Remembering Wake Island, World War II, and Prisoners of War

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II for the United States occurred sixty-nine years ago today.  My father, Bob Winslow, was a private with the Marine Corps First Defense Battalion on Wake Island, a 2½ square mile horseshoe-shaped ring of coral about 2,000 miles west of the Hawaiian Islands.  Wake is closer to Japan than Hawaii and it was another Japanese target for the day along with other American territories, including Guam and the Philippines. 

Wake was hit by Japanese bombers a few hours after Pearl Harbor. The bombing was the first stage of what was to become a two-week battle.  The Japanese expected a quick and easy victory but the Americans held on and fought a “magnificent fight” finally forced to surrender on December 23. There were 528 American military personnel and 1,200 civilian employees of Morrison-Knudsen, a construction company from Boise, Idaho building the air strip and other fortifications on the island.  One hundred twenty Americans and 820 Japanese were killed in the battle.

After the surrender almost all of the Americans were sent to China and eventually to Japan and remained prisoners until the end of the war in August, 1945.  Some of the American civilians were retained on Wake Island and were executed before the end of the war; several American servicemen were executed on board the ship that transported them to the Far East.  The “lucky” ones avoided execution and labored in prison camps for almost four years under harsh conditions, starvation and disease. 

There have been over a dozen books on the battle of Wake Island and the prisoner of war experience that followed. There are several interesting and inspiring aspects of the story: the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Marine pilots who fought in the air above Wake; the sinking of the first Japanese ships of the World War II by the Marines; how the Americans courageously repelled the Japanese landing force; the strange circumstances of the Marines’ surrender. I’ve listed a few of the books from my father’s library in this BIBLIOGRAPHY and hope that it will encourage readers to find out more about the Battle of Wake, World War II, and the mostly forgotten American prisoners of war.
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Video of Grumman F4F Wildcats similar to those flown in the Battle of Wake

During the last several years of his life, Dad wrote memoirs about his experience as a Marine before the war, during the battle of Wake and as a prisoner of war.  I’ve posted them here: A Marine’s Memoirs.  He was an entertaining writer and I think that most readers will enjoy his unconventional perspective, even though they may disagree with it at times. 

Events from almost 70 years ago are actual memories for only the few “Wake Island Defenders” and civilians who are still alive.  For the rest of us, our collective memory of the Battle of Wake Island and of World War II is fading fast, soon to be relegated to history books and the recesses of the World Wide Web.  For the younger generations, WWII is something they briefly studied in a history class in high school, and may be occasionally reminded of when watching a movie like “Saving Private Ryan.”

Wake Island Defenders- 1996 ReunionMy father taught history in high school after a 30-year career in the Marine Corps and noted that a recent survey of American high school graduates found that half of them had never heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and had no idea that Japan and the United States were enemies in World War II.  Commemorating Pearl Harbor Day, although it seems to attract a little less attention as time goes by, helps our kids, and us, to understand and appreciate those events and the remarkable sacrifices made by his generation.

50 thoughts on “Remembering Wake Island, World War II, and Prisoners of War

  1. Thank you for sharing your story.My Uncle Lacy Franklin Tart was a civilian worker with M&K . Lacy was one of the 98 killed on Wake in 1943. It has been so interesting to learn all I can about our brave men.

  2. Thank you, Frank, for the great story!  The World War II Vets influenced, and our memories of them still affect, so many of us!

  3. My heartfelt thanks for keeping this story alive.I grew up in Norfolk VA. With all those sailors around I guess it was inevitable I’d run into a wake survivor.Mr Al as we called him,had a weather sock from wake mounted in glass along with some letters from his girl back home,(SHE LEFT HIM WHEN HE RETURNED).He never married as far as I know.We moved in 1965 and I never saw him again.What I remember of him has lasted a lifetime.He played guitar and taught me how,and along the way became a 15 year olds mentor.Thanks MR AL you are not forgotten.

    Frank -Viet Nam veteran and guitar player.

  4. more about isl The US annexed Wake Island in 1899 for a cable station. An important air and naval base was constructed in 1940-41. In December 1941, the island was captured by the Japanese and held until the end of World War II. In subsequent years, Wake was developed as a stopover and refueling site for military and commercial aircraft transiting the Pacific. Since 1974, the island’s airstrip has been used by the US military, as well as for emergency landings. All operations on the island were

  5. Did anyone recall PFC Eugene Lutz, USMC?  He survived, was a POW in shanghai coal mines, got out, became a civil engineer and the entered the Catholic priesthood.  He taught chemistry and the manly art of self defense (boxing).  He was always a real teacher and leader!  from a student (Russ Steil). 1960 grad from Spfld. Il., (Cathedral Boys High/Griffin High.)

  6. My Dad, John Dale, was a Wake Island Marine.  Like several others have commented, Dad didn’t really talk about his wartime experiences very much.  He kept most things to himself.  Perhaps that is why he attended any Wake Island reunion that he could – everybody there shared the unspoken POW reality. In his later years, Dad did go to numerous civic groups, schools and military bases and share his experiences.  He did return to Wake Island three times – once as a guest of the History Channel when they filmed a documentary “Wake Island – Alamo of the Pacific”.  Dad passed away in 2014, one day short of his 94th birthday. He was a proud Marine to the day he died.

    I have always felt that the brave men who defended Wake Island never really received the credit they were due for their efforts. The fact that a small group of Marines and civilian contractors held a major Japanese invasion force at bay for weeks is nothing short of a miracle.  Unfortunately, the battle of Wake Island is often just a footnote in discussions of the war in the Pacific.

    Thank you for creating this web site and keeping the memory of the brave heroes alive!

  7. My grandpa was PFC Vincent H. Verga. He did not talk about the battle nor of being a POW. We did have a few prints done off of some of the wood carvings. Tja were done by Major Brown. Grandpa doed in 1991 but grandma made the reunion in 1996. She passed away in 2005.

  8. Debbie,

    I have sent a scanned copy of the card and envelope to the email address you listed. Thank you so much for sharing your grandfather’s WWII diary!! It’s incredible!


  9. Edward Baron Rook
    January 13, 1917 – December 5, 1983
    Transcription of World War II Diary

    Monday, Dec. 8, 1941
    12:21 – 26 Jap bombers raided island. Killed about 30 men. Several wounded. 7 planes (U.S.) destroyed on ground.

    Dec. 9, 1941
    12:10 – 10 Jap bombers. Lt. Kliemer & Ham at 1100 ft got one of them. Camp 2 heavily hit.

    Dec. 10, 1941
    10:20 – 18 planes (1600 ft) Elrod (Capt.) got 2.  A.A. had 2 smoking.

    Dec. 11, ’41
    Island shelled at 0550. Two heavy cruisers, 5 destroyers, two transports. Three of our planes were in the air at time of raid. They bombed and sank 1 cruiser and 2 destroyers. The 5” guns on KuKu Point got one ship and got good hits on a couple of others. Later reported our sub. sank all but one destroyer.  At 0930 – 17 bombers came over at 20,000 ft. Lt. Kenny and Davidson got one each.

    Dec. 12, ’41
    0515 – One Jap flying boat came over very high and dropped a couple of bombs. Straffed the island with 27 and 60 cal. Capt Tharin shot it up quite a bit. Set engine on fire.

    Dec. 13, ’41
    No Japs today.

    Dec. 14, ’41
    0340 – Jap “P” boat dropped several bombs. No damage. Same day – at 1140 – 57 bombers at 20,000 ft. hit camp I and beach. Destroyed one of our planes on ground.

    Dec. 15, ’41
    1800 – 4 “P” boats bombed island. Little damage.

    Dec. 19, ’41
    At 1135 – 36 bombers at about 30,000 ft. Our pilots got 4 of them.

    Dec. 20, ’41
    One P-B-Y landed here today at 1400. 27 bombers (Jap) at 19000 ft. Load dumped on Peal Island and Camp 2.

    Dec. 9, 1941
    Lt. Hanna and I joined gun positions 17 & 18 on the beach and built ourselves dug outs under a coral ledge. I strung lines and fixed some for the airport. Trucks came around today distributing canned goods and stoves in the brush. We hid a supply of chow. Orders from the major to conserve all the chow possible. Chow truck didn’t come around today so we broke out some canned goods. Lt. Hanna made out a watch roster for the night. Good nights sleep that night.

    Dec. 11th.
    At 0550. 2 heavy cruisers, 5 destroyers and 2 transports started shelling island. Everybody expected a landing party but our 5” guns fouled them up.  KuKu point position sunk one destroyer. Direct hit on the powder magazine. There was a big flash of flame mid ships. It broke in half and sank at once. Peacock Pt. Guns blew the superstructure off another destroyer. One of our pilots said it blew up and sunk later. 3 of our planes were in the air at the time.  Sank one cruiser and a couple of cans. Bombed and straffed the transports. Sub. reported a couple of ships sunk by it.
    0930 – Same day – 17 bombers came over. Didn’t drop any bombs ’til they were fired on. Must have figured Japs had the island. Our planes got 2 of them.

    Dec. 12, 1941
    At 0515 this morning a Jap “P” boat came over very high and dropped a few bombs. Capt. Tharin set it on fire. Fairly quiet the rest of the day. Called C.P. and asked for some tape and a DR 4. Life isn’t so bad now. Getting used to the damn bombs.

    Dec. 13, 1941
    No planes today. I’d rather they did come over.  The strain of waiting for them is worse than their bombs.  After a raid, everybody can relax a little.

    Dec. 14, ’41
    At 0340 a Jap “P” boat came over and dropped several eggs along the beach.  Some came too close for comfort.  Same day at 1140 57 bombers came over at about 20,000 ft.  Hit the beach, lagoon, and Camp 1.  Destroyed one of our planes on the ground.  Me, Murphy and Aussie” were in No. 17 gun pit.  The bombs showered us with steel, rocks, and sand.

    Dec. 15, ’41
    4 “P” boats bombed us from about 1800 ft. No damage done. Quiet the rest of the day.

    Dec. 16, ’41
    Hit this morning by another flight of Jap bombers.  Not much damage.  Those Japs sure are poor bombers.  Put in some new lines today.  Got some milk from the chow truck. Sure was good.

    Dec. 17, ’41
    More bombers today.  Sure are getting regular.  Sort of know when they’re coming.  Everything is quiet as hell just before a raid, and the boys stick close to their fox holes. After the Japs have come and gone, the tension lets up and everybody (that can) takes a deep breath and things go on as usual.

    Dec. 18, ’41
    Bombers came over today just before noon.  About 35 of them at about 2500 feet.  Blew hell out of the lagoon.  Killed millions of fish.

    Dec. 19, ’41
    At about 1145 – 36 Jap bombers came over.  Our planes got 4 of them.  They blew hell out of the lines along the road.  The chow truck was late so we broke into some “Pogie Bait”.  Had to eat it in the dark so we couldn’t see the worms.

    Dec. 20, ’41
    A U. S. Patrol boat landed here today. Exchanged some papers and orders with our officers. Raided today by 27 Jap planes. Camp 2 and Peale were hit pretty damn hard.

    Fri. Dec. 21, ’41.
    0940 – 30 Jap dive bombers came over. Much fun. Our planes got several of them. I saw one Jap come spinning down out of a cloud and explode. Sure looked good. They were too low for 3” but 50 cal. Sure gave them hell. Some were so low you could almost hit them with a rock. We ate “Prem” and “Pogie Bait” during most of the raid.
    At 1225 same day 33 Heavy bombers came over and hit Camp 2. and Wilkes. Big Wright was killed in this raid. Several others were wounded. Built a new shelter in the bomb crater and prepared to move in.

    Sat. Dec. 22, ’41.
    Two flights of heavy bombers came over about noon and hit Wilkes and Peacock. No chow truck today so we ate hardtack, jam and peanut butter from the brush. Also a couple of cans of salmon.

    Sun. Dec. 23, ’41
    A report came in about 12:30 that the Japs were about to put a landing party ashore on Toki Pt. When the party came ashore they hit between the Channel and Peacock by the airport. Several 3” guns were put into service as “beach” guns. Two cans were run aground on the reef. The 3” guns made a funeral pyre of both of them. It was beautiful. They made both cans look like a sieve. Both were afire. 50 cal. Did a nice job on them also. Some of the Japs must have swam ashore because it wasn’t long before Japs could be heard yelling in the brush by the army radio trailer. It was dangerous to open fire on them because somewhere in that brush Lt. Hanna had a squad of men. After what seemed like ages, it got light enough to see them. Then it was just like shooting fish in a barrel. They were just about 100 feet from our position.

    Dec. 21, ’41
    0940 30 Jap dive bombers came in. One of our planes took off. 50 cal. gave ’em hell. 1225 – 33 Jap bombers hit us.  Peale and Camp 2 hit hard.

    Dec. 22, ’41
    Peacock and Wilkes hit hard by 30 bombers.

    Dec. 23 –
    12:30 A.M. First alarm of landing parts. Fitz, Gunner McKinstay and I were sleeping in dugout at time.  Mc went to gun position (3”) on ocean side of island. Fitz and I were detailed to watch lagoon for small landing boats. First landing party came ashore between the channel and Peacock Point.  They were repelled by fence from airport.  Second landing party came in at the new channel is believed. Old channel had barge tied in mid-stream loaded with explosives to stop any enemy boats.  Fighting went on most of the morning. All communication was cut off from main island. Major Devereux and his men surrendered the main island (Wake) at about 8:30 A.M.  Capt. Platt in command of Wilkes Island rec’d no orders to surrender.  Fighting continued on Wilkes until about 2:30 P.M.  At that time the major, (Dev) and a party, made up of several of our NCOs and several Japs, came out in a truck flying a white flag to order Capt Platt to surrender.  Men were stripped of all clothing (except a few allowed to keep pants) and lined up in two ranks. We were then marched to airport.  The Jap soldiers were pretty decent. Some of them gave us water and smokes.  At the airport we were all lined up with the rest of the men. The Japs set up a number of machine guns on us.  We all figured it was the “finish”. Strange as is seems, we didn’t give a damn.  No food all day.  Very little water.  Spent the rest of the day and that night on the airport.  No clothes or bedding.  Freezing cold at night and hot as hell in the day time.

    Dec. 23, ’41
    Still on airport.

    Dec. 24, ’41
    Moved to Camp 2 late in afternoon.  While we were on the airport, we were fed one small piece of bread (?) twice a day.  Rationed very little water.  It tasted of gasoline.  All of our water was put in discarded gas or oil drums.  It was awful.  While we were ______ at Camp 2 we were fed twice a day.  The morning meal (about 9:00 AM) was usually about a cup full of either oatmeal, cream of wheat, or perhaps creamed tuna.  The afternoon meal (about 5:00 PM) was usually one small piece of bread (the size of a small biscuit) and perhaps a spoonful of jam.  Sometimes we were given a cup of tea for supper.  We were ______ at Camp 2 until the morn. of January 12, 1942.

    January 12, 1942
    We left Camp 2 at about 11:30 A.M. Went aboard the Jap ship Nitta Maru and headed for the east.  Didn’t have any idea where we would land. While aboard we were fed two meals a day.  The morn. meal was about a cup of thin rice or barley soup with pickled turnip.  The night meal was another cup of the same soup, and sometimes a small, dry, rotten fish.  The men were in the holes of the ship.  So crowded there was hardly room to lay down.  Very uncomfortable.  It was hot as hell for the first few days, then it was freezing cold.  Each man had two small thin blankets.  The guards were mean as the devil himself.  Held several private shakedowns on their own hook.  Took most of our valuables. (what were left).  We arrived at Yokahama about 7 days after leaving Wake.  There we took supplies and fuel and shoved off again.  Our next stop was at Shanghai on January 23. Jan. 24 we disembarked at the …..

    They threw a few hand grenades but they were just like fire crackers.  Didn’t do any damage. The major gave orders to surrender about 830 that morning.  It surprised everybody.  Nobody had thought of surrender. We thought it was our last day in this world and we were going out fighting. A lot of the men cried when they laid down their arms. The Japs lined everybody up on the road and took everything out of our pockets. Then they took all our clothes.  They lined up a couple of machine guns on us, and we figured it was the “finish”.  We had heard that the Japs didn’t take prisoners.  We thought they were going to shoot us all and we just didn’t give a damn.

    Far out on the broad expanse,
    Of calm Pacific Blue
    There lay a tiny island
    With its garrison so few.
    Alone, and yet undaunted
    It has earned its share of fame
    _____work of Uncle Sam,
    Wake Island is its name.

    Mid soaring planes and bursting bombs
    On guard both day and night
    The leathernecks in olive drab
    The Navy Blue did fight.
    Outnumbered yet a thousand times
    For six and ten long days
    The dead, and yes the living
    Went through hell a thousand ways.

    The morning of the 23rd
    That sad Dec. day
    The ramparts of that tiny isle
    Did fall beside the way
    To dreary Central China
    To a place called WooSung
    Went the prisoners, the men of Wake
    Before their task was done.

    Now living in a prison camp
    And proud right to the core
    They wait with chins uplifted
    For the ending of the war
    Four hundred fifty loyal hearts
    Just waiting for the day
    When they’ll be heading homeward
    To the good old U.S.A.

    Feb. 20, ’42
    Staton – civilian. Died of malnutrition.

    March 11, ’42
    Comm. Cunnignham (Wake)
    “ Smith (USS Wake)
    “ Wallie (HMS Peterel)
    Mr. Tetters (Wake)
    1 china boy (USS Wake)

    March 12, ’42
    Above named men captured.  Returned to camp for trial.

    June 18, ’42
    ………..shot & killed by …..

    …15, ’42
    …..USN killed on ……

    Aug. 29, ’42

    Oct. 2, ’42
    Col. Yuse, camp comm. died.  Heart trouble.

    Nov. 3, ’42
    Left for Japan.

    Nov. 5, ’42
    Arrived at Moji, Japan. By train to Yamata.

    Here’s the transcription of what I can read from my grandfather’s diary, written on rice paper…. thought you all might like to see the entries – there are some duplicates.

    Debbie Williams Halford

  10. Debbie Williams Halford,
    Re: Edward Rook
    Is there any way I can contact you? I would like to send you a copy of the card Sgt. Rook sent my grandfather, since you have some of his papers from Wake Island.

    Kevin Grigar

  11. Kevin – post from July 2, 2011…my (step) grandfather was Sgt Edward B Rook and I have mementos and diaries written on rice paper from his time in captivity from Wake Island. I just did a random Google search for his name today (thinking about him on Veteran’s day) and found this mention.  Debbie Williams Halford

  12. My father Cpl Henry Durrwachter was a Wake Is Marine. He never talked about his experience from WWII. We knew he served but never really told us where. Not until I was in high school did I learn where he served. Our mother was transcribing his diary that he wrote on toilet paper as a POW. We then went to him after reading the diary but he still wouldn’t tell us much. He only talked about the ” good times” . We rarely saw him without his shirt or wearing shorts. This was because of his scars from the beatings he received during his 44 months as “guest of the emperor”. He did say that he survived because of his faith. Without faith you had nothing.  I was fortunate to have him as my father and an example of a man of faith. Thanks Dad….

  13. I’m the great-neice of Steve Fortuna and I would love to speak to Dave Fauth as we are working on a family history project. I have very fond memories of Uncle Steve in his later years. He was a wonderful man who was full of joy and love and never showed any sign of the horrible experiences he went through as a POW. I would be happy to share some stories with Ray Goldstein as well.

  14. I am SSgt John R. Patzold USMC (Ret), and I am the grandson of Birdyne Boyd “Wild Bill’ as he was called by some of his fellow defenders. If there is anyone that may have known him or heard of him please contact me at

  15. My father was a Wake Island defender and POW. His name was John Moore…..he may have gone by “Jack” back then….Did anyone remember him or are related to someone who knew him?

  16. In 1966 I had the luck of being assigned my first duty to the administrative office of the Secretary of the Navy, then Paul Nitze.  My direct boss was LCDR Glenn E Tripp, USN, a Wake Island defender and subsequent POW.  I was a 20 year old sailor then and he guided me to understand duty and honor to serve my country and how to be dedicated to my responsibilities as sailor and man, and later as husband and father.  I am proud of myself and forever greatful for everything LCdr Tripp ever taught me.  It was many years later that I finally understood the heroism that took place on Wake Island but he was my hero in my youth.  LCDR Tripp has passed but he is still deep in my mind, heart, and in what I am.  He never asked to be admired or thanked and he helped many young Navy people with their own lives.  Hero in Wake and Hero in life.  Ted Pahle, Sierra Vista, AZ

  17. im the grandaughter in law. Of betty thompson and she had just received some information on a john corak. Who my father michael corak says that my grandpa michael corak had a second cousin ehos name was john. I was wondering if any one has any information about John Corak please let me know. Thank you so much.

  18. my father was at Wake Island. I do not known of his life then ,he was a civilian working as a truck driver sometimes . he was a prisoner in Japan . Marshall G. sturdevant . The books tell of who died on Wake , but how a list of who came home.

  19. I found your website because I was searching for info about Wake Island and Steve Fortuna who I worked with and got to know 50+ years ago. Info for Ray Goldstein and his wife – MSgt. Stephen Fortuna is mentioned in “A Magnificent Fight” p268, awarded a Bronze Star, “Given Up for Dead” p193, temporarily blinded by a bomb hitting sandbags of a bunker, “Facing Fearful Odds” p432, same as prior more detail. Search google books to read more. If it’s possible you can send my email address to Ray for more info about Steve.  Thank you for your fine website, Dave.

  20. Hi Denise,
    Thanks so much for responding!  Betty has done a wonderful job on the newsletter over the years.  I know that my father and the other Wake Island fellows really appreciated receiving it and keeping up with the news between reunions. I received my last one quite a while ago and assumed that she had quit working on it.  Please give her my best and I look forward to seeing the next edition.

  21. Hi Steve,
    My name is Denise Thompson ans my mother in law is Betty Thompson.  She has put out the wake island newsletter for 37 years.  She put out the first newsletter with the direction of Frank Gross in 1975. She still does this today with the last one done January.  She very much enjoys this!  Due to health issues since january she hasn’t put another one out but will be doing another one by the end year. She has such wonderful memories of the survivors through letters and phone calls.  To this day she still speaks
    to the ones still alive.
    I just thought I would share this with you. When i mentioned your name to my father in law he said he knew your name.

  22. Hi Ray,
    I found Steve Fortuna’s name listed in the back of Colonel James Devereux’s book “The Story of Wake Island” (1947).  He was listed as part of the Marine Detachment and as “still in service” at that time.  I don’t recall seeing his name elsewhere, in books or in my father’s records of the Wake Island Defender’s reunions.  Sorry, I haven’t been much help.  If I come across anything else, I’ll email the information to you.  Thanks for inquiring.
    Steve Winslow

  23. My wife’s uncle was a survivor of Wake Island, but I cannot find any reference to him in the books I have recently looked at. His name was Steve Fortuna. Do you have any information?

  24. Thanks for creating and sharing this video, Tim.  Sgt. Bourquin has a great memory and terrific story to tell.  I enjoyed going to the Wake Island Defenders get-togethers and listening to many of them share their part of the story. Most were astounding– and often heart-wrenching.  I’ll post a permanent link to the video on this website.  And you’ve reminded me that I need to keep working on my site, improving the links to other sites, and continue to share the Wake Island story with others.

  25. We just finished a project that we are very excited to share.  Sgt. Robert Bourquin (USMC, ret) is one of the last surviving veterans of the WWII battle for Wake Island. At age 91 his memories of both the battle and the years as a POW are crystal clear and poignant. You can check out a short clip at
    The full hour and forty minute DVD is available at

  26. Kevin,
    I have never come across Sgt. Edward Rook’s name in any of my Dad’s records, nor do I recall ever hearing his name mentioned.  You’ve probably used Google or another search engine to find information on him, which I just did and found just a little information — he was from Texas etc.  His name is also found in the appendix to “The Story of Wake Island” by Colonel James Devereux, under the roster of Marine personnel who were still in the service at the time his book was published in 1947.  Like my father, he chose to remain in the service after the war.  Sorry, I can’t add any more information.  Thanks for looking over this website and for inquiring.

  27. Harold,
    Thanks for sharing information on your uncle.  My father ended up with multiple ailments by the end of the war.  He was struck in the lower back by a Japanese soldier’s rifle butt and ended up suffering kidney damage, which eventually had to be removed.  His remaining kidney served him well until his death at 87 — he would always say it was because of all the beer he would filter through it over the years.  As he described in his memoirs, and like almost all other POWs, he suffered from the effects of severe malnutrition, including beriberi.  He too, probably weighed around 100 pounds in August, 1945, and was certain that he would not have lived much longer had the war not ended.  Like your Uncle, he would always say that while he and his fellow POWs in the camps where he was held were treated poorly, he had it much better than most of the prisoners of the Japanese held in China, Burma and elsewhere.  For an unforgettable account of the abuse and horrible conditions that many POWs were subjected, I recommend the book “Prisoners of the Japanese” by Gavin Daws.

  28. Thank you for sharing all of the information from your father.  Though I have no relatives that were on Wake during the battle (civillian or military) I found a letter to my grandfather from a Sgt. Edward Rook sent from Wake just before the war started.  My grandfather never mentioned Rook and I was wondering if you had ever heard or seen the name in your fathers papers.

    Thank you.

  29. My Uncle William Bill Marable was one of the construction workers who took up arms against the Japanese on Wake Island . He survived and after I discharged out of service I was honored to hear him and my father discuss some of their horrors of WWII in the Pacific and of my Uncles POW days AND TORTURE by the Japanese. He finally was recognized by the U.S.Government in the early 80’s and recieved some VA benefits and a discharge. He said he was 200pounds when captured and 90 pounds when surrender came had been tortured but not as bad as some (his words)

  30. Patricia,
    It’s wonderful to see that the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the men who were on Wake Island are still reading about and researching what happened to them. I think it’s the greatest honor that we can give them after almost 70 years. 

    Thanks for sharing your comments.

  31. Hi Steve

    Thank you for all the info about Wake Island.  My grandfather was one of the MK workers there; he died in Camp 19 in Japan.  My son’s Eagle Scout project is a memorial to the Battle of Wake Island that will be in Veteran’s Memorial Park in Boise; hopefully by this fall.  He had the pleasure of meeting with some of the Wake survivors here in Boise – what an amazing bunch of men.

  32. Wendy,
    Thank you, and you are more than welcome to share these pages with anyone who might be interested.


  33. Barbara,
    Thanks for both of your comments about Wake Island POWs.  It looks like there are a lot of descendants of the civilian POWs who are looking for more information about their relatives.  I have many books about the Battle of Wake Island and the servicemen who became POWs that I inherited from my father, but I don’t have anything that focuses on the civilians.  I am pretty sure that the some of the civilian POWs who were employees of Morrison-Knudsen used to hold reunions, I assume many in the Boise, Idaho area but I can’t find any record of the group or their meetings by searching online.  At one time they may have produced a newsletter, but it may have been prior to the internet.  I’ll share a couple of things that I have found on-line that might help you in your search for more information about your grandfather’s experience –both stories by civilians.  First is an oral history by James Allen found here.  The other is Bill Taylor’s book “Rescued by Mao: World War II, Wake Island, and My Remarkable Escape to Freedom Across Mainland China” As you’ve probably found out there are quite a few fairly recent articles on line about him if you search for his name along with “Wake Island POW civilian.” 

    I hope that someone reading your comment here will be able to provide more information.  I’ll forward it to you if it’s posted here and I think it might help you.  Good luck in your search!

  34. I am glad to know that Wake Island civilian POWs are remembered as well as the Marines. Thank you for this blog and your father’s memoirs. Are there any surviving civilian former POWs that would like to contact me? I want to write my grandfather’s story. Although my grandfather, Samuel Swift, was in his thirties during the war and returned home with beri-beri, he lived a good life until his 90th year. He carved shells during his captivity and made jewelry out of them.

  35. Gabe,
    Thanks for taking the time to look through Dad’s personal Wake Island story.  It sounds like you have done quite a bit of research already and I would be interested in reading your article when you’re ready to publish it.  I make it to Hawaii every few years and I’ll look you up if I make it to the Arizona Memorial.


  36. Glad to read the information you sent and God bless your Dad. For quite some time I have been writing an article about Wake. I knew Admiral Cunningham… we both lived in Memphhis.I had spent almost 2 weeks on 2 visits at Boston University that hold both the Cunningham & Devereux papers. There are mmany letters from the civilian workers.I did have the pleasure of talking to Joe Taylor who wrote; “Rescued by Mao.”

    I have used a researcher in the DC area for the past year who has uncovered interesting (unpublished)information at the Nat’l Archives etc. Exactly where I will be published,I don’t know.

    Good to hear from you and by the way I am a volunteer at the ARIZONA Memorial,

    Gabe Brady

  37. Bob,
    It was good to talk with you on the phone this morning and to be able to compare notes on the Holland Family.  My plans are to post some family tree information on both my father’s and mother’s family soon.  Thanks for sharing the information you’ve researched so far.

  38. My wife Marilyn Holland is second cousin to your dad.  Last Saturday we just learned of your dad’s involvement in WW2.  We are doing family research.  Your grandfather died on Dec 2, 1941, and your grandmother Anna Holland was alone only to have the war start 5 days later and then have her son captured a few weeks later.  Has anyone spoken about her?  Please contact me ———.  PS, I am retired Navy and upset because I did not meet your father.

  39. James,
    I hope my father’s memoirs about Wake Island and being a POW added something to the stories you heard from your father and uncle.  I know that the experience shaped Dad’s life and made him who he was, and consequently affected my sister and me as we were growing up, and who we are now that we’re older and have children and grandkids of our own.  In a way, that experience is still part of all the descendants of the men who were on Wake Island almost 70 years after it happened.  His relationship with his fellow Wake Island Defenders grew more important as he got older.  He was very proud to have been associated with those men, including the civilians like your father and uncle who helped in the defense immensely and then suffered the same horrible POW experience for almost four years.  Thanks for your comments, and best wishes to another child of a Wake Island survivor!

  40. I thank you posting your fathers memoris of life on Wake father Albert Vasquez, as well as my uncle Patrick kimball were both civillian employee’s on wake. For years I heard stories about there time as pows, but was never told about all of the suffering they went through. I know one thing he was proud of being there and of his time serving along side his marine comrads on his gun crew. He instilled upon my brother and me his love for this country and when I went to nam in 1965 he told me how proud he was and to remember just to think positive and I will make it home, and I did. He is gone now and I miss him but he is always in my heart. I thank you for your website as it brought back memories of a man who taught me to always be proud.

  41. Terry,

    Thanks very much for responding and sharing your father’s story.  I attended several of the Wake Island Marines’ reunions and west coast “mini-reunions and I recall some of them mentioning how much they appreciated the civilians and particularly respected the civilians like your father who got involved in the battle.  In San Diego in 1996, I enjoyed talking with a Wake Island civilian named Myers (I can’t recall his first name) who attended the Defenders reunion that year.  He shared a lot of sad stories about the conditions in the prison camps in more detail than I ever heard from the Marine survivors, including my father.  I also heard a lot of compliments from the Marines about Bill Taylor, who returned to Wake and was interviewed with a few of the Marines in the History Channel Video “The Alamo of the Pacific.”  Your father was in good company, and as one of the men who helped keep the Wildcats flying, he played a critical role in the defense of the island.  He sounds like an outstanding man who volunteered to do everything he could to help in the defense.  Like the Wake servicemen, he has my deepest admiration. 

    Thanks again, Terry, and I would appreciate hearing more details about your father, your relationship with him before the war, or with any others involved with Wake Island if you feel like sharing them.

  42. This time of year my thoughts also travel back to 1941 and to Wake Island .  My Father Archie Hayes Pratt was a civilian laborer on Wake when it fell. The Civilian Chaplain who survived his internment in china,told me that Dad, when the battle started volunteered to help keep the remaining aircraft flying. He was an excellent mechanic and helped scavenge parts from damaged aircraft and helped build up others, so the air war could continue. When the last aircraft was destroyed he then attached himself to an anti aircraft gun crew, He was one of the 98 killed by their captors after working as slave labor until 1943.

  43. I still have mixed emotions when I read them.  It was a tragic, life-altering experience for all those guys and I get sad thinking about it, but I also smile or laugh out loud when I read his observations on his companions and human nature in general.  I think his ability to look at himself and his companions honestly and objectively helped him make it through the ordeal and live so long.

  44. Kim,
    Thanks for all your nice words. Compared to what our parents and grandparents went through I think most of us baby boomers had it pretty easy.  And for me, remembering and reading about what they did years ago makes me appreciate today’s servicemen and women even more.

  45. Even though I’ve read Dad’s memoirs more than a few times this posting was very difficult for me to get thru.

  46. Bob Winslow was on my mind this Dec 7th.Saying “Thank You” falls short of what he and all our Veterans mean to me. I hold them very near and dear in my life and thanks to you Steve for bringing them to life all these years later.

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