On June 4, 1942, 41-year-old U.S. Navy aviator John Waldron led a squadron of 15 unprotected, torpedo bombers into the heart of a Japanese enemy fleet stationed in the Pacific Ocean.
While the battle that ensued cost him and 13 of his mates their lives, it played a pivotal role in providing the United States with its first real victory in World War II.
More importantly, this victory would not have even occurred had it not been for Waldon’s willingness to break protocol and disobey his commanding officer.
According to The Daily Caller, earlier that morning the leader of the carrier’s air group, Stanhope Ring, “directed his pilots to head northwest of the last reported position of the Japanese fleet.”
“Waldron disagreed with this decision, feeling that they should head in the exact direction of that last sighting. He wasn’t shy about expressing this opinion, much the displeasure of Ring. Waldron continued to lobby his superior officer several times after the briefing ended, but to no avail.”
When at last the carrier air group departed, and the U.S.S. Hornet headed in what Waldron felt was the wrong direction, he reportedly tried one last time to explain to Ring via radio that he was leading the main group in the wrong direction. The commanding officer still wouldn’t listen, instead barking for Waldron to stay off the radio.
“The hell with you,” the 41-year-old aviator replied, after which he led his squadron away from the main group and toward an entirely different direction — the one he felt was right.
Less than an hour later, Waldron’s squadron stumbled on the enemy, though by then the main group was too far away to be of any of assistance.
Faced with a tough decision, and knowing full well that his team had zero fighter protection, the squad leader nevertheless chose to attack the enemy fleet in what The Caller described as a “suicidal attack run.”
As noted by Waymarking.com, every single plane in the squadron fell, and 29 of the 30 men present died.
“(T)heir sacrifice, however, had not been in vain,” the site noted, adding that the squadron “had drawn off the fighter cover over the Japanese carriers and forced the ships to maneuver radically.”
“With no fighters overhead and launching operations temporarily disrupted, the enemy lay open to the Douglas SBD Dauntlesses from Yorktown (CV-5) and Enterprise (CV-6) that sank three carriers, and changed the course of the battle.”
One year later Waldron was posthumously awarded a Navy Cross as per his “gallant spirit of self-sacrifice” and “conscientious devotion to the fulfillment of his mission,” according to Military Times.
Though this is just a short summary of the incredible actions this man took 75 years ago, it should nonetheless be as clear as day why he deserves to remembered on Memorial Day as a hero — one whose red-blooded attitude helped the United States score a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway.
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