Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Local News

June 6, 2014

Glasgow’s John Wood vividly recalls looming attack

GLASGOW — John Wood slept a lot better the night of June 4, 1942, than he had the night before.

Wood was one of four survivors of the Battle of Midway who shared their stories at a press conference Friday morning at First United Methodist Church as part of the ongoing Midway Island Reunion in Glasgow. Unlike the others on the panel, Wood didn’t have to travel far for the four-day series of events, to which all military members who served there at any point were invited. The North Carolina native has made Glasgow his home for several decades.

Wood, who was 21 at the time of the World War II battle, was on the radar crew with the Headquarters and Services Battery, 65th Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps at Midway Island in the North Pacific Ocean.

“The day of the battle, we knew the (Japanese) were coming that morning,” he said. ‘Their carrier had been sighted the day before. I didn’t have a good night’s sleep thinking about what we could expect the next morning.”

The members of the four-person radar crew who weren’t watching the radar had to man a machine gun.

“That’s where I was that morning,” Wood said. “We got down there and we got our machine gun ready and we just waited for the (Japanese) to come in. But we could see some of the planes coming off in the distance. I saw one or two go down, trailing some smoke behind it.”

He could see flashes way out on the water before they got there, where U.S. planes were engaging them in “dogfighting,” he said.

When the Japanese bombers got to the island, they were flying in formation, about 12 or 14 in each one, and there was one plane that was the nose of it. Anti-aircraft fire was all around them but most came right on through all of that, he said.

“They hit one, the one up in the nose, that lead one in the formation,” Wood said. “He just burst into a ball of fire, the plane did. And I saw something drop and I thought first off that the pilot was bailing out, and I looked a little closer and it wasn’t the pilot, it was a big long silver bomb.”

The bomb dropped in behinds some woods, he said, but he never saw whether the pilot got out.

“It wasn’t but just a few seconds later they got over the island itself, and every one of them dropped their bombs right at the same time,” Wood said.

The bombs hit the “industrial area” where the boats were tied up around the dock, a sea plane hangar and some fuel tanks, creating a lot of black smoke.

“I wasn’t too far from those, actually,” he said.

The Japanese also dropped their bombs where an anti-aircraft 3-inch gun battery was between the Marine barracks and the beach, he said.

They fired essentially everywhere that was occupied, Wood said.

“They just fell all around us,” he said.

After that bombardment, fighter planes started strafing – coming in low with machine gun fire. They couldn’t see most of them because of all of the smoke, but one plane passed right beside where he was.

“I got a good look at him. He was dressed up in a white shirt and black tie,” Wood said, adding that the Japanese pilot also had on a black coat and white gloves.

He described damage already done to the plane and said it eventually went down and many of the troops got a piece of the plane.

“The attack itself didn’t take very long,” he said of the activity on the island itself. “It didn’t take them long to drop those bombs, and then they strafed there for a little while and went on back to the carriers. They were going to come back for a second attack, but (the U.S. planes from U.S. carriers) were the ones that did the damage. ... It seemed longer than it actually was.”

Although more activity continued off the shore, the fighting action on the island itself had subsided and it was much calmer there by that night, he said.

“I know we all felt better than we did the night before when we were expecting it,” Wood said.

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