Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XVI
"THIS IS THE REAL THING"

The First Alarm, 8 December 1941

"Island of Oahu Attacked by Japanese Dive Bombers"

While most of Devereux's Marines slumbered in their tents, Pfc. Henry Chapman of Battery L paced away the night of 7-8 December 1941 at a lonely sentry post on Wilkes Island. The first hint of sunlight carried the promise of a bright, pleasant day with temperatures in the low eighties. The atoll had never looked more tranquil than it did on this Monday morning. But the sight did not cheer Chapman. Pulling guard duty had not only barred him from the garrison's Sunday holiday, but it would also condemn him to a full day of work before he could flop onto his bunk in Camp 1. At San Diego and Pearl Harbor, a man got a day off after standing watch all night. But Major Devereux cut no slack for the Wake Island Detachment.

Chapman had a right to envy the 258 officers and men in the First Defense Battalion's reserve at Pearl Harbor. For those lucky Leathernecks on the other side of the International Date Line, it was early Sunday morning, 7 December. Many of Chapman's comrades would be staggering into the Marine Barracks at this very moment, exhausted from an evening's liberty in the bars and brothels of Honolulu. After they slept off their hangovers, the Marines at Pearl could expect to enjoy a lazy Sunday under holiday routine.

Whenever the corporal of the guard on Wilkes went off to check his two other sentinels, Chapman released his frustration by throwing rocks at unoffending booby birds. He also took care to keep the corporal from getting a good look at his left side. When Chapman had buckled on his

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