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  • Image result for 1945 japan surrendered on wake island
  • Image result for 1945 japan surrendered on wake island
  • Image result for 1945 japan surrendered on wake island
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More images for 1945 japan surrendered on wake island

8 December 1941 – 4 September 1945
Useful Links – Including “Massacre on Wake Island”

During the 16-day battle for Wake, the Japanese lost 820 men killed and 333 wounded. American casualties totaled 120 killed, 49 wounded and two missing. A total of the 1,462 allies, both military and civilian, were taken to prisoner of war camps in China and Japan; 1,231 would be repatriated at the close of the war. Ninety eight contractors remained on Wake to complete construction projects. On the orders of atoll Commander Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, these men were executed in October 1943. Found guilty of war crimes, Sakaibara was hanged after the war.For the most part, the war was over for Wake Island. The Americans made no attempt to retake the atoll. A constant blockade hampered the Japanese development of this isolated outpost. Except for periodic air raids and target practice by passing ships, Wake was not a factor in the American offensive. Starvation and disease were the worst enemy for the inhabitants. The war officially ended for Wake on Sept. 4, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered the island to Brigadier General Lawson H. M. Sanderson of the U.S. Marines.

Source: Wake Island celebrated 100 years under U.S. possession in July 1998
Via THE EAGLE    (August 1998 ed) a Public Affairs publication from United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USASMDC)

The defense of Wake goes down in history as testimony to the valor and professionalism of the Marine garrison and its officers.During the course of the siege, they shot down 21 enemy aircraft, with three more “possibles,” and damaged 51 others.

They sank four warships and damaged eight others.

Not counting the lost submarine, the Japanese suffered more than 850 killed or missing.

Japanese CDR Mistake Kumara later wrote: “Considering the power accumulated for the invasion and the meager forces of the defenders, it was the most humiliating defeat the Japanese Navy ever suffered.”

Although minor in scale, the Battle of Wake upset the timetable for the Japanese campaign of conquest in the Pacific. It also allowed forces on Midway Island to prepare for an assault and achieve victory.

By providing a small victory, the garrison on Wake bolstered the morale of the nation and the resolve of the American people.

According to Wake Island survivor Lt Arthur A. Poindexter, the action on Wake achieved a number of World War II “firsts”:

  • First enemy surface ships sunk by American forces
  • First enemy vessel sunk by American aircraft
  • First Japanese fleet submarine destroyed by American forces
  • First and only amphibious operation in the Pacific to be stopped by coastal guns
  • First Medal of Honor awarded to a Marine aviator: Capt Elrod was posthumously cited for gallantry as a fighter pilot and for ground combat, when he was killed on 23 Dec. 1941.
  • First Presidential Unit Citation awarded by the personal direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was also the only one ever signed by him.

There were 46 Marines, three sailors and 34 civilians killed in action in the defense of Wake.Eight members of lst Defense Bn, two members of VMF-211, three sailors and 100 civilians were killed or died while in captivity. The two VMF-211 Marines and three sailors were beheaded by the Japanese while they were embarked in Nitta Maru.

Wake Island was regained on 4 Sept. 1945. It was discovered that on 7 Oct. 1943, the Japanese lined up nearly 100 civilian prisoners and machine-gunned them on the beach at Wake. For this atrocity the island commander, RADM Shigematsu Sakaibara, was hanged as a war criminal.

Defenders of Wake still alive as of this writing are 98 members of lst Defense Bn, seven men from VMF-211, 16 sailors and two soldiers. The number of surviving civilians is unknown. The Wake Island Survivors Association has not heard from approximately 50 of the defenders since the war ended.

Source: http://www.mca-marines.org/Leatherneck/dec01wake.htm

This monument to the defenders of wake island was built by LT Marshall K. Phillips, USCG, officer-in-charge of the island’s LORAN station in 1955.The engine cowling has since been removed and placed in a Wildcat display at the national Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.,

A new memorial has since been built,

The Forgotten 98 of WAKE ISLAND
Massacre on Wake Island
By Major Mark E. Hubbs, U.S. Army Reserve (Retired)

Wake Island – Useful Links

March 28, 1943 torpedoed by the U.S. submarine USS TUNNY and completely destroyed
a week later by another torpedo attack from USS SEADRAGON and USS FINBACK.
COPY:  From the Idaho Statesman Sept. 2003  Chapter Closes On Veterans Convention
Book Review:  Hell Wouldn’t Stop, An Oral History of the Battle of Wake Island
Book:   Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

Excerpt: The siege of Wake Island may not have been one of World War II’s biggest campaigns, but it had a profound psychological effect on the course of that struggle.  This was the battle that first raised American spirits in the dark weeks immediately following Pearl Harbor.  For sixteen suspenseful days, 449 U.S. Marines, assisted by a handful of sailors and soldiers and a few hundred civilian construction workers, withstood repeated attacks by numerically superior Japanese forces.  Although Wake finally fell on 23 December 1941, its garrison made the Japanese pay an embarrassingly high price for a tiny coral outpost.

  • To Hell and Back: Wake During and After World War II by Dirk H.R. Spennemann
          This and much more is linked at   Digital Micronesia — Marshalls World War II
          Also from Digital Micronesia: History of the Marshall Islands — The US Period
          (Click and scroll down)

Pan American Airlines in WWII
Pan American Clipper - pre WWII
The Pacific Islands before WWII…..The Pan American Clipper
Image source – Click here – scroll to Image Library

Along with the many (mostly little-known) stories that are placed in
Military Honors!  I have also included here some information pertaining
to the important role of Pan American World Airways (aka Pan Am) in WWII .

From the website of http://www.panam.org here are two WWII stories that I copied:
The Round The World Saga of the “Pacific Clipper”    ||  The War Years
There are more stories of PanAm history (plus an image collection)
on their website … and the site is frequently updated.

My oft repeated disclaimer about copying of items from the internet.


Wake Island

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is about the U.S. territory of Wake Island. For other uses, see Wake Island (disambiguation).
Wake Island
United States Minor Outlying Islands
Flag of Wake Island
Motto: “Where America’s Day Really Begins”
Anthem: “The Star-Spangled Banner
Map of Wake Island
Map of Wake Island
Wake Island is located in Pacific Ocean

Wake Island
Wake Island

Location in the Pacific Ocean

Coordinates: 19°18′N 166°38′ECoordinates: 19°18′N 166°38′E
Country United States
Status unorganized, unincorporated territory
Claimed by U.S. January 17, 1899
 • Body United States Air Force
 • Island Commander Major Ronald Dion, Detachment 1, PACAF Regional Support Center
 • Civil Administrator Gordon O. Tanner,General Counsel of the Air Force
 • Land 2.73 sq mi (7.1 km2)
 • Lagoon 2 sq mi (6 km2)
 • EEZ 157,237 sq mi (407,241 km2)
Highest elevation 21 ft (6 m)
Lowest elevation(Pacific Ocean) 0 ft (0 m)
Population (2015)
 • Total c. 94
Demonym(s) Wakean
Time zone Wake Island Time Zone(UTC+12)
APO / Zip Code 96898

Wake Island (also known as Wake Atoll) is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the western Pacific Ocean in the northeastern area of the Micronesia subregion, 2,416 km (1501 mi) east of Guam, 3,698 km (2,298 mi) west of Honolulu and 3,205 km (1,992 mi) southeast of Tokyo. Wake Island is one of the most isolated islands in the world and the nearest inhabited island is Utirik Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 952 km (592 mi) miles to the southeast. The island is a coral atoll administered by the United States Air Force, under agreement with the Department of the Interior. The center of activity on the atoll is at Wake Island Airfield (IATA: AWKICAO: PWAK) which is primarily used as a mid-Pacific refueling stop for military aircraft and as an emergency landing area. The 9,800-foot (3,000 m) runway is the longest strategic runway in the Pacific islands. Located south of the runway is a missile launch facility operated by the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command and the Missile Defense Agency. The Base Operations Support contractor at Wake is Chugach Alaska Corporation. There are about 94 people living on Wake Island and access to the island is restricted.

On December 11, 1941, Wake Island was the site of Japan‘s first military setback against American forces during World War II when Marines, Navy and some civilian personnel on the island repelled an attempted Japanese invasion, sinking two destroyers and a transport. The island subsequently fell to Japanese forces 12 days later after a successful second invasion attempt on December 23, 1941, this time with extensive support from Japanese carrier based aircraft returning from the attack on Pearl Harbor. Wake Island remained occupied by Japanese forces until the end of the war; the garrison surrendered the island back to United States forces on September 4, 1945.[1]

On January 5, 2009, President George W. Bush included the submerged and emergent lands at the atoll as a unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.[2][3] For statistical purposes, Wake is grouped as one of the United States Minor Outlying Islands.


Wake Island derives its name from British sea captain Samuel Wake, who re-discovered the atoll in 1796 while in command of the Prince William Henry. The name is sometimes attributed to Captain William Wake, who also is reported to have discovered the atoll from the Prince William Henry in 1792.[4]


Island acres hectares
Wake Islet 1,367.04 553.22
Wilkes Islet 197.44 79.90
Peale Islet 256.83 103.94
Wake Island 1,821.31 737.06
Lagoon (water) 1,480.00 600.00
Sand Flat 910.00 370.00

Wake is located to the west of the International Date Line and sits in the Wake Island Time Zone (UTC+12), one day ahead of the 50 U.S. states, two-thirds of the way between Honolulu, 2,300 statute miles (3,700 km) to the east and Guam, 1,510 statute miles (2,430 km) to the west. The closest land is the uninhabited Bokak Atoll 348 miles to the south east.

Although Wake is officially called an island in the singular form, it is actually an atoll comprising three islands and a reef surrounding a central lagoon:[5]

Referring to the atoll as an island is the result of a pre-World War II desire by the United States Navy to distinguish Wake from other atolls, most of which were Japanese territory.[citation needed]


Wake Island lies in the tropical zone, but it is subject to periodic temperate storms during the winter. Sea surface temperatures are warm all year long, reaching above 80 °F (27 °C) in summer and autumn. Typhoonsoccasionally pass over the island.

[hide]Climate data for Wake Island, US
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 27.9
Daily mean °C (°F) 25.3
Average low °C (°F) 22.6
Average precipitation mm (inches) 29.5
Source: climatemps[6]


Damaged trees and debris left bySuper Typhoon Ioke in 2006 at the Memorial Chapel on Wake Island.

On September 16, 1967, at 10:40 pm local time, the eye of Super Typhoon Sarah passed over the island. Sustained winds in the eyewall were 130 knots (241 km/h), from the north before the eye, and from the south afterward. All non-reinforced structures were demolished. There were no serious injuries, and the majority of the civilian population was evacuated after the storm.[7]

On August 28, 2006, the United States Air Force evacuated all 188 residents and suspended all operations as category 5 Super Typhoon Ioke headed toward Wake. By August 31, the southwestern eyewall of the storm passed over the island, with winds well over 185 miles per hour (298 km/h),[8] driving a 20 ft (6 m) storm surge and waves directly into the lagoon inflicting major damage.[9] A U.S. Air Force assessment and repair team returned to the island in September 2006 and restored limited function to the airfield and facilities leading ultimately to a full return to normal operations.


Palm trees at Wake Island’s lagoon


Indigenous Marshallese oral tradition suggests that before European exploration, nearby Marshall Islanders traveled to what is now Wake Island, which the travelers called Enen-kio(Marshallese new orthography: Ānen-kio, [æ̯ænʲɛ̯ɛnʲ(e͡ɤ)-ɡɯ͡ii̯ɛ͡ɔɔ̯]) after a small orange shrub-flower said to have been found on the atoll. In the ancient Marshallese religion, rituals surrounding the tattooing of tribal chiefs, called Iroijlaplap, were done using fresh human bones, which required a human sacrifice. A man could save himself from being sacrificed if he obtained a wing bone from a very large seabird said to have existed on Enen-kio. Small groups would brave traveling to the atoll in hopes of obtaining this bone, saving the life of the potential human sacrifice.[10][11] No archaeological evidence has been found to suggest that there was ever a permanent or temporary settlement by Marshall Islanders on Wake Island.[12]


Discovery and rediscovery[edit]

In 1567, Spanish explorer and navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neyra set off on two ships, Los Reyes and Todos los Santos, from Callao, Peru on an expedition to search for a gold-rich land in the South Pacific, mentioned in Inca tradition. After discovering Tuvaluand the Solomon Islands but not finding gold, the expedition headed north and on October 2, 1568, the eve of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, discovered Wake Island, “a low barren island, judged to be eight leagues in circumference”, which the captain named San Francisco. The ships were in dire need of water and the crew was suffering from scurvy but after circling the island, it was determined that Wake was water-less and had “not a cocoanut nor a pandanus” and in fact, “there was nothing on it but sea-birds, and sandy places covered with bushes.”[13][14][15] In 1743, the British ship HMS Centurion under the command of Commodore George Anson captured the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Covadonga near Samar in the Philippines. Charts taken by Anson of theSpanish Galleon route between Manila and Acapulco showed Desierta (desert) and La Mira (look out) as Spanish names given to islands in the approximate location of Wake.

In 1796, Captain Samuel Wake of the British merchantman Price William Henry rediscovered Wake Island, naming the atoll for himself. Soon thereafter the 80 ton British fur trading brig Halcyon arrived at Wake and Master Charles William Barkley, unaware of Captain Wake’s discovery, named the atoll Halcyon Island in honor of his ship.[16]

Although Wake Island was one of the most isolated atolls in the world, charts and ship logbooks reported islands at various coordinates in the general vicinity of Wake. Some other names given for islands that were probably independent discoveries of Wake Island include Discerta, Douglas Island, Eceuil (on French charts), Halcyon Island, Helsion Island, Haystrous Island, Halverd Island, Lamira, Maloon’s Island, San Francisco, Waker’s Island, Weeks Island, Wilson Island and Wreck Island.

In 1823, Captain Edward Gardner, while in command of the whaling ship HMS Bellona, discovered an island at 19°15′00″N 166°32′00″E, which he judged to be 20 or 25 miles long. The island was “covered with wood, having a very green and rural appearance”. This report is considered to be another sighting of Wake Island.[17]

United States Exploring Expedition[edit]

Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition 1838 – 1842

On December 20, 1841, the United States Exploring Expedition, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, arrived at Wake on the USS Vincennes and sent several boats to survey the island. Wilkes described the atoll as “a low coral one, of triangular form and eight feet above the surface. It has a large lagoon in the centre, which was well filled with fish of a variety of species among these were some fine mullet.” He also noted that Wake had nofresh water but was covered with shrubs, “the most abundant of which was the tournefortia.” The expedition’s naturalist, Titian Peale, noted that “the only remarkable part in the formation of this island is the enormous blocks of coral which have been thrown up by the violence of the sea.” Peale collected an egg from a short-tailed albatross and added other specimens, including a Polynesian rat, to the natural history collections of the expedition. Wilkes also reported that “from appearances, the island must be at times submerged, or the sea makes a complete breach over it.”[18]

The wreck and salvage of the Libelle[edit]

Wake Island first received international attention with the wreck of the barque Libelle. On the night of March 4, 1866, the 650 ton iron-hulled Libelle, of Bremen, Germany, struck the eastern reef of Wake Island during a gale. Commanded by Captain Anton Tobias, the ship was en route from San Francisco to Hong Kong. Among its passengers were the 50 year old English-born opera singer Madame Anna Bishop (on the first leg of a Far East tour), her second husband and New York diamond merchant Martin Schultz, pianist and vocalist Charles Lascelles, the first Consul General of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) to the Court of Japan Eugene Van Reed and Japanese military officer Yabe Kisaboro. After a night on board the vessel now stuck on the reef, the passengers and crew reached the shore with very limited supplies such as some bedding, a barrel of beef, several bags of flour and some kegs of wine. After three days of searching and digging on the island for water the crew was able to recover a 200-gallon water tank from the wrecked ship. Valuable cargo was also recovered and buried on the island including some of the 1,000 flasks of mercury (quicksilver), as well as coins and precious stones valued at $93,943.08. After three weeks with a dwindling water supply and no sign of rescue, the passengers and crew decided to leave Wake and attempt to sail to Guam (the center of the Spanish colony of the Mariana Islands) on the two remaining boats from the Libelle. The 22 passengers and some of the crew sailed in the 22 foot longboat under the command of the first mate Rudolf Kausch and the remainder of the crew sailed with Captain Tobias in the 20 foot gig. On April 8, 1866, after thirteen days of frequent squalls, short rations, and tropical sun, the longboat reached Guam. Unfortunately, the gig, commanded by the captain, was lost at sea.[19][20]

The Spanish Governor of the Mariana Islands, Francisco Moscoso y Lara, welcomed and provided aid to the Libelle shipwreck survivors on Guam. He also ordered the schooner Ana, owned and commanded by his son-in-law George H. Johnston, to be dispatched with the first mate Kausch to search for the missing gig and then sail on to Wake Island to confirm the shipwreck story and recover the buried treasure. The Ana departed Guam on April 10 and, after two days at Wake Island, found and salvaged the buried coins and precious stones as well as a small quantity of the quicksilver. Over the next two years other ships sailed to the shipwreck site to conduct salvage operations. In January 1867, the American schooner, Caroline Mills brought a diving suit, then commonly known as “submarine armour”, to the Libelle wreck site. Only a few flasks of quicksilver were recovered using the diving suit so Captain Nickols decided to abandon the effort. On May 9, 1867, the sloop Hokulele from Honolulu, with a party headed by Thomas R. Foster, arrived at Wake and was joined by a brig from China. The Chinese captain did not reveal his ship’s name. Together the two ships recovered 495 flasks of the quicksilver with 247 flasks going to the Hokulele. In October 1867, the Honolulu schooner Moi Wahinearrived at Wake and Captain English, Thomas R. Foster (who also sailed with the Hokulele) and nine Hawaiian divers were landed on the island with part of their supplies. Captain Zenas Bent, first mate Mr. White and seven Hawaiian seamen remained on board the ship. In the evening on the second day, when the winds picked up and shifted, the crew of the schooner pulled anchor and put out to sea to avoid striking the reef. The next day the Moi Wahine did not return having perished in a gale, stranding the salvage party on Wake. Fortunately, one piece of equipment that was unloaded from the ship was an apparatus for distilling water. With plenty of potable water, fish, birds and eggs, the men were able to survive and live without serious inconvenience. After five months, the British brig Cleo arrived at Wake, rescued the castaways and recovered 240 flasks of quicksilver, some copper, anchor and chain.[21][22]

The wreck of the Dashing Wave[edit]

On July 29, 1870, the British tea clipper Dashing Wave, under the command of Captain Henry Vandervord, sailed out of Foochoo, China en route to Sydney. On August 31, “the weather was very thick, and it was blowing a heavy gale from the eastward, attended with violent squalls, and a tremendous sea.” At 10:30 p.m. breakers were seen and the ship struck the reef at Wake Island. Overnight the vessel began to break up and at 10:00 a.m. the crew succeeded in launching the longboat over the lee side. In the chaos of the evacuation, the captain secured a chart and nautical instruments, but no compass. The crew loaded a case of wine, some bread and two buckets, but no drinking water. Since Wake Island appeared to have neither food nor water, the captain and his twelve-man crew quickly departed, crafting a makeshift sail by attaching a blanket to an oar. With no water, each man was allotted a glass of wine per day until a heavy rain shower came on the sixth day. After thirty one days of hardship, drifting westward in the longboat, they eventually reached Kosrae (Strong’s Island) in the Caroline Islands. Captain Vandervord attributed the loss of the Dashing Wave to the erroneous manner in which Wake Island “is laid down in the charts. It is very low, and not easily seen even on a clear night.”[19][23]

American possession[edit]

With the annexation of Hawaii and the seizing of Guam and the Philippines during the Spanish–American War, the United States began to consider unclaimed and uninhabited Wake Island, located approximately halfway between Honolulu and Manila, as a good location for a telegraph cable station and a coaling station. On July 4, 1898, United States Army Brigadier General Francis Greene of the 2nd Brigade, Philippine Expeditionary Force, stopped at Wake Island and raised the American flag while en route to the Philippines on the SS China.[24]

Commander Edward D. Taussig of the USS Bennington takes formal possession of Wake Island for the United States with the raising of the flag and a 21-gun salute on January 17, 1899

On January 17, 1899, under orders from President William McKinley, Commander Edward D. Taussig of the USS Bennington landed on Wake and formally took possession of the island for the United States. After a 21-gun salute, the flag was raised and a brass plate was affixed to the flagstaff with the following inscription:

“United States of America
William McKinley, President;
John D. Long, Secretary of the Navy.
Commander Edward D. Taussig, U.S.N.,
Commander U.S.S. Bennington,
this 17th day of January, 1899, took
possession of the Atoll known as Wake
Island for the United States of America.”[25]

Although the proposed route for the submarine cable would be shorter by 137 miles, Midway, and not Wake Island, was chosen as the location for the cable station between Honolulu and Guam. Rear Admiral Royal Bird Bradford, chief of the United States Navy’s Bureau of Equipment, stated before the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce on January 17, 1902 that “Wake Island seems at times to be swept by the sea. It is only a few feet above the level of the ocean, and if a cable station were established there very expensive works would be required; besides it has no harbor, while the Midway Islands are perfectly habitable and have a fair harbor for vessels of eighteen feet draught.”[26]

On June 23, 1902, the USAT Buford, commanded by Captain Croskey and bound for Manila, spotted a ship’s boat on the beach as it passed closely by Wake Island. Soon thereafter the boat was launched by Japanese on the island and sailed out to meet the transport. The Japanese told Captain Croskey that they been put on the island by a schooner from Yokohama and that they were gathering guano and drying fish. The captain suspected that they were also engaged in pearl hunting. The Japanese revealed that one of their party needed medical attention and the captain determined from their descriptions of the symptoms that the illness was most likely beriberi. They informed Captain Croskey that they did not need any provisions or water and that they were expecting the Japanese schooner to return in a month or so. The Japanese men declined the offer to be taken on the transport to Manila and they were given some medical supplies for the sick man, some tobacco and a few incidentals.[27]

After the USAT Buford reached Manila, Captain Croskey reported on the presence of Japanese at Wake Island. He also learned that the USAT Sheridan had a similar encounter at Wake with the Japanese men. The incident was brought to the attention of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Darling who at once informed the State Department and suggested that an explanation from the Japanese Government was needed. In August 1902, Japanese Minister Takahira Kogorō provided a diplomatic note stating that the Japanese Government had “No claim whatever to make on the sovereignty of the island, but that if any subjects are found on the island the Imperial Government expects that they should be properly protected as long as they are engaged in peaceful occupations.”[28]

Wake Island was now clearly a territory of the United States but during this period the island was only occasionally visited by passing American ships. One notable visit occurred in December 1906 when United States Army General John J. Pershing, later commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, stopped at Wake on the USAT Thomas and hoisted a 45-star U.S. flag that was improvised out of sail canvas.[29]

Feather poaching[edit]

Members of the Tanager Expeditionexplore an abandoned feather poaching camp on Peale Island

With limited fresh water resources, no harbor and no plans for development, Wake Island remained a remote uninhabited Pacific island in the early twentieth century. It did however have a large seabird population which attracted Japanese feather poachers. The global demand for feathers and plumage was driven by the millinery industry and popular European fashion designs for hats while other demand came from pillow and bedspreadmanufacturers. Japanese poachers set up camps to harvest feathers on many remote islands in the Central Pacific. The feather trade was primarily focused on Laysan albatross, black-footed albatross, masked booby, lesser frigatebird, greater frigatebird, sooty tern and various other species of tern. On February 6, 1904, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans arrived at Wake Island on the USS Adams and observed Japanese collecting feathers and catching sharks for their fins. Abandoned feather poaching camps were seen by the submarine tender USS Beaver in 1922 and the USS Tanager in 1923. Although feather collecting and plumage exploitation had been outlawed in the territorial United States, there is no record of any enforcement actions at Wake Island.[30]

Japanese castaways[edit]

In January 1908 the Japanese ship Toyoshima Maru, en route from Tateyama, Japan to the South Pacific, encountered a heavy storm that disabled the ship and swept the captain and five of the crew overboard. The thirty six remaining crew members managed to make landfall on Wake Island where they faced five months of great hardship, disease and starvation. In May 1908, the Brazilian Navy training ship Benjamin Constant, while on a voyage around the world, passed by the island and spotted a tattered red distress flag. Unable to land a boat, the crew of the Benjamin Constant executed a challenging three day rescue operation using rope and cable in order to bring on board the twenty survivors and transport them to Yokohama.[31]

USS Beaver strategic survey[edit]

In his 1921 book Sea-Power in the Pacific: A Study of the American-Japanese Naval Problem, Hector C. Bywater recommended establishing a well-defended fueling station at Wake Island in order provide coal and oil for United States Navy ships engaged in future operations against Japan.[32] On June 19, 1922, the submarine tender USS Beaver landed an investigating party to determine the practicality and feasibility of establish a naval fueling station on Wake Island. Lieutenant Commander Sherwood Picking noted that the boat channel was choked with coral heads and that the lagoon was very shallow and not over fifteen feet in depth and therefore Wake would not be able to serve as a base for surface vessels. He suggested clearing the channel to the lagoon for “loaded motor sailing launches” so that parties on shore can receive supplies from passing ships and he strongly recommended that Wake be used as a base for aircraft. Picking stated that, “If the long heralded trans Pacific flight ever takes place, Wake Island should certainly be occupied and used as an intermediate resting and fueling port.” [33]

Tanager Expedition[edit]

Tanager Expedition tent camp at Wake Island, established on the eastern end of Wilkes

In 1923, a joint expedition by the Bureau of the Biological Survey (U.S. Department of Agriculture), the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum and the United States Navy was organized to conduct a thorough biological reconnaissance of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, then administered by the Biological Survey as the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation. On February 1, 1923, Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace contacted Secretary of Navy Edwin Denby to request Navy participation and to recommended expanding the expedition to Johnston, Midway and Wake, all islands not administered by the Department of Agriculture. On July 27, 1923 the USSTanager, a World War I minesweeper, brought the Tanager Expedition to Wake Island under the leadership of ornithologist Alexander Wetmore and a tent camp was established on the eastern end of Wilkes. From July 27 to August 5 the expedition charted the atoll, made extensive zoological and botanical observations and gathered specimens for the Bishop Museum while the naval vessel under the command of Lieutenant Commander Samuel Wilder King conducted a sounding survey off shore. Other achievements at Wake included examinations of three abandoned Japanese feather poaching camps, scientific observations of the now extinct Wake Island rail and confirmation that Wake Island is an atoll comprising three islands with a central lagoon. Wetmore named the southwest island for Charles Wilkes who had led the United States Exploring Expedition to Wake in 1841. The northwest island was named for Titian Peale, the chief naturalist of the 1841 expedition.[34]

U.S. Navy assumes control[edit]

In addition to limiting the size of the navies of Britain, the United States, Japan, Italy, and France, the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 had restricted the United States from expanding military fortifications in the Pacific islands and therefore Wake Island remained uninhabited, largely neglected and not under government jurisdiction. On December 29, 1934, Japan announced that it was terminating the treaty in order to expand its naval fleet. Also on December 29, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6935 which placed Wake Island under the control of the Department of the Navy.

Pan American Airways and the Flying Clippers[edit]

Juan Trippe, president of the world’s largest airline, Pan American Airways (PAA), wanted to expanded globally by offering passenger air service between the United States and China. To cross the Pacific Ocean his planes would need to island-hop, stopping at various points for refueling and maintenance. He first tried to plot the route on his globe but it showed only open sea between Midway and Guam. Next he went to the New York Public Library to study 19th century clipper ship logs and he “discovered” a little-knowncoral atoll named Wake Island.[35]

On May 9, 1935, the 6,700 ton freighter SS North Haven arrived at Wake Island with 113 workers and the necessary equipment to start construction of Pan American facilities and to clear the lagoon for a flying boat landing area. Wilkes was by far the best spot for ferrying supplies and workers ashore however the chief engineer of the expedition, Charles R. Russell, determined that Peale Island was the best site for Pan American facilities. Cargo was lightered from ship to shore and then transported across Wilkes to the lagoon on an improvised 2000-foot narrow-gauge railway nicknamed the “Wilkes Island Rail Road.” Cargo was then transferred to another barge and towed across the lagoon to Peale Island. In the lagoon divers used dynamite to remove hundreds of thousands ofcoral heads. The village on Peale was nicknamed “PAAville” and was the first human settlement on the Wake, relying upon the U.S. mainland for much of its food and water supplies. Wake Island is credited as being one of the early successes of hydroponics, which enabled Pan American Airways to grow vegetables for its passengers, as it was very expensive to airlift in fresh vegetables and the island lacked natural soil.[36]

PAAville remained in operation up to the day of the first Japanese air raid in World War II (see below).

Military buildup[edit]

On February 14, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8682 to create naval defenses areas in the central Pacific territories. The proclamation established “Wake Island Naval Defensive Sea Area” which encompassed the territorial waters between the extreme high-water marks and the three-mile marine boundaries surrounding Wake. “Wake Island Naval Airspace Reservation” was also established to restrict access to the airspace over the naval defense sea area. Only U.S. government ships and aircraft were permitted to enter the naval defense areas at Wake Island unless authorized by the Secretary of the Navy.

In January 1941, the United States Navy constructed a military base on the atoll. On August 19, the first permanent military garrison, elements of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion,[37] totaling 449 officers and men, were stationed on the island, commanded by NavyCommander Winfield Scott Cunningham.[38] Also on the island were 68 U.S. Naval personnel and about 1,221 civilian workers from the U.S. firm Morrison-Knudsen Corporation.

They were armed with six used 5 inch/51 cal (127 mm) guns, removed from a scrapped battleship; twelve 3 inch/50 cal (76.2 mm) M3 anti-aircraft guns (with only a single working anti-aircraft director among them); eighteen Browning M2 .50 caliber heavy machine guns; and thirty heavy, medium, and light, water or air-cooled Browning M1917 .30 caliber machine guns in various conditions but all operational.

World War II[edit]

Battle of Wake Island[edit]

Main article: Battle of Wake Island

On December 8, 1941, the day of the Attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7 in Hawaii, which is on the other side of the International Date Line), at least 27 Japanese Mitsubishi G3M medium “Nell” bombers flown from bases on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islandsattacked Wake Island, destroying eight of the 12 F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft belonging to United States Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211) on the ground. The Marine garrison’s defensive emplacements were left intact by the raid, which primarily targeted the aircraft.

The garrison – supplemented by civilian construction workers employed by Morrison-Knudsen Corporation – repelled several Japanese landing attempts.[39] An American journalist reported that after the initial Japanese amphibious assault was beaten back with heavy losses on December 11, the American commander was asked by his superiors if he needed anything. Popular legend has it that commander James Devereux sent back the message, “Send us more Japs!” – a reply which became famous.[40][41] When MajorJames Devereux, USMC, after the war learned that he was credited with that message, he pointed out that contrary to reports he was not the commander on Wake Island and denied sending that message. “As far as I know, it wasn’t sent at all. None of us was that much of a damn fool. We already had more Japs than we could handle.”[42] In reality, Commander Winfield S. Cunningham, USN, was in overall charge of Wake Island, not Devereux. Cunningham ordered that coded messages be sent during operations, and a junior officer had added “send us” and “more Japs” to the beginning and end of a message to confuse Japanese code breakers. This was put together at Pearl Harbor and passed on as part of the message. Cunningham and Devereux both wrote books about the battle and their Japanese imprisonment ordeal.

The US Navy attempted to provide support from Hawaii, but had suffered great losses at Pearl Harbor. The relief fleet they managed to organize was delayed by bad weather. The isolated U.S. garrison was overwhelmed by a reinforced and greatly superior Japanese invasion force on December 23.[43] American casualties numbered 52 military personnel (Navy and Marine) and approximately 70 civilians killed. Japanese losses exceeded 700 dead, with some estimates ranging as high as 1,000. Wake’s defenders sank two Japanese destroyers and one submarine, and shot down 24 Japanese aircraft. The relief fleet, en route, on hearing of the island’s loss, turned back.

In the aftermath of the battle, most of the captured civilians and military personnel were sent to POW camps in Asia, though some of the civilian laborers were enslaved by the Japanese and tasked with improving the island’s defenses.

Captain Henry T. Elrod, USMC, one of the pilots from VMF-211, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for shooting down two Japanese Zero fighters, sinking a destroyer and later fighting on foot, when his plane was destroyed, to defend the island. Many of his comrades were also highly decorated for their part in the fighting. The Wake Island Device was created for American veterans of the battle to wear on their Navy or Marine Corps Expeditionary Medals.

Japanese occupation and surrender[edit]

The formal surrender of the Japanese garrison on Wake Island, September 7, 1945. Island commander Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara is the Japanese officer in the right-foreground.

The island’s Japanese garrison was composed of the IJN 65th Guard Unit (2,000 men), Japan Navy Captain Shigematsu Sakaibara and the IJA units which became 13th Independent Mixed Regiment (1,939 men) under command of Colonel Shigeji Chikamori.[44] The Japanese-occupied island (called by them Otori-Shima (大鳥島) or “Big Bird Island” for its birdlike shape)[45] was bombed several times by American aircraft; one of these raids was the first mission for future United States President George H. W. Bush.[46]

U.S. Civilian POWs Memorial

After a successful American air raid on October 5, 1943, Sakaibara ordered the execution of all of the 98 captured Americans who remained on the island. They were taken to the northern end of the island, blindfolded, and machine-gunned. One prisoner escaped, carving the message “98 US PW 5-10-43” on a large coral rock near where the victims had been hastily buried in a mass grave. This unknown American was soon recaptured and beheaded.[47] Sakaibara and his subordinate, Lieutenant Commander Tachibana, were later sentenced to death after conviction for this and other war crimes. Tachibana’s sentence was later commuted to life in prison. Shigematsu Sakaibara was executed on June 18, 1947 on Guam.[48]The remains of the murdered civilians were exhumed and reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in section G.[49]

On September 4, 1945, the Japanese garrison surrendered to a detachment of United States Marines. The handover of Wake was conducted in a brief ceremony. After the war, a speckled granite memorial stone inscribed with the words, “The 98 Rock / Inscribed by an unknown P.O.W.,” was attached to the The 98 Rock. A bronze plaque nearby lists the names of the 98.

The hard conditions for the Japanese garrison during the late part of the war led to the extinction of the Wake Island rail.

Postwar military and commercial airfield[edit]

The original Drifter’s Reef bar, built near the harbor area at Wake Island, opened its doors to aircrews, visitors and other “drifters” on November 8, 1949.

With the end of hostilities with Japan and the increase in international air travel driven in part by war-time advances in aeronautics, Wake Island became a critical mid-Pacific base for the servicing and refueling of military and commercial aircraft. The United States Navy resumed control of the island and in October 1945, 400 Seabees from the 85th Naval Construction Battalion arrived at Wake to clear the island of the effects of the war and to build basic facilities for a Naval Air Base. The air base was completed in March 1946 and on September 24, 1946, regular commercial passenger service was resumed by Pan American Airways (Pan Am). The era of the flying boats was nearly over so Pan Am switched to longer range, faster and more profitable airplanes that could land on Wake’s new coral runway. Other airlines that established transpacific routes through Wake included British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), Philippine Airlines andTransocean Airlines. Due to the substantial increase in the number of commercial flights, on July 1, 1947, the Navy transferred administration, operations and maintenance of the facilities at Wake to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). In 1949, the CAA upgraded the runway by paving over the coral surface and extending its length to 7,000 feet.

Korean War[edit]

President Harry S. Truman awards the Distinguished Service Medal, Fourth Oak Leaf Cluster, to GeneralDouglas McArthur during the Wake Island Conference.

In June 1950, the Korean War began with the United States leading United Nations forces against North Korea. In July, the Korean Airlift was started and the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) used the airfield and facilities at Wake Island as a key mid-Pacific refueling stop for its mission of transporting men and supplies to the Korean front. By September 1950, 120 military aircraft were landing at Wake per day.[50] On October 15, 1950, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur met at the Wake Island Conference to discuss progress and war strategy for the Korean Peninsula. They chose to meet at Wake Island because of its closer proximity to Korea so that General MacArthur would not have to be away from the troops in the field for long.[51] During 1953, the last year of the war, more than 85 percent of the air traffic through Wake was military aircraft or civilian contract carriers supporting the Korean war effort.

Tanker shipwreck and oil spill[edit]

On September 6, 1967, Standard Oil of California‘s 18,000-ton tanker SS R. C. Stoner was driven onto the reef at Wake Island by a strong southwesterly wind after the ship failed to moor to the two buoys near the harbor entrance. An estimated 6 million gallons of refined fuel oil, including 5.7 million gallons of aviation fuel, 168,000 gallons of diesel oil and 138,600 gallons of bunker C fuel spilled into the small boat harbor and along the southwestern coast of Wake Island to Peacock Point. Large numbers of fish were stranded and killed by the oil spill, and personnel from the FAA and crewman from the ship cleared the area closest to the spill of dead fish. The U.S. Navy salvage team Harbor Clearance Unit Two and Pacific Fleet Salvage Officer, Commander John B. Orem flew to Wake to assess the situation and by September 13, Navy tugs USS Mataco and USS Wandank, salvage ships USS Conserver and USS Grapple, tanker USS Noxubee, and USCGC Mallow, arrived from Honolulu, Guam and Subic Bay in the Philippines, to assist in the cleanup and removal of the vessel. At the boat harbor, the salvage team pumped and skimmed oil which they burned each evening in nearby pits. Recovery by the Navy salvage team of the R. C. Stoner and its remaining cargo, however, was hampered by strong winds and heavy seas. On September 16, Super Typhoon Sarah made landfall on Wake Island at peak intensity with winds up to 145-knots, causing widespread damage. The intensity of the storm had the beneficial effect of greatly accelerating the cleanup effort by clearing the harbor and scouring the coast. Oil did remain, however, embedded in the reef’s flat crevices and impregnated in the coral. The storm also had broken the wrecked vessel into three sections and, although delayed by rough seas and harassment by blacktip reef sharks, the salvage team used explosives to flatten and sink the remaining portions of the ship that were still above water.[52][53]

Commercial aviation ends and the U.S. Air Force assumes control[edit]

In the early 1970s, higher-efficiency jet aircraft with longer-range capabilities lessened the use of Wake Island Airfield as a refueling stop and the number of commercial flights landing at Wake declined sharply. Pan Am had replaced many of their Boeing 707s with more efficient 747s thus eliminating the need to continue weekly stops at Wake Island. Other airlines began to eliminate their scheduled flights into Wake. In June 1972, the last scheduled Pan Am passenger flight landed at Wake and in July, Pam Am’s last cargo fight departed the island, marking the end of the heyday of Wake Island’s commercial aviation history.

During this same time period, the U.S. military had transitioned to longer-range C-5A and C-130 aircraft leaving the C-141 as the only aircraft that would continue to regularly use the island’s airfield. The steady decrease in air traffic control activities at Wake Island was apparent and was expected to continue into the future. In July 1972, the FAA turned over administration of the island to the Military Airlift Command (MAC), although legal ownership stayed with the Department of the Interior. On December 27, 1972, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF) John D. Ryan directed MAC to phase out en route support activity at Wake Island effective June 30, 1973. On July 1, 1973, the U.S. Air Force under Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), Detachment 4, 15th Air Base Wing assumed control of Wake Island.[54]

In 1973, Wake Island was selected as a launch site for the testing of defensive systems against intercontinental ballistic missiles under the U.S. Army’s Project Have Mill. Air Force personnel on Wake and the Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO) provided support to the Army’s Advanced Ballistic Missile Defense Agency (ABMDA). A missile launch complex was activated on Wake and, from February 13 to June 22, 1974, seven Athena H missiles were launched from the island to the Roi-Namur Test Range at Kwajalein Atoll.

Vietnam War refugees and Operation New Life[edit]

Vietnamese refugees on Wake Island await resettlement processing byU.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service personnel in May 1975.

In the spring of 1975, the population on Wake Island consisted of 251 military, government and civilian contract personnel whose primary mission was to maintain the airfield as a Mid-Pacific emergency runway. With the imminent fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces, President Gerald Ford ordered American forces to support Operation New Life, the evacuation of refugees from Vietnam. The original plans included Subic Bay and Guamas refugee processing centers but due to the high number of Vietnamese seeking evacuation, Wake Island was selected as an additional location. In March 1975, Island Commander Major Bruce R. Hoon was contacted byPacific Air Forces (PACAF) and ordered to prepare Wake for its’ new mission as a refuge processing center where Vietnamese evacuees could be medically screened, interviewed and then transported to the United States or to other resettlement countries. A 60-man civil engineering team was brought in to reopen boarded-up buildings and housing, two complete MASH units arrived to set up field hospitals and three Army field kitchens were deployed. A 60-man Security Police team, processing agents from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and various other administrative and support personnel were also on Wake. Potable water, food, medical supplies, clothing and other supplies were shipped in. On April 26, 1975, the first C-141 military transport aircraft carrying refugees arrived. The airlift to Wake continued at a rate of one C-141 every hour and 45 minutes, each aircraft with 283 refugees on board. At the peak of the mission, 8,700 Vietnamese refugees were on Wake. When the airlift ended on August 2, a total of about 15,000 refugees had been processed through Wake Island as part of Operation New Life.[55][56]

Bikini Islanders resettlement[edit]

On March 20, 1978, Undersecretary James A. Joseph of the U.S. Department of the Interior reported that radiation levels, from Operation Crossroads and other atomic tests conducted in the 1940s and 1950s on Bikini Atoll, were still too high and that island natives that returned to Bikini would once again have to be relocated. In September 1979, a delegation from the Bikini/Kili Council came to Wake Island to assess the island’s potential as a possible resettlement site. The delegation also traveled to Hawaii (Molokai and Hilo),Palmyra Atoll and various atolls in the Marshall Islands including Mili, Knox, Jaluit, Ailinglaplap, Erikub and Likiep but the group agreed that they were only interested in resettlement on Wake Island due to the presence of the U.S. military and the island’s proximity to Bikini Atoll. Unfortunately for the Bikini Islanders, the U.S. Department of Defense responded that “any such resettlement is out of the question.”[57][58][59]

Commemorative and memorial visits[edit]

In June 1979, the original Wake Island fighter aircraft unit now nicknamed the “Wake Island Avengers”, the United States Marine Corps attack squadron VMA-211, landed their A-4 fighter jets at Wake. The squadron was en route from Japan to the U.S. mainland.

From April 20 to April 23, 1981, a party of 19 Japanese, including 16 former Japanese soldiers who were at Wake during World War II, visited the island to pay their respects for their war dead at the Japanese Shinto Shrine.

Wake Island
98 rock, Wake Island.jpg
The “98 Rock” on Wilkes Island was carved by a World War II American civilian POW prior to his execution by Japanese Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara.
Location Pacific Ocean
Governing body U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs
NRHP Reference # 85002726
Significant dates
Added to NRHP September 16, 1985
Designated NHL September 16, 1985

In the early 1980s, the National Park Service conducted an evaluation of Wake Island to determine if the World War II (WWII) cultural resources remaining on Wake, Wilkes and Peale were of national historical significance. As a result of this survey, Wake Island was designated as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) on September 16, 1985, thus helping to preserve sites and artifacts on the atoll associated with WWII in the Pacific and the transpacific aviation era prior to the war. As a National Historic Landmark, Wake Island was also included in the National Register of Historic Places.[60]

Passengers and crew of Pan Am’sChina Clipper II Boeing 747 pose for a “class picture” at Wake Island during a 1985 trip across the Pacific to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first China Clipper flight.

On November 3 and 4, 1985, a group of 167 former American prisoners of war (POWs) visited Wake with their wives and children. This was the first such visit by a group of former Wake Island POWs and their families.

On November 24, 1985, a Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) Boeing 747, renamed China Clipper II, came through Wake Island on a flight across the Pacific to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of Pan American China Clipper Service to the Orient. Author James A. Michener, actor John Travolta and Lars Lindbergh, grandson of aviator Charles Lindbergh, were among the dignitaries on board the aircraft.[61]

On March 12, 1986, the civil administrator of Wake Island, General Counsel of the Air Force Eugene R. Sullivan, proclaimed that March 22nd of each year will be celebrated as “Wake Island Day” on the atoll.

On December 8, 1991, a commemoration ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Wake Island was held with General Counsel of the Air Force Ann C. Peterson in attendance. The US. flag on the pole in front of the airfield terminal building hung at half mast for 16 days to commemorate the number of days that the Americans held the island prior to surrendering to the Japanese 2nd Maizuru Special Naval Landing Force.

Missile systems testing resumes and the U.S. Army takes control[edit]

Subsequently the island has been used for strategic defense and operations during and after the Cold War with Wake Island serving as a launch platform for military rockets involved in testing anti-missile defense systems and atmospheric re-entry trials. Wake’s location allows for a safe launch and trajectory over unpopulated ocean with open space for intercepts.

In 1987, Wake Island was selected as a missile launch site for a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program named Project Starlab/Starbird. In 1989, the U.S. Army Strategic Defense Command (USASDC) constructed two launch pads on Peacock Point, as well as nearby support facilities, for the eight-ton, sixty-foot, multi-stage Starbird test missiles. The program involved using electro-optical and laser systems, mounted on the Starlab platform in payload bay the of an orbiting space shuttle, to acquire, track and target Starbird missiles launched from Cape Canaveral and Wake. After being impacted by mission scheduling delays caused by the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the program was cancelled in late September 1990 to protect funding for another U.S. Army space-based missile defense program know as Brilliant Pebbles. Although no Starbird missiles were ever launched from Wake Island, the Starbird launch facilities at Wake were modified to support rocket launches for the Brilliant Pebbles program with the first launch occurring on January 29, 1992. On October 16, a 30-foot Castor-Orbus rocket was destroyed by ground controllers seven minutes after its launch from Wake. The program was canceled in 1993.

Missile testing activities continued with the Lightweight Exo-Atmospheric Projectile (LEAP) Test Program, another U.S. Army strategic defense project that included the launching of two Aerojet Super Chief HPB rockets from Wake Island. The first launch, on January 28, 1993, reached apogee at 240 miles and was a success. The second launch, on February 11, reached apogee at 1.2 miles and was a failure.

Due to the U.S. Army’s continued use of the atoll for various missile testing programs, on October 1, 1994, the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense Command (USASSDC) assumed administrative command of Wake Island under a caretaker permit from the U.S. Air Force. The USASSDC had been operating on Wake since 1988, when construction of Starbird launch and support facilities was started. Now under U.S Army control, the island, which is located 690 miles north of Kwajalein Atoll, became a rocket launch site for the Kwajalein Missile Range known as the Wake Island Launch Center.[62]

In July 1995, various units of the U.S. military established a camp on Wake Island to provide housing, food, medical care and social activities for Chinese illegal immigrants as part of Operation Prompt Return (also known as Joint Task Force Prompt Return). The Chinese immigrants were discovered on July 3 on board the M/V Jung Sheng Number 8 when the 160-foot-long vessel was interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard south of Hawaii. The Jung Sheng had left Canton, China en route to the United States on June 2 with 147 Chinese illegal immigrants, including 18 “enforcers”, and 11 crew on board. On July 29, the Chinese were transported to Wake Island where they were cared for by U.S. military personnel and on August 7, they were safely repatriated to China by commercial air charter. From October 10 to November 21, 1996, military units assigned to Operation Marathon Pacific used facilities at Wake Island as a staging area for the repatriation of another group of more than 113 Chinese illegal immigrants who had been interdicted in theAtlantic Ocean near Bermuda aboard the human smuggling vessel, the Xing Da[63][64]

U.S. Air Force regains control[edit]

On October 1, 2002, administrative control and support of Wake Island was transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Air Force’s 15th Wing, an aviation unit of Pacific Air Forces based at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. The 15th Wing had previously been in control of Wake from July 1, 1973 to September 30, 1994. Although the Air Force was once again in control, the Missile Defense Agency would continue to operate the Wake Island Launch Center and the U.S. Army’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site would continue to maintain and operate the launch facilities and also provide instrumentation, communications, flight and ground safety, security, and other support.[65]

The insignia for Campaign Fierce Sentry (FTO-02 E2), a Missile Defense Agency Integrated Flight Test in 2015, depicts a map of Wake Island within the head of an eagle.

On January 6, 2009, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 8836, establishing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to preserve the marine environments around Wake, Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Islands, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll. The proclamation assigned management of the nearby waters and submerged and emergent lands of the islands to the Department of the Interior and management of fishery-related activities in waters beyond 12 nautical miles from the islands’ mean low water line to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Management of the emergent lands at Wake Island, however, continued under the U.S. Air Force according to the terms and conditions of the existing agreement between the Secretary of the Air Force and the Secretary of the Interior. On January 16, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne issued Order Number 3284 which stated that the area at Wake Island assigned to the Department of Interior by Executive Order 8836 will be managed as a National Wildlife Refuge.

The 611th Air Support Group (ASG), a U.S. Air Force unit based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska took control of Wake Island on October 1, 2010. The 611th ASG was already providing support and management to various geographically remote Air Force sites within Alaska and the addition of Wake Island provided the unit with more opportunities for outdoor projects during the winter months when projects in Alaska are very limited. The 611th ASG, a unit of the 11th Air Force, was renamed the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) Regional Support Center.

On September 27, 2014, President Barack Obama issue Executive Order 9173 to expand the area of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument out to the full 200 nautical mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary for each island. By this proclamation, the area of the monument at Wake Island was increased from 15,085 sq mi (39,069 sq km) to 167,336 sq mi (433,398 sq km).


United States Air Force Major Ronald Dion with Detachment 1,PACAF Regional Support Centerassumed command of Wake Island on June 12, 2015.

As Wake Island doesn’t currently have any permanent inhabitants, the U.S. military acts as the governing body of the territory. However, Wake Island does have an acting governor, Gordon O. Tanner. All U.S. federal laws apply to the territory. As Wake Island is an Unincorporated Unorganized territory, certain parts of U.S. constitution such as nationality and land rights do not apply to Wake Island.


The economy of Wake Island is very limited; the only active economic activities are providing services to military personnel and contractors.


The VFA-27 Flying Maces, a United States Navy F/A-18E Super Hornetsquadron based in Atsugi, Japan, flies over the “Downtown” area of Wake Island.


Air transportation facilities at Wake are operated by the United States Air Force at Wake Island Airfield in support of trans-Pacific military operations, western Pacific military contingency operations and missile launch activities. The 9,850 ft (3,000 m) long runway on Wake is also available to provide services for military and commercial in-flight emergencies. All aircraft operations and servicing activities are directed from base operations, which is manned 24 hours per day. Aircraft ramps are available for processing passengers and cargo, and for refueling up to 36 aircraft types, including DC-8, C-5, C-130, and C-17 aircraft. Although there is only one flight scheduled every other week to transport passengers and cargo to Wake, approximately 800 aircraft per year use Wake Island Airfield.


Ground transportation on Wake Island is provided by bus or by contractor or government-owned vehicles. The primary road is a two-lane paved road extending the length of Wake Island to the causeway between Wake Island and Wilkes Island. The causeway was rehabilitated in 2003 and is capable of supporting heavy equipment. A bridge connecting Wake and Peale Islands burned down in December 2002. A combination of paved and coral gravel roads serves the marina area. Paved access to Wilkes Island ends at the petroleum, oil, and lubricants tank farm, where a road constructed of crushed coral provides access to the western point of Wilkes Island. A portion of the road, near the unfinished World War II submarine channel, is flooded nearly every year by high seas.The missile launch sites are accessed from the main paved road south of the runway by both paved and coral roads. Generally, the road network is suitable for low-speed, light-duty use only. Wake Island’s paved roadway network has been adequately maintained to move materials, services, and personnel from the airfield and marina on the southern end to the personnel support area in the Downtown area on the northern end. Modes of ground transportation include walking, bicycles, light utility carts, standard automobiles, vans, trucks, and larger trucks and equipment.


Although Wake Island is supplied by sea-going barges and ships, the island’s only harbor between Wilkes and Wake is too narrow and shallow for sea-going vessels to enter. The Base Operations Support (BOS) contractor maintains three small landing barges for transferring material from ships moored offshore to the dockyard in the harbor. Off-load hydrants are also used to pump gasoline and JP-5 fuels to the storage tanks on Wilkes. The landing barges and recreational offshore sportfishing boats are docked in themarina.[66]

Territorial claim by the Marshall Islands[edit]

The territorial claim by the Republic of the Marshall Islands on Wake Atoll[67] leaves some ambiguity regarding the actual or hypothetical role of the U.S. military, responsible under agreement for the defense of Marshallese territory in the event of any strategic crisis or hostilities involving Wake. A small separatist group, known as the Kingdom of EnenKio, also claims the island. However, the atoll was formally annexed by the United States at the end of the 19th century and is administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior’sOffice of Insular Affairs.

Popular culture references[edit]

  • It has been made into a ‘Workshop’ map in the game Company of Heroes 2, this is playable online and in skirmish mode.
  • In the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction, Bruce Willis‘s grandfather was one of Wake Island’s defenders in 1941, managing to smuggle his wristwatch out to his son before the island fell to the Japanese. The story is recounted to Willis’s character, Butch Coolidge, by Captain Koons, played by Christopher Walken.

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