Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

June 6, 2014

Brothers served at Midway together, but didn’t know it

By JAMES BROWN
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Brothers William and Deleon Ward served side by side during the Battle of Midway.

Sort of.

“I didn’t know he was on the Yorktown,” William said of Deleon on Friday during a press conference for battle survivors and others involved in World War II as part of the ongoing Midway Island Reunion in Glasgow.

Deleon, meanwhile, did know on which ship his older brother was serving, but he did not know the USS O’Brien was near the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown when it was struck near Midway Island in the North Pacific Ocean in June 1942.

The brothers both relayed their stories of service during the press conference and luncheon at First United Methodist Church. The reunion is celebrating those who served on the atoll or lived there as civilians or military members during the famous battle in 1942.

Both Ward brothers served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and both ended up on ships that were in service in the Pacific Theater.

Deleon served on the only aircraft carrier that was sunk by Japanese forces during the Battle of Midway. He recalled the ship was struck by torpedoes from Japanese planes. As it began to take on water and list, the commander ordered the crew to evacuate. The ship was also struck by a Japanese plane.

“Just a stray plane come by and hit the Yorktown,” William said.

Deleon said he and another Yorktown crew member were in the water near each other, and the other crewman was calling, “Lord help me. I can’t swim.”

He said the man learned quickly and “outswam me” to a nearby recovery boat.

“I don’t know how, but he didn’t climb out of the water, he jumped out of the water into that boat,” Deleon said.

“We picked that guy up and left my brother in the water,” William said. “I didn’t know he was there.”

William said he was on one of the rescue boats that was collecting crewmen from the Yorktown who had abandoned ship.

Deleon spent more than two hours in the water, the younger Ward brother said, before he was eventually pulled from the ocean.

The Yorktown proved resilient and, despite listing, did not sink immediately, which led to a salvage operation. During that effort, the USS Hammann, which was being used to support the Yorktown as it was wounded in the water, was struck by torpedoes from a Japanese submarine and it sank.

Both Ward brothers explained depth charges in the Hammann exploded when it went under water and the concussion from the blast ruptured the aircraft carrier, making it a casualty of the Battle of Midway.

William served for more than three years in the military, but was injured during battle. He was the operator of a 20 millimeter gun and a bullet struck an ammunition magazine held by his helper.

The magazine exploded and “I got 111 pieces of shrapnel in my body. They sent me back to the States.”

Deleon said he spent 18 months in the service.

He said after 72 years, it is sometimes hard to remember all of the events of his military service.

“That was a long time ago. I will be 90 in August and my brother will be 93,” Deleon said.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done, but more proud of these guys now ... because they are standing in the gap,” he said.