“READING THOSE WORDS SENDS a chill down the spine, particularly when you realize that the man who wrote them died the next morning doing exactly what he had urged his men to do. He was Lt. Comdr. Jack Waldron of Torpedo Squadron 8 of the USS Hornet.
Leading his squadron of Devastator torpedo bombers, an underpowered and dangerously slow plane, right into the heart of the Japanese carrier force, Waldron and his men were mercilessly shot down by the faster and more maneuverable Zeroes and the ships ‘antiaircraft power.
If… worst comes to worst,
I want each one of you to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one 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, and give ’em hell.
An hour and a half later, a subsequent wave of Dauntless dive bombers, led by Lt. Comdr. Wade McCluskey. struck the carrier force when it was at its most vulnerable with some Zeroes returning from an attack low on fuel, others on the carrier deck awaiting refueling, and fuel lines looping across the deck. Within six minutes, three of the carriers were on fire and would ultimately sink.
A fourth was hit later that afternoon and would also sink, but not before launching an attack on the USS Yorktown. This was the Battle of Midway, and it was won in part by what historian Victor Davis Hanson calls “pilot initiative.” Inherent in this initiative was courage and bravery in the cause of something greater than themselves…”