MIDWAY ISLAND: Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today praised veterans of the historic Battle of Midway, calling their valor and sacrifices decisive in turning the tide of World War II in the Pacific and an inspiration in the continuing struggle against fascism and tyranny around the world.
"Midway tested the courage, the ingenuity, and the perseverance of the American people perhaps as never before and never since " and through the heroism of extraordinary young men and the grace of God, victory was ours," Kempthorne said at the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway Ceremony today on this remote, sun-drenched atoll.
"Here at Midway, America's sailors, aviators and marines stood up to the forces of fascism and tyranny," Kempthorne said of the battle between the Japanese Imperial Navy and the United States Pacific Fleet in the early summer of 1942. "The men who fought so bravely here not only defended our country, they began the process by which freedom and democracy would spread to the ends of the globe -- to our enemies and allies alike."
Kempthorne's remarks highlighted the day's activities for more than 2,000 guests, including veterans of the battle, who arrived by charter flights from Honolulu and a Princess Cruise Liner from Los Angeles. Located about 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu, Midway was designated the Battle of Midway National Memorial in 2000.
"These men were, and are, true men of valor " American heroes," Kempthorne said. "I am honored to be in your presence. All Americans owe you a debt of gratitude for your service and your sacrifice for our nation and on behalf of freedom and democracy."
The U.S. victory, which sunk four Japanese fleet carriers, ended Japan's seemingly unstoppable advance across the Pacific and began a U.S. offensive that would end three years later in the Japanese Home Islands. The historic battle is often cited as the turning point of World War II in the Pacific and one of the pivotal military victories in history.
Kempthorne said echoes of the Battle of Midway continue to be heard as the struggle against fascism continues. "A new generation of Americans has volunteered to serve at great risk in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world in defense of liberty and democracy. On behalf of a grateful nation, let us remember and honor all who have served and all who continue to serve. Let us give thanks for our freedom."
Midway Atoll, a circular rim of coral reef with two islands " Eastern and Sand -- also is a National Wildlife Refuge, hosting 2 million nesting seabirds, including the world's largest population of Laysan albatross. The atoll's 5-mile wide crystal blue lagoon is home to endangered Hawaiian monk seals, threatened green sea turtles and spinner dolphins.
Many of the participants in today's ceremony spent parts of the day on guided walking tours of the historic and natural sites on Sand and Eastern Islands. The refuge is being groomed as the centerpiece of the largest protected marine area in the world, which President Bush established last year as the Northern Hawaiian Islands National Monument. The reserve includes 140,000 square miles of ocean, islands, atolls, and coral reefs, making it the largest single area dedicated to conservation in U.S. history.
A recently approved visitor services plan for Midway Island provides for feasible, sustainable and compatible recreational activities for up to 300 overnight visitors a year by 2008. Up to three cruise ship visits a year will be allowed under the plan and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking a partner to provide commercial air service from Honolulu to Midway. Visitors could come from November through July, which coincides with the albatross season, and would be encouraged to "give back" to the resource by participating as volunteers in habitat restoration and wildlife management activities, as well as historic preservation and restoration activities.
From Midway, Secretary Kempthorne will make official visits to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. He also will visit the Freely Associated States of Palau, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia.