Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Wake Island Helmet - Part Four "The Forgotten Ninety Eight"

The Forgotten Ninety-Eight

Glen Binge with his sons soon after his release from Japanese POW camps in 1945. 
He, nor any of the other survivors, knew the fate of their comrades who were left on Wake Island.
Courtesy of the Glen Binge family.


The day-to-day record of POW life at Wake ended when Russell clambered aboard the Tachibana Maru.  The routine of the remaining 98 did not change, however.  Only increasing U.S. bombing raids and the loss of one of the ninety-eight interrupted the monotony.  An American was caught stealing food in July 1943.  After a brief investigation, a Japanese lieutenant wielded the sword that removed the head of the unknown American.  Captain Shigimatsu Sakaibara, the new island commander who had been whisked ashore by an Imperial Navy bomber from Kwajalein in December 1942, presided over the murder.
Captain Shigimatsu Sakaibara, later promoted to Admiral.  The fate of the 98 Americans rested in his hands.
National Archives and Records Administration
The U.S. Navy also was tightening a noose around the atoll. Extensive submarine patrols harassed all shipping coming in and out of Wake.  This increased attention aggravated the island commander.  Sakaibara and his subordinates were certain that an invasion was imminent. In reality, the United States had no intention of forcing a landing on Wake.  As with most Japanese-held islands that did not have a tactical or strategic role for further campaigns, they were merely isolated from their source of supplies and left to wither on the vine.  Bombings were designed only to deprive the enemy of the use of their airfield, seaplane base, and port facilities.

POW Rock.  In May 1943 some anonymous American chiseled this inscription in a large coral boulder on the lagoon shore of Wilkes Island.
This rock has become a lasting memorial to the 98 POWs.  Photo by Author.

A U.S. carrier task force, which included the USS Yorktown (CV-10), arrived offshore on 5 October 1943.  During the following two days the task force dropped 340 tons of bombs on the atoll, and the accompanying cruisers and destroyers hurled 3,198 eight-inch and five-inch projectiles.  The raid did extensive damage to the infrastructure on the atoll, and 31 Japanese planes were destroyed on the ground.  This was the largest U.S. raid on the atoll up to that time. Sakaibara was certain that the armada assembled offshore included a landing force.  He decided that the troublesome prisoners must be killed to eliminate the threat they might pose during the coming invasion.

An American aircraft over Wake Island during the massive raid in October 1943.
National Archives photograph

 A heavy cruiser’s 8-inch guns bombard Wake, as seen from USS Minneapolis (CA-36), 5 October 1943. The two following ships are (in no particular order): USS San Francisco (CA-38) and USS New Orleans (CA-32). National Archives photograph

The Headquarters Company commander, Lieutenant Commander Tachibana, was ordered by Captain Sakaibara to move the prisoners from their compound to an antitank ditch on the northern tip of Wake Island.  There, in the waning afternoon light of 7 October 1943, Lieutenant Torashi Ito, of the Headquarters Company, had the Americans lined up and seated along the ditch facing the sea.  They were blindfolded with their hands and feet bound.  Three platoons of Tachibana's company assembled behind them and opened fire with rifle and machine gun fire. 

The lonely stretch of beach on the north shore of Wake Island where the 98 Americans met their fate.  Photo by Author

A Korean laborer who witnessed the massacre testified later, "All prisoners, both dead and wounded were bayoneted."  The names of nineteen of the dead men appear on Binge’s helmet.

The Americans then were unceremoniously dumped into the ditch and covered with coral sand.  The indignity suffered by the prisoners was not complete, however.  The following day, a report from an enlisted man that he saw one of the prisoners escape during the confusion of the massacre prompted the disinterment of the bodies.  The corpses were dug up and counted, then hastily reburied.  The sailor had been correct; one American was missing.  The Korean laborer also saw the man flee and recognized him as "Mr. John" his favorite among the Americans.  That man, whose full name has never been discovered, was re-captured a week later.  Captain Sakaibara personally beheaded the lone escapee.  There were two men named John who were among those murdered by the Japanese.  One was John Martin of Pomeroy, Washington who autographed Glen Binge's helmet many months before.  Could he be “Mr. John?”

Next Time, Part Five -

You can see a complete listing of all the names of Glen Binge's Sun Helmet at this link:


  1. Hello. Sorry if you have received this twice.But just to say thanksyou so much for putting this story on your blog.Looking forward to part five. So well presented

    1. Thank you Rita. I'm happy that you are enjoying my blog. Please visit often.

  2. Thank you for the e-mail notifications. I cannot join as a member because I am not a member of the required groups. Your site is one of my favorites. Leh

    1. Leh, yes the registration process, if you don't have a account, is cumbersome. But I appreciate you signing up for the email notifications. I'm glad they work as they should. Thanks for visiting!

  3. I am relieved to have found your website. My father-in-law, Archie Hayes Pratt, was one of the forgotten 98. He was a civilian working for Morrison-Knudsen Construction, i think. The family never knew for certain how they met their end. He is mentioned in the memorial at the Punchbowl in Hawaii. His grandson later became a film maker and produced a short documentary of Wake Island taking his father, Archie's son, with him and John Wigglesworth who escaped the island by trading his lot with a friend who thought he had a better chance of surviving on the island than on a death march. John survived the march.