"AN EPIC THAT SHOULD GIVE EVERY AMERICAN HOPE"
23 December 1941.
To most people, the date means nothing special. But to several hundred aging Americans whose ranks thin with each passing year, it marked the start of forty-four months of hell on earth. That day, 23 December 1941, they became prisoners of war. It was the day the Japanese captured Wake Island.
Ralph J. Holewinski belonged to the unfortunate Wake garrison. Twenty years old and a corporal in the U.S. Marines, he helped deny the atoll to the Imperial Japanese Navy for sixteen days. For the rest of his life, he will remember the final desperate hours of the siege--the danger, physical pain, and heartbreak--as though they had happened yesterday. The Japanese came before dawn. Forgoing the warning fanfare of a preliminary bombardment, the invaders trusted in darkness to shield them until they reached dry land. Shortly after 2:45 A.M., two converted destroyers containing five hundred to six hundred Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) troops beached themselves several hundred yards west of Holewinski's battle station.
As soon as he realized the approaching shadows were ships, a Marine lieutenant led Holewinski and two civilian volunteers to a damaged threeinch antiaircraft gun, which, providentially, had been placed near the enemy's future landing zone three days before. A third civilian joined the four Americans at the gun emplacement.