A few miles away from the memorials that commemorate the war dead on Wake, the “POW Rock” stands on the lagoon shore of Wilkes, mute testimony to the ninety-eight Americans massacred in 1943. It was deeply moving to trace the chiseled marks with my own fingers, and I felt my Wake family with me in spirit.
Among the first sites I wanted to visit on Wake Island were those relating to the 98 civilian contractors who were killed there in October 1943. Over two hundred Wake contractors died during World War II, but these were the last Americans left on Wake under Japanese occupation and their fate is especially poignant.
Just off the road on Wilkes a gravel area lined with white coral rocks contains a simple raised plaque with the names of the men who were massacred. A short drop down onto the beach leads to the POW rock with its etching “98 US PW 5-10-43,” chiseled by one or more of the prisoners, perhaps during a work detail to the area. My Wake friend Barbara Bowen made sure that our first outing included a visit here.
Later I walked alone up the north beach of Wake, long assumed to be the site of the massacre, and looked for the site of the recent mission to recover remains. I am helping the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command locate relatives of the 98 for DNA samples and have become close to some of the families. Gathering shells and pieces of coral from this beach for the families back home, I looked out to sea, watched the surf break on the reef, and thought of the men whose last sight was this one.