Today is 6/6/22, 78 years after 6/6/44, D-Day, when American, British, and Canadian troops stormed beaches in Normandy to push the Germans out of France. It was a dramatic landing, with many dying heroically, and depicted in several highly popular movies with famous actors in them, including The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. While not a full-blown holiday, it was recognized today, with ceremonies in certain locations such as the World War II Memorial in Bedford, Virginia about an hour and a half drive from where I am in Harrisonburg, a town that produced a disproportionate number of men who participated in the D-Day landing, and a disproportionate number who died doing so.
OTOH, two days ago was the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the three-day Battle of Midway, which has never been memorialized or made much about in the US. I had not even been aware that was the date, although I saw a mention of it a few days earlier in some odd internet post. But there were no media stories or any recognition of it two days ago anywhere that I am aware of. To the extent people make any fuss about June 4 it is as the anniversary of the 1989 attack on students occupying Tienanmen Square in Beijing while demonstrating for democracy. This was a serious event and one worth remembering, (although one regular reader of this site might disagree). But it is not because the 1989 event pushed aside the memory of the beginning of the Battle of Midway. The latter simply has never gotten any attention in the US.
Now some reading this may find this not even a question worth asking. After all, D-Day was Dramatic and Important and led to the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. Go see the films! But, as a matter of fact, in terms of the outcome of the war, the Battle of Midway was far more important than D-Day. It was to the Pacific theater of the war what Stalingrad was to the European theater, the turning point. When one looks at maps of the war showing the maximum extent of Japanese territorial control, which even included the two outermost Aleutian islands in Alaska, that map shows the Japanese territory as of 80 years ago, the time of the Battle of Midway, the point at which the Japanese stopped gaining territory. It is not obvious why it is not better or even at all remembered.
I think there are several reasons. One is the clear competition in terms of dates with D-Day, which did not determine the outcome of the war in Europe, Stalingrad did that, but which was so intensely dramatic with all those soldiers trying to get onto the beach under a withering fire that killed thousands of them. Midway was a naval battle with no heroic landing, just a bunch of ships firing on each other, with the American ones managing to knock out more of the Japanese ones than vice versa. Pearl Harbor, a Japanese victory, was dramatic with the ships sunk in the harbor and many civilians affected by the surprise Japanese bombing attack But, of course, the US was lucky on Dec. 7, 1941, and also remembered much more than June 4, 1942, because indeed the US aircraft carriers were not there, being out on patrol. That they were not there and survived allowed for the victory at Midway, even if there were no dramatic images coming out of that battle.
Even though D-Day was in a fundamental way less important than D-Day, it seemed more important as it was immediately followed by the advance through France to Paris and then on beyond to Germany. But in some sense, its real meaning was that the US, UK, and Canada did not want to have a repeat of the Napoleonic wars when Russia got to Paris first and imposed the bistro on it (from the Russian word for “quickly”). Stalin had been begging these nations to do a D-Day for some time to help out the Soviets against the Germans, and indeed many charge that they let the Soviets do the heavy lifting at Stalingrad and Kursk of seriously defeating the German war machine, with millions of Soviet dead, while the Americans and British preserved the British Empire in India by saving the Suez Canal in North Africa from German conquest, and then fiddling around with the much less strategic invasion of Italy, which was arguably a sideshow and did not pull German troops from the Eastern Front. Bu the time D-Day rolled around, the Soviets clearly had Hitler on the run, and it was indeed a matter of getting to Paris before Stalin did.
In contrast, there was no immediate follow-up after Midway where one saw prominent locations liberated soon after on a fairly rapid movement to Japan. The Japanese were halted in their advance, but the Allies went into a period of consolidating before they began the long process of going from island to island to approach Japan, with indeed this taking a good three years. And arguably some of the later naval battles were more dramatic at Leyte Gulf and Guadalcanal, the largest naval battles in all of history. But by the time they came around, just as Germany was on the retreat by D-Day, so was Japan by the time of those bloody battles.
There is also a final reason that I think is both important and not widely recognized. The key to the US victory at Midway was the breaking of the Japanese code, a matter that was kept super secret even for a long time after the war. The actual tactics of the Americans at Midway were even crafted in a way to conceal it from the Japanese, much less anybody else, that the code was broken, which meant that the Americans could have even more decisively defeated the Japanese there. But doing so would have made it clear that the Americans knew many details of the Japanese locations only obtainable by having broken the code. I think that this need to keep the breaking of the code a secret led to there being a limited amount of detailed reporting about the battle. It simply got very little press coverage, although even if there had been more it would not have been as dramatic as the D-Day landing. But there was this concerted effort to sort of distract lots of people from the battle and certainly its details. The victory was reported, and it got attention at the time, a tremendous morale booster after the humiliation at Pearl Harbor. But attention moved off it to other fronts, such as North Africa, with the lack of any immediate follow-through. And when the highly dramatic D-Day came along, well, it got the attention and still does, even if at some bottom line, Midway was more important than D-Day in bigger picture of the war.