World War II Navy veteran Hubert Hatchel Jr. recalls the day his ship, the USS Yorktown, was sunk at the Battle of Midway in 1942. - Bob Pennell

Surviving the Battle of Midway

Longtime Medford resident Hubert Hatchel Jr. plans a solemn visit to the Eagle Point National Cemetery on Memorial Day.

There Hatchel, 87, will quietly pay his respects to the grave of his father, Hubert Hatchel Sr., a World War I doughboy wounded in the war to end all wars.

"My father never really talked much about what happened to him in France, although I know he was wounded by shrapnel," he recalls.

"I do remember he told me he was a bugler and he once tied his horse to the captain's tent," he adds. "The horse pulled the whole tent down."

But his smile at the anecdote quickly fades away as he remembers his father and other combat veterans of wars past.

"I talked to him a little bit about war when I got back," he says.

Like his father, Hatchel was wounded in combat, albeit at sea during World War II's Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.

He was wounded on the USS Yorktown when the carrier was bombed on the first day of the battle. Unconscious, he was medivaced to the USS Hammann, a destroyer, then transferred to a heavy cruiser. Shortly after he was taken from the Hammann, the destroyer was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. It sank on June 6.

The Hammann and the Yorktown, which finally sank on June 7 after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, were the only two U.S. ships lost in that three-day battle.

Hatchel remains hard of hearing with shrapnel still embedded in his body, courtesy of that battle 69 years ago.

"It seems like a long time ago now," he says. "We don't talk about the war much anymore."

As he spoke, Hatchel was sitting on a couch with an American flag as a backdrop in his comfortable home in Medford. On an opposite wall hung his military medals, including a Purple Heart.

He and his wife, Haruyo, have lived in Medford for nearly 50 years. After meeting in Yokohama, Japan, where he was visiting as a member of the Merchant Marines, the couple married in 1964, moving to Medford that year. He did maintenance work for Jackson County for 32 years, and the city of Medford for a decade.

His two sons from an earlier marriage were both in the military, including one who served in the Army in Vietnam where he was wounded, Hatchel says.

Hailing from Phoenix, Ariz., Hatchel was 17 when he joined the Navy in June 1941 after seeing sailors in white uniforms on leave.

"Those uniforms looked so good to me I said, 'I got to get in the Navy,' " he says.

He decided early on that he wanted to serve aboard a carrier.

"When I joined the Navy and got to San Diego, the (carrier) Saratoga was sitting out in the bay," he says. "There is something about those ships, carriers. You kind of feel like you are home on one of them."

After he completed basic training and quartermaster's school, he was operated on by Navy doctors to have his tonsils removed late in 1941, delaying his orders for overseas duty. He arrived in Pearl Harbor on Feb. 22, 1942, less than three months after the attack that launched the United States into the war.

It was on the morning of May 30, 1942, that young seaman Hatchel stepped aboard the Yorktown docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was a newly minted quartermaster whose job would include steering the ship and performing navigational duties.

The Yorktown had arrived on May 27, fresh from the Battle of Coral Sea off the coast of Australia, where it had sustained damage a month earlier. After receiving urgent repairs that weekend, it was ordered to steam to Midway, where the next major battle in the Pacific Theater was brewing.

"I wasn't in on Coral Sea — it (Yorktown) came in on a Friday and we left on a Monday morning," he says.

Although he would spend just a few days on the Yorktown before it was bombed, he found life aboard ship to his liking. He appreciated the food and his crewmates.

"Of course, the few days I was on there I was just getting acquainted," he says.

Commissioned in 1933, the Yorktown was named after the town in Virginia where a battle of the American Revolution was fought in 1781.

Including a contingent of Marines and the flight crews, the ship held about 3,000 people, creating a floating community of men who worked and lived together.

All its residents knew the battle was imminent.

"Everybody was calm," he says. "It all started about 5:30 in the morning. ... It was a beautiful day."

Several planes were launched from the carrier that morning. Their mission was to find the Japanese fleet.

"They came back without finding them," he says. "So we launched them a second time. That's when they found them."

In fact, the Allied planes and ships would sink three Japanese carriers that first day, but the fourth carrier escaped.

"And that was the one that got us," he says of dive-bombers that hit the Yorktown shortly after noon.

The Japanese had launched 18 dive-bombers from their remaining carrier to try to take out the Yorktown.

"Seven got through," he says.

General quarters were sounded about 12:15 p.m. as the attacking aircraft was spotted.

"I was on watch that day," he says. "I was on the wheel in the bridge. Those three bombs stopped us dead in the water.

"The shrapnel came in through the hatches," he continues. "It hit the people in the catwalk, then it got me."

Sharp metal shards not only struck him, but the concussion from the blasts knocked him cold.

"I was out of it," he says. "They took me off the ship and put me on the Hammann."

Shortly after he was taken off the Hammann to a larger ship, the Hammann was sunk by a Japanese submarine on June 6.

"Yeah, I got off just in time," he says. "They put me on a heavy cruiser and sent me back to Pearl Harbor. But I didn't know much about it. I was still in shell shock. I was in sick bay with the other wounded."

But he will tell you he was fortunate. About 195 crew members died during that battle.

"It burned belly up," he says. "But I didn't see that. I was out of it by that time."

On May 19, 1998, the Yorktown was discovered at 3,000 fathoms — roughly three miles — by deep sea explorer Robert D. Ballard. Hatchel has a copy of Ballard's book, "Return to Midway," whose cover shows a picture of the Yorktown sitting on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

"I think she is still alive," Hatchel says of the ship. "She is sitting up like she is ready to sail."

Although both of his ears rang for six months, the sailor would recover from his wounds and stay in the Navy. He got out of the Navy as a petty officer first class in 1960.

Looking back at the battle, he notes it was a pivotal sea battle for the Allies in the Pacific.

"It turned the tide," he says of the defeat of Japanese forces at Midway.

The Japanese fleet lost four aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser in exchange for one American carrier and a destroyer.

Hatchel never kept contact with the rest of the crew.

"I didn't know them that well," he says. "I had only been aboard about four days. But I still think about them."

The world was a little simpler during World War II, he believes.

"Nowadays you have everybody thinking different of each other," he says. "They can't get together to compromise.

"During World War II, you fought one country and they would surrender and that was it," he adds.

Moreover, he believes World War II was a war that needed to be fought.

"One reason was them people wouldn't change," he says of aggressive acts by the Axis powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan. "They would keep on and on. We had to do something.

"The enemy made us united."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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