Reviewed – Given Up for Dead – America’s Heroic Stand at Wake Island

Wake Island sits alone, an atoll in Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the nowhere, unimportant – at least it was until the US foresaw a coming war with Japan and moved (very slowly) to fortify it and establish it as a forward base.

Given Up for Dead – America’s Heroic Stand at Wake Island by Bill Sloan explains the background, and then we’re introduced to the men central to the events that occurred there – US Navy, Marine and civilian. This book’s value is how it moves seamlessly from strategic decisions and the politics in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor to the view from the enlisted man, in his shell hole, being bombarded for the first time.

As decent as my military history knowledge was, I didn’t know that is was on Wake – not Guadalcanal – that Japanese forces were repulsed for the first time by American troops. How this occurred and the battlefield decisions are well explained. The detail of eyewitness accounts and the mens’ lives post-war also make for a very good read.

The book moves on – almost too quickly I think – in the detail from most of the POWs being moved from Wake to camps in China and Japan. The fate of nearly 100 civilians left on the Island is explained factually, and with finality. This is not a book for the squeamish. The silence as you read this part of the book is deafening and the feeling one of great sadness and remorse for these men and their families. The book lets itself down by not exploring the impact on the families of those civilians, many from Idaho, who went to build a navy base and were killed after being captured; or were killed as they took up arms in the defence of the Island when it was attacked.

‘Remember Wake’ was a catch-cry, we’re told, at the start of the American involvement in World War II, and yet, by war’s end, it was, it seems, largely forgotten. As Kokoda has loomed large in the Australian conscious over the dreadful events of Sandakan, so too did Wake get overtaken by Pearl Harbor’s memory. How soon we forget.

This is a very good military history book, although it flies through the years between the men being moved to POW camps off the island, and their release. For those interested in military history, and especially small unit defensive tactics, it’s worth a read.

Well recommended.

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