By June 1944, the United States had been embroiled in a world war for some 2.5 years. From the earliest and darkest days of the war, the tide was beginning to turn. In the Pacific the might of the US Navy and Marine Corp had been assembled to capture and liberate the Marianas Islands of Guam, Tinian and Saipan – a vital and strategic step in the Pacific War. The US 5th Fleet’s role was to guard the massive troop and supply ships mounting the amphibious landings. Meanwhile the Japanese Mobile Fleet was assembling its Plan Z/A-go for an all out naval engagement to cripple the invasion force and stem the tide of the war.
For a variety of reasons, it did not go well for the Japanese Mobile Fleet, but Admirals Nimitz, Spruance and Mitscher realized that a counter attack of carrier-based dive bombers and torpedo aircraft could strike a decisive and final blow against the Japanese Fleet, especially its aircraft carriers. Task Force 58 was dispatched to strike. On the late afternoon of the second day, the Japanese fleet was located steaming west at a distance of 275 miles. It was at the very extreme range of the US aircraft to launch, strike and return, but the decision was made to launch. The 226 aircraft arrived over the Japanese fleet just at sunset. The raid was devastating and lethal, accomplishing its mission. It ended Japanese carrier operations for the remainder of the war.
But now it was night and 226 US aircraft had to find their way home.
In 1944 there was no airborne radar, GPS, or any of the advanced air navigation tools we have today. Pilots used a method called dead reckoning recording direction, air speed, and other factors to estimate their position. Now the strike force had to fly 275 miles back, in the pitch darkness of a moonless night to find one of the 7 aircraft carriers. Positions were uncertain, fuel supply was low, and the fleet was operating under blackout conditions because of the threat of nearby Japanese submarines.
Imagine that you are one of the returning naval or marine aviators. You are running on as lean a fuel mixture as possible trying to stretch the flying range to give yourself a chance to find the fleet and land. You have a flashlight to check your dead reckoning calculations, air speed and heading. Ahead of you is nothing except a very large and very dark ocean. Alone with your thoughts you think of your loved ones at home. You wonder if you will ever see them again. It is a long flight home with only the sound of your engine to keep you company. As time passes your uncertainty grows. It is becoming the dark night of the soul as hope begins to fade.
Then comes the light. The light of your world. The beacon guiding you home to safety.
Despite the threat to the fleet, Admiral Mitscher ordered Task Force 58 to light up the night. All ships elevated their search lights. The aircraft carrier illuminated the land decks. The destroyers and other ships on the picket line did the same, also firing star shell bursts into the night sky. They did not hide their light; they put it on display for all the world to see.
Imagine you are the returning aviator. Imagine the power of that moment. Such is the power of the light.
We live in a world of darkness in which there are plenty of folks navigating in that darkness searching for the way home, hoping to see a light to guide them. When Christians live a closed life, keeping their faith under one of the many bushel baskets of modern life, we are like the fleet running under blackout conditions. We are safe and secure, but we are not a safe harbor for those traveling in the dark.
When Christians turn on the light of faith and star shell the night, perhaps we place ourselves at risk, but we become the light for the world. When we witness to the faith, when the love of God pours from us into the night sky, we reflect the light of salvation beckoning people, come home.
“Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Image credit: Unsplash, Kyle Johnson, CC-BY
I have been reading Ian Toll’s trilogy where this is recounted. An inspiring gift to flyers who had been asked to take on what appears to be one of the most dangerous carrier aircraft raids of the war.