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Posthumous Medal Presented to Navy Capt. Rochefort

May 30, 1986 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan today presented a posthumous medal to the late Navy Capt. Joseph J. Rochefort, a long-delayed honor that recognized Rochefort’s code- breaking skills and critical contribution to one of the Navy’s greatest victories, the Battle of Midway during World War II.

Reagan gave the Distinguished Service Medal to the family of Rochefort, who died in 1976, during a brief ceremony in the White House. The medal was recommended last fall by Navy Secretary John Lehman after Rochefort was twice denied it during his lifetime.

During the brief presentation ceremony, Reagan praised the contribution of Rochefort as he gave the medal to Rochefort’s son, retired Army Col. Joseph Rochefort Jr., and his daughter, Mrs. Janet Rochefort Elerding.

Also present during the ceremony were Vice President George Bush, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, CIA Director William Casey, and Adm. William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The White House refused to permit reporters to cover the event.

Rochefort was in charge of ″Station Hypo,″ the Navy’s code-breaking office at its Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, base during World War II.

In the spring of 1942, Rochefort’s team cracked a code which the Japanese had been using and predicted that a huge Japanese naval fleet then being gathered would be used to attack Midway island, a small U.S. outpost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

But other Navy intelligence officials in Washington had come to a different conclusion, arguing that the Japanese intended to attack either Johnston Atoll west of Hawaii or strike at the west coast of the United States.

After a long interservice battle between the two sides, Adm. Chester Nimitz, then commander of U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, decided to listen to Rochefort.

The U.S. Navy, although badly outnumbered, completely surprised the Japanese fleet during the three-day battle from June 2-4, 1944, destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers in what turned out to be the pivotal naval battle of the Pacific war. After Midway, the Japanese fleet was never again on the offensive.

The citation presented today noted that Rochefort’s information ″served as the singular basis″ for Nimitz to ″plan his defenses, deploy his limited forces, and devise strategy to ensure U.S. Navy success in engaging the Japanese forces at Midway.″

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After the battle, Nimitz recommended Rochefort for the Distinguished Service Medal, but that was denied by the Navy in Washington because service officials contended that a number of intelligence offices besides Station Hypo had contributed to the victory.

Nimitz petitioned again in 1958 for a medal for Rochefort, but the Navy again denied it, noting that World War II medal cases were already closed.

When Lehman finally granted the medal late last year, he offered no public reasoning for overturning the earlier decision.

But the decision to finally give Rochefort the medal came shortly before publication of a book, ″And I Was There,″ which drew upon thousands of pages of declassified documents about the early years of the Pacific War in detailing Navy intelligence successes and failures.

The primary author of the book was the late Rear. Adm. Edwin Layton, the Pacific fleet intelligence officer at Pearl Harbor throughout the war. Layton details intra-service fighting between intelligence officials at Pearl Harbor and in Washington.

Not long after Midway, according to Layton, Rochefort’s enemies in the service, angered at his success, were able to have him transferred from Station Hypo to San Francisco, where he was put in charge of a floating dry dock.