Little Bits of History

The Wake Island 98

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 5, 2014
The Wake Island 98 Memborial

The Wake Island 98 Memorial

October 5, 1943: Ninety-eight Americans are killed. Wake Island is a small coral atoll with a coastline measuring just 12 miles. It covers 2.85 square miles and today there are about 150 people living there. It is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean just north of the Marshall Islands. It is an unincorporated territory of the US. Access is restricted and all activities on the island are managed by the United States Air Force. It is west of the International Date Line and one day ahead of the rest of the country. It is about ⅔ of the way between Honolulu and Guam. Called a single entity, it is actually made up of three smaller islets. Wake Island’s history was altered by World War II.

In January 1941, the US Navy built a base on the atoll. By August there were 449 men of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion stationed there along with 68 Navy personnel and 1,221 civilians. The attack on Pearl Harbor was on December 7 in Hawaii and December 8 on the island. At least 27 Japanese bombers flew from their bases on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands and attacked Wake Island. Eight of the twelve Wildcat fighter aircraft on the island were destroyed in the attack. Fighting kept up throughout December with over 100 military and civilians killed while the Japanese suffered losses between 700 and 1,000 depending on the sources. On December 23, the Japanese took over control of the island with most of the military personnel and civilians becoming prisoners of war. Many were shipped to other POW camps, but some were held on the island, enslaved and tasked with improving island defenses.

In the ensuing months, battles raged around the Pacific with Wake Island being the target for several American bombing runs, including the first mission of George HW Bush. On this day, there was a successful air raid and Japanese Navy Captain Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the execution of all the remaining captured Americans on the island. The 98 men (many of them civilians) were taken to the northern end of the island, blindfolded, and machine gunned down. One of the prisoners escaped and had an opportunity to carve a message on a large coral rock near to the mass grave site where the victims had been hastily buried. The message remains, “98 US PW 5-10-43”. He was soon captured and beheaded.

On September 4, 1945, the Japanese garrison surrendered to a detachment of the United States Marines as the Americans retook the island. After the war, a granite memorial stone was attached to the  inscribed rock. A bronze plaque nearby lists the names of the 98 men. Sakaibara and his subordinate, Lieutenant Commander Tachibana, were brought to trial after the war. They were found guilty of war crimes and both men were sentenced to death for this atrocity as well as other crimes. Tachibana’s sentences was later commuted to life in prison. Sakaibara was executed on June 18, 1947 on Guam. The remains of the murdered men were exhumed and reburied at that National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Section G.

Wars damage the civilian society as much as they damage the enemy. Soldiers never get over it. – Paul Fussell

Military glory–that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood–that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy… – Abraham Lincoln

One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one. – Agatha Christie

The great armies, accumulated to provide security and preserve the peace, carried the nations to war by their own weight. – A. J. P. Taylor

Also on this day: “Send Us Work” – In 1936, the Jarrow March began.
PBS – In 1970, the Public Broadcasting Service began.
No Day – In 1582, the Gregorian calendar implied a time warp.
Black Friday – In 1945, Hollywood was rocked by rioting.

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One Response

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  1. hairballexpress said, on October 5, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Oh my KATS! I’ve never heard of this until now! I’m so glad those men weren’t forgotten – thank you fur such an enlightening post!💗

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