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Wake Island

Wake Island is a 6.5 sq kilometer atoll (having a coastline of 19.3 kilometer) in the North Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to the Northern Mariana Islands. Wake is an atoll of three coral islands formed from an underwater volcano. Its central lagoon is the former crater and the island is part of the rim.


The Spanish discovered the island in 1568. The British visited it in 1796 and named it after Captain William Wake. It was annexed by the United States on January 17, 1899. In 1935, Wake became a commercial air base on the route to Asia.

In January 1941, the United States Navy constructed a military base on the atoll. On August 19, the first permanent military garrison, elements of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Wake Island and the garrison repulsed the first Japanese landing attempt (the only time in World War II that an amphibious assault was unsuccessful) and sunk the first Japanese naval ship in World War II.

The second siege on the United States Wake garrison continued without resupply and Wake fell to the Japanese Special Landing Force on December 23, 1941 (the same day that General Douglas MacArthur begins withdrawal from Manila to Bataan). Henry Talmage Elrod was awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his action on the Island. The Japanese captured the men remaining on the island (of which the majority were civilian contractors employed with Morrison-Knudsen Company}.

On February 24, 1942, USS Enterprise attacked the Japanese garrison on Wake Island. The United States forces bombed the island from 1942 until Japan's surrender in 1945. On July 8, 1943, B-24 Liberators in transit from Midway Island bombed the Japanese garrison on Wake Island. George Bush also conducted his first mission as an aviator over Wake island. Afterwards, Wake was occasionally raided, but never attacked in mass.

Carrier planes from USS Yorktown conducted an extremely successful raid in October 1943. Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, believed that a massive invasion was coming and ordered the execution of the 98 United States soldiers. On September 4, 1945, the remaining Japanese garrison surrendered to a detachement of the United States Marine Corps. In a brief ceremony, the handover of Wake was officially conducted.

Subsequently the island was used for strategic defense and operations during the Cold War. It is administered by the United States Army Missile and Strategic Defense Command.

The island has no indigenous inhabitants and the United States military personnel have left. It is claimed by the Marshall Islands and some civilian personnel ("contractor inhabitants") remain. The island remains a strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean. The island serves as an emergency landing location for transpacific flights. Some World War II facilities and wreckage remain on the islands.

Portion of this text was taken from the CIA World Factbook 2000.

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