August 29, 2011

Directed by John Ford, this Academy Award-winning documentary follows the battle with footage shot by Navy cameramen. Ford served in the U.S. Navy as a commander and documentary filmmaker during the war, and in this excerpt he was actually wounded by enemy fire while filming. He describes the experience in an interview with a Navy historian:

By this time the attack had started in earnest. There was some dive bombing at objectives like water towers, [they] got the hangar right away. I was close to the hangar and I was lined up on it with my camera, figuring it would be one of the first things they got. It wasn’t any of the dive bombers [that got it]. A Zero [Japanese plane] flew about 50 feet over it and dropped a bomb and hit it, the whole thing went up. I was knocked unconscious. Just knocked me goofy for a bit, and I pulled myself out of it. I did manage to get the picture. You may have seen it in [the movie] “The Battle of Midway.” It’s where the plane flies over the hangar and everything goes up in smoke and debris, you can see one big chunk coming for the camera.

Everybody, of course, nearly everybody except the gun crews were under ground. The Marines did a great job. There was not much shooting but when they did it was evidently the first time these boys had been under fire but they were really well trained. Our bluejackets and our Marine gun crews seemed to me to be excellent. There was no spasmodic firing, there was no firing at nothing. They just waited until they got a shot and it usually counted.

For photographs of Midway, see Alan Taylor’s World War II retrospective on In Focus.

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