Return To Midway


At nine the next morning, I made my way to the tug pier to join Bill and Norm—we were on a first-name basis by now— and the Japanese contingent, to be on hand for the arrival of two Japan Marine Defense Force training ships. Before long, 170 trainees were spilling out onto the pier. The young men and a few women, all in dress whites, some carrying musical instruments, made their way across the island to gather at the site of the proposed Japanese memorial.

The ship’s officers appeared, several wearing ceremonial swords. The sailors stood at attention as best they could in the soft sand, and two of them presented a large wreath of tropical flowers. A warm sun shone down on us all, and several pairs of white terns slid on the breeze in the blue sky above. It seemed especially strange to me that this peaceful coral atoll’s destiny would be forever linked to a battle that had consumed the lives of thousands of young men not so different from those gathered here. We trailed after the sailors as they marched to the American memorial to lay a wreath. The band began to play a passable version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Norm and Bill snapped to attention, saluting while the Japanese survivors stood very straight, focusing on the horizon.