Veteran’s Day Roll Call, Midway Movie

Veteran’s Day Roll Call, Midway Movie

Last base, three years with the 1962nd Communications Group, Kadena AFB, Okinawa, Japan, where my number two son was born. Staff Sergeant, the only (as I say) title I ever cared for, and electronic cryptographic tech.


It is well we who have severed, especially before the military started on the Path of Pozzing, to keep up with each other.

The other excuse for this post is I heard there was a new Midway movie. The trailer, and the review by Ed Morrissey is of note.

Morrissey didn’t think the CGI overblown, but you can’t tell that by the trailer, in which the computers that did the work look like they must have overheated and had anxiety attacks. Every escape is hair breadth. Physics is suspended. Planes at high speed thread between palm trees. between palm trees! Explosions look like Christmas.

Maybe that’s my take because I don’t go to movies and don’t know well how these graphics progress. These kinds of cartoony effects may seem perfectly natural by now. My kind of effects, because they had to be made with real metal and gasoline, was in Tora! Tora! Tora!, which if you haven’t seen, you must. (My wife loves to sit by my side as I narrate that movie, saying, in great detail, which parts are correct, and which not.)

I wonder how accurate Midway will be. Midway, the real battle, for those who know its history, was a mess. It was a near-run thing, with the Japanese almost coming out on top, or making good their escape.

Still, it was won, and as every historian agrees, it broke Japan’s back. The rest of the war was mainly defensive for them, trying and failing to hold their early gains.

Skip all that.

What got me juiced was the news that a figure I have long admired will be a focus in the film. Edwin T. Layton, the naval intelligence officer and cryptographer (yes) who not only tried to warn the powers that be about Peal Harbor, but who was also instrumental at Midway and at other parts of the Pacific War.

The book to read is And I Was There: Breaking the Secrets – Pearl Harbor and Midway. If you have any interest in the Pacific War, this is a necessary book. A fascinating tour of the cryptographic and radio techniques of the day, but more of the internecine naval politics that almost sunk the Pacific fleet.

Layton argues persuasively that Pearl Harbor was not a conspiracy. Meaning the attack really was a shock to the arrogant brass, though not to him. FDR and the hierarchy did try to goad Japan into hitting first, and an attack was suspected and desired, but at Singapore or the PI or or somewhere else, not at Pearl.

Two more must-reads are Hiroyuki Agawa’s The Reluctant Admiral: Yamamoto and the Imperial Navy and John Toland’s The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945, the first volume of the latter a vivid and gripping account of the bitter Army-Navy politics in Japan.

Now Layton spoke Japanese, and even knew the American-trained Yamamoto. He had been able to read the Japanese Purple Code, which the Washington brass infamously failed to parlay into anything useful.

After Pearl, heads had to roll. The King brothers, Admirals at the top in Washington, had Layton’s many warning dispatches, which had to be explained away. So Layton was minimized. They associated Layton with his friend and colleague and code breaker Joseph Rochefort, who was rumored to be not quite right in the head, and therefore his work was not to be trusted, because he wandered around his office in a bathrobe and slippers.

These charges were true. But what the propaganda pushers failed to note was that Rochefort worked in a room that was highly air conditioned, the early computer-machines needing the frigid air to avoid overheating. It was either the bathrobe or freeze to death. He worked tirelessly, forgoing, at times, shaving and showering. Which, of course, many men do at war.

Both Rochefort and Layton escaped from Pearl, however, after an official victim was designated. Pearl Harbor commander Husband Kimmel’s head was figuratively lopped off (Kimmel’s book is also excellent; good luck finding a copy; and it is natural defeated commanders lose their job, even if their losses aren’t their fault, future morale being of prime importance).

The best part for both Rochefort and Layton was still to come, at Midway. They again pegged the correct location, whereas others were thinking the next Japanese attack would be Port Moresby or even Alaska, they figured on Midway.

How did they know Midway? Somebody got the idea to broadcast in the clear that Midway, a dinky island, was running low on water (broken desalination machines), and Layton told Chester Nimitz about it. The broadcast was made, picked up by Japan, who then told of the water “emergency” in their encrypted broadcasts about their next target.

I’m sure that clever bit must have made it into the movie. If anybody has seen it, let us know.

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  1. Husband Kimmel’s book is on Alibris (the best source for old, out of print books):

    Me? US Air Force cryptolinguist, Vietnamese: Presidio of Monterey, California; Goodfellow AFB, TX; Clark AB, Philippines. Sergeant, 5 years. Counter-terrorism operations, civilian intelligence, with Army, Navy, Air Force: Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Ghana, Kuwait, Iraq, Europe. 5 years.

  2. Happy Veteran’s Day. If you’ve been there and done that, you know who you are.
    The 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was a couple days ago. You wouldn’t know it by the news.

    Army 05K/98K (crypto interceptor, equivalent to Navy CTT), West Berlin (1988-1991). 97B (counterintelligence), Albania & Kosovo (1999); Iraq (2003-2004).

  3. Woody Hayes, the (in)famous former Ohio State football coach, was also the head of the military history department at OSU. Every year on Veteran’s Day, he took over their PBS station and broadcast 24 hours of war movies, with commentary. My favorites were “Tora! Tora! Tora” and “Midway.” I loved how the old movies told the Japanese side, too, without making them into either monsters or victims.

  4. Military brat in a multigenerational military family. Sadly, I failed the physical (eyes and feet), though quite well on the qualifying exam. I did do civilian service that had a military reserve component. Granddad (the one that raised me after dad’s death) was Army and served in The Great War. He made Sergeant. Some uncles also were army, navy and merchant marine. Dad was Air Force, also made Sergeant. Youngest son made LT in the Navy. Sister’s husband was Navy, too; and also made Sergeant. None in the family, that I know of, were Marines.

    This day will always be Armistice Day, to me. One memory of my granddad that I still hold was going to an Armistice Day parade, with him in it, not long before his death.

  5. Oh yeah, computer graphics are darned good, these days, and very realistic, if so desired.

  6. Ye Olde Statistician

    The water trick is in the movie.
    So is the bathrobe.

    cadet SSgt Army Artillery ROTC. A wise military then classified me 4F, but I do know how to call down artillery fire on your head. You have been warned.
    my father’s cousin:
    Sgt. Tommy Flynn, USMC CAC team Papa Three, near Cam Lo, Vietnam’
    my father:
    Pfc Joseph Flynn, USMC, 5th Eng. Btn., 5th Marine Division, Iwo Jima, Jap.Occ.
    my maternal grandfather:
    Pfc. Harry Singley, AEF, 304th Eng., 72nd “Rainbow” Div., Meuse-Argonne Offensive. wd. shrapnel, gas
    My paternal grandfather:
    Francis T. Flynn was still in the cadet corps when peace broke out.

    Since all my further ancestors were in Europe, we must turn to my wife, The Incomparable Marge starting with her great-great grandfather:
    Pvt. John H. Hammontree, Co. H, 5th Tenn. Inf., US Vol.: Cumberland Gap, Stones River, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Atlanta. wd. right leg
    John’s grandfather
    Pvt. James Hammontree, Capt. Duncan’s Co. of Col. Bunch’s Regiment (2nd Regt., East Tennessee Militia): Horseshoe Bend.
    James’ two great-uncles:
    Pvt. John Hammontree, Capt. John Mountjoy’s Co. of Foot, 10th Virginia, Continental Line: Brandywine, Germantown, d. Valley Forge
    Pvt. Harris[on] Hammontree, Capt. Wm. Cunningham’s Co. of Foot, 1st Virginia, Continental Line: Valley Forge, Monmouth, killed by Indians on the frontier.

  7. God’s hand was in Midway.
    E-4 Sergeant. Team Leader.
    USAF 1682 DASQ Shaw
    1836 EIS Weisbaden (TDY everywhere NATO had a mountaintop.)
    Served with snake eaters, stationed Camp Lejeune, flew in Marine One.
    Son is a SCPO COB on a Virginia Class.
    Multiple nieces and nephews, USAF, Army, Navy and Marines.
    God is good.

  8. Sylvain Allard

    I saw the movie Sunday.

    I preferred the 1960s version which was less confusing and more matters of fact.

    There are some new facts in the new release that were not in the 1960s movie. Mainly concentrated around some pilots who participated to the attack. The movie spends too much time on the Pearl Harbour attack, the Doolittle’s raid, and Japanese expansion in the Pacific. They mentioned the Coral sea events.

    The Japanese are often portrayed negatively and irrespecutful of the USA. I don’t believe that the Japanese saw the USA as inferior at least in intelligence.

  9. John Moore

    We saw the movie a couple of days ago, and greatly enjoyed it. As far as could tell, it was historically accurate, although it’s been a long time since I read the histories. The special effects were delightful.

    The movie had the Midway water system failure deception in the movie, BTW, and the crytoanalyst in pajamas.

    BTW… A friend served at that station at Kadena back during Vietnam, as a technician. I passed through Kadena in 1968 on a P-3 Orion on the way back from Vietnam – I was the radio operator. Earlier that year, we had flown to Midway and spent a day, and there was still some shrapnel there form the attack, and a damaged pill box. These days, Midway is a wildlife preserve, and there is only one flight a week. During Vietnam, it was pretty busy, but with lots of planes taking damage from “goonie bird” strikes.

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