View Full Version : Midway defenders hold final reunion

09-13-04, 09:53 AM
Midway defenders hold final reunion
Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story Identification #: 200491018951
Story by Cpl. Edward R. Guevara Jr.

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. (September 10, 2004) -- The sun began to set on the two-square-mile island group named Midway. Its Sand and Eastern islands sit in the central Pacific Ocean.

"Two destroyers attacked," said Don J. Drake, former private first class and searchlight operator for 6th Defense Battalion.

"The events are very easy to remember," said the gray-haired gentleman in his 80s.

At dusk, the two ships and an oil tanker approached from the south. The Akebono and Ushio fired upon Sand Island in the cover of night.

Drake manned Searchlight 2 and was ordered to illuminate the ships. His was the only position that could bear in on the ships without exposing friendly forces.

"The Japanese opened fire when I put the search light on them," Drake said. "We fired every gun we had at them. I had my own personal war with the Japanese Navy."

Concussion from the enemy salvo knocked out his searchlight. The power plant, run by a single Marine, overloaded as a result. Both got their services up and running to illuminate the attackers again, according to Drake.

An East Island searchlight immediately exposed the ships after Searchlight 2 was knocked out for good.

One ship had entered the reef area.

"Three-inch anti-aircraft guns started returning fire," he said. "They started smoking and turned south.

"B and D Battery both think they hit at least one of the ships," laughed Drake.

This battle took place Dec. 7, 1941, the night following the notorious attacks on Pearl Harbor, over 1,000 miles to the Southeast.

The defense battalion was the primary occupying force on Midway from 1941-1945. Most notably, they are the spearhead group in the Defenders of Midway organization.

Defense battalions, later renamed anti-aircraft battalions, were a short-lived concept and they all moved around the Pacific islands, except the 6th.

After training at Marine Base San Diego, now known as Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, they were ordered to replace the 3rd Defense Battalion on Midway in 1941.

The larger scale attack came June 4-6. The entire battle was fought and won by many units including 6th Defense Battalion, Marine Aircraft Group 22, naval aviators from the nearby island of Wake and various others.

"The biggest thing the Marines did was provide anti-aircraft fire," said Ned Titlow, former corporal of 6th Defense Battalion and former historian of the Defenders of Midway. "They were the first card played. They made the Japanese regroup."

According to Drake, although there were many factors involved, one of the main downfalls for the Japanese was wanting to attack again with an air strike after an unsuccessful initial strike.

In transition the Japanese left bombs and torpedoes on one of their main ship's flight decks, causing it to explode when Navy pilots bombed them.

This prevented a bloodbath between two Marine Raider companies, two provisional infantry companies and 5,000 Japanese Marines who never made it ashore.

The members of the battalion feel a lot of luck was on their side during the infamous battle.

"The good Lord was watching over the USA that day," Titlow said.

Today, 10 of the 6th Defense Battalion's men who were at the battles, 24 other from the 6th Defense Battalion, 14 from the 7th Defense Battalion, 10 from the 9th Defense Battalion and several others from less represented units will celebrate what is most likely the last reunion for the 6th Defense Battalion and the Defenders of Midway. Family and friends will join many of them as guests.

The closing to their final reunion and visit to San Diego will be their visit here, the place they formerly knew as Marine Base San Diego.

"That's where we were formed," Drake said.

"We came back to where we are from," said Robert E. Hendrick, former corporal in charge of the Post Exchange at the Battle of Midway. "It's like a coming home for all of us. We all did some time here."


The Defenders of Midway dedicated this plaque in the main archway of Pendleton Hall. Photo by: Cpl. Edward R. Guevara Jr.