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Given Up for Dead: America's Heroic Stand at Wake Island

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2003

    Forgotten Heroes Returned to Us

    By Bill Marsano. One reason World War II dramas keep filling books is that half the war has been mostly forgotten--the Pacific part. It was a full-scale war all by itself, and although the U.S. did most of the heavy fighting, these days we remember little more than Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, and maybe Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima in a pinch. The problem, as in real estate, is location, location, location. The European theater was full of famous cities and works of art and people we knew, or thought we knew. At least had heard of. The Pacific was nothing but millions of square miles of ocean, empty except for Hawaii and large numbers of small islands and smaller tribes. Two of the smallest, least habitable islands were deemed of enormous by both Japan and the U.S., and much blood and treasure were expended on their defense and conquest. The first was Wake, a coral atoll in the middle of nowhere--perfect as a stopover for the old Pan Am Clipper flying boats, but little more. When war began it was populated by about 500 US servicemen--mostly Marines--and about 1000 civilian construction workers. The buildup was too late, the garrison too small (about 60 percent understrength), the guns too old--so naturally, when the Japanese attacked, the troops fought back like lions. For a while it was the biggest morale-building story of the war. And the only one: The Japanese had stunned us a Pearl Harbor, conquered the Philippines, taken over Guam--and here was this tiny force on a tiny island giving them hell. Indeed they actually beat back the first invasion attempt, sinking some Japanese ships and seriously damaging others. Bombed repeatedly for more than two weeks, the garrison, joined by nearly half the civilians, held out bravely and fought amazingly well. The second invasion attempt was by a truly enormous force; it succeeded, but only after the defenders had punished it severely. Even today questions remain. Could Wake's defenders have held out longer, even won? Who was responsible for the surrender order, so bitterly resented by most of the Marines? What did the relief fleet sail from Pearl Harbor--and then turn back? I won't go into that here--that's Bill Sloan's job. It is good to have him bring this battle and these heroes back to us. He plods a bit in the beginning and his writing is only workmanlike, but that's OK--he doesn't get in the way of the story or the men who played their parts it it. And once the shooting starts the story achieves its own momentum. As suggested above, there's controversy to spare in the Wake Island story, and Sloan does a good job of handling it fairly, and he had also interviewed many of the dwindling band of survivors. This is a worthwhile read. In the end, Wake was of strategic importance to no one. The Japanese won it and probably wished they hadn't. US Navy ships heading elsewhere used to pound the hell out of it in passing, but we didn't bother trying to get it back. It was useless as a base of operations and almost impossible to supply--by war's end, the Japanese garrison was near starvation. Oh. The other small wretched island? That was Midway. About six months post-Wake the Japanese tried to take that, too, also without having much considered what good it might do them. In the subsequent Battle of Midway, Japan lost the war in about 10 minutes. The US would still have to win it, however, and that would about three more years.--Bill Marsano has been reading about WWII since he was too young to fight in it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    AN outstanding about the Battle of Wake Island and the Marines,

    AN outstanding about the Battle of Wake Island and the Marines, Navy and even civilians that fought there. This book will make any American howling mad, at the heroic defense and then the rash decision of Commander Cunnigham (USN) to surrender the garrison (not knowing what was happening from his bunker) while the Marines were rolling up the Japanese and had the second battle won. Cunningham was a US Navy officer inexplicably put in charge of the island a few weeks before WW2 broke out for the US. I fully concur with all the reviews  posted prior to this one.I never rate anything 5 stars, but, this book came very close to earning that mark from me.

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  • Posted June 7, 2010

    A critical reassessment of the defense of Wake Island

    American's entry into WW II was not an auspicious one - the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, followed by the equally devastating attacks in the Philippines and Guam, showed just how unprepared the country was for total, global war. The same could be said for Wake Island, three small specks of sand and coral a lot closer to Japan than the United States, defended by a relative handful of US Marines, US Navy and Army personnel and civilian construction workers.

    And yet - against almost impossible odds, and with largely outdated equipment, the Marine soldiers and aviators beat back successive Japanese air attacks and completely repelled the first invasion attempt, giving America its first good news in those dark days.

    Bill Sloan does an excellent job of reliving the desperate Battle of Wake Island through the eyes of the few remaining living survivors, placing the reader squarely in the middle of things as the Marines make do with what they have, improvise for what they don't, and proceed to give the heretofore invulnerable Imperial Japanese Army and Navy a very bloody nose before finally being forced to lay down their arms against the overwhelming odds. Perhaps even more valuable is Sloan's critical assessment of the command structure and commander's actions at Wake, both Navy and Marine, and how better communications among the units might have led to a very different outcome.

    All-in-all, a volume that should be included in the library of every serious student of WW II.

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  • Posted November 18, 2008

    Great Book

    I enjoyed reading this book and learning about the personnel that fought and died on the island. Interesting details on the Cunningham/Deveraux leadership issues.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2006

    Full of detail and well written

    A detailed account of the fall of Wake Island and the ill fate that met the few military and numerous civilian inhabitants. Through years of research and interviews, Sloan recreates the events before, during, and after the Wake invasion by following the lives of several men assigned to Wake Island including VMF211 and the Civilian contractors. A bit of history you won't get in the classroom.

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