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Legendary Film Maker Thought He Was Going To Midway To Shoot Gooney Birds

John Ford’s Academy Award-Winning Documentary Was Filmed During The Climactic Battle

Midway veteran Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless exhibited at the Naval Aviation Museum. Official US Navy Photograph

American film maker John Ford (1894-1973) was an Academy Award-winning director whose 140 films, including “Grapes of Wrath”, “Stagecoach”, “How Green Was My Valley”, and “The Quiet Man” were often set against sweeping vistas and harsh terrains and backgrounds. There is no more harsh background than war. Ford served as Commander John Ford, USNR and head of a photographic unit for the Navy Department during World War II. Ford and his cameras were present at Midway when the climactic battle was fought during early June of 1942. Thanks to PeriscopeFilm for uploading this classic film.

When Ford arrived at Midway he believed his job would be to simply document life on the atoll. He was completely unaware that the Japanese were planning to attack Midway until June 2nd– two days before the battle began. The combat footage shot by Ford and his two assistants was completely spontaneous. After the battle Ford returned to the States and edited the film in secret, believing that military censors would hack the film to pieces. Ford craftily spliced footage of the President’s son James, a Marine officer, into the film before a Presidential viewing. When Roosevelt saw the film he proclaimed that he wanted “every mother in America” to see it. That’s how Ford’s film was released uncensored.

Army Air Forces Boeing B-17E Flying Fortresses.

The film “The Battle of Midway” won Ford another Academy Award (for Best Documentary) in 1942. It is a first-person view of the battle as it affected the island and depicts the aircraft and personnel based there and at sea during that fateful June 75 years ago. Footage from Ford’s film was spliced into many other movies made during and after the war. You’ll no doubt recognize some of it. There are a few places in the film in which footage shot elsewhere was used, but the majority of the content of the feature was created by Ford and his team. Footage includes Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats, Boeing B-17E Flying Fortresses, Vought SB2U Vindicators, Douglas SBD Dauntlesses, Grumman F4F Wildcats, and lots of Midway’s own Gooney Birds.

Midway Atoll

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Bill Walton

Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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