The story of the Wake Island defenders in December 1941 has
inspired generations of Americans, but the island is so remote that
few ever get the chance to see the site of their courage.
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff remedied that for his staff on
his way back from the Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultation in
Sydney on June 7, 2017.
“We had to have a fuel stop for the plane, so I thought why not
at Wake,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told reporters traveling
Dunford had been to the island before when serving
as the senior aide to Gen. Carl Mundy, the commandant of the Marine
Corps from 1991 to 1995 -- the period covering the 50th anniversary
of World War II. “General Mundy used to say that the defense of Wake
and the story of Jimmy Devereux was what really inspired him to join
the Marine Corps,” the general said.
June 7, 2017 - Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his staff examine the Wake Island
Defenders Memorial. (DoD photo by Jim Garamone, DoD News)
The then-six-year-old future commandant was not the only
one inspired by the defense of Wake Island -- Americans
everywhere were electrified by the efforts of the service
Then-Marine Corps Maj. James
Devereux was the commander of the 1st Defense Battalion on
the island when Japanese forces attacked just a few hours
after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese
destroyed eight of 12 Marine Corps Grumman Wildcat fighters
on the island and raided several more times. Civilian
contractors joined with the 450 Marines to hold off any
attempt to take the island.
On Dec. 11, 1941, they
did just that, holding fire with their coastal artillery
until the Japanese approached the island. The gunners sank a
Japanese destroyer and a submarine and the four Wildcats
sank another Japanese destroyer.
The South Seas Fleet
beat a hasty retreat.
But the Japanese came back on
December 23 with many more ships, including two of the
aircraft carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor. They stayed
outside the range of Devereux’s guns and hammered their
positions as more than 1,500 Japanese marines stormed the
beaches. The Wake Island defenders had no choice but to
“I thought it would be a great place to
stop and share the history of Wake Island with the rest of
the team,” Dunford said.
Dunford and his staff donned
exercise gear and ran the four-mile course, stopping at
various World War II sites along the way. Air Force
personnel based on the island accompanied the party,
pointing out the sites of interest. “What affected all of us
was the rock with the 98 carved into it,” the general said.
The rock is a boulder of coral with “98 PW 5-10-43”
carved into it. The Japanese killed 98 prisoners of war on
the island on Oct. 10, 1943. One of the prisoners escaped,
swam the mile-and-a-half channel and carved the inscription.
He was later captured and beheaded by the Japanese admiral
commanding the captured base.
The general’s run began
at the 98 Rock and ended at the Marine Memorial near the
“For me, whenever I go back to
those World War II battlefields, you see what 400 Marines
did with some sailors, some soldiers, some contractors,” he
said. “They killed 700 enemy, they sank a submarine, they
sank a couple of ships, they held out under unbelievable
conditions. They endured being held as POWs.
commitment as we’re leaving here is we are not going to soil
the colors on our watch,” he continued. “We’re proud to
follow in your footsteps, we’re not going to let you down
and we’re going to do you proud.”
By Jim Garamone
Honoring The Fallen |
The U.S. Marines
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