On December 7, 1941 — “the date that will live in infamy” — Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only American military installation attacked by the Japanese. Just hours after the bombings in Hawaii, the enemy also set their sights on the 1,600 Americans located on three tiny specks of coral 2000 miles west of Honolulu, known as Wake Island.
In the 1930s, Wake was an important stopover on the long flights between Hawaii and the Far East. Pan American Airlines built a luxurious hotel there for passengers flying its new Clipper aircraft. But an empire-building Japan was determined to take the strategic island at all cost. Clearly overconfident, the enemy expected only feeble resistance from 350 Marines of the 1st Defense Battalion and the 1,200 civilian contractors stationed on the island. They were dead wrong.
For over two weeks, the Marines and contractors, under the command of Major James Devereux, out-maneuvered and outfought the enemy. You’ll hear from Jack Skaggs and Ewing Laporte as they recount battles which handed the Japanese their first tactical defeat in World War II. But victory was fleeting. The Japanese Navy under the command of Admiral Kajioka returned with an armada of over 40 ships and the small American garrison, battling incredible odds, was forced to surrender the island. In the aftermath, the Wake Island defenders suffered as POWs in the brutal hands of their captors.
Yet for a stunned nation, the heroic two-week defense of Wake Island was the only good news in those early days of the war. A grateful FDR paid tribute to their fighting spirit which inspired Hollywood’s first WWII movie “Wake Island.” In this episode, you’ll meet the legendary defenders of Wake Island — the Marines and civilians who were among the first to inspire the United States to victory in the Pacific.