The Battle of Midway Roundtable




Otis Kight on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway


by Ronald Russell


(The following originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)



As a teenager, young Otis Kight had been influenced by an uncle who had served on a battleship in the 1920s.  He joined the Navy immediately after high school, and eagerly awaited his first assignment.  He expected that his high test scores would get him into a desirable mechanic or electronic school, but the Navy didn’t always do what was expected.  He found himself posted as a “plane pusher” with Fighting Squadron 42 (VF-42) aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-5).  In the days before tractors on flight decks, aircraft were spotted by ten-man pusher crews, using muscle power alone.  That was Kight’s primary duty, along with the usual extra assignments in the galley, the ship’s laundry, and wherever else manpower might be needed.


            Kight’s battle station was as ammunition runner for one of the .50-cal. antiaircraft machine guns on the ship’s starboard catwalk.  In the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, a Japanese bomb fell within fifteen feet of him, just beyond the catwalk, barely missing the ship as it exploded in the water.  He remembers the sudden realization that he felt at that moment:  there are people out here who are actually trying to kill me!


“But as for fear or terror,” he says, “there was none of it anywhere I could see or hear—just a pure dedication to fight the enemy with all that we had; to survive with our ship.  The Coral Sea Battle served me well.  It was ‘Combat 101’ that taught me what to really expect at Midway.”


            His expectations for Midway were fully realized as the Yorktown suffered two devastating air attacks on the first day of the battle.  Three bombs and two aerial torpedoes smashed it in the space of an hour, resulting in an “abandon ship” order as the big carrier listed sharply to port, so much so that the hangar deck was nearly at sea level.  Kight exited the ship by simply stepping into the ocean from the hangar deck, and was picked up by a motor whaleboat from the cruiser USS Astoria (CA-34).  He especially remembers the ingenuity of the cox’n operating the whaleboat:  it was packed to capacity with Yorktown survivors, but there were hundreds more in the water who needed rescue.  The cox’n had tied a 100-foot line behind his boat, with life jackets lashed to the line at short intervals.  He then steered the boat through a large number of swimmers who were able to grab the life jackets and thus be towed to the Astoria.


            After Midway, Kight went on to gunnery and radio schools, becoming a turret gunner on a TBF torpedo bomber.  After several strike missions, he was offered advancement to chief petty officer after one more mission, or as an alternative he could be detached immediately from the squadron for stateside training.  However, leaving the squadron would delay any advancement in rank.  He opted for the school instead of the rank, and later learned that his aircraft was lost on its next bombing mission, along with the gunner who had replaced him.


Kight continued his career in naval aviation, serving on carriers and air stations around the world as well as the Naval Aviation Safety Center.  He retired in 1971 to begin a career as a sailing instructor and sailmaster in Virginia, capitalizing on a skill learned in his off hours while stationed in the Philippines.



Photos of Otis Kight


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