Wake Island: Island of Valor
By: Lorna K. Grant
Ask most anyone what significant events they recall of the Pacific Theater during World War II, and they will probably tell you: Pearl Harbor, Midway, the Philippines, Guadalcanal, and of course, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But few know of the gallant and heroic fight for a little known atoll in the Pacific called Wake Island. This sixteen-day battle is one of the most stirring chapters in American history ever to be written with the blood of American Marines, Naval personnel, and civilian construction workers. These men fought side by side for a desolate 2,600 acres of sand and coral lost in the lonely Pacific Ocean.
The battle for this tiny island became lost in the shadows of Pearl Harbor, Midway, and the Philippines. As the war drew on and attentions were focused on Europe and more recent campaigns in the Pacific, people no longer shouted the battle cry of, "Remember Wake, Too!" After the battle for Wake Island, the defenders of this small garrison faced an even greater battle—the battle for survival in the Japanese POW camps. This is their story—the story of Wake Island and her defenders; the great fight, the forgotten fight.
For hundreds of years this island laid in the Pacific touched only by the pounding surf. Wake Island is not the tropical paradise that comes to mind. There is no fresh water supply and the only vegetation is fruitless vines, thorny pisonias, desert magnolia, shrubs and trees standing fifteen feet in height. The island’s only occupants were a strange breed of hunched-back Polynesian rats, a few crabs, as well as flocks of terns, boobies, frigates and boatswain birds. No point on the island is more than 1,100 yards from the shoreline, and the distance from Kuku Point on Wilkes to Toki Point on Peale, is 6½ miles in length with the lagoon being 3 miles long and ¼ mile wide.
It is true when said Wake Island is a lone speck in the Pacific. Its nearest land companion is Bikini Island, 450 miles away. Midway lies 1194 miles to the Northeast; Guam, 1485 miles to the West-Southwest; and Honolulu, 2300 miles East. This little island of three is just as remote from human activity as is the North Pole.
So it seems Wake Island was nowhere; but it was somewhere. It served as an indispensable link in the network of global transportation, an aerial focal point in the vastness of an ocean. Seeing the opportunity of a seaplane-refueling base, Pan American Airways decided to establish facilities for a trans-Pacific air route at Honolulu, Midway, Wake, Guam and Manila. In January 1935, the Pacific Division of Pan-Am was established.
At the end of World War I, it became clear to American military planners the United States and Japan were on a collision course in the Pacific. Yet it would be nearly two decades before anyone would act on Wake Island’s strategic position in the Pacific. Fate set into motion an intricate chain of events that would make the sand and coral of Wake Island a bloody battlefield. Why was this speck-on-a-map so important to the military leaders of the US and Japan? A US possession of the island would give the military a hold in the Pacific near Japan’s own mandates. Wake Island could be used as a reconnaissance base to watch the Japanese, or for retaliation against an attack on the United States. The Japanese wanted Wake Island for their "ribbon defense" in the Pacific, and as a leg-up towards Midway and Pearl Harbor.
Eight construction companies merged to form the Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases, which contracted with the US Navy to build defenses on the Pacific Islands of Hawaii, the Philippines, Midway, Wake, Guam, Johnston, Samoa and Palmyra. The division in charge of the Wake Island construction was the Morrison-Knudsen Company of Boise, Idaho. By November 1941, there were 1,146 civilian contractors working on Wake, Wilkes and Peale. The completion date for the Wake Island construction was to be July 1, 1942. Everything was coming along fine, but something was definitely missing. The time had come to give Wake Island its fangs—the 1st Defense Battalion of the United States Marine Corps.
Major James P.S. Devereux
On October 15, 1941, Major James Patrick Sinnot Devereux arrived as Commanding Officer of the Wake Detachment of the 1st Defense Battalion. With him came six 5-inch guns, twelve 3-inch antiaircraft guns, twenty-four .50 caliber machine guns for antiaircraft, thirty .30 caliber machine guns for beach defense, and six searchlights. The marine garrison doubled on November 2, 1941, when nine officers and 194 enlisted men arrived at Wake Island. But the tiny island was still without airplanes and an Island Commander. Commander Winfield Scott Cunningham arrived on November 28, 1941, to take charge of the Naval Air Station as Island Commander. Fighter Squadron VMF-211 arrived on December 4, 1941, from the carrier Enterprise, with 12 Grumman F-4F Wildcats and their pilots, under the command of Major Paul Putnam.
Commander Winfield Scott Cunningham
The Wildcats were a mixed blessing. They were obsolete planes without armor, leak proof gas tanks, or radio homing equipment; and the bombs already in supply on the island, did not fit the planes’ bomb racks. Only three of the pilots had any experience with the F-4F’s and none had logged more than 30 hours of flying time with the plane type. To make matters more frustrating, no one had practiced dropping bombs or firing guns from the Wildcat. Despite all the problems the planes had, the F-4F’s ratio of victories to losses in air combat against the Japanese was seven to one.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Major Devereux announced to the men they were to have the day off—the first since their arrival. Many swam in the lagoon, wrote letters home, or just rested. Little did they know it would be the last day of the world as they knew it. For little Wake Island was picked to be the pivot for the first American offense of the coming war. American military planners had set a trap for the Japanese with Wake Island as bait. The only trouble was, the Japanese had set a trap of their own, and it would spring on the least expected spot—Pearl Harbor.
A few minutes before seven on Monday morning, December 8, 1941, Capt. Henry S. Wilson, Army Signal Corps, picked up an unusual message from Hickman Field, the Army Air Base at Pearl Harbor. Normally, messages were transmitted in code to confuse the Japanese intelligence, but this one came across in plain English. The Army communicator wrote these chilling words from the transmission: "SOS. ISLAND OF OAHU ATTACKED BY JAPANESE DIVE-BOMBERS. THIS IS NO DRILL. THIS IS THE REAL THING."
Most of the Marines, still at breakfast and relaxed from their day off, could not believe the "Call to Arms" was anything more than another fake alert. Seeing the lackadaisical attitude of the men, Devereux yelled at his marines: "We’re now under attack. Pearl Harbor is being bombed at the present time. We should expect the same thing anytime now." The men of the 1st Defense Battalion were instantly sobered and appeared in full field gear with their weapons. Commander Cunningham ordered the men to battle stations, and they lined up, boarded trucks, and rode to their battle stations. Capt. Bryghte "Dan" Godbold and his men of Battery D, were ordered to keep one gun, the director, the height-finder (the only one on the island for all three Batteries), and the power plant manned at all times. Within half an hour, all Marine positions on Wake, Wilkes and Peale reported themselves manned and ready. The civilians continued their work. Cunningham then contacted the Pan-Am manager to recall the Philippine Clipper. Upon its return, Cunningham asked the pilot, Captain Hamilton, to carry out a scouting flight.
As the morning wore on and no Japanese attack materialized, the Marines reverted to their earlier skepticism. First Lt. Clarence A. Baringer half muttered to himself, "This has got to be one big foul-up. Those little yellow bastards haven’t got the guts to attack us." He didn’t know how wrong he actually was.
Around 1150, a rain cloud swept over Wake Island, soaking the Americans on the ground, and shrouding the tiny island from the four Wildcats circling above at 12,000 feet, which were piloted by Capt. Henry T. Elrod and 2nd Lt. Carl R. Davidson to the north, and 2nd Lt. John F. Kinney and TSgt. William J. Hamilton, to the south. The rumble of the pounding surf masked the sound of the 36 twin-engine Mitsubishi "Nell" medium bombers, who broke out of the rain cloud at 2,000 feet off the south shore and roared towards the runway. A Marine radioman on the observation post atop the water tower sighted the bombers:
"Hey, Malleck," he called to a friend below. "Look at the planes."
"Are they ours or theirs?" answered an unconcerned voice. A rapid series of explosions choked the mirth out of the radioman’s voice
"They must be theirs!" he screeched. "They are dropping bombs—every damn one of them!"
The clock read 1158. Wake Island had entered the war.
Japan’s first strike was against the airfield. Eight of the twelve Wildcats sat in the open on the parking area by the runway, serviced and fueled, waiting to be called for patrol. Second Lt. Robert J. Conderman and 1st Lt. George A. Graves, in the ready tent and in their flight gear, sprinted for the planes. Graves reached one of the F4F’s, but a direct hit reverted it into a blaze of flames, and killed Lt. Graves instantly. As Conderman reached his plane, a strafer’s bullets cut him down, and as he took cover, another bomb targeted a Wildcat and destroyed it, trapping Conderman beneath the wreckage. He called for help, but upon hearing another man’s cries for assistance, commanded Crpl. Robert E.L. Page to aid the other man.
Incendiary bullets destroyed seven planes and damaged the eighth beyond repair. No tools, spark plugs, tires, nor any of the sparse parts escaped the destruction. Also demolished were both 25,000-gallon gasoline storage tanks. Strafing attacks killed 2nd Lt. Frank J. Holden as he raced for cover, while bullets and fragments wounded 2nd Lt. Henry G. Webb. Major Paul Putnam received a bullet wound to his shoulder, but saw first to the other wounded at the field. A total of five pilots and 10 enlisted men of VMF-211 were wounded and 18 more lay dead, including most of the squadron’s mechanics. Twenty-five civilian workmen had also been killed.
Commander Cunningham had faith in his airborne planes to warn them of an incoming raid, and so continued to work in his office at Camp Two. He heard the "thud" of bombs around 1205, and as the explosions rattled windows throughout the camp, many men concluded the work crews were blasting the coral in the lagoon. But not all men were silent. Guns 1 and 2 of Battery D opened up, and fired 40 rounds during the raid. Low visibility and the bombers’ altitude impeded the effectiveness of the 3-inch guns. The Marines’ antiaircraft fire damaged 8 of the Nells and one petty officer inside.
The Japanese bombers then took aim at their second target: the Pan-Am station. Bombs and strafing set fire to the hotel, a stock room, fuel tanks, and many other buildings. The Navy radio transmitter was demolished and the hospital took a direct hit. Within the time frame of seven minutes, all facilities, including the hotel, were destroyed, and ten civilians were killed. Four Marines, several corpsmen, and 55 civilians were also killed in that run.
Miraculously, the Clipper, empty of passengers but full of fuel, floated defiantly at her moors at the end of the dock. The Japanese splashed one bomb within 100 feet, but she received no damage, other than the 23 bullet holes left from the strafing attack, none of which had hit her loaded fuel tanks. Captain Hamilton volunteered to evacuate the passengers and Pan-Am staff, which Cunningham agreed with. The flying boat took off at 1330 for Midway.
The bombers then went for the Camps, killing two sailors and one civilian. Before leaving, they turned back to the airfield for one more run, making sure the planes and fuel tanks had been obliterated. By 1210, the enemy had expended their bombs and ammunition, and turned back towards the Marshall Islands, 700 miles away.
As they retired west through the overcast, Kinney and Hamilton descended through the broken clouds, three miles from the atoll, and spotted the two formations of Nell bombers. The two Marine airmen tried unsuccessfully to catch up with the enemy, but remained aloft till well after 1230, when they landed amid the destruction beyond the mere description of words. Neither one of the other pilots, Elrod nor Davidson, had made contact with the enemy.
1st Lt. John F. Kinney
The realization of what lay ahead hit heavy for those on the tiny island. The Marines realized the bombers had not hit the runway itself, and a dark cloud hung over their heads. They knew the Japanese intended to use the runway themselves. Upon raising the flag after the first raid, Major Devereux was quoted as saying, "That flag’s going to fly night and day. The only time it’ll come down is when we can’t fight anymore."
For Wake Island and its defenders, the war had begun.
After the shock had worn off, the men returned to work and made preparations for the next raid they were certain would come. Many of the civilians asked to be inducted into the Marine Corps or the Army, but were told there was no legal way this could be done. When one civilian asked Major Devereux for a rifle, he inquired:
"Why are you doing this? You’re a civilian. You don’t have to fight."
The New Yorker replied, "I’m an American; isn’t that enough?"
Devereux nodded. "Give him a weapon."
Dan Teters and 200 of his civilian workers helped the military. They prepared revetments, serviced the aircraft, dug foxholes, filled sandbags for gun emplacements, and hauled ammunition from central storage to the guns. The rest of the civilians gathered their belongings not destroyed in the raid, then headed into the brush to hide in dugouts and foxholes. Not only were they alarmed, but also they were angry with the US government. They had not bargained for participation in peril. But for those who were trained for such travesties, their hands were full with all the necessary repairs and preparations. Only one thing was certain to the men on Wake Island, Marine and civilian alike: the Japanese would return.
As for VMF-211, Putnam established a command post near the operations area, appointed Kinney as the engineering officer after Lt. Graves’ death, and deemed it critical to keep the remaining planes operational. "We have four planes left," Putnam told Kinney. "If you can keep them up and flying, I’ll see you get a medal as big as a pie." The rest of his men dug foxholes and all physically capable men stayed at the field. Putnam also ordered pistols, submachine guns, gas masks and steel helmets be distributed, and for machine gun placements to be established at both ends of the runway and near the command post.
The ground crew, meanwhile, placed the serviceable planes into revetments, a task not without its risks. Captain Frank C. Tharin managed to taxi one of the four remaining planes into an oil drum and ruined its propeller. The flyable planes now counted three. The men of VMF-211 also managed to construct protective works, and mined the landing strip with dynamite connected to electric generators. Portions of the land surrounding the field were bulldozed in hopes the rough ground would wreck any enemy planes as they landed.
Capt. Frank C. Tharin
Gunner John Hamas and several of his men carted ammunition and dispersed it into caches near the Wilkes Channel, camouflaging them with the coral sand. With that task completed, they then distributed hundreds of boxes of .5 and .30 caliber ammunition within the bushes around the road leading to the airfield. Before dusk descended upon the tiny island, Hamas managed to deliver .50 caliber ammunition and metal links to Capt. Herbert C. Freuler, then handed him the keys to the bomb and ammo magazines.
The Marines around the island also faced daunting tasks. They needed to complete the foxholes near the island various battery placements. Security watches and beach patrols were established. Twenty-five civilians responded to 1st Lt. Lewis’ request for assistance in improving the defensive position of Battery E on Peacock Point. Lewis then had his men lay telephone lines from the command post to the battery’s heightfinder, so they could communicate the altitude readings for any incoming enemy bombers, then relay the important information to his men at the guns.
Over at Battery D, Godbold and his men repaired the damaged emplacements and accepted the dispersion of grenades and ammunition. Eighteen civilians reported to Godbold for military duty, sixteen of whom he had serve under Sgt. Walter A Bowsher, Jr., to man the previously idle Gun 3. The remaining pair was assigned to the director crew as lookouts. Untrained as they were, they civilians were soon working their gun "in a manner comparable to those manned by Marines."
Commander Campbell Keene, of the Wake Base Detachment, deemed it necessary to reassign his men to more critical combat duties. Ensigns George E. Henshaw and Bernard J. Lauff were sent to Cunningham’s staff, while Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class James E. Barnes and 12 enlisted men joined the ranks of the defense battalion as truck drivers, served in galley details, and stood security watches. Keene sent three enlisted men, one of whom was Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class James F. Lesson, to VMF-211. Lesson, along with civilians Harry Yeager and "Doc" Stevenson, proved invaluable to Kinney as mechanics and civilian Pete Sorenson volunteered as a truck driver for the squadron.
The afternoon and evening of the island’s first day at war found Naval Reserve Lt. Gustave M. Kahn, of the Medical Corps, and the civilian physician, Dr. Lawton E. Shank, inundated with the wounded at the contractor’s hospital. Though diligent as their efforts were to save as many lives as they could, some were beyond their efforts. Of those, were four of VMF-211’s men, including 2nd Lt. Conderman, who died within the darkness of the night.
Besides the preparatory work for the enemy, another problem arose. What were they to do with those killed in the raid, and those who died as a result of their wounds? They hadn’t the time to bury the dead. No one knew for certain where the enemy had come from or when they would return. Time was precious and it was running out. To solve the problem, they gathered the dead and deposited them inside a large freezer room in the civilian storehouse until further arrangements could be made.
The next day, December 9th, dawned with a clear sky overhead, and the Marines were ready for the bombers. Three Wildcats took off for an early morning patrol, and by 0900, Kinney had the fourth plane, minus its reserve gas tank, ready for take off. This last F4F checked out okay in a test flight, and just in the nick of time. At 1145, the Chitose Air Group, with 27 Nells, struck again, coming in at 13,000 feet. Second Lt. David D. Kliewer and TSgt. Hamilton, flying two of the three Wildcats in operation, attacked and shot down one straggling Japanese bomber.
Marine gunners did their share as well. Battery D’s number 2 and 4 guns, together, fired 100 3-inch rounds. The anti-aircraft splashed a second bomber and damaged twelve more, but suffered only light casualties of one man dead, with another slightly wounded.
The 27 Japanese bombers continued to wreck havoc and chaos as they concentrated on Camp Two and Peale Island. Most of their bombs fell near the edge of the lagoon, north of the airstrip. They damaged the machine shop and warehouse, demolished the hospital and adjacent barracks of Camp Two. While on Peale, the warehouse, Administration and barracks buildings were a total loss. A three-man crew with the dispersed gasoline trucks was killed instantly when a bomb exploded in the foxhole they had sought for shelter. An enlisted man from VMF-211 perished in the devastation of the hospital.
Doctors Shank and Kahn, with the help of their assistants, managed to evacuate the wounded and saved as much equipment as they could. The exhausted medical people soon moved the wounded and equipment into Magazines 10 and 13, located near the unfinished airstrip, establishing two 21-bed wards. Marine Gunner Hamas, trapped by the raid while delivering a load of projectiles and powder to gun positions on Peale, was impressed by the courageous actions of Dr. Shank, as he carried injured men from the burning building. Hamas recommended Shank be awarded with the Medal of Honor for his selfless and heroic deeds.
With the departure of the enemy planes, repairs and the improvement of positions and planes once again resumed. Since the initial bombing had destroyed the mechanical loading machines needed for the .50 caliber ammunition, a crew of civilians helped load the ammo, late into the night. Work crews dispensed food, water, medical supplies, and lumber to the defenders around the island. They also moved the communications center and the island’s command post.
From his position near the tip of Peacock Point, Marine Gunner Clarence B. McKinstry of Battery E, had noted one bomber breaking from the rest of the formation and circling overhead. He believed the plane was taking aerial photographs of the battery’s gun positions, and suggested it be moved. Later that night, under the cover of darkness, Dan Teters and 100 civilians helped 1st Lt. Lewis move the 3-inch guns, ammunition and sandbags of Battery E. They jacked up and mounted them on trailers, then hauled it 1500 yards northwest of the old position. Dummyguns were then made of wood and put in the original position. All they could do was sit and wait to see if the ploy worked.
As December 10th dawned over the island, Marine Gunner McKinstry received orders to report to Capt. Wesley Platt, commander of the stronghold on Wilkes. Battery F had four 3-inch guns but no crew, heightfinder, or a director. McKinstry found himself in charge of the placement that could only fire accurately at short or point blank range, limiting them to beach protection. A crew of civilians helped McKinstry move his guns into the battery minutes before 26 Nells flew over the island at 1020.
The Japanese pooled their efforts on the gun positions located on Wilkes and Peale, dropping their bombs on the airfield and the seacoast installations at the tip of Wilkes. Only one Marine was killed and another wounded from Battery L. But the light casualties were paid for in destruction of equipment and considerable damage to the gun position. The 120 tons of dynamite stored near the new channel by the contractors exploded, stripping the 3-inch battery of its camouflage. Battery L crews moved the guns closer to the shoreline and used burnt brush for camouflage since they lacked the sandbags to construct defensive shelters.
Battery E, from its new position, entered the fight and hurled 100 rounds skyward as bombs dropped near Peacock Point. McKinstry’s hunch about the aerial photography was vindicated as the old position was heavily bombed and received a direct hit, setting off a small ammo dump. Also in the battle was Battery D’s gunners, claiming hits on two bombers, one which was seen to explode later. The VMF-211 pilots were not to be left out. Captain Elrod single handedly attacked the formation of enemy planes, claiming two of the raiders.
Staying with a good plan, Battery E once again moved in the night, this time to a position on the toe of the horseshoe on the lagoon side of Wake. The defenders of the tiny island completed their daily defensive preparations and settled in for the night. They had survived three days of intense bombing and wondered what the next day would bring. They were to find out earlier than anyone could have anticipated.
Shortly after midnight on December 11th, lookouts scanned the horizon and sighted blinking lights to the south. Upon receiving reports of ships offshore, Major Devereux stepped outside and scanned the southern horizon. With help from the moonlight, the outline of ships became visible. The Sixth Destroyer Squadron of the Fourth Fleet of the Japanese Imperial Navy lay off Wake Island’s shore, designated by Admiral Yamamoto to take Wake Island.
Rear Admiral Sadamichi Kajioka led the Wake Island Invasion Force from the flagship Yubari. Invasion Force of the Japanese was made up of three light cruisers: the Yubari, Tatsuta, Tenryu; six destroyers: Oite, Hayate, Mutsuki, Kisaragi, Mochizuki, and Yayoi; two patrol boats, Nos. 32 and 33; two transports: Kongo Maru and Konryu Maru; and 450 men of the Special Naval Landing Force 5. They were confident that three days of bombing had rendered the island and its defenders impotent. But Wake Island’s Marines would soon show their fangs and draw blood, providing the destroyed Pacific Fleet and a stunned nation the inspiration needed to proudly call themselves Americans.
Commander Cunningham issued orders for all guns to hold their fire until the ships closed in on the island. At 0200, as the Japanese drew in closer to the island, Cunningham radioed Pearl Harbor to report the contractors’ casualties and suggested evacuation of the civilians, ending his report of the danger that lay off the island’s shore. By 0400 Major Putnam had alerted VMF-211. Soon after, Putnam, Captains Elrod, Tharin and Freuler manned the four operational Wildcats, each loaded with a 100-pound bomb under each wing, and taxied into take-off position.
Capt. Henry Elrod
Shortly before 0500, the Japanese started their final run. They were now four miles off Peacock Point. Three of the F4-F’s took off at 0515, followed five minutes later by the fourth, and rendezvoused at 12,000 feet above Toki Point. At 0522, the three cruisers commenced firing on the island. The Marine’s guns stayed eerily silent as the Japanese "crept in, firing as they came." The ship’s projectiles managed to damage the oil tanks at Camp One, setting them ablaze. The two transport destroyers prepared to land the Special Naval Landing Force troops on Wake and Wilkes.
So as not to alert the Japanese by call of the bugle, Devereux repeated the orders by phone to hold all fire until he gave the word. The only chance they had for survival was to draw the ships in close enough for the 5-inch guns to open up. Devereux’s phone rang off the hook with Marines who wanted to open fire on the enemy. The order to hold fire continued. More shells bombarded the island. The nearest warship, the flagship Yubari, now rested 4,500 yards from Battery A and "scoured the beach" with her 5.5-inch fire.
At 0600, the light cruiser reversed course and closed the range even further. Carefully, the Marines removed the brush camouflage and started tracking the Japanese ships. Reports flooded in to Commander Cunningham as the distance decreased yard by yard. Finally, Cunningham responded, "Must be Jap ships all right. What are we waiting for? Open fire." Devereux relayed the command to commence firing. It was 0615.
First Lt. Clarence A. Barninger’s 5-inch guns at Peacock Point instantly exploded. The first salvo from Battery A went over the Yubari and sent two columns of water into the air beyond the ship. The guns had given away their position, but the Japanese counter fire proved inaccurate, landing only one shell in the battery’s vicinity, bursting 150 feet from Barninger’s command post. Later, Barninger reported, "It was fortunate that the Japanese fore proved as poor as it was, for the guns lay completely unprotected, open save for camouflage. No sandbag protection existed."
The Marines readjusted their range and aimed at the flagship. The cruiser immediately turned and raced away in a zigzag course. It wouldn’t be so lucky the next time. At the distance of 5,700 yards, Lt. Barninger opened up and caught the Yubari in amidships with the second salvo. Again at 7,000 yards, the Marines hit the cruiser before a destroyer came between the ship and the island, and laid a smoke screen for the Yubari to escape.
Meanwhile at 0652 on Wilkes, 2nd Lt. John A. McAlister was having problems obtaining range, since Battery L’s rangefinder had been damaged in the previous day’s bombing. Captain Platt passed along Major Potter’s order for McAlister to "estimate it." He opened fire, scoring hits on one of the transports. Platt watched the ship movements off shore as McAlister’s 5-inch guns slammed three salvoes into the destroyer Hayate. She exploded immediately, killing her 167-man crew.
McAlister’s men cheered, then Battery L turned its sights to the destroyers Oite, Mochizuki, and the transport Konryu Maru. They scored hits on both destroyers; the Oite sustained 14 wounded, and the Mochizuki, an undetermined number of casualties. The smoke soon became so thick, the gunners could no longer see their targets.
Battery B on Peale’s Toki Point and commanded by 1st Lt. Woodrow M. Kessler, opened its guns. They set their sights on three destroyers, Yayoi, Mutsuki, and Kisaragi, as well as the Tenryu and the Tatsuta. The heavy counterfire disabled one gun. The inoperable gun’s crew served as ammunition passers. After ten salvos, at the range of 10,000 yards, Kessler’s remaining gun scored a hit on Yayoi, the lead destroyer, in her stern. The projectile started a fire, killed one man, and wounded 17 others.
The Marines shifted their sights to the destroyer next in line. The enemy’s counterfire severed communications between Kessler command post and the gun. The muzzle blast temporarily disabled the range finder, but Battery B continued with local fire control. Kessler’s guns hurled two shots towards a transport, but were out of range. The ships laid a smoke screen, and all three destroyers slipped away.
Although bombers had pounded Wake Island for three days, the defenders still possessed enough coastal guns and grit, to mount a ferocious and heroic defense. These efforts forced Admiral Kajioka to retire, and at 0700, he ordered his battered and humiliated ships to withdraw. Devereux told his gunners to cease-fire. But that was not to be the end of the battle. Kajioka was about to encounter a new and determined foe. The Wildcats and their pilots still had not used any of their bombs or ammunitions against the Japanese fleet. They would now get their chance.
Their main objective was to search the sea for an aircraft carrier and any airborne planes. When they failed to spot one, they returned to battle the Japanese, only to find them retreating instead. The Wildcats roared in towards the destroyers. The patched up planes and their worn-out pilots flew ten sorties, dropped twenty 100-pound bombs, and fired 20,000 rounds of machine gun bullets. Every time the pilots landed to refuel and reload their planes, the mechanics found more and more flak holes in the wings. The determined pilots didn’t let that stop them from trying to teach the Japanese a lesson.
And that they did. Putnam, Tharin and Freuler attacked the Tenryu, strafing her forward, near the number 1 torpedo tube mount. They scored a bit, wounding five men and disabling three torpedoes. She was disabled. Elrod meanwhile, trained his sights on the Kisaragi. One of his bombs scored a hit. The destroyer trailed oil and smoke, and was damaged enough to bring it to a stop. Internally on fire, she managed to once again get underway.
Capt. Herbert Freuler
Elrod paid the price for his strike. Antiaircraft fire perforated the plane’s oil line, and Elrod was forced back to base. He grounded his shot up plane on the rocky beach. The VMF-211’s ground crew wrote her off as a total loss, and ultimately cannibalized her for parts. Redemption was around the corner as the VMF-211 was about to score their biggest victory to date.
The three remaining planes shuttled back and forth, refueling and rearming. Putnam and Kinney once again came across the damaged and retreating destroyer Kisaragi, which carried an extra load of depth charges. One plane made a lethal pass over the ship. The second Wildcat passed over on its attack run, when at 0731, she blew up and sank with no survivors. One hundred sixty-seven men killed. But the pilots did not stop there. Freuler, Putnam and Hamilton strafed the transport Kongo Maru, which ignited barrels of gasoline stored in her holds. This run killed three Japanese sailors, wounded 19, with two more listed as missing.
Major Paul Putnam
After witnessing the demise of the Kisaragi, Kinney strafed another destroyer before returning to base. Once refueled and rearmed, he took off again at 0915, accompanied by Lt. Davidson. Shortly thereafter, 17 Nells appeared and began to bomb Peale’s batteries. Davidson battled nine bombers, which had become separated from the formation and were headed to the southwest. Kinney tackled the other eight bombers. Davidson and Kinney were credited with one splash apiece.
Meanwhile on the ground, Battery D threw 125 rounds up at the planes. The Japanese inflicted neither damage nor casualties, although some of their bombs landed near the battery’s position on Peale. They paid a price with the loss of two planes in the attack, and 11 others had been damaged. The casualties included 15 dead and one slightly wounded.
The fighting took its toll on the Leathernecks and their tough little planes. The main fuel line in Capt. Elrod’s plane had been cut and he barely made it to the beach before he crashed and demolished the plane beyond repair. Capt. Freuler brought his plane back with the engine shot up—also beyond the repairing capabilities of the mechanics and their meager supplies. That left the air force with a total of two flyable planes.
Surprisingly, the losses of the American forces were few compared to those of the Japanese. The Marines lost only four soldiers and two Wildcat planes. The Japanese, on the other hand, lost two vessels, with seven more heavily damaged and casualties numbering 700. Four planes had been shot down, and four more limped home crippled.
For the next 11 hours, the Marines and nearly 250 civilians moved Battery D’s 3-inch guns the length of Peale and constructed new emplacements. By 0445 on the 12th of December, Godbold again reported his guns manned and ready. All over the island, the Marines breathed a small sigh of relief and most men managed to get the first moments of sleep since the outbreak of war.
The Marines, Army, Navy and civilian construction workers marked their place in history. Their gallant efforts proved to be the only time an amphibious landing was beaten off by defending guns, and by such a small number of men, in the entire Pacific Theater. A high ranking Japanese naval officer was quoted as saying, "Considering the power accumulated for the invasion of Wake Island, and the meager forces of the defenders, it was one of the most humiliating defeats our navy had ever suffered."
The message of victory Cunningham sent to Pearl became almost as famous as the battle itself. Usually, communications were padded to confuse the Japanese. With that in mind, the message sent to Pearl read: SEND US STOP NOW IS THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN TO COME TO THE AID OF THEIR PARTY STOP CUNNINGHAM MORE JAPS. From this message came the greatest propaganda cry the Navy and media could think of: "When asked what the Marines of Wake needed, they replied, ‘Send us more Japs!’"
"Japs" were the last thing the Marines wanted or needed. What they men needed was tools to help defend the island. Commander Cunningham radioed Pearl Harbor with a long list of supplies, including fire control radars required by the 5 and 3-inch batters, as well as the machine gun and searchlight batteries.
On December 12th, the VMF-211 once again showed the world how amazing they truly were and had an opportunity do something about the Japanese that were sent. Sometime close to dawn, the sound of unsynchronized engines could be heard above the pounding surf. An enemy plane, a Kawanishi reconnaissance flying boat approached the island. Captains Freuler and Tharin scrambled to their waiting planes in hope of intercepting it. The Japanese plane managed to unload its bombs on the edge of the lagoon then sought refuge in the overcast and rainsqualls. Although Tharin was untrained for night aerial combat maneuvers, he chased and splashed the flying boat, with no survivors from its nine-man crew.
It was one thing to fight back against the enemy’s blows, and quite another to strike at the enemy himself. Around 1600, as Lt. Kliewer flew dusk patrol, he spotted a Japanese submarine basking on the surface, approximately 25 miles southwest of Wake Island. Lt. Kliewer dove out of the sun from 10,000 feet, and tore into the sub with his .50 caliber machine gun fire. He turned to the right and sought to increase the chance of maximum damage.
Once again he dove at the sub and dropped his 100-pound bombs at a low altitude, causing bomb fragments to tear large holes in the plane’s wing and tail surfaces. On Kliewer’s next pass, he emptied his guns into the submarine, an as he looked behind him, saw her submerge. When finally it disappeared below the surface, an oil slick appeared.
It was believed the sunken submarine had been sending homing beacons for the enemy bombers. Many thought this to be a sound argument since Wake Island was a hard place to find, being so small and having scattered clouds around most of the time; also, the radiomen kept picking up funny signals on their frequency.
Not to be outdone, the antiaircraft gunners shot down one plane and damaged four more of the 26 Nells sent to bomb the island. Japanese killed on the raid totaled eight, with no American losses. As the bombers departed, it was once again time to repair and regroup. The Marines continued working on the foxholes, freshened camouflage, cleaned guns and most importantly, tried to catch some sleep.
Another group of Marines and civilians were hard at work trying to perform a miracle. Kinney, Hamilton, and their helpers incredibly had built—or actually created—a plane from the wreckage of those destroyed. For a time, the air force on Wake Island boosted itself to three planes. Ground crews also dragged Capt. Elrod’s old plane from the beach to the runway to serve as a decoy.
The excitement of the evening was sobered by the duty they had to perform that night: the mass burial of the dead. The services were held after dark. It was decided from then on, all dead were to be buried where they fell.
December 13th was the first day the Japanese did not attack since the opening bombing on December 8th. The men attributed this to the sinking of the submarine with its homing beacon. Unfortunately, the quiet of the day had its consequences for the Marines. While trying to take off, Capt. Freuler’s plane went out of control and crashed into the dense undergrowth. Although Capt. Freuler suffered no injuries, the plane had been smashed beyond repair. Of these days, Devereux wrote:
In between was this foggy blur of days and nights when time stood still…The only certain memory is how much you wanted a whole night’s sleep…The days blurred together in a dreary sameness of bombing and endless work and always that aching need for sleep. I have seen men standing
with their eyes open, staring at nothing, and they did not hear me when I spoke to them. They were out on their feet. They became so punch drunk from weariness that frequently a man would forget an order almost as soon as he turned away. He would have to come back later and ask what you wanted him to do, and sometimes it was hard for you to remember.
Starting the next day at 0330, the Japanese bombed the island as many as three times a day, and no longer at regular intervals, but more unpredictable. The bombers came at noon or in the moonlight, singularly or in masses. Though no material damaged was suffered, the constant bombing made resting almost impossible.
On the 14th, only two of the Wildcats were operational. The crews scavenged parts required to replace an engine on one plane, from two that were irreparable. As they diligently worked at this task, the island was once again bombed, this time by 30 Nells. The enemy managed to sow destruction and chaos across the island.
During the raid, one bomb fell inside a revetment and turned the tail of a Wildcat into a twisting, burning aluminum skeleton. Lt. Kinney, Sgt. Hamilton, and Aviation Machinist Mate First Class James F. Hesson raced to the burning plane as the flames were reaching the fuel tank. They managed to free the engine, but the plane itself was a total loss. They hurried to mount the engine onto another plane, fortified by a gallon of ice cream brought to them by Pete Sorenson.
The air force grew and then diminished. Planes would be created from the wreckage of others, then crash before take off. A serious cause of damage to the planes was the pervasive, intrusive coral sand. Kinney and his band of helper fashioned gun-cleaning rods from welding rods and borrowed a compressor from Pan-Am to blast a mixture of air and kerosene to clean out the accumulation of grit and sand. Of the mechanics who helped keep VMF-211 together, Maj. Putnam said:
…[the repairs were] a truly remarkable and almost magical job. With almost no tools and a complete lack of normal equipment, they performed all types of repair and replacement work. They changed engines and propellers from scrape parts salvaged from wrecks. They replaced minor parts and assemblies, and repaired damage to fuselages and wings and landing gear; all of this in spite of the fact that they were working with new types with which they had had no previous experience and were without instruction manuals of any kind. In the opinion of the squadron commander their performance was the outstanding event of the whole campaign.
One such mechanic was Aviation Machinist’s Mate Hesson, who had been wounded during the raid on the 14th, and violating doctor’s orders, he returned to duty to assist Kinney and Hamilton. He resumed work on the planes as effective as before, despite his wounds. Putnam called Hesson’s dedication "the very foundation of the entire aerial defense of Wake Island."
At 1730 on December 15th, battery lookouts reported planes lurking amongst the low hanging clouds to the east. Thirty minutes later, four flying boats came in at 1000 feet and dropped bombs on what the Japanese crew reported as "the barracks area on the northern part of the island." The areas near Batteries B and D were strafed on one of the flying boats’ run. Although the Japanese pilots reported the bombing as "effective," they inflicted no material damage, and only one civilian was killed.
On December 17th, Commander Cunningham received a message from rear Admiral Bloch that seemed a bit unrealistic and a bit surreal. Cunningham’s primary concern, along with the rest of the men on the island, was defending the atoll and keeping his men alive. Bloch’s message had other goals in mind. It was "highly desirable" the message read, that the dredging of the channel across Wilkes continue. It went on to inquire as to the feasibility "under present conditions" of finishing the work wit the equipment at hand, and requested an estimated completion date.
The response sent back to Admiral Bloch stated that he had been concerned only with the defense of the island and the preservation of lives. Cunningham pointed out the difficulties of completing the task of dredging the channel: the blackout conditions militated working at night, Japanese raids came without warning and reduced the amount of work which could be accomplished during the day, the noise of the equipment prevented the workmen from being alerted to incoming planes, and also, the amount of construction equipment was continually reduced by the bombings. He further declared that with the low morale of the civilian workers, he could not predict, under the prevailing conditions, when the projects would be completed. The Commander also declared that "relief from raids would improve the outlook."
One day stood out from all the others in this time of attrition: December 20th. A Navy PBY patrol plane was coming from Honolulu to inspect the island. The PBY kept broadcasting weather reports every hour in plain English. A radioman replied, "They did so much jabbering on the radio that the Japs probably thought a whole patrol squadron was coming in."
At 1530 it glided in on the lagoon and tied up to what was left of the dock. A young Ensign in a clean, starched uniform (an oddity on Wake at the time) stepped from the plane, and asked where the Wake Island Hotel was located. The Marines could not believe their ears, and when they pointed out the rubble left of the hotel, the Ensign could not believe his eyes. No one realized just how bad the island had been bombed.
Besides bringing official mail to Cunningham, the pilots had brought the news everyone hoped for: help was on the way and would arrive December 24th. The orders also stated that all but 350 of the most essential civilian construction workers were to be evacuated. There were also orders for Major Baylor to report to Midway, leaving on the PBY the next morning. He would be "the last man off Wake".
Many men asked Maj. Baylor to send telegrams to their families when he reached Pearl Harbor. He decided to restrict it only to the wounded, and made rounds that night, cot to cot, taking down the messages they wanted to send. Unfortunately, the telegrams were never sent. By the time Baylor reached Honolulu, it was too late.
The next morning, a little before 0700, Ensign Murphy turned over the PBY’s engines, preparing for the trip to Midway. Maj. Baylor said his good-byes and boarded the plane. He later wrote:
I looked at our flag still snapping in the breeze at the top of the pole where it had been hoisted on December 8th. I looked at the cheerful, grinning faces and the confident bearing of the youngsters on the dock. As I waved a last good-bye and took my seat in the plane, my smile was as cheerful as theirs. I knew all would be well with Wake Island.
Less than two hours after the PBY took off, the war on Wake Island took an ominous turn and would spell defeat unless reinforcements arrived soon. The force behind the turn of events was the first air raid made by carrier planes on the 21st of December. The planes did little damage, but it was not reassuring to know a carrier floated somewhere close by. It would be a race between Task Force 14 and the Japanese fleet, as to which would get to Wake Island first.
At 1000 Commander Cunningham sent an "urgent" from Wake Island to Pearl, stating they had just been attacked by carrier-borne dive bombers. Then at 1200, seventeen heavy bombers followed with another attack. A cautious hope replaced the optimism of the night before and hinged on the Task Force slowly steaming its way towards Wake Island. The feeble string of hope was soon cut.
On December 22nd, a faint glow of optimism shone through when the Wildcats had a chance to extract revenge for the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thirty-three dive-bombers and six Zero fighters came in for a raid. Only two Wildcats were left, piloted by Capt. Freuler and Lt. Davidson. The Japanese planes were from the carriers Soryu and Hiryu, which had led the attack on Pearl Harbor. While engaged in a dogfight with Japanese planes, Capt. Herbert C. Freuler shot down two planes, thinking they were zero fighters. Later though, the Japanese reported the planes to be torpedo bombers—and the crews had been credited with sinking the USS Arizona.
A Zero got behind Capt. Freuler and opened fire. Bullets penetrated the fuselage, both sides of his vacuum tank, the bulkhead, seat and parachute. Captain Freuler threw his plane into a steep dive, and nursed it home, landing with the canopy stuck in the closed position. Ground crews lifted him from the wreckage of his plane and took him to the hospital. There would be no reclaiming of Freuler’s plane.
Lt. Davidson’s luck, though, had run out. Anxious pilots and ground crews looked out to sea all afternoon, hoping Lt. Davidson would make it in for a landing. They waited for him, even when they knew his fuel could not have lasted so long. He never returned to the island. The VMF-211 ceased to exist as a fighter squadron. After the last two planes were no longer flyable, Maj. Putnam and the remnant of VMF-211, which included 20 officers and men, reported to Commander Cunningham. They joined the 1st Marine Defense Battalion as infantrymen.
Little did the men on Wake Island, military and civilian alike, realize December 22, 1941, would be the last dawn they saw shine upon the Star-Spangled Banner for almost four years. Their future was as uncertain as the sea they looked out upon.
Like a Phoenix, a task force rose from the ashes of Pearl Harbor to send much needed supplies and men to Wake Island. On December 8th (Hawaii Time) Admiral Kimmel received an amended war plan from Washington. It called for the Pacific Fleet (or what was left of it) to be on the defensive and protect Hawaii, Wake, Johnston, the Palmyra Islands and the shipping lanes to Australia. They were to keep the enemy out of the Western Hemisphere.
They could not send a major force to replenish Wake Island, since Pearl had no major force to spare. By December 9th, Kimmel had drawn up the basic plans for the relief of Wake Island. He established Task Force 14. It consisted of the carrier Saratoga, three heavy cruisers—Astoria, Minneapolis, and San Francisco—nine destroyers, the seaplane tender Tangier, the fleet oiler Neeches, and members of the Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 211 with 18 Brewster Buffalo planes.
The military leaders at Pearl harbor built Task Force 11 around the carrier Enterprise to execute a diversionary raid on the Marshalls. The carrier Lexington compiled the third task force, which offered a protective screen for Oahu and everything west of Johnston Island. On December 10th, the crews were told to be ready to embark, but were not told where they were going. But they knew. Only one place needed Marines: Wake Island. Their cry became "We’re headed for Wake!"
During the night, they were told the expedition had been called off. Anger and frustration ran deep among the Marines. Actually, the expedition had not been called off at all, but postponed for two reasons. First, the Saratoga needed a few more days to arrive at Pearl from San Diego; and second, Kimmel’s staff wanted to further study the situation in the Pacific. It looked like Wake’s Marines would have to hold their own for awhile.
Early in the morning of December 12th, (Hawaii Time) came the new orders to embark. Again, they were not told where they were headed. No one needed to tell them; they knew. They were on their way to Wake Island.
At 1115, December 16th, the Saratoga and her fleet left Pearl Harbor under the orders of Admiral Kimmel. They were the first American fleet to venture west of Hawaii since the fatal day of December 7th.
The Sara caught up with the Tangier—Neeches on the 17th and sent the destroyer escort back to Pearl. Their maximum speed was 12 ¾ knots, due to the heavy loaded oil tanker. Every day news reports reached the sailors that Wake Island had again been bombed. Anger and determination grew, as the Marines became impatient to join their brothers on the beach.
On the night of the 21st, the Saratoga was 627 miles from Wake Island, still going only 12 knots because of the tanker. Constantly being kept up to date on the situation at Wake, Admiral Fletcher became worried when he heard carrier planes had bombed Wake Island. The fuel supplies of his eight destroyers concerned Fletcher more. He didn’t think they were sufficient in the event of a sea battle.
On the morning of the 22nd, only 550 miles from Wake Island, Admiral Fletcher ordered Task Force 14 to pause for a day and refuel. This proved to be a fatal delay, for the Japanese were within 50 miles of Wake Island. Later that morning the weather deteriorated and further hampered the tricky job of refueling at sea. The wind shifted, causing some ships to actually sail away from the direction of Wake Island.
It took all day to refuel only four of the destroyers. By the time they set their course, dusk had fallen. The Task Force, no closer to Wake than they had been at 0800 that morning, still had four more destroyers to refuel.
During the next day, Admiral Fletcher received contradictory orders from Pearl. He began to get the impression his superiors could not make up their minds as to what he should do. He was right. Admiral Kimmel, who had planned the relief operation, no longer commanded the Pacific Fleet.
Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the military relieved Kimmel from active service, and appointed Admiral Chester A. Nimitz to take his place as CincPac. A problem stemmed from the fact Nimitz was in Washington DC, and couldn’t reach Honolulu before Christmas Day. As a solution, the navy Department assigned Vice Admiral William S. Pye as acting commander of the fleet.
Pye’s main concern was the location of the Japanese Fleet that had attacked Pearl. Nobody knew. Pye thought they were between Wake Island and Hawaii, preparing for an attack on Wake, regrouping for a larger attack on Pearl, or an invasion of Hawaii itself. Pye cabled his concerns to Washington. Admiral Stark’s reply was not encouraging for the men on Wake Island. Stark said Wake Island had become a liability, and left it up to Pye whether the garrison should be evacuated rather than reinforced.
On December 21st (22nd on Wake), Pye and his staff agonized over what to do. Marine officers pleaded, with tears in their eyes, to let the expedition continue to Wake Island. Orders were issued, but before they could be carried out, they were countermanded.
Pye received the dismal news stating carrier planes had attacked Wake Island. A new and dangerous ingredient had now been added. He saw the Saratoga as too valuable a target to risk losing. Night fell over the tiny island of Wake, and with the future of all on her shores hanging in the balance, no confirmed decision had yet been reached.
In the meantime, Admiral Kajioka’s amphibious assault force closed to within ten miles of the pounding surf along Wake’s shores. The race was over—the Japanese had won.
The task force had been called off, just 2 ½ hours before Wake Island surrendered—they were only twenty hours sailing time from Wake. On the bridge of the Astoria, Admiral Fletcher read the orders to his crew: "We’re called back to Pearl Harbor."
The atmosphere on the bridge turned mutinous. Some of the staff pleaded with Fletcher to ignore the orders and continue on to Wake Island. He refused and tempers flared. One Marine Lt. Said, "Reactions varied from astonishment to shame and anger."
The American public had no knowledge of the aborted effort to relieve the garrison at Wake. But in barracks and Officers’ Clubs around Pearl, men of the Navy and Marine Corps knew—and they felt anger, shame and impotence. A few days later, American forces all over the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to Bataan, heard the voice of Tokyo Rose as she taunted, "Where, oh where, is the United States Navy?"
She was not the only one to ask that question—the Marines and civilians on Wake Island wondered the same thing.
Admiral Kajioka regrouped his force at Kwajalein. He added to his fleet and replaced those that had been destroyed. Added to the invasion fleet were the destroyers Aoba, Furutaka, Kinugasa, and Kako; the cruisers Tone and Chikuma; the destroyer Oboro with six 5-inch guns; the Second Special Landing Force which had captured Guam, and consisted of 2,000 men; the carriers Soryu and Hiryu from the attack on Pearl Harbor; three submarines, a mine layer, two transports and a floatplane tender. The two sunken destroyers were replaced with their sister ships, the Ashagi and the Yunagi.
There was no moon on the night of December 22nd. Nothing but blackness surrounded the island. It was a sign of what lay ahead. Around 2200, a lookout reported "a lot of lights" to the Northwest. Signal lights were sighted several nights before, but these were different. Greater in number and extremely intense, they appeared to be firing of naval guns. Rain squalls and strong winds tossed the ships of the invasion force as they closed in on their prey. The Special Landing Force had problems, as the barges banged against the steel hulls of the transports. Other transports, fearing the threat of being capsized, headed straight for the reefs to ram the beach.
Sightings were reported, one after another. Barges were seen off Peacock Point, and along the southern shore of Wake. At 0120 Gunner Clarence McKinstry on Wilkes, fired the first shots of Wake Island’s final battle. At 0230 Wilkes was cut off from the rest of the atoll. Devereux had lost communications when the telephone link went dead. The men on Wilkes were now on their own.
Meanwhile on Wake, the enemy transports rammed into the jagged reef. Troops jumped over the side, trying to make their way to the beach. The five-inch gun stood useless since the ships were too close; but a slight hope flickered within the Marines. A three-inch gun was located on a rise between the airstrip and the shore, near the destroyers’ transports. Only there was a problem—the gun had no crew.
Recognizing the importance of the unmanned gun’s position, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Hanna, commander of the machine guns around the airfield, raced towards the gun. Major Devereux ordered Major Putnam and the rest of the VMF-211 to form a protective infantry line between the three-inch gun and the beach. A group of twenty civilians joined Putnam and his men. Putnam turned and yelled:
"If you’re captured in combat, your chances are mighty poor. You can’t go with us."
The leader of the civilians, John P. Sorenson, stepped up to Putnam, towering over him. "Major," he said, "do you think you’re really big enough to make us stay behind?"
"I’d be glad to have you as Marines. But take off," Putnam said.
"Join the other civilians."
As Putnam turned to lead his men through the darkness, behind him, crashing through the undergrowth, was Sorenson and his men, carrying all the ammunition they could.
With his first shot, Hanna hit a ship squarely on the bridge. The light from the burning ship shone bright enough for the Marines on the shore to see what was happening around them. They opened up with the machine guns on the beach. Many Japanese troops were hit. Some tried to dodge the bullets by diving into the water to reach the shore. There was no safety on the beach either.
The Japanese charged the thin line held by Putnam and the civilians, hand-to-hand fighting in the darkness. Slowly the Americans fell back and the line curved along the three-inch gun, still held by Hanna.
Silently, in the bushes at the western end on the airfield, sat four men grouped around a generator. Lt. Kliewer and three others had been given the order to hold that point and to set off the dynamite buried beneath the airfield if the enemy captured the landing strip.
Around 0300 Devereux realized he lost communications with more of his units. The Battery at Peacock Point had reported receiving machine gun fire, then fell silent. Devereux could no longer reach Putnam or the line around Camp One. Without communications, he was totally isolated from the fighting.
Devereux sent his mobile force of 20 Marines and 14 civilians to set up a defensive line across the main road in front of the command post. When they left, Devereux had only himself and two enlisted men; one sat at the switchboard, and the other at the telephone.
The fighting became intense at Hanna’s gun. The fight went from tree to tree, yard by yard. Finally the Japanese pushed Putnam and his men back, where they joined Hanna and the two men still alive. The Japanese surrounded them and rushed forward in wave after wave. Each time the weary Americans managed to beat them back.
Isolated groups fought here and there; ground was gained and then lost. With no defined front line, the Japanese overran the island at several places. One civilian charged into Devereux’s post yelling frantically, "They’re killing ‘em all!" He told how the Japanese rushed the gun positions west of the airfield and bayoneted the crew. "They’re killing ‘em all!"
When communications from gun positions were able to get through to Devereux, they all said they needed help in order to maintain their positions. Devereux could only tell them there were no more reinforcements, and gave permission to withdraw. To that order, Corporal McAnally replied, "Well, sir, I reckon we can make out a little longer," and braced himself for the next attack.
At 0500 Cunningham sat down and sent another message to Pearl. As he wrote the dispatch, a line from Anatole France’s book Revolt of the Angels, suddenly came to mind: "For three days the issue was in doubt." The line seemed appropriate and somewhat hopeful for the situation on Wake Island. He tore off the page and handed it to the coder: "Enemy on Island—Issue in Doubt".
With daylight, the men on Wake saw what they were up against, and it did little to boost their morale. In every direction, completely circling the atoll, were Japanese ships. At 0740, the carriers launched their dive-bombers. They headed for the atoll and strafed everything in sight.
At the eastern end of the airstrip, Corporal McAnally’s men still held their position. All of a sudden, a pair of strangely clad Japanese came out from behind some coral boulders:
"The Nips were wearing goggles and asbestos suits, with heavy gauntlets on their hands. Something that looked like extinguishers were strapped to their backs. They looked like men from Mars. The men swung at them with their guns, and they went up in a swoosh of flames.
"That was the first time any of us ever seen a flame-thrower."
By 0700 all hope seemed to be lost. Devereux reported to Cunningham that the situation was critical. Wilkes had been lost sometime before dawn, and they assumed the western end of Wake had been overrun. The Japanese were reported to be on the northern side of the airstrip, and since it had not been blown up, they thought Lt. Kliewer’s groups had been taken. There was only one last line of defense, and if that was broken, nothing would stop the Japanese from sweeping over the rest of Wake and onto Peale.
Cunningham and Devereux discussed the possibility of surrender. The only thing the men on Wake could do was to fight a holding action, at best buying only a few hours more. As ranking officer, the decision lay in Cunningham’s hands. After a long silence on the phone, Cunningham made the decision to surrender. No other decision could be made. "I’ll pass the word," Devereux told him.
It may have been the end of one battle, but the worst lay ahead of them still.
In his command post on Peale, Commander Cunningham gently placed the telephone back in its cradle, and wondered at their fate. At 0830 Devereux walked out of the command post carrying a white rag tied on a swab handle. Over the phone, they tried to reach as many men as they could, having them cease-fire and destroy their weapons.
Firing was still going on around the island, and Devereux was not sure what he would meet. Sergeant Donald Malleck and Major Devereux marched south on the coral road, and met a Japanese soldier not far from the command post. He motioned for them to walk down the road to the Japanese line located at the hospital.
Devereux and Malleck then walked toward the airfield with an escort of twenty Japanese soldiers. Now 0930, it had been seven hours since Devereux had lost contact with most of his units. He would now learn if they had survived the night.
Hanna’s gun was the first position they came to, and were surprised to see the ground littered with the bodies of Japanese dead. The Japanese lost at least 62 men trying to take Putnam’s and Hanna’s position. Devereux climbed up one of the revetments and shouted, "This is Major Devereux! The island has been surrendered! Cease firing! Put down your weapons!" No answer came from the gun placement and Devereux shouted his orders again. As no one answered, he walked toward the position, and the men stumbled out, a few at a time.
At 1015 Devereux came to Lt. Kliewer’s last known position. He called out for the men to surrender. Devereux and Malleck came near, followed by a group of Japanese, and again the Major called out the island had surrendered. A sergeant grabbed Kliewer’s arm, "Don’t surrender, Lieutenant!" he said. "It’s a hoax. Marines never surrender." Kliewer knew it was all over, and ordered his men to destroy their weapons.
The surrender party moved on to Camp One. As they approached, Devereux and Malleck exchanged worried looks. Rifle fire could be heard, and plenty of it. Someone was still fighting. As the party came closer to the firing, Japanese soldiers charged Devereux and Malleck with fixed bayonets. The Japanese officer with the surrender party stepped out in front, waving his sword and yelling at the troops.
They continued on, picking up isolated prisoners, until they reached the burnt remains of Camp One. As they passed the water tower, the Japanese saw the American flag still flying proudly and yelled. One of the soldiers climbed up the ladder and removed the flag. Devereux turned to look at his men and saw their anger and frustration; some even eyed the Japanese rifles. He told his men to keep their heads, and the men stood rooted to the ground as they watched the Japanese cut down the American flag.
Standing at the edge of Wake, near the Wilkes boat channel, Devereux thought his job of notifying all units of the surrender was finished. The Japanese officer motioned him to the boat dock and told him they were going to Wilkes to arrange the surrender of the island. Devereux was astounded—this was the first he knew that Wilkes had won its battle.
At 1330 Platt and his men saw someone coming down the road with a white flag. Until they heard Devereux’s voice, they had thought it a trick. Captain Platt and his men had taken out twice their number of Japanese, and were looking for more when Devereux informed them of the surrender.
The Marines of Wake Island should be proud of what they accomplished. Three hundred and eighty-seven Marines did a job intended for 839. As they marched back to Wake to be held as prisoners, they were uncertain as to what lay ahead of them. But with their uncertainty, there was pride at what they had done and how they had fought.
The total number of Americans captured was 1,603. Of those, 453 were service personnel, and the remaining 1,150 were civilians. When they separated the Marines and civilians, the Japanese could not understand how so few Marines could put up such a fight. Little did they know, the civilians had helped the Marines, and to keep their prisoner status as civilians, the Americans did not mention their involvement.
The POWs were ordered to strip down to their shorts, and told to throw their clothing to one side to be searched for traps and booty. They were then forced to their knees on the hard dirt and sharp coral, where they watched the last American flag lowered to the ground, and the Japanese flag go up. Wilkerson, a civilian worker, said he felt as if the world as he knew it was falling apart.
The Marine POWs were marched in their skivvies by Devereux, who was at the Japanese headquarters. They looked filthy, exhausted and hopeless. Their heads hung low and their shoulders were slumped. TSgt. E.F. Hassig looked at the pathetic men and shouted, "Snap outa this stuff. Dammit, you’re Marines!" Their heads snapped up and their shoulders snapped back as the proudly marched by their commander. The sight brought tears to Devereux’s eyes.
The hands of the prisoners were bound behind them with telephone wire, and pulled high up on their backs. Their captors then looped one end around their necks, causing them to choke if they tried to free themselves or lower their hands from the uncomfortable position. The civilians were placed back in the ruins of Camp One. They cleaned it out and the Japanese erected barbed wire around the perimeter. Two men slept in a single bed, and some slept on the floor with coats as mattresses and shoes for pillows.
Later, the Marines were moved from the cramped bomb shelters to the airfield, and ordered to clear it. They were given little food and the water they drank came from recently emptied gasoline drums. Some of the POWs could not stomach the tainted water and soon became weak from dehydration. One POW said about their captivity:
The USA is now enthroned on the pinnacle of power and influence in the whole world. Is there any danger of her being dethroned? Is it thinkable that "the last best hope of the earth" will fail? Not so long as we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Not so long as we continue to demonstrate that the capitalistic free enterprise system of a free people produces a higher standard of living than any other in the past or present; a wise leadership backed by an informed public who believes in our form of government as the answer.
On January 12, 1942, the POWs’ worst fears had become reality—they were being sent to the POW camps in China. Their journey would be aboard the Nitta Maru, a transformed liner. As he looked back on the fog and mist covered island from the Nitta Maru, one Marine thought, "What a worthless piece of ground to have cost so much in blood, suffering and material. Only a catastrophe of a world war could make such a desolate spot like Wake worth fighting for."
Before the Americans were taken aboard the ship, they were given a list of regulations that read as follows:
The Prisoners disobeying the following orders will be punished with immediate death:
a. Those disobeying orders and instructions.
b. Those showing a motion of antagonism and raising a sign of opposition.
c. Those disordering the regulations by individualism, egoism, thinking
only of yourself, rushing for your own goods.
d. Those talking without permission and raising loud voices.
e. Those walking and moving without order.
f. Those carrying unnecessary baggage in embarking.
g. Those resisting mutually.
h. Those touching the boat’s materials, wires, electric lights, tools and switches.
i. Those climbing ladder without order.
j. Those showing action of running away from the room or boat.
k. Those trying to take more meal than given to them.
l. Those using more than two blankets.
The POWs were searched from head to foot and were not allowed to keep anything—not even eyeglasses. They were then crowded together in the cargo hold. The hatches were kept closed and only opened when the Japanese crew entered to assign tasks. Meals for the prisoners were gruel, rice and rye, which were lowered into the cargo hold by buckets.
The first 800 POWs left on January 12, 1942, leaving behind 400 civilians and those who were seriously injured. In May of 1942, 20 wounded service men, who had stayed until healed, left for the Zentsiyi POW Camp in Japan. Over 300 men were later shipped to Japan, but then it became too dangerous for surface ships, and 100 civilians were left on Wake Island.
With one exception, these 100 civilian prisoners were chosen for their ability to operate heavy equipment. The exception was Dr. Shank, a Captain of the US Army reserves, who volunteered to remain. It would not be known until after the Japanese had surrendered, that those left behind never saw the end of the war.
The civilian construction workers hoped they would be treated in the same manner as other civilians, such as embassy personnel, in wartime and eligible for exchange. Their hopes were soon dashed. The Japanese considered the civilians to be POWs. It wasn’t until April of 1942, that the names of POWs in Woosung Prisoner of War Camp were released through the International Red Cross.
The 100 civilian workers kept to work on the defenses of Wake Island had no knowledge of the war. Nor did the US government know they were still on the island. Two were killed when charges of stealing food were brought against them, and they were found guilty.
The dependents of the construction workers faced hardships without the money the workers on Wake Island had sent home. The Navy and federal government came up with several plans to alleviate the problem. In February 1942, the Civilian War Relief Fund was founded, but it lacked adequate funding. On March 7, 1942, the Walsh Bill was out into effect, but it, too, lacked funding.
After these had failed, the CPNAB realized the dependents were not cared for, and incorporated the Pacific Island Employees Foundation on June 1, 1942, under the state laws of Idaho. Formed by the families of employees to learn the fate of the civilian workers, it soon became a charity organization and provided assistance to the dependents with donations from the eight companies
On December 2, 1942, and December 23, 1943, the United States government finally provided enough funds for the dependents of the civilian workers. The Pacific Island Employees Foundation slacked off towards the end of the war, when the government started to provide adequate funds and information.
By late 1943, all but 153 Wake Island civilian prisoners were accounted for. The US government believed they were in the Japanese POW camps, although they had not been officially reported.
The Japanese took 1,462 Americans from Wake Island to the POW camps. Of those taken, 231 died in the camps, on board ship, or during an escape attempt. Of those who died, five were executed on route to the camps aboard the Nitta Maru, for lying about their naval experiences.
They were taken topside and told to kneel. Lt. Toshio Saito, Imperial Japanese Navy, read the following message to Seaman FC John Lambert, Seaman SC Theodore Franklin, Seaman SC Roy Gonzales, MSgt. Earl Hannum, and TSgt. William Bailey: "You have killed many Japanese in battle. For what you have done you are now going to be killed—for revenge. You are here as representatives of your American soldiers and will be killed. You can now pray to be happy in the next world—in heaven." They were then beheaded and their mutilated bodies were thrown overboard.
The Nitta Maru docked at Shanghai. The POWs were unloaded then herded through a primitive disinfectant spray area. After which they began the 12-mile march to Woosung Prison Camp, one of the 300 POW camps maintained by the Japanese.
The American prisoners were marched through Woo Sung, Kang Wang, and Shanghai where they saw posters depicting servicemen with hands in the air, surrendering to the Japanese. The prisoners were required to stop and sing, showing how happy they were to be safe in the hands of the victors. Unknown to the Japanese, the Americans sang, "God, Bless America" and "The Yanks Are Coming".
No matter how badly the POWs were treated, the one defensive weapon they employed prevented the Japanese from breaking their pride entirely. That weapon was their universal observance of military discipline and continued existence as a military organization. Devereux once said about the POW camps: "The stakes seemed to me simply this: the main objective of the whole Japanese prison program was to break our spirit, and on our side was a stubborn determination to keep our self-respect whatever else they took from us. It seems almost as much a part of the war as the battle we fought on Wake Island."
Woosung had not been used since 1937 when the Japanese captured that particular part of China. The barbed wire fence was broken and the Americans were temporarily confined to the narrow, one-story shanty type barracks until it could be repaired. The prisoners were given straw mats and thin cotton blankets to sleep on. Their daily food ration consisted of unpolished rice, soup with cabbage and vegetables, and sometimes a bit of fish.
Work details dug a canal for transferring supplies from the ships to warehouses on shore by boat. They dug with picks and hauled the dirt by buckets. Completion of the canal took almost a year for the prisoners and the Americans steadily lost weight. The hard work made their muscles stand out, their rib cage protrude, and their abdomens cave in.
When a POW died, some were cremated and their ashes sent home in a little white box. Others were buried in "God’s Acre," a fenced-in plot the prisoners kept neat and made beautiful with flowers.
The Red Cross did manage to deliver some mail and parcels from the US, but they later learned over a million packages were never delivered; the Japanese soldiers took most of the food and supplies meant for the American prisoners. When anyone did receive a letter, they passed it around for everyone to read, then posted it on the wall.
On December 5, 1942, most of the POWs were transferred to Kiangwang War Prisoners’ Camp, four miles from Shanghai. Here they were forced into hard labor, building "Mount Fuji," a back up to a rifle range. The POWs were again moved in May 1945; this time 700 miles north to Fengtai Camp, outside of Peking. A month later they were again transferred to the port city of Fusan (now Pusan), Korea. After a few days, they were shipped to the island of Hokkaido, Japan, and put to work in local coalmines.
Though no POWs escaped from the camps in Japan and China, Commander Cunningham and Dan Teters made two unsuccessful attempts. On March 11, 1942, Cunningham and four others escaped from Shanghai, but were recaptured the next day. After an investigation, court-martials followed, and they were confined in the Shanghai Municipal jail. They attempted again on October 6, 1944, escaping from the Jail. Again they were recaptured, and court-martialed. This time they were confined under rigorous conditions in military prisons at Shanghai, Nantung, and Peking.
While the POWs were transferred to Peking by rail on May 10, 1945, Lt. John Kinney of the VMF-211, Marine 2nd Lts. John McAlister, James McBrayer, Richard Huizenga and Private First Class Carl Stegmaier managed to escape by jumping out of a window they had concealed with a curtain around the pot used for the bathroom. Forty-seven days later, the five servicemen were united with American troops. With the help of the Communist Chinese, they hid from the Japanese.
In mid-September of 1945, the Prison Camps were liberated by the US 1st Calvary Division, ending 44 months of brutal captivity. A total of 231 prisoners from Wake Island died in captivity, with the mortality rate of 16.6%. Of the 33,587 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines captured in the Pacific Theater, 37.2% did not see the end of the war.
Their survival in the Japanese POW camps was a greater triumph than what they had achieved in combat. The prisoners of war fought one battle with weapons. The other war, they fought with sheer will power and faith.
The first thing the Japanese did as victors was to change the name of all three islets. They named Wake as Ottori, Peale as Habe, and Wilkes as Ashi. The name of the atoll itself became Otori Shima, meaning "Bird Island." Their first priority was to build up their air strength. After they took over the island, ten "Betty" bombers landed. In 1943, Japanese fighter planes were stationed on Wake Island. The peak of their air force was only 55 to 60 aircraft, and by the end of 1943, all Japanese aircraft on the island had been destroyed.
The defenses of the Japanese totaled 68 guns: 8 coastal defense guns, 7 dual-purpose guns, and 53 anti-aircraft guns. American bombers destroyed a total of ½ of their defense guns. They constructed everything underground, except parts of the batteries and artillery equipment. With the water table only 15 feet below the surface, the larger dug-in structures had protruding parts camouflaged with coral sand and giant morning glory vines.
The command post stood three stories high, covered with sand and vines. The entry was a zigzagged passage at ground level. A number of huge wooden columns supported the upper stories. The second deck, attainable by ladder, housed the communications center. Up another ladder was the third deck, with a concrete roof and manholes.
A total of 4,400 Japanese troops were stationed on Wake Island. At the time of surrender, deaths from the air raids and malnutrition had reduced that number to 2,242. Hardly a day passed without at least one American bombing, reconnaissance, or photographic mission over the island. The Japanese occupied Wake Island for 44 months—from the American surrender, until two days after Japan formally surrendered to MacArthur in September 1945.
On February 24, 1942, the US executed its first carrier strike against Wake Island with planes from the Enterprise. On July 8, 1943, eight B-24’s from Midway made the first land-based strike. From that moment on, the little island served as a target for gunnery training by both US ships steaming past and for carrier-borne planes.
On May 15, 1943, a force of Army Liberator heavy bombers attacked Japanese installations on Wake Island. They were engaged by 22 Zero fighters and destroyed two. Army Liberators again attacked on July 24, 1943, facing Zero fighters; nine were destroyed, four possibles, and five were damaged. Besides the lost planes, explosions racked the runway. Only one US plane failed to return.
In the summer of 1943 the Suwa Maru, a 10,000-ton merchant ship, took two US torpedoes while approaching Wake Island with supplies, and ran aground on the reef to avoid sinking. On October 5th and 6th, 30 Zeros were destroyed in the air, 31 on the ground, and two vessels were also destroyed. The US lost 13 planes and dropped 320 tons of bombs.
During the first five months of 1944, a total of 966 sorties were flown against Wake Island, dropping 1,079 tons of bombs. On January 30-31, 1944, two squadrons of Coronado seaplanes of the Fleet Air Wing Two attacked Wake. All bombs hit their targets without a plane lost.
The last Japanese supply ship to Wake Island arrived from Kwajalein on January 1, 1944. The seas were too dangerous for surface ships, but a few submarines did manage to run the US blockade. That ended on June 28, 1945. The Japanese supplemented their food inadequacies with rats, birds, bird eggs, and planted gardens of tomatoes, squash and melons. They also ate the leaves of morning glory vines, while the stronger men fished the lagoon and reefs with nets and dynamite.
The American Navy continued to bomb the desolate island, literally annihilating what was left of the Japanese troops. The last air raid the Americans made against Wake Island was on August 13, 1945.
The US Occupation party consisted of three destroyers: the USS Lehardy, the USS Charles R. Greer, and the USS Levy. At 0745, on September 4, 1945, Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara and his staff sailed out to the flagship Levy to surrender the island to Brigadier General L.H.M. Sanderson, USMC, Commander, Marshalls-Gilberts Area. A total of 609 Army and 653 Navy Japanese personnel surrendered.
Of the Japanese stationed on Wake Island, 600 were killed by American bombs and 1.228 died of malnutrition and disease. Of those that surrendered, 974 were evacuated to the Home Islands as hospital cases, and 405 were ill, 200 of those bed-ridden. The surrendered Japanese were put to work repairing the damage of the past four years.
On October 9, 1945, Captain Earl A. Junghans, USN, assumed command of the Wake Atoll from Commander William Masek. On the repossession of Wake, Commander Masek said, "I accept this island proudly, because this is Wake Island, not just any island. It was here the Marines showed us how." November 11, 1945, the remaining 1200 Japanese were sent home, ending the saga of Wake Island.
Investigations by members of the Commander, Marshalls-Gilberts Area staff persuaded them war crimes had been committed on Wake Island. According to Ensign Horie, IJN, in his interrogation after the surrender, on October 6th and 7th, 1943, a carrier task force had attacked Wake. The 98 remaining civilians were in two bomb shelters: one received a direct bomb hit, killing all occupants. During the night, the survivors of the second bomb shelter killed their guard, stole two rifles, resisted an attempt to recapture them, and all were annihilated in the ensuing fight. A number of Japanese later told an almost identical story.
It was later found that in May of 1942, then-Warrant Officer Horie beheaded a POW for the alleged offense of stealing food. In July of 1943, they caught another POW in a warehouse, also allegedly stealing food. Sakaibara had three officers investigate, and on the strength of their report, he ordered the man executed. In the presence of Sakaibara, then-Ensign Nonaka beheaded the POW.
After many interrogations of the Japanese, they concluded the story told by Horie was a cover-up. On October 6-7, 1943, 510 sorties dropped 340 tons of bombs, while cruisers and destroyers unloaded 3,198 rounds of 5 and 8-inch projectiles. The POWs escaped injury, but Sakaibara expected the atoll to be invaded. He feared one or more of the POWs would escape and communicate intelligence to the task force as to dispositions and weakness of command. Sakaibara maintained it was a matter of military necessity to rid himself of the POWs.
On the eve of October 7, 1943, Sakaibara orally ordered Tachibana to have the personnel of HQ Company execute all POWs. There was no trial. Tachibana directed one of the platoon leaders to make the necessary preparations. At the same time, Ito had flown in from Kwajalein and reported to Sakaibara. He ordered Ito to assume command of HQ Company from Tachibana, and to carry out all orders that had been previously issued. Ito took command and proceeded to the North Beach, near the northwest extremity of the Wake islet, within view of Sakaibara’s command post.
The POWs were blindfolded with hands tied behind their backs, and stood in a single line facing the sea. Ito declared, "Go ahead as ordered." The Japanese guards opened fire with rifles and machine guns until all lay dead. The bodies were buried in a nearby tank trap, but the dead did not stay buried for long. They were soon disinterred for a body count. The Japanese thought a POW had escaped. One had, and remained at large until the 15th of October, when he was captured in a food house.
Sakaibara testified he thought the POW was a danger and would try to communicate with the US. He finally admitted killing the POW with his sword on Peale, below the high water line, where the rising tide would wash away the blood. A radio report made by Sakaibara to his superiors in regards to the disposition of the 98 POWs read, "Riotous conduct among prisoners. Have executed them."
A secret dispatch from Admiral Harrill to Junghans advised that the Hikawa Maru would pick up the last increment of Japanese, but ordered Admiral Sakaibara and 12 others be detained for a trial. On November 5th, the USS Soley arrived to transport the Japanese prisoners to Kwajalein for trial.
Commander, Marshall-Gilberts Area, convened a military commission on December 21, 1945, at Naval Air Base, Kwajalein Atoll. Admiral Sakaibara, Lt. Commander Tachibana, and Lt. Ito were charged with the murder of 98 United States civilians without justifiable cause, by shooting "in violation of the dignity of the United States of America, the International Rules of Warfare and the moral standards of civilized society." Admiral Sakaibara had a second charge of murder concerning the two POWs, each of whom had been beheaded.
Lt. Ito hung himself in the prison camp after writing a statement that he had seen three platoon leaders, Nakamura, Horie, and Nonaka, at the location where the mass execution of the 98 civilians took place.
The Military Commission found Rear Admiral Sakaibara and Lt. Tachibana guilty of murder and sentenced them to death by hanging. The Convening Authority Commander, Marshalls-Gilberts Area, approved the proceedings and findings in the cases of both. He approved the sentence to Sakaibara, but changed the death sentence for Tachibana to life imprisonment.
On June 18, 1947, Admiral Sakaibara, imprisoned in Guam, passed his last hours. At 1945, they left for the scaffold, a 20-minute ride away. At 2046, Sakaibara entered his place of execution with a smile. His legs were shackled, a hood and noose were donned and adjusted; and at 2047, the trap was sprung. Admiral Sakaibara’s last recorded words were, "I think my trial and the proceedings unfair, and the sentence too harsh, but I obey with pleasure." He was still convinced of the righteousness of his actions.
Today, nearly 60 years after the beginning of hell for these men, their story lives on. The island of Wake has been silent through out these years, but the sand still talks of the gallant fight a few Marines and untrained civilians fought for a desolate piece of coral in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A few bunkers defiantly thrust themselves above the sand, coral and water, making certain no one forgets those who had fought so bravely for their country. Two monuments stand in salute on the island: one to the Marines who fought so courageously, and the other is a rock known as the "98 Rock" with 98—U.S.—P.W.—5/10/43 carved on it, for the 98 civilian POWs killed.
Wake Island now houses a number of Thai’s, a few American Army soldiers, and a few American civilians, whose job it is to keep the trans-Pacific flights going for the military. On a moonlit night, if you were to stand on the shore, the pounding surf takes on the sounds of incoming Japanese bombs. And if you look hard enough, the ghosts of those brave souls can be seen, fighting for something more than a piece of coral and sand in the Pacific. They are fighting for freedom.