After celebrating the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France, it’s fitting to remember the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At about the same time, Japanese attacked other countries and American islands of Wake and Guam. Never before had a nation attacked other nations on such a wide scale.
During these dark days of World War II, a handful of Marines, joined by a group of Chamorro Pan American Airways employees and a hundred or so volunteer civilian construction workers of Morrison Knudsen Engineering, stopped a Japanese invasion force. They also shot down a couple dozen or more Japanese aircraft and made a second invasion landing force pay a high price to take control of an advanced naval base, Wake Island, one of the most remote islands on Earth. In 15 days, Maj. James P. Devereux’s Marines gave the Japanese their first military defeat and inspired a nation by demonstrating Marine Corps pride, determination and tradition. As a result, Wake Island became a source of legend, lore and truth.
Days before the attack on Wake, VMF-211, a Marine fighter squadron of F-4F Grumman Wildcats, joined the Wake defense force. The initial raid wiped out most of the aircraft. During subsequent bombing raids, most aviation personnel had been killed or wounded. Later, with no flyable aircraft, aviation personnel became infantrymen.
After Wake Island fell to the Japanese, all military and most civilian personnel were shipped to prison camps in China and Japan. The 98 civilians left on Wake as slave labor were executed in 1944.
Maj. Devereux defended Wake, “The Pacific Alamo,” and was ordered to surrender. After the war, he retired as a brigadier general in 1948, and served as a Maryland congressman. He kept close contact with the men he led, raised thoroughbred horses and died in 1988.