NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- Following the solemn ceremony dedicated to the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Midway at the Great Lakes Naval Museum, a survivor of that battle told the capacity audience about his experiences in the Pacific during World War II.
Navy veteran Joe Sanes, of Wilmette, Ill., attended boot camp at Great Lakes for a mere four weeks in November and December of 1941, but was shipped out before finishing boot camp as a seaman apprentice, and was quickly on his way to the Pacific following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.
"We went into battle without fanfare and we returned from battle without fanfare," Sanes said to the mesmerized audience.
During the ceremony, Capt. Randy Lynch, Naval Station Great Lakes (NSGL) commanding officer, spoke about the importance of the Battle of Midway.
"The Battle of Midway is not just a story about ships and aircraft," said Lynch. "The real story is about the people who fought, the pilots who flew the planes, and the Sailors who manned the ships. And it was our Sailors' ability to make tough decisions in the midst of tremendous uncertainty and profound risk that would give us victory at Midway. Virtually every decision in this great battle would prove to be absolutely critical to the outcome."
Navy Band Great Lakes provided musical accompaniment for the ceremony. Logistics Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW/EXW) Rashaad Essex, NSGL community outreach coordinator, was the master of ceremonies for the event. Cmdr. Mike Thibodeau, NSGL executive officer, and Command Master Chief David Steo, placed the wreath.
Sanes served in the Navy from 1941-47. He was on the crew of USS Hammann (DD-412) just as the Pacific Ocean theater was getting started, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Hammann helped check the advancing Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 6, 1942. The ship screened for USS Lexington (CV-2), fighting off Japanese torpedo planes. During the battle, the Japanese sank the Lexington. The Hammann crew helped rescue 500 of the Lexington's Sailors.
After that battle, the Hammann was sent to Pearl Harbor where Sanes said he could still see smoke on USS Arizona (BB-39). Upon leaving, the Hammann joined the task force that took part in the Battle of Midway. This time the ship screened USS Yorktown (CV-5). On June 4, the Yorktown took two torpedoes and the Sailors abandoned ship that afternoon. The Hammann picked up survivors.
Hammann came aside Yorktown to aid the repair effort. On June 6, 1942, Sanes was on watch when a Japanese submarine sent four torpedoes toward them.
Two torpedoes missed completely. One, however, went under Hammann and hit Yorktown. Another hit Hammann square. As Sanes saw those torpedoes coming, he hit the deck and reflected on his mortality.
"At 1530 I saw the attack and thought 'what a crappy end' but my thoughts were with another six-letter word," Sanes said. "By the time I got to the deck the water was at my ankles. I didn't have to dive off."
Sanes said he swam to a whale boat for safety with his boots on. The Hammann sank in about four minutes.
He said he saw underwater explosions where he believes most of the men died. He said 79 enlisted personnel were killed as were 10 of the 14 officers on the Hammann.
"(The survivors) were not heroes," Sanes said. "The real heroes are the ones who didn't come back."
"Very moving ceremony today," Thibodeau said afterward. "It was fascinating to listen to Mr. Joe Sanes tell his personal story. Great job to all involved."
"Today we have the opportunity to salute a warrior who fought for his country at the Battle of Midway," Lynch said to the audience during the ceremony. "Words cannot express our nation's gratitude for your extraordinary service."
Sanes will be a guest of honor during the Recruit Training Command graduation ceremony, June 14.
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