ALLEN TWP., Pa.- Pearl Harbor and D-Day get most of the World War II headlines, but the Battle of Midway played a key role in protecting America's West Coast.
An Allen Township man was there for the victory.
"We were so close we could spit on her," said Hank Kudzik.
95-year-old Kudzik on June 4, 2020 described where he was as a 17-year-old June 4, 1942. "I spotted the smoke, this was at the Battle of Midway," he said.
On board submarine USS Nautilus Kudzik was part of the naval crew that helped sink several Japanese warships in the battle. A picture taken from the sub's periscope of the Soryu, one of the sinking ships, was featured in a 1942 August edition of Life magazine.
Actual footage shot during the battle highlights the air war above the Pacific Ocean but below the waves Kudzik and his crew were also in the fight of their lives dodging a barrage of depth charges.
"You get so close to being wiped out just one depth charge. Will break you open like an egg," Kudzik said.
The win helped secure the Pacific and keep our West Coast safe from Japanese air raids.
"Round trip bombing runs to California, they could do that," Kudzik said.
"You knew how important this was?" I asked.
"Oh we knew how important it was," he said.
Kudzik recalls the inauspicious start to the battle when his captain fired the first underwater shots. "He fired 1-2-3-4 and they all hit the targets but none exploded," he said.
"Do you think Midway is lost in it?" Do you think a lot of people don't know about Midway?" I asked.
"It was too early in the war," he said.
Hollywood hoped to change that. The movie Midway highlighted the battle and was released in December with Kudzik getting a red carpet invite. It was a movie he lived through. In all he made 14 combat runs although after that first day he wasn't sure he had the nerve.
"When they threw the bow line off for run number 2, who do you think threw the line off? I was still on the sub," he said.
Great bravery from the Greatest Generation.