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World War II hero had roots to region

I would like to tell the story of a real American hero, a native of Western New York who played a pivotal role in the American victory over the Japanese in the crucial Naval Battle of Midway an event that we will mark the 78-year anniversary of on Thursday, June 4.

Clarence Wade McClusky, known as Wade, was born in South Buffalo on June 1, 1902, the second of five children born to Clarence Wade McClusky Sr. and Mary Anastasia (Stears) McClusky. Wade graduated from South Park high school in1918 and after working for several years entered the United States Naval Academy in 1922 graduating in 1926. Following graduation McClusky served two years on surface ships before entering Naval Aviation Training at Pensacola Florida in 1928. He completed his training and was designated a Naval Aviator on May 7th 1929.

During the 1930s McClusky served in various aviation assignments including with Fighting Squadron One aboard the Carrier Saratoga. Also, during this period, he served in various staff positions and spent two years as an instructor at the Naval Academy. By 1940 he was one of the most experienced aviators in the Navy, having served in fighter, patrol and bomber units. In that year he was assigned to Fighting Squadron Six on the carrier Enterprise. In April 1941 he became Commander of the squadron and in April 1942 was promoted to command Enterprise’s Air Group Six composed in addition to Fighting Six of Bombing Six, Scouting Six, and Torpedo Six.

Throughout the first six months following the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. Navy, while making hit and run attacks on Japanese held Pacific Islands, assumed a basically defensive posture in the Pacific Theater. However, in the Spring of 1942 Station Hypo at Pearl Harbor was regularly intercepting and breaking into Japanese Navy communications.

In May 1942 Hypo intercepted messages indicating that the Japanese Navy was planning a major offensive operation. Further intercepts and analysis indicated that the Japanese attack was aimed at Midway Island, 1000 miles west of Pearl Harbor, aimed at drawing the American Carriers out from Pearl Harbor and into a battle where they would be defeated by superior Japanese forces.

At dawn on June 4, Task Force 16 made up of the carriers Enterprise and Hornet and Task Force 17 with the Carrier Yorktown were sailing near Point Luck a position in the Pacific to the northeast of Midway Island waiting to ambush the approaching Japanese carriers.

Shortly after 7 a.m., Admiral Raymond Spruance commanding Task Force 17 ordered Enterprise and Hornet to begin launching their aircraft. Then Spruance knowing that the Japanese carriers were under attack by aircraft from Midway and wanting to keep the pressure on ordered the scouting and dive bombers squadrons on both his carriers to launch and to proceed directly to the target without waiting for the fighters and torpedo bombers to launch.

Lt. Commander McClusky led the Enterprise air group’s bombing and scouting squadrons, both flying the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber, toward the expected position of the Japanese carriers while slowly climbing to an altitude of 20,000 feet. After flying over the Pacific, McClusky reached the reported Japanese position but found nothing but empty ocean.

With fuel running low, McClusky made a decision that many now call the most important decision of the Pacific War. He determined to continue the search and began a “box” search. Shortly after turning on to the second leg of the search he spotted the Japanese destroyer Arashi steaming north at high speed. The Arashi had stayed behind the Japanese carrier force to attack an American submarine that had been harassing the Japanese and causing them to make a course change. McClusky surmised that the destroyer was now heading back to rejoin the main fleet and began following it.

Shortly after 10 a.m., the enemy carriers came into view and the two Enterprise squadrons split up with one attacking the carrier Kaga and the other attacking the carrier Akagi.

A miscommunication led to both squadrons diving on Kaga. Lt. Dick Best who was commanding Bombing Six saw the error and along with his two wingmen pulled out of their dives and circled back and carried out an attack on the Akagi.

In the end both carriers were each hit by multiple bombs and were soon flaming wreaks. Shortly after this Yorktown’s Bombing Three appeared and carried out a successful attack on the carrier Soryu leaving it also in flames.

As McClusky pulled out of his dive two Japanese Zeros attacked his aircraft leaving it riddled with 52 bullet holes along with a bullet through McClusky’s shoulder. Finally, evading further attacks he was able to land aboard the Enterprise with his controls shot up.

After the battle Admiral Chester Nimitz commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet stated that McClusky’s decision to continue the search for the Japanese carriers “decided the fate of our carrier task forces and our forces at Midway…” For his vital contribution to the American victory at Midway McClusky was awarded the Navy Cross the Navy’s second highest award for heroism in a combat situation.

After being detached form Enterprise in June 1942 McClusky served in staff positions until in August 1944, he was named to command the escort carrier USS Corregidor (CVE 58) a position he held for the remainder of the war.

Wade McClusky retired from the Navy in 1956. He died on June 27, 1976 and is buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery at Annapolis, Md.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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