Exploring the Sunken Heritage of Midway Atoll: Honoring the Legacy of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway

The Project Lead: In Our Hearts and Minds

By Bert Ho, Senior Underwater Archaeologist - National Park Service
May 12, 2017

Dr. Kelly Keogh training the next generation of underwater explorers: her daughter.

Dr. Kelly Keogh training the next generation of underwater explorers: her daughter. Image courtesy of Exploring the Sunken Heritage of Midway Atoll expedition. Download larger version (jpg, 251 KB).

With some strong winds over the last couple days, we’ve had some time to catch up on notes, go over GIS files, and reflect on our incredible experience here at Midway Atoll. My first trip here was in 2012, when I was invited by Dr. Kelly Keogh (then Dr. Kelly Gleason, her maiden name), the Monument’s Maritime Heritage Coordinator and Maritime Archaeologist, to join an expedition aboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai to search for maritime heritage sites (shipwrecks, sunken airplanes). At Midway Atoll during that trip, I got to see some of the sunken aircraft sites like the Corsair and Brewster Buffalo.

After that cruise, Kelly and I started plotting, I mean planning, a way to get back to Midway to search for more of the lost aircraft from the famous Battle of Midway. We applied for a grant in 2013 but were not selected. We applied again in 2015, and were awarded the current project’s funds in 2016. We were so excited, and the planning went into high gear! Kelly knew she needed to include Brian and Jason for the invasive species study, and I knew Dave and Brett were needed as experienced WWII archeologists and photographers. I was personally excited because it meant I got to return to a special place, and look for the physical remains of the stories I have read about over and over. I also got to go on an adventure with my friend Kelly again!

The great adventure was starting to take shape in the fall of 2016. Gear packages were carefully planned, weighed, and added to various check lists. Expendable supplies were bought, dates for shipments were put on the calendar, and various presentations about the upcoming project were given at professional archaeology conferences and public lectures. We were ready and the Midway adventure was just about to begin, but for Kelly, the adventure turned out to be of a different nature.

Dr. Keogh examining the jar associated with the Two Brothers whaling shipwreck site.

Dr. Keogh examining the jar associated with the Two Brothers whaling shipwreck site. Image courtesy of Bert Ho. Download larger version (jpg, 4.7 MB).

Kelly is the Monument’s first and only maritime archaeologist. She is an advanced mixed gas, closed-circuit rebreather diver with several dives to 300 feet. She has her doctorate degree, and she serves on the international Advisory Council for Underwater Archaeology. She is our colleague in the field of underwater archaeology, she is the co-Principal Investigator on this project, and she is our friend.

She is also wife to her husband John, and the mother of a little girl. Her adventure turns out to be one of the greatest; she is currently seven months pregnant with baby number two, and we are all excited for her and her family. We wish she could be with us on this project here at Midway, and we know she wishes she could be out here with us, too. Her substitute Russell has been an amazing addition, but with each text update I send her every evening, I know a little piece of her wishes she had jumped on that plane to Midway with us last week.

For many dedicated scientists that conduct field work far from home, male or female, “life” at times can interrupt our scholarly and career pursuits. It can be frustrating for sure, especially if you spent the last five years yearning for this opportunity, like Kelly has. You might feel like you’re stuck driving your desk for the better part of nine months, or you might pass on great fieldwork to be home with your pregnant partner. You just need to count on your friends and co-workers to fill in. Yes, you may have to root for their success from the sideline, but you must believe that you are every bit a part of their success, too. We believe it!

We miss you at Midway, Kelly, but remember: life is the adventure! And you’re on a great one!