In early May 1942, the United States had been at war for a...

salmagundi

May 15, 1992

In early May 1942, the United States had been at war for a harrowing six months. Disaster followed disaster in the Pacific as the U.S. fleet, gravely wounded at Pearl Harbor, proved unable to stop Japanese advances in the Philippines and elsewhere. The country was hungry for good news, and was not getting it.

On May 6 came the punishing report came that Corregidor had fallen "after being pounded [as an Evening Sun editorial said] into helplessness by unceasing artillery fire and bombardment by air."

"We all react with heavy hearts. . .," the newspaper said. "Corregidor's sole strength was the spirit of its men. They knew the hopelessness of their fight, of course. They had known it for RTC weeks. They had no reserves to draw on. . . They made a Thermopylae of their rock and held it to the very end."

Yet just two days later came an editorial with the triumphant headline, "The Enemy's Repulse." For five days in the Coral Sea, in the first and still the mightiest air-naval engagement ever fought, just half a year after Pearl Harbor, the Americans turned back a Japanese armada bent on invading Australia.

Many details were unknown at the time, most especially that all the damaged inflicted, either way, came from naval aircraft, not ships. The fact that U.S. carriers were not tethered at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and could fight another day had proved decisive.

After having so little to cheer about for so long, The Evening Sun editorialized that there was "hardly any need to speak of the pride and satisfaction which all of us share in contemplating our Navy's work in this action. . . The foe has suffered a setback, probably a severe setback, but he has not been broken at sea. To concede this takes nothing from the elation we all feel."

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