The Battle of Midway Roundtable
Into the Corps on a Whim
John V. Gardner on Midway Atoll
by Ronald Russell
(The following originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)
Eighteen-year old John Gardner didn’t really know what he wanted to do after graduating from high school in 1940. College was a possibility, but not the universal goal for all that it is today. A factory job was an easy choice in his central California town, but he knew there were family men who needed those jobs worse than he did. On something of a whim, then, he decided to take the battery of tests for enlisting in the Marine Corps—the Corps was very small in those days, and only a few of those who applied were accepted. Gardner didn’t think his chances for passing were all that great—he didn’t consider himself superior to the average young man of the
era, and most of them failed the tests. You can guess what happened next: out of eleven candidates who applied the same day as Gardner, he was the only one who passed. Two days later he was on his way to boot camp in San Diego.
After recruit training and field telephone school, he was assigned to the 6th Marine Defense Battalion (MDB), which deployed to Hawaii in June 1941. Its ultimate destination was Wake Island, which would have doubled the size of the garrison there, and some of the battalion’s equipment was actually sent to Wake in advance. But a change of plans sent the unit to Midway instead, in order to relieve the 3rd MDB which had toiled exhaustively on the atoll for a year, building up its facilities. The 6th MDB then became Midway’s garrison, which continued to grow in strength as the possibility of a Japanese invasion began to surface.
During the battle, PFC Gardner was the field telephone talker with an artillery battery on Sand Island. The guns at his position were trained to the northwest over Welles Harbor, from which an amphibious assault was expected, and were well hidden during the Japanese air strike on the first day of the battle. He particularly remembers the enemy aircraft that crashed in the middle of Sand Island, and was closely inspecting it while movie producer John Ford was filming the wreckage. Gardner believes he is one of two Marines visible in that scene from Ford’s famous Battle of Midway documentary.
He returned stateside after the battle and spent the next two and a half years in telecommunications training assignments. May 1945 saw Staff Sergeant Gardner deployed once again to Hawaii, one of 50,000 Marines preparing for the invasion of Japan. The end of the war shifted him to China instead, where he served until the end of his second enlistment in 1947.
Photo of John Gardner
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