One of the Most Vicious Episodes of the War Was the Horrific Slaughter of 97 American Prisoners at Wake Island

Yana Bostongirl

During the early days of the Second World War, Japan was on a rampage in the Pacific seizing islands and atolls including Wake Island. Lying around 2000 miles west of Hawaii, Wake Island was considered strategically important to American defenses in the Pacific Theatre.

The 388 US Marines and 1,200 civilians on the island who had been tasked with building an airfield, a seaplane base, and a submarine base, put up a terrific fight that lasted 14 days before surrendering to the Japanese as this excerpt explains: "On December 23, 1941, Major James P.S. Devereux of the 1st. Defence Battalion, US Marine Corps, and Commander Winfield Cunningham of the Naval Air Station, realizing that the odds were hopelessly stacked against them, called for a cease fire, raised the white flag and surrendered the island. The loss of Wake Island left the US with no base between Hawaii and the Philippines."

Per reports, the captured Americans were then marched onto the runway to be machine-gunned, however, the last-minute intervention of Rear Admiral Sadamichi Kajioka, commander of the Japanese invasion force, put a stop to it: "After Kajioka arrived, an interpreter read a proclamation to the prisoners that said, in part: "The Emperor has gracefully presented you with your lives."

It is said that an unidentified American POW made the following response to the proclamation: "Well, thank the son-of-a-bitch."

In January 1942, the majority of US Marines on Wake Island were put aboard a Japanese liner bound for camps in China leaving behind only wounded Marines and some civilians. Following the accusation that the American POWs were secretly in communication with US Naval forces, all 97 civilians were brutally slaughtered by the Japanese on October 7, 1943, as this excerpt elaborates: "They were blindfolded with their hands and feet bound. Three platoons of Tachibana's company mowed them down with machine gun and rifle fire. The Americans then were dumped unceremoniously into the ditch and covered with coral sand "

According to reports, one prisoner managed to escape but later returned to carve the message "98 US PW 5-10-43" on a large coral rock near the site of the massacre. The unknown prisoner was captured by the Japanese and beheaded.

After the war, the Japanese commander of Wake Island, Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death by a US Naval court. He was executed by hanging in 1947.

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