Kuaiheilani, suggested as a mythical place, is the traditional name for what we refer to as Midway Atoll. Described in the legend of Aukelenuiaiku, the origin of this name can be traced to an ancient homeland of the Hawaiian people, located somewhere in central Polynesia. (Kikiloi)
According to historical sources, this island was used by Native Hawaiians even in the late-1800s as a sailing point for seasonal trips to this area of the archipelago.
Theodore Kelsey writes, “Back in 1879 and 1880 these old men used navigation gourds for trips to Kuaihelani, which they told me included Nihoa, Necker, and the islets beyond…the old men might be gone on their trips for six months at a time through May to August was the special sailing season.” (Papahānaumokuākea MP, Cultural Impact Assessment)
Look at a map and you understand the reasoning for the “Midway” reference (actually, it’s a little closer to Asia than it is to the North American continent.)
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and in particular Midway Atoll, became a potential commodity in the mid-19th century. The United States took formal possession of Midway Atoll in August of 1867 by Captain William Reynolds of the USS Lackawanna.
Shortly afterwards, the USS Saginaw, a Civil War-era side wheel gunboat, was assigned to support improvement efforts at Midway where a coal depot in support of transpacific commerce was to be built.
For six months, she served as a support vessel for divers as they labored to clear a channel into the lagoon. In October 1870, the unsuccessful operation was terminated. Saginaw set course for nearby Kure Atoll to check for castaways before returning to San Francisco. The ship would meet a tragic end on the reef at Kure Atoll where she wrecked in the middle of the night.
Midway’s importance grew for commercial and military planners. The first transpacific cable and station were in operation by 1903. In the 1930s, Midway became a stopover for the Pan American Airways’ flying “clippers” (seaplanes) crossing the ocean on their five-day transpacific passage.
The United States was inspired to invest in the improvement of Midway in the mid-1930s with the rise of imperial Japan. In 1938 the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the lagoon during this period and, in 1938, Midway was declared second to Pearl Harbor in terms of naval base development in the Pacific.
The construction of the naval air facility at Midway began in 1940. At that time, French Frigate Shoals was also a US naval air facility. Midway also became an important submarine advance base.
The reef was dredged to form a channel and harbor to accommodate submarine refit and repair. Patrol vessels of the Hawaiian Sea Frontier forces stationed patrol vessels at most of the islands and atolls
The Japanese planned to assault and occupy the atoll in order to threaten an invasion of Hawaiʻi and draw the American naval forces that had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor out into an ambush against the brunt of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Midway was of vital importance to both Japanese and American war strategies in World War II, and the raid on the atoll was one of the most significant battles of the war, marking a major shift in the balance of power between the United States and Japan.
As dawn approached at around 0430, June 4, 1942, the American carriers (Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown) were about 300 miles north north-east of Midway. Their Japanese counterparts (Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū and Hiryū) were 250 miles northwest of the atoll.
In their attack, the Imperial Japanese Navy lost two thirds of its fleet aircraft carriers (four Japanese aircraft carriers and their accompanying aircraft and crews.) The loss of USS Yorktown was a major blow to the US, but the American wartime production of men and materiel would soon make up the difference and outpace that of the Japanese.
While the primary carrier fleet engagement occurred well to the north of Midway Atoll, much of the “secondary” action occurred within or originated from the atoll.
The Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942) is considered the most decisive US victory and is referred to as the “turning point” of World War II in the Pacific. The victory allowed the United States and its allies to move into an offensive position.
In 2000, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt designated Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge as the Battle of Midway National Memorial, making it the first National Memorial designated on a National Wildlife Refuge.
Of all the Islands and atolls in the Hawaiian archipelago, while Midway is part of the US, it the only one that is not part of the State of Hawaiʻi.
Today, Midway is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a marine protected area encompassing all of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The image shows Sand Island and eastern Islands at Midway, November 1941, before the battle. In addition, I have added other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.