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"Battle for Midway" reveals the remains of the sunken USS Yorktown.

History Surfaces


"The Battle for Midway"
TBS Superstation
Wednesday, April 14, at 8:05 p.m. For 56 years she lay three miles down at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. That's farther down than the Titanic or the Bismarck. But deep-sea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard managed to find the latter two, and just last year he and his crew found the USS Yorktown, too, deep in her Pacific grave off the tiny island of Midway. Last June 4, 56 years to the day after the Yorktown sank, Ballard unveiled the first pictures of the mighty aircraft carrier in its final resting place. Now the story comes to television. Although it was fought only six months after Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway was a turning point in the war in the Pacific. It was a disaster for the Japanese, because the U.S. had cracked the enemy's secret code and thus knew exactly what he was up to when Admiral Nagumo led a naval attack on the tiny island — unaware that U.S. Navy ships lay in ambush just over the horizon. During a fierce attack on the Japanese task force, American dive bombers found their marks on four Japanese carriers, sending them all to the bottom. The Japanese also exacted a heavy price, sinking the carrier Yorktown, but from Midway forward, the Americans were on the offensive in the Pacific. "The Battle for Midway," airing on National Geographic Explorer, brilliantly weaves together the story of the American victory at Midway and Ballard's search last year for the sunken American carrier. And stacked up against the findings of the Titanic and the Bismarck, the Yorktown discovery may be Ballard's best TV story yet. Two factors work in tandem to make "Midway" such a gripping tale. First, Ballard took along four veterans of the battle, two Americans and two Japanese. Their personal stories of the battle serve to humanize a historic event, and their reactions as the sunken Yorktown is discovered provide an emotional touchstone that serves to make events of 56 years ago come vividly to life again. "I look out there and I see this torpedo coming, and it looks like a brand new nickel just come shining through the water right beneath us. And I said, 'Oh my God, this is it.'" Those are the words of Bill Surgi, who was on the Yorktown when she was torpedoed. Secondly, the program features rarely seen remarkable color footage of the actual battle, shot by Hollywood director John Ford, who was on assignment to Midway. The high point of the program, predictably, comes when Ballard's deep-diving cameras send back the first ghostlike glimpse of the Yorktown in her underwater grave, unseen since June 4, 1942. She is noticeably well-preserved, her massive gun turrets still in the firing position. As he peers at the shimmering images from three miles below, pilot Best remembers that the last time he saw the Yorktown, she was "a mass of flames from bow to stern" with explosions every "four to five seconds." It's enough to give you goose

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