I stepped up to the podium and adjusted the microphone. It was Saturday, September 21st, 2013. I was at the reunion of Wake Island survivors, possibly their last.

The organizers and the small number of survivors knew who I was and why I was there, but the many family members did not. I explained that a SOFREP member whose uncle was at Wake asked that I attend in their stead, as they could not make it.

“Their uncle was on the Nitta Maru… a former passenger liner… now carrying more than 1200 prisoners (military and civilian) from Wake Island. A handful were dropped off in Japan… the rest continued their hideous voyage to Shanghai.

On January 22, 1942…” The survivors and many of the adults present knew what was coming next…

When the garrison at Wake Island first surrendered, the Japanese combat troops were reasonably well-behaved. On board the transport carrying the first load of prisoners away from Wake, the crew and escort decided that they were “War Gods” and made life in the holds pure hell. A long list of rules had been handed to the prisoners… violation of any punishable by death.

A Japanese guard officer, generally listed as Captain Saito, had decided to avenge the many Japanese deaths in the battle, most especially in one Japanese bomber squadron. A friend from that unit asked him to kill the Marine aviators. High command in Japan wanted them, so Saito went for aviation ground crew.

TSgt Earl R. Hannum USMC VMF 211
SSgt Vincent W. Bailey USMC VMF 211
S1C John W. Lambert USN
S2C Roy J. Gonzalez USN
S2C Theodore Franklin USN

The Navy personnel had been flown into Wake Island to service PBYs that never arrived.