Forty-seven years after a heroic, 16-day defense of this coral atoll, the civilians who fought and died to stave off a Japanese invasion were memorialized.
Among those who honored those civilians were Dee Packard, Bountiful, Utah, and his four brothers, who made a journey to Wake Island to honor their father, Forrest L. Packard. The elder Packard spent four years in Japanese prison camps in China and outside Tokyo after the Wake Island siege. He died about 10 years ago."Remember Wake Island" became a rallying cry for a nation wounded by Pearl Harbor in 1941.
After nearly four years in Japanese prison camps, the military survivors came home to ticker tape parades. Almost as soon as the war ended, a memorial to the 449 Marine defenders was erected on Wake.
But it took 47 years for the government to memorialize the civilians who fought and died with the military and desperately staved off a Japanese invasion that began hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 2,200 miles to the east.
On Thursday, 42 civilian and 14 military defenders and more than 100 others gathered here for the dedication of a monument to the civilians. The rectangular monument of dark marble consists of engravings of heavy equipment and a plaque that tells the story of the civilians.
Packard said the group of about 200 stopped in Honolulu for a couple of days to lay a wreath at USS Arizona memorial. They also visited the gravesite of the 98 men who the Japanese left on Wake Island as laborers, and then executed about a year later. The men were originally buried on Wake Island.
The Wake Island ceremony included brief talks and prayers and a dedication of the monument by Packard's brother, Rep. Ron Packard, R-Calif. The group also held a brief ceremony in front of the monument erected to the Marine defenders.
Dee Packard said a few members of the group visited a third monument on the island, erected by the Japanese after the war.
Ron Packard, who for the last three years helped the survivors wage their struggle for recognition, said, "What they wanted seemed pretty simple, but I must say the government threw up roadblock after roadblock."
Seventy civilians died during the siege, more than 30 perished in prison camps and 98 civilians kept on the island as slave laborers were machine-gunned to death in retaliation for an American air strike.
The onslaught began Dec. 8, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor occurred only hours before the assault on Wake, but Wake is west of the international date line, and it was a day later there.
The siege ended 16 days later with the surrender of 523 military personnel - 449 Marines, 68 sailors and six Army Air Corps members - and 1,150 civilian workers on the three small islets known as Wake Island.
More than 1,000 Japanese died during the battle and 2,000 more later perished of starvation or sickness. In 1957, Japan Air Lines helped pay for a simple monument, a few hundred feet away from the Marine memorial, asking that "peace prevail on the waters of the Pacific forever."
Throughout the years, the civilians were ignored.
"When we started asking for veterans' benefits, the government wanted to know exactly what we did," said Walt Moser, 71, who lives in Fremont, Calif. "Sure the military guys did the main fighting, but we passed the ammunition and patrolled the beaches and moved the anti-aircraft guns at night.
"We sandbagged and dug revetments and buried the dead. We really did help. We weren't all just hiding out there under the brush."
In 1981, 40 years after the siege, the civilians were deemed eligible for veterans' benefits.
In 1985, a group of civilian survivors returned to the island to confront their memories, compare experiences and renew old friendships. They were joined by about 40 soldiers who had also surrendered here.
"We had 98 men out here who were butchered, and nobody cared," said Bill Taylor, a 71-year-old retired contractor from Provo, Utah. "There was nothing out here, nothing at all. It was really an injustice."
The civilians asked for help from the Air Force, which maintains the island mainly as a refueling stop. The Air Force gave them some concrete, and the men poured a one-foot-square slab, stuck on a few pieces of coral and inscribed "Civilian Workers of Wake, 12-23-41." They left before the makeshift memorial was dry.
"It just really bothered me, and it kept bothering me," Taylor said. "I wanted to do something. But I knew we were just a bunch of old guys with no clout, not that much money and not a whole lot of organization."
Taylor then found Ron Packard, whose father was a civilian helping to build air strips and military facilities on Wake when he was captured.
"I remember what it was like not knowing if our father was alive or dead," said Ron Packard, 57. "Wake Island was a significant part of our own family history, and I wanted to help these survivors if I could."
Ron Packard helped get the memorial approved and persuaded the Air Force to help install and maintain it. The survivors paid the $4,700 cost with help from Idaho-based Morrison Knudson Construction Co., one of the main companies in the consortium of firms that contracted for the construction work.