hundreds of thousands.


The idea these men didn’t know they were going to die, that each and every attack made wasn’t a form of suicide takes away from their bravery, I think. They knowingly died because they believed in something larger than their own lives. They believed their lives were more important than their deaths, if that life was spent achieving victory. These were young men, barely out of their teens. These were young men, barely old enough to shave, barely old enough to be called men sometimes, and they were all too young to die.


Midway was just one battle in a long war but it turned the tide of that war. The men who died that day went forward into death without knowing their sacrifice would be enough. They would never know if the war was lost, or won. They died not assured of victory, but only of death. Yet today I write this because I live in a time of peace, and in a land of freedom, that those men supplied to me. All of the horrors of that war I am free to write about, and think about, because those men did not think twice about what had to be done, and who had to do it. I can tell you they were brave, because what they did saved America. Their gallantry proved to the entire world that America could, and would, destroy utterly those who attacked her.


Today, I have a day off to remember those men. To each of them this is my way of saying thanks. I owe my words, my freedom, and my way of life to men who willing, and purposely died, who faced death and horror, so the rest of us would be free.


Take Care,


Mike Firesmith   Mike Firesmith wrote
on 5/30/2008 6:51:11 PM
I just wish there was some way to let them know it wasn't wasted, that they done good.

amberfire   amberfire wrote
on 5/30/2008 7:42:28 AM
Honorably done Mike. Our men and women serving, both now and in the past have always been the greatest heroes to me. As you said they believe in something bigger then themselves and that belief and their possible sacrifice is why we are free. My respect for them is great, and my respect and gratitude is given to you for writing such a wonderful article in their honor. Thanks.

Mike Firesmith   Mike Firesmith wrote
on 5/26/2008 5:43:00 PM
Auba, I like history, and I'm glad you like it too!

auba   auba wrote
on 5/26/2008 3:19:44 PM
this was rather interesting insightful i love historical blended with poignant thanks for sharing this not just this day, but anyday.

Mike Firesmith   Mike Firesmith wrote
on 5/26/2008 8:58:46 AM
I haven't heard that one, Bill. Sheltering the Americans from the Japanese was heroic in and of itself!

Mike Firesmith
Special Interest
Military and war
writing Mike Firesmith
I write
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