Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

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

XIII
"I FEEL A BIT LIKE THE FATTED CALF"

Wake Gets a Fighter Squadron, 28 November-7 December 1941

"It Was a Business Transfer, You Might Say"

At 1:00 P.M., 28 November 1941, Commander Cunningham threaded his way across the deck of the USS Wright, passing gangs of sailors unloading ammunition crates. Boarding a lighter, he went ashore to take up his duties as the "Officer in Charge of Naval Activities" on Wake Island. Major Devereux and Lieutenant Commander Greey met their new superior at the Camp 1 dock. With a simple exchange of salutes, Cunningham relieved Devereux as island commander. Looking back on that deceptively ordinary moment, Cunningham commented: "It was a business transfer, you might say."1

Cunningham's assumption of command was so unpretentious that many Marines in the Wake Island Detachment never knew he was on the atoll until after the war. A dignified, outwardly modest man, he held no grand reviews to announce his arrival. Cunningham would not get a chance to meet most of his subordinates until they ended up together in prison camp.2

Blessed with an affable nature, Cunningham preferred to work quietly with those under his command. He granted his Navy and Marine officers "as much freedom of action and decision" as he felt "was commensurate" with their duties. According to Yeoman 3C Glenn E. Tripp, Cunningham's office secretary, the new island commander was "always ready and willing to meet with the other officers when it came to the defense of Wake." Cunningham impressed Lieutenant Kessler, one of Devereux's battery, commanders, as "a real gentleman."3

-167-

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