I think I wrote my very first commemoration for Veterans Day about 25 years ago for my local newspaper. I told the story of Marine Capt. Herb Freuler and his actions during the Battle of Wake Island. He and Carl Davidson, his wingman, were in squadron VMF-211. Half of the squadron’s planes had rushed to Wake Island to give the Marines on the ground some air cover. The men of the squadron literally fought to the last aircraft.

Just three days before Christmas in December 1941, Freuler and his wingman attacked two full squadrons of Japanese Naval aircraft on their way to blast Wake. Two FULL squadrons.

Freuler and Davidson were facing 25 to 1 odds.

These were Japanese aircraft carrier pilots too, a cut well above the Japanese Army Air Force pilots who had started the attacks on Wake Island 12 days earlier and had found the handful of Wildcats from VMF-211 to be a tenacious and deadly foe.

The Japanese Imperial Navy HQ had split off two of the six aircraft carriers retiring from their December 7 attacks on Pearl Harbor to help with the attack on Wake. Think of that: 12 Marine fighter planes put up such resistance that Japan had to send two aircraft carriers with about 140 aircraft to deal with them. And deal with them they did until it was just Freuler and Davidson that could rise to give battle to them.

According to the Silver Star citation Captain Freuler later received, the two Marines repeatedly plunged into the formation of the two Japanese squadrons. They shoot down three planes and damaged several more. Freuler was wounded twice in the attack and his plane caught fire. Somehow, he still managed to get it back to Wake Island and make a belly landing. He was followed by Japanese Zeroes who circled above his plane until he was well clear of the Wildcat (perhaps in tribute to his bravery) before they rolled in and strafed it to pieces. Freuler and the men of VMF-211 scanned the skies until dark waiting for the return of Davidson. They waited in vain; Davidson was never seen again. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

He was barely 23 yrs old. His body was never recovered.

Captain Freuler’s ordeal was nowhere near over. He spent the rest of the war as a Japanese POW, trying to survive, which says something in itself about what he was made of.