Review

Given Up for Dead: America's Heroic Stand at Wake Island

by Bill Sloan



The "desert island" fantasy is a common enough parlor game in
America --- imagining who you would want to be stranded with, what
books or movies you would bring, and figuring out how you might
survive if you were lost and alone on a coral beach out in the
endless blue waters of the Pacific. What most of us would consider
a fantasy was a stark reality for a few hundred Americans --- some
Navy, some Marines, and some civilian contractors --- who were
trapped on Wake Island in the days after the Japanese sneak attack
on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Wake Island was meant to be an advance base against possible
Japanese aggression in the Pacific, but the attack on Pearl Harbor
left the small Wake Island garrison isolated behind enemy lines.
The island, a way station for Pan American's fleet of Pacific
clippers, had a minimal number of defenders, a small squadron of
aircraft, and not much else. The supply line back to Hawaii was
cut; there could be no hope of food, fresh water, ammunition or
reinforcements until the Navy, battered by the surprise attack,
could put together a relief squadron out of spare parts.

No sooner had word of the attack on Pearl Harbor spread across the
three islands at Wake than the Japanese struck, first with bombers
and then with a naval task force bent on an amphibious assault of
the island. The brave defenders managed to beat back the Japanese
ships with the few remaining airplanes on the island and some
well-timed artillery strikes, but a second wave of the Emperor's
soldiers was on its way, racing against a rescue fleet dispatched
from Hawaii.

To tell more about the valiant defense of Wake Island here in this
review would spoil things, which I am constitutionally opposed to
doing. Besides, there's no need to do that here. GIVEN UP FOR DEAD
is so phenomenally well-written, so lucid in its prose, so clear in
the way that it lifts the "fog of war" that hangs over the
mysteries of combat, that you'll want to read the whole thing all
at once; you won't be able to put it down, even though you know the
ending.

Sloan's stated purpose in writing the book is to restore the heroes
of Wake Island --- there really isn't another word --- to the
American pantheon, to ensure that the defense of the island is
mentioned in the same breath with the Alamo and Thermopylae and
other gallant, doomed last stands. It is a goal that he more than
accomplishes.

It is amazing that any of the American forces were able to survive
Wake Island; that so many of them survived both the invasion and
the subsequent horrors of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp is
nothing short of miraculous. Sloan documents every day of the
siege, supplementing the official account with detailed interviews
of the few remaining survivors. His commitment to accuracy and his
teasing out the details of the conflict makes GIVEN UP FOR DEAD a
compelling, worthwhile read.

Given Up for Dead: America's Heroic Stand at Wake Island
by Bill Sloan

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2004
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553381946
  • ISBN-13: 9780553381948