Navy Ensign Albert Earnest sat in the cockpit of his brand new Grumman TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bomber, watching ghostly images take shape around him as the sun emerged from the Pacific Ocean. Many of those images were aircraft, so many that there was barely room for them all on the tiny Pacific atoll.
Earnest’s TBF was 1 of 21 that had just emerged from production and gone to Pearl Harbor to join the USS Hornet (CV-8) air group. But the ship had sortied with two other carriers the day before to intercept an approaching Japanese fleet.
Having missed the opportunity to join his squadron mates in the Hornet and hearing rumors that the Japanese were headed for Midway, Earnest and five other Avenger pilots volunteered to fly to that island. After a 1,200-mile flight, they arrived at the atoll on 1 June 1942.
As the sun rose on Midway three days later, Earnest waited to see what the new day would bring. Strapped into the turret on the top of Earnest’s aircraft was Aviation Machinist’s Mate Third Class Jay Manning, and serving as radioman and tunnel gunner was Radioman Third Class Harry Ferrier.