Through Airmen's Eyes: Allies in a new era
Kadena Air Base, Japan -- Airmen sometimes find themselves sharing similar timelines with their peers: same time of entry, same technical school and same duty station.
This is the case for two captains in the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron. However, they also discovered that their military roots go deeper than they had anticipated. Both Airmen are descendants of sailors who fought in the Battle of Midway in World War II, although fighting on opposite sides.
"What really led to this discovery," said Capt. Joshua McNelley, 18 LRS Deployments and Distribution Flight commander, "was when he [Capt. Christopher Fukui, 18th LRS Plans and Programs officer in charge and 18th Mission Support Group executive officer] was talking about how his great-grandfather was an aviator on the Akagi aircraft carrier and I was like, 'wait a minute, my great-grandfather was out there patrolling around as an anti-aircraft person on one of the allied ships.'"
The Battle of Midway, taking place June 3-7, 1942, was one of the war's most crucial naval battles in the Pacific Theater. It was the Allies' first major victory against the Japanese and has been referred to as "the turning point of the Pacific."
For McNelley and Fukui, the realization that their forefathers fought in the same battle made them hungry to learn more. They sought their elder relatives to learn more about their families' military history. Considering that their friendship and careers began in 2012, the captains found themselves expressing their fascination in different ways; even with a sense of humor.
"We've had a few good chuckles about the situation," said Fukui. "There was even a running joke going around that one of us may not have been here today if his grandfather were to shoot down my great granddad during the war or vice-versa."
In 1921, Fukui's great-grandfather, Chisato Morita, commissioned as an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and held several command positions before, during and after WWII.
After the Attack on Pearl Harbor, McNelley's great-grandfather, Ray Sorton, enlisted in the U.S. Navy. For the majority of the war, his role was shuttling supplies from the states to Pearl Harbor.
As the war continued, U.S. forces needed more manpower in the Pacific. Sorton was tasked to support the fight as an anti-aircraft gunner for a patrol boat at Midway.
At the same time, Morita was commanding the Imperial Japanese Navy Midway Flying Corps aboard the aircraft carrier Akagi, which later sank during the battle.
Battling alongside their fellow service members, both opponents were unaware that their great-grandchildren would someday work hand-in-hand.
"I'm sure that back 60, 70 years ago, it would have probably been unimaginable that we'd be here sitting in the same room after seeing the polarization of the two countries," said McNelley. "For me, it's definitely hard to fathom what kind of events would have to happen for the sons of my enemies to be fighting alongside my son or grandson someday."
As times have changed, so has the warfighting mentality. Fukui looks back at his shared story as a testament to how the world has evolved throughout the past seven decades.
"It was a pretty interesting realization to have," said Fukui. "The mindset of warfare back then was about demonizing the enemy and making them seem less than human. And then you run into situations like this and it's like the line of national borders sort of bleed in. We're all on this planet together as equals, so this really makes you reflect on stuff like that."
"At the end of the day," he continued, "we're all warriors. We have a similar ethos regardless of whatever country or era you're from."