At the completion of the COMPACAF tour of Wake Island, we paid our respects at the U.S. Marine Corps memorial and posed for a group shot. Several of us took a few more minutes to pause at the three other memorials that commemorate the war dead: the American contractors, Guamanian Pan Am employees, and the Japanese, whose capture of Wake was costly indeed.
After a couple of wonderful days exploring Wake in the company of Karlene Leeper, Cultural Resources Manager and archeologist for the 611th ASG, and my friend Barbara Bowen, QC Safety Manager for the base operations contractor on Wake, it was time to step into high gear when the general’s C-17 arrived. Having rehearsed and fine-tuned the facilities and historical tour for the following day, it was a pleasure to join in the afternoon’s recreational activities. I chose the diving trip (grateful to Wake’s Maureen Raleigh for agreeing to be my dive buddy) and was delighted by the excellent company of divers and the awesome experience. I’ll never forget the moment when we approached the edge of the reef at about eighty feet and I peered over into the deep blue.
The Wake Island Tour took most of the last day as we visited key departments and facilities including power and water treatment plants, industrial shops, base operations, and historical sites. USAF Major Tammy Dotson, commander of Wake, led the tour with a capable hand. The professionalism and hospitality shown by the contractor employees and staff at every stop was impressive. Throughout the tour I was also heartened by the keen interest in Wake’s wartime history and was honored to share it with the guests.
The conclusion of the tour at Memorial Row marked the end of my visit as we were returning to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on the general’s plane: bags were loaded and engines warming up. The sudden goodbye to Wake Island and my friends brought tears to my eyes, but they dried quickly when General North invited me to sit in the cockpit of the C-17 on departure. My eyes locked onto the impossibly blue lagoon as we taxied down the end of the two-mile runway and turned for takeoff. A pause, a long breath, and just like that, Wake was gone.