Hiding on Wake
Among the memoirs penned by Wake survivors is one written by Logan “Scotty” Kay in 1971 titled “By the Dawn’s Early Light.” Kay and another civilian evaded capture on Wake Island for nearly three months, and it is interesting to compare the memoir with his actual diary, transcribed in WWII journalist George Weller’s book, First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and its Prisoners of War, edited by Anthony Weller (Random House, 2006). With many differences in detail, I chose the diary to summarize the experience.
Scotty Kay, a 50-year-old carpenter from California, and Fred Stevens, a 46-year-old sheet metal worker from Iowa, joined forces early in the December 1941 siege of Wake Island when Scotty came to Fred’s aid, inviting the ailing man to take cover with him on Peale Island. The pair made it through the sixteen-day siege but as they watched the events of the final battle and Japanese victory from a distance, they made the decision to hide out, convinced that the U. S. would quickly counterattack to reclaim Wake Island. The immediate challenge was to evade capture on December 23 as Japanese soldiers herded hundreds of stripped Americans down the road to a collection point – or the “brick wall” of a firing squad as Scotty speculated.
Kay and Stevens had many close calls with Japanese patrols in the first two days as they hid in the brush, waiting for night to make their moves into the “jungle” when clouds passed over the moon. There they sought the foxholes and dugouts abandoned by the thousand-plus Americans who were now prisoners – or dead for all they knew. The dugouts held mattresses, cached canned food and water, and personal items, but Japanese patrols were also scouring the landscape to loot for valuables. The two honed their skills to stay one step ahead or one behind their would-be captors who came within feet of them on several occasions. Their base of operations comprised four camouflaged dugouts (nicknamed for posh hotels) near the lagoon on Wake. Despite blocking access with dead trees and brush, a Japanese patrol found one site in late January, making off with most of their stashed food and a bag of treasures, including cashiers’ checks and coins. “We are snug as two rabbits with four thousand hounds after us,” Scotty wrote.
Subsisting on cold canned food such as beans, sardines, chipped beef, and fruit, the men lost weight and weakened as the weeks went by. They made bird nets but could not risk a fire to cook anything. Most vital to their survival was water: they rationed jars of water found in dugouts and hung roofing tarpaper to catch whatever rain fell, measuring the extension of time they could hold out by the amount of water they had collected. Bouts of dysentery, muscular atrophy, and the constant torment of flies compounded their struggle. Yet each day Scotty wrote in his diary, stowing it with tools and packages at the end of a month in a hollowed-out tree and beginning a new one.
When the long-awaited American bombing raid came on February 24, Kay and Stevens were ecstatic, expecting liberation and the end of their ordeal. But Uncle Sam “left his calling card and departed as though the war was over,” and their hopes evaporated. By now the Japanese were encroaching on their refuge as the sounds of blasting, bulldozers, and construction work came closer. To their great amazement they detected English-speaking voices among the workers and spied a few of their fellows at work on a new building nearby. The sight of these Americans, appearing well-fed and showing no signs of distress under their captors, opened for the first time the possibility of their surrender.
Scotty’s diary ends abruptly on March 10, as he reflected that morning on his wife at home and the signs of spring around him. That afternoon, foraging in the brush, the men ran into carpenter Ted Hensel, who could not believe his eyes: Kay and Stevens had been “dead and buried,” yet here they stood, two heavily bearded, emaciated scarecrows. The two agreed to give themselves up, approached the garrison, and surrendered to Japanese naval officers. One argued that they must be spies, landed during the recent air raid, and they were thrown into jail to await execution. After five days the Japanese commander released them into the general population and shortly after the reprieve Scotty managed to sneak out of camp and retrieve his diaries. Six months later the Japanese shipped them and 265 POWs to the infamous Camp 18, Sasebo, where fifty-three of their fellows died in appalling conditions.
Fred Stevens survived the war and returned home to Iowa where he passed away in 1965. Decades after the war Scotty Kay wrote his memoir, which rearranged some of the furniture of the past but retained its emotional imprint. Kay passed away in 1975 in Oregon.