First Sight of Wake

When I first caught sight of Wake Island in November 2011 I felt a powerful sense of déjà vu: I had spent so much time poring over maps and letters, seeing Wake through the eyes of my father and grandfather and all of the other men who sacrificed so much to build a base on that tiny atoll.

Approaching Wake Island from the air.

It was my privilege and honor to visit Wake Island in the fall of 2011. The 611th Air Support Group based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska currently administers Wake, and the commander invited me to join their team in support of the annual COMPACAF tour. We would have three days on Wake before the arrival of General Gary North – commander of Pacific Air Forces, Generals Paul Selva and Stephen Hoog, and other officers, staff, and guests. I was to give the historical component of the tour on Wake.

Our ride from Hickam to Wake Island was surely the luck of the draw: one of the air force’s C-37 Gulfstream executive jets. As we leveled off at 40,000 feet flying west at 525 mph, I thought of the early Pan American Clipper passengers speeding across the Pacific in the lap of luxury. A couple of hours into the flight we crossed the International Date Line and I passed around a copy of my grandfather’s Pan Am certificate commemorating the same occasion seventy years earlier.

When we felt the plane begin to descend, I peered out the window, eager to get my first glimpse of Wake through the scattered clouds. At about ten thousand feet I caught sight of a brown blur out in the distance; the plane continued its descent, circled, and there it was: Wake Island. I had seen it so many times in my mind’s eye that it was like coming home.