Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XI
"TIME GOES AWFUL FAST OUT HERE"

Marine Life on Wake, October-December 1941

"Before We Opened Our Seabags They'd . . . Told Us to Go to Work"

The Castor reached Wake Island with 203 Marine reinforcements just as the Nineteenth Bombardment Group was passing through in staggered increments to join MacArthur's Far East Air Force. Major Potter's Leathernecks spent their first few days on Wake feeling more exploited than appreciated. Barking sergeants welcomed the newcomers with orders to board trucks and ride down to the airfield. "It seemed like before we opened our seabags they'd . . . told us to go to work," groused Cpl. Guy Kelnhofer.1

With twenty-six Flying Fortresses transiting through in a week, Major Devereux needed every available man to expedite refueling, even the enlisted members of his own headquarters staff. Cpl. Robert Brown, the major's clerk, remembered staying up as late as 11:00 P.M. or midnight some nights to give each thirsty bomber a timely fill-up. Sometimes a new flight would arrive before an earlier one could get away, forcing the weary Marines to toil around the clock. "That was hard work," added Pvt. Earl Broyles. "A matter of fact, you did more work there than any three men would do anywhere else in the United States."2

The departure of the last B-17 from the Nineteenth Bombardment Group promised the Wake garrison only a temporary respite. The War Department intended to send thirty-three heavy bombers to the Philippines in December, fifty-one in January, and forty-six in February. At least ninety-three of these planes were to be Flying Fortresses. The next thirteen B-17s selected

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