Reading More about the Battle of Midway

Lisa Tate

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The Roland Emmerich directed film, Midway, was just released on blu-ray, DVD and digital last week, and it came with plenty of features to help movie fans and history buffs alike gain a better appreciation of the real life events and individuals who made this decisive 1942 Naval battle such a vital turning point in World War II history.

It also gives viewers a bit of a reading list for those wanting to learn even more about the battle and the era, but may not know where to start. Here are a few of the books mentioned in the movie’s special features, to add to your Battle of Midway and World War II book list.

The Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds

Award-winning author Craig L. Symonds taught naval history at the United States Naval Academy for several years, and has written many books on military history. His Battle of Midway reads more like an adventure than a history book, starting with Admiral Nimitz’s arrival to Pearl Harbor after the attack. There are many books written on Midway, but this is a definite first choice.

And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway Breaking Secrets by Edwin T. Layton

This bestselling book by Layton wasn’t released until after his death with the help of co-authors Roger Pineau and John Costello, and it gives insight on what Layton felt led to the attack on Pearl Harbor as well as how the Midway victory unfolded. One of the things that made the 2019 movie so cool is it helps shine a spotlight on Layton's role in the Battle of Midway. In the 1976 film, a fictional character named Tom Garth was a sort of representation of him, but the actual Layton wasn't in it. When we see how important codebreaking — and making — and behind-the-battle intelligence is to winning a battle or war, Layton was as vital as anyone else.

Joe Rochefort’s War: The Odyssey of the Codebreaker Who Outwitted Yamamoto at Midway by Elliot Carlson

This biography of Captain Joe Rochefort (Brennan Brown in the movie), is an award-winning look at the officer in charge of Station Hypo who broke the Japanese navy’s code before the battle. While we get a little insight of the genius and nonconventional thinking process of codebreakers in the movie, the book digs deeper into Rochefort’s thought process, life, achievements and frustrations.

Never Call Me a Hero: A Legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers the Battle of Midway by N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss with Timothy Orr and Laura Orr

This is the memoir of Dusty Kleiss, who struck and sank three Japanese ships in Midway, including helping with two aircraft carriers, but he isn’t depicted (at least directly) in the movie. The movie’s featurettes interview Timothy and Laura Orr, who helped Kleiss put his story into the words.

Code Girls: The Untold Story of American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy

Although Layton’s and Rochefort’s accomplishments deserve to be celebrated, some of the war’s other codebreakers also need to lifted up, and these include many women. Mundy’s book highlights the women who came from all over the country, from small town residents to renowned college graduates, who were recruited by both the U.S. Army and Navy to work as codebreakers.

….and an extra personal recommendation, if you can find it:

Sole Survivor: Torpedo Squadron Eight-Battle of Midway by George Gay

Here’s a look at the battle from the point of view of one who witnessed it all, Ensign George Gay. In the movie, we get to see Gay (played by Brian Sklenar) floating in the ocean cheering on his fellow pilots as they hit their targets of the Japanese carriers. What we didn’t see was how Gay, hiding under his seat cushion, survived in the ocean for around 36 hours, only inflating his life raft after dark when he felt it was safe. He was rescued by a Navy PBY, and spent his post-war years as a commercial pilot for TWA. My husband found and purchased his story in a pile of donated books at an air museum, signed by Gay himself with the comment “Keep America Strong.”

What a treasure it was to find, and what a treasure were these men and women who help lead America and its allies to victory during World War II.

Grab one or more of these books and take some time to learn their stories.

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