Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

III
"WAKE ISLAND IS STIRRED TO LIFE"

The Atoll's Early History, 1568-1937

"Finding That It Was Useless"

Curses from parched throats heralded Wake Island's entry into history four centuries ago. The circumstances surrounding its discovery foreshadowed the atoll's subsequent history. Even in peace, Wake has witnessed a parade of human misery.

When Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira sailed from Callao, Peru, on 19 November 1567, he prayed that his course would lead to glory. The nephew of Peru's Spanish governor, Mendaña commanded two caravels and a company composed of 4 officers, 4 pilots, 4 Franciscan friars, and 150 soldiers, sailors, and black slaves. Mendaña's mission was to find and colonize the "Island of Solomon," the supposed hiding place of the fabulous treasure accumulated by Israel's richest king. Tales spun by Inca Indians persuaded their Spanish overlords that a new El Dorado lay no more than twenty-two hundred miles away in the South Pacific.1

Mendaña may have anticipated a relatively short voyage, but eighty-five days passed before he made his first landing. On 7 February 1568, the caravels finally anchored off a large island in a chain the hopeful fortune-hunters christened the Solomons. The Spaniards spent six fruitless months exploring the Solomons, including a jungle-covered spot whose name would one day join the battle honors of the U.S. Marines--Guadalcanal.

Not only did Mendaña's followers find no gold, but they provoked a war by trying to steal food from the dark-skinned natives, who had little to share. Ten Spaniards perished in clashes with the islanders. On 7 August,

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