Monday, October 07, 2019

Remember the Wake 98

Late in the afternoon of October 7, 1943, 97 Americans, bound, and blindfolded, sat on a rocky beach facing the Pacific. None among them probably doubted what would come next. Three platoons of Japanese troops soon mowed them down with machine gun and rifle fire.

One man reportedly escaped, but he was soon recaptured and beheaded personally by the island's Imperial Japanese Navy commander. Prior to the massacre another civilian had been killed by the Japanese sailors.

The 98 Americans were all civilian contractors for Morrison-Knudson who were surrendered after the historic two-week defense of Wake Island in the Northern Pacific during December 1941. Among them was a civilian doctor (Dr. Lawton Shank, the only civilian ever awarded the Navy Cross), the two-man crew of the tugboat Justine Foss (Capt. Tom McInnis and Mate Ralph Van Valkenberg, Foss Maritime Co.), and two Chinese-Americans from Hawaii. They were what was left of the 1,150 men on Wake Island to build an airfield, seaplane base, and submarine base and to dredge a channel into the lagoon to allow access for U.S
tugboat Justine Foss
Combat, disease, and shipment to Japan and China for slave labor had reduced the group to those unlucky few. They toiled, for the Japanese, in violation of the Geneva Convention at various military projects on all three islands of the atoll. The most famous project by Wake Island slave laborers on the Home Islands is the Soto Dam near Sasebo Navy Base where 58 men died during its building.

click to order
On a large coral rock near where the POWs were buried is carved 98 US PW 5-10-43. It has been believed that the lone escapee of the massacre returned to the site to carve this lonely memorial before he was recaptured. However, this story is now thought to be apocryphal. The escapee would not have had the tools or strength to chisel anything; and he most certainly would have avoided making any noise. It is more likely, that group itself created their own memorial five months earlier in May. 

There remains an ongoing mission to identify human remains found on Wake Island in 2011.  The U. S. Navy Casualty Office has taken responsibility for the navy contractors. DNA of relatives is still being sought. If you think you know anyone who might be related to the 98, please contact. 

There are quite a number of histories of the Wake Island Battle. This book, The Epic Saga of the Civilian Contractors and Marines of Wake Island in World War II, By Bonita Gilbert, however, focuses on the role of the civilian contractors and provide another perspective on how the U.S. entered the War. The book is a must have for anyone who studies the Pacific War and POWs of Japan. Her blog is excellent and has excerpts from the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You are welcome to leave a reasonable comment or additional information. We will moderate comments.