Final Wake Reunion 2017

The final reunion of the Wake Survivors’ group was held on September 8-9, 2017, in Boise, Idaho, more than seven decades after the just-liberated survivors first met in Boise in December 1945. When the “Survivors of Wake, Guam, and Cavite” officially disbanded in 2003, Alice Ingham volunteered to keep the group connected. For thirteen years she wrote newsletters, held local coffees and luncheons, managed the growing memorabilia collection, and organized the annual fall reunions in Boise. Alice is surely the heart of the Wake Family.

While the first circle has always been the survivors, wives, and widows, Alice openly embraced the next generations, including the families of the men who never came home as well as those who survived. Alice welcomed all with grace, good will, and unfailing kindness. But all good things must come to an end, and this year was the right time to close this chapter of the Wake Island saga.

Reunion registration swelled to nearly 170 by last week. People from all across the nation came to Boise for the reunion weekend: from New York to Florida, from Texas to Illinois, all of the Western states and Alaska and Hawaii. Our most honored attendees were two living survivors (of nine known), Leroy Myers and Patrick Aki. Their family members and families of thirty-one deceased survivors and ten men who died as POWs joined in the reunion. Many more who could not attend were there in spirit.

In addition, we welcomed several individuals with special connections to the Wake Family. Rear Admiral Charles W. “Chip” Rock, Commandant of Naval District Washington, and Philip D. Eakins from Naval Station Mayport, in Jacksonville, Florida joined us. Both were previously at Sasebo, Japan, where they hosted Leroy Myers and Barry Kelso on their visit to the site of POW “Camp 18” at Soto Dam a few years ago. As a POW, Leroy survived that harsh camp and Barry’s uncle, Orval Kelso, was among the 53 Wake prisoners who died there. Mr. Eakins worked for twenty years to compile an accurate list of Camp 18’s victims and establish a permanent memorial to them there in 2010. The presence of Admiral Rock and Mr. Eakins at the reunion was especially poignant given that Patrick Aki, the only other living survivor of Camp 18, was also with us, as were five families whose men died there. On Saturday morning, Rock and Eakins joined many of us to visit Boise’s Veterans’ Memorial Park where we paid our respects at the Wake memorial. The stone monument, dedicated in 2011, was built by Eagle Scout Noah Barnes in honor of his grandfather, Loren Hance, who also died at Camp 18. The Wake Island flag flies nearby.

Throughout the weekend people gathered in the Hospitality Room to visit, share stories, and look through – and add to – the large collection of memorabilia. Whether young or old, long-timer or first-timer, everybody bonded quickly in the Wake “family room.” Handshakes and hugs, stories, names, questions, and details flew back and forth. People took photos and notes, sharing contact information with each other and promising to keep in touch.

Saturday evening opened with a reception for Admiral Rock and concluded with a long and lovely banquet. As she had for many years, Alice led the program, welcoming the two living survivors, and announcing with breaking voice two more Wake men who had passed away this year. Alice’s daughters spoke of the enduring role of women in the Wake group, beginning with the wives and mothers who first banded together during the war as the “Women of Wake.” The five widows present – Alice, June Faubion, Pat McGee, Barbara Taylor, and Pearl Young – were given corsages. Dan Goicoechea introduced the distinguished guests and gave an update on the Congressional Gold Medal legislation currently pending in the U. S. Senate. Boise filmmaker Seth Randal gave us a first look at the trailer for his upcoming Wake Island documentary and announced its formal title: “Workers of Wake.”

After dinner, Admiral Rock and Mr. Eakins each spoke eloquently about the Wake Island story and its enduring impact. The microphone passed on to the survivors, Pat Aki and Leroy, whose observations and perspectives reflected their unique personalities and sharp minds, and then to others who wished to say a few words. Next, Ric Ingham presided over the formal transfer of the memorabilia collection to the state Historical Society as the two survivors and Alice and June Faubion signed over the deed, which was accepted by ISHS representative Layce Johnson. After photographs, we presented Alice with an engraved crystal vase from the Wake Family with our deep gratitude. Drawings were held for the beautiful quilts that Karen Miner had crafted for the occasion and other special gifts.

Laughter, tears, and applause flowed freely through the evening, but the final event was so moving that there were few dry eyes in the house. Granted special leave for the occasion, Alice’s grandson LTJG Anthony Buzzini, U. S. Coast Guard, took the podium to talk about his late grandfather, Ralph “Pete” Ingham, who had been badly wounded in the attack on Wake Island in 1941. Unbeknownst to Alice, her family had applied for a Purple Heart for Pete, and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo saw it through. Now Admiral Rock stepped forward to read the citation on behalf of the United States Navy and Alice’s grandson presented the Purple Heart to her. Initially stunned, Alice quickly brimmed with emotion and beamed with pride, as did the extended Ingham family and Alice’s great big Wake Family, too.

We committed a year ago to bring this chapter of the Wake story to a close and justified it with the old adage that all good things must come to an end. The survivors’ group was good for the men who participated in it over the decades, helping them cope with difficult war memories and giving them strength in numbers to fight for compensation, military recognition, and benefits. After careful consideration the survivors voted in 2003 to bring that good thing to an end. It’s possible that the men didn’t fully realize how deeply their Wake and war experiences affected their wives and children, or the gaping hole that was left in children whose fathers had died in the war. We families are also survivors of Wake Island, forever imprinted by whatever chance, choice, fate, and luck came to our fathers and how they dealt with it or it dealt with them. We are grateful to Alice Ingham for keeping the door open for the last thirteen years, both for the remaining survivors and widows and for the rest of us who are building a strong foundation for the next good thing.

3 Comments

  1. I so very much wanted to attend but my daughter got married on Sept 9 as well! thank you for the wonderful write up of the final reunion. I do look forward to seeing the artifacts on display on future visits to Boise as well as seeing the documentary film when it is complete. May all these brave men and women never be forgotten. Cory Betts

  2. This comment came via email: “As the Grandson of Allan Asbury O’Guinn, civilian contractor Wake Island (born: 1898, died: 1974) who survived to mentor me as a child, I can attest to the impact the attack on Wake and subsequent interment had on generations. My heart felt thanks to Bonnie Gilbert for her personal communication with me over the years.”
    Brent Scott (Schaefer/O’Guinn)

  3. Thank you, Bonnie, for this wonderful write-up! I was so disappointed not to be able to attend the final reunion, but reading this write-up helped me feel like I was there. I owe a great deal to the survivors of Wake and their wives. We all do. I’m so glad Alice was recognized for the incredible work she has done over the years. It sounds like a perfect ending for a group that was a life force for these amazing and inspiring men and women. Thank you for all the work you have done to tell this story and to keep us all connected.

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