National Press Club

WWII Midway veteran recounts epic battle

July 13, 2017 | By Kenneth Dalecki |

Midway veteran Jack Crawford shows Post 20 Commander Jim Noone his Legion binoculars.

Midway veteran Jack Crawford shows Post 20 Commander Jim Noone his Legion binoculars.

Photo/Image: Kenneth Dalecki

Capt. John "Jack" Crawford, 98, a veteran of the Battle of Midway that turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific in favor of the U.S., recalled his role in the epic sea clash at an open meeting of NPC American Legion Post 20 on Thursday, July 13.

Crawford was a Navy ensign when he reported for duty aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown the night before the doomed ship sailed from Pearl Harbor in May, 1942 on a mission to intercept a powerful Japanese task force headed for the U.S. island of Midway. Crawford told a remarkable story of recovering a pair of binoculars given to him by The American Legion after leaving them behind on the sinking ship.

The New Hampshire native graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., 12 days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and quickly achieved dominance in the Western Pacific.

"I managed to barely get aboard the night before the Yorktown sortied for Midway," the retired Navy captain recalled.

Once at sea, sailors in the U.S. task force were told they were going to intercept aircraft carriers of the Imperial Navy off Midway. Not knowing the U.S. had broken Japan's secret codes, Crawford said "I wondered, how in heck did we know all this?"

Crawford marveled at the bravery of the torpedo plane pilots he spent time with the day before the battle because he said they had to know they would be on a virtual suicide mission. Indeed, all but six of the 41 torpedo planes were lost. "Not one of those men (I met with) came back," he said.

Crawford and his shipmates were ordered to abandon ship after Japanese carrier-based planes bombed and torpedoed the carrier. He was rescued by a destroyer commanded by his former Naval Academy coach and he was eventually reunited with the binoculars given to him by the Legion for excellence at the academy. He had left them on the Yorktown, but they were retrieved by a classmate who was part of a boarding party sent to the foundering ship.

Crawford, whose career included working for 10 years under nuclear Navy pioneer Adm. Hyman Rickover, has been a long-time champion of gaining recognition for the Battle of Midway as the turning point in the war against Japan.

Speaker portions of NPC Post 20 meetings are open to all NPC members.