Petty Officer Jack Coombe shook his fist at the Japanese Zero when it strafed him the first time, so the Japanese aviator came around a second time and strafed him again.
“I still bear the wounds in my right leg,” Coombe said, recalling the incident for the capacity crowd June 6 at Midway International Airport in Chicago.
Coombe was the guest of honor for the 75th anniversary commemoration of the historic battle, which included remarks by city of Chicago Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, Chicago Alderman Edward Burke, Vice Adm. (retired) Dirk Debbink and Chicago Dept. of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans.
The Battle of Midway, which took place from June 3 to 7, 1942, changed the tide of the war in the Pacific and the course of world history
Regarded as a critical turning point in the Pacific during World War II, the Battle of Midway was one of the greatest naval battles the world had ever witnessed. Midway was a dramatic victory.
Facing four veteran Japanese aircraft carriers, the U.S. Navy won the battle with only three aircraft carriers – Enterprise (CV-6), Hornet (CV-8) and Yorktown (CV-5) – augmented by land-based fighters, bombers and torpedo planes from Midway.
The balance of sea power in the Pacific shifted from Japan to an equity between America and Japan. Soon after the Battle of Midway, the United States and its allies would take the offensive in the Pacific.
Coombe, now 95, was 20 at the time of the Battle of Midway, barely two years into his enlistment in the Navy.
Coombe joined the Navy from Minnesota, and went through boot camp here at Great Lakes. During the war in the Pacific, he served at both Pearl Harbor and Midway, enduring both attacks. He was one of the Navy’s first radar operators, and served a total of six years.
“This is a very important ceremony, not only for those of us in the Midwest and Chicago to honor the Battle of Midway and those who fought so bravely that day, but I think to inform the rest of the nation that this airport is not named after the midpoint of the country. It is named after the Battle of Midway,” Debbink said.
The commemoration also featured performances by the Training Support Center (TSC) Great Lakes Bluejacket Choir, the TSC Drill Team, and Navy Junior ROTC cadets from Rickover Naval Academy in Chicago.
Aldermen from the city of Chicago presented airport officials with a copy of the city council resolution declaring June 6, 2017, Battle of Midway Day in Chicago.