The 4th of September is remarkable for a number of things, among them being the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE when Romulus Augustus abdicated at Ravenna; the founding of Los Angeles in 1781; and the Yugo prototype known as the Ford Edsel first hit the showrooms like a brick in 1959. But today, we talk about the end of Wake Island’s drama, and news kids.
The fighting for Wake Island was something of a sensation in the dark days of December 1941. On the morning of 8 December Japanese planes out of the Marianas (probably Saipan) bombed the island, destroying 8 of 12 defending fighters. Air raids continued until 11 December, when the first landing attempt was decisively thwarted by the outnumbered Marines and civilians on the island, which sank the first Japanese warships of the Pacific War. The garrison’s message, “Send Us More Japs” (actually message padding that was put together in Hawaii and released to the newspapers) was repeated in every headline in every newspaper across America, the only good war news in a dismal month.
But defiant Wake Island was too close to too many Japanese bases, including the Marianas. the Marshalls and the Carolines to be allowed to just hang around. A second invasion force on 23 December overran the island defences after about twelve hours of bitter and brutal fighting. The Japanese suffered something over a thousand casualties; the Americans had something around 150 military and civilian killed and wounded, and some 1500 were captured.
But there was worse yet to come. Most of the prisoners were removed to mainland Asia, but nearly a hundred American civilians were kept on the island for forced labor. Fearing imminent invasion, the Japanese built up the island’s defenses, but the Americans chose not to go back to Wake, instead imposing a submarine blockade and using it as a sort of a bombing range. From February 1942 to the end of the war Wake was irregularly raided by Navy carrier aircraft and by Army bombers. After one raid on 5 October 1943, Sakaibara Shigematsu, the island’s commander, ordered the prisoners killed. One forever-anonymous prisoner escaped the machine-gunning and wrote “98 PW 5-10-43” on a coral rock near the mass grave. The memorialist was captured and personally beheaded by Sakaibara.
The US blockade caused severe food shortages on Wake soon after it was implemented, causing the Japanese and their captives to hunt the Wake Island Rail (a small bird found only on the Wake Atoll) to extinction by 1945. On 4 September 1945, a detachment of the 4th Marines under the command of Lawson Sanderson landed on Wake and took the remaining Japanese prisoner. Sakaibara was hanged for war crimes on 18 June 1947.
Also on 4 September in 1833, Barney Flaherty was hired to carry (or hawk; the record is unclear) the New York Sun newspaper. News-kids, often boys but also girls, was for generations the first paying job teens could have. Paid circulation/home delivery of newspapers has an unclear origin, but Barney was probably not a corner hawker because they had been around for some time before 1833. In any event, the news-kid is something of a thing of the past now, though not entirely extinct. Physical paper circulation had fallen dramatically since the internet took over in the early 21st century, and these days home delivery is likely to be done by a regular adult employee. Still, in those bygone days that I can still recall…ah, you get it. If you’ve still got a paper-kid, give him/her a bigger tip this week because 4 September is National Newspaper Carrier Day; International Newspaper Carrier Day is the first Saturday in the first full week in October. I didn’t make that up.
Today, the first Monday in September, is Labor Day in the United States, the traditional End of Summer, though it’s supposed to be the day that we recognize the value of organized labor to the workforce. WIth union membership dwindling worldwide, that seems a stretch, but there was a time when those of us who have toiled for others would have worked six and a half days a week and 12 hours a day and barely be able to keep the lights on. Admittedly, it was a lot cheaper to keep those candles burning than it does to run the LEDs…no, actually it doesn’t.