NEWPORT, R.I. -- U.S. Navy veteran Francis Fabian remembers where he was 68 years ago during the Battle of Midway.
"I was floating in the South Pacific Ocean, for 16 hours, hanging onto a life raft," said Fabian, of Charlestown, R.I. "There were no sharks, but I remember getting hit on the hand by something in the water. It must have been a Portuguese Man O' War. Whew! I can still feel it!"
Fabian, age 94, is a survivor of the Battle of Midway, the decisive naval battle between the U.S. and Japan, waged June 4-7, 1942, for control of the vital Pacific Ocean atoll, 1,300 miles northwest of Hawaii.
He was a radioman aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-5) and said his job was to be at radio central and stay in contact with the rest of the carrier group.
Incredibly, Fabian abandoned the Yorktown not once, but twice.
"And I'm a non-swimmer so that didn't help matters any," said the retired New England Electric System electrician with a chuckle. "But I managed to survive. I guess it was a case of doing the right thing at the right time."
Yorktown was hit by enemy aircraft fire on June 6 and the order to abandon ship was given. But the carrier did not immediately sink, and it appeared that she may be saved, Fabian recalled.
"I was part of the salvage crew that went back on board to try to save her," he said. "But that's when the Japanese sub torpedo got us. We abandoned ship a second time after that."
Fabian spent five years in the Navy. "I enlisted in 1939 for one year," he recalled. "I was a ham amateur operator, and the Navy had a program you could enlist for one year. Well I volunteered for one, and ended up serving five."
Fabian shared one Navy news account of the sinking of the Yorktown:
"Throughout the night of June 6 and into the morning of June 7, Yorktown remained stubbornly afloat. By 0530 on June 7, however, the men in the ships nearby noted that the carrier's list was rapidly increasing to port. At 0701, the ship turned over onto her port side and sank in 3,000 fathoms (5,500 meters) of water, her battle flags flying."
"I'm proud to have served when I did," Fabian said.
By Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Doug Kimsey, Naval War College Public Affairs