Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

By Gregory J. W. Urwin | Go to book overview

VI
"PIONEER PARTY"

The Contractors Arrive, January 1941

"Project Number 14, Naval Air Station, Wake Island"

From December 1937 until November 1945, Ben Moreell presided as chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, advancing from rear admiral to vice admiral and stamping his mark on the U.S. Navy's fast-growing shore establishment. In 1940 and 1941, he oversaw the Navy's eleventh-hour push to line the Pacific with bases aimed toward Japan--an overlooked but vital contribution. Following Japan's surrender, Moreell called the race to fulfill the prescriptions of the Hepburn Board "the greatest single construction contract in the history of the world in point of money value, diversity of character, and dispersion over vast distances," not to mention "its effect on the security of this nation."1

Readying America's Pacific possessions for war was too vast a task for a single company. The Navy therefore formed eight of the country's leading construction firms into a combine known as Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases. This joint venture permitted the participating companies to minimize risks by sharing costs and other obligations. The eight CPNAB partners divided the mammoth base program among themselves. Primary responsibility for the Wake Island project went to a rising giant, Morrison- Knudsen Company.2

When Harry Morrison and Morris Knudsen started their construction business in 1912, their combined capital assets amounted to only $600 in cash and a few horses and tools. But Morrison-Knudsen grew into one of America's top heavy construction firms by the end of the 1930s. The

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