An Unplanned Journey

Did you ever go on a trip and end up where you didn’t want to be?

Gary Rogde & LeRoy Myers

Gary Rogde & LeRoy Myers

In the fall of 1940, Morrison-Knudsen Company, out of Boise, Idaho, began hiring men to go to Wake Island to build an airstrip for Pan American Airlines. The first crew went over in Jan, 1941.   This was to be a 9 month job and they were to make $2000, a huge sum for a short time.  men were hired from California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.   My father was in his early 30’s and signed up to go leaving me at 2 1/2 years and my pregnant Mom.  There were a total of 1498 men working on Wake.

Then Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the war was on.  For weeks the civilians held off the Japanese army on Wake.  There was no one to rescue them.  An amazing story of bravery and fighting on a forsaken island.  A couple of books are The Story of Wake Island by Frank (Curly) Mace and Traveling Life’s Twisting Trails by John Burton.

Finally, the Wake Islanders could not hold them off any longer and the Japanese army came ashore.  After staying on the Island for  several   weeks, 800 were taken off on Jan 12, 1942 and sent to China.  My father was in an group of 250 who went directly to Japan in Sept, 1942.   The 98 that were left on the island were shot in 1943.

Here is the time line as given to me by Gary

Wake Island

  • January 11, 1942  350 men picked to stay on Wake
  • Jan 12 Nita Maru sailed with to Shanghai
  • Feb. 24  US. ships shelled the island.  Drew Foss’s Dad (Henry) was skipper on one of the cruisers.  (From the Foss Tug family)
  • Feb 25  Two aviators floated ashore on a raft from where they had drifted 50 miles out – Foreman & Winchester
  • March 4  The aviators left by boat for Yokahoma
  • March 10  Scotty Kay & Fred Stevens came in from hiding in the bush for 77 days
  • May 11  Babe Hofmeister beheaded as 22 men were made to watch
  • May 22  Elmer Makie & Donald Sullivan left in a boat, were caught and executed
  • June 4  Japanese Navy went by headed for Midway
  • July 15  William (Bill) Miles – Carpenter died of heart trouble
  • Sept 30  Packed to leave Wake – 265 men in a coal burning tanker Tachibana Maru.  We left 98 men on the island who were executed Oct 7, 1943
  • Oct 9  Arrived Ita Ewa Yokahoma By then by train to Kyushu – Sasebo Camp and to the cement sheds where we built a dam.  This was slave labor by United States civilian Prisoners of War.

Camp 18 in Japan was the worst prison camp of the war.

Dam built by slave labor

Dam built by slave labor

My father for 4 1/2 years of slave labor building a dam by hand carrying buckets of rocks.  The starvation was worse than the severe beatings.  Add to this the fleas, lice, worms, dysentary and other sickness and diseases.  This camp had the most deaths of any camp – 70.   My father was an ordained minister, so it became his duty to do the burying of each man.  For every man in the camp, there is a different story.

I was 7 when my father came home and I didn’t pay any attention to what he was saying.  Now I want to know.  There are 2 men still living who were with my father through the whole experience.  After talking to Gary Rogde, my father’s friend, we decided to go to the annual convention of the Workers of Wake.  Both Gary and LeRoy Myers were there and I got to tape interviews.  Now I have had my questions answered.

Gary passed away in 2011.  He was greatly loved by my family and a good friend of Dads all through the prison camp experience

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