A Hero from the Shadows of Wake Island

The USS Yorktown brings the Hellcats to Wake Island.
The USS Yorktown brings the Hellcats to Wake Island.

A well-deserved salute goes to one Marine’s survival during a war that wrapped around the world.

Guy McGee, Jr.  was 24 years old and had been working as a surveyor for Morrison-Krudsen Construction Company on Wake Island for eight months in 1941.

The Japanese attacked Wake Island at the same time they attacked Pearl Harbor.

Guy Jr. and 123 other civilians enlisted in the Marine Corps on December 8, 1941.  The Marines with whom Guy Jr, had spent many hours shooting an 03 Springfield had an arsenal of weaponry that far out numbered the Marines stationed there.  U. S. civilians wanted to enlist because their own survival was at stake.

They were still shooting during the Japanese’s second assault on Wake when the order came  to surrender. It was the most surprising moment of Guy Jr.’s life.  The men thought they were doing well. Although Wake Island was not strategic for the Japanese, they wanted to prevent the Allies from using the island as a fueling and supplying stop.

During the defense of Wake, Guy Jr. was shot seven times.  The most damaging bullet fractured his femur.  His recovery started on the island with the help of a Navy surgeon and a Japanese doctor.  He limped onto the last ship to leave the island.  The remaining 81 Americans including the surgeon died.

From Wake, Guy Jr. was taken to Ofuma Prison in Tokyo.  The Japanese thought that  Guy Jr. was his dad who had been a civil engineer on the islands and that he knew the fortification sites.  Not only was he not his father but he also had no clue about fortification locations.

The Japanese surrender on Wake Island.
The Japanese surrender on Wake Island.

He was relentlessly tortured.  All his teeth were knocked out.  After the Japanese finally realized he did not know anything, they stopped the torture and sent him to work in a shipyard at Yokohama.  A guard who moved the POWs from their camp to the shipyard every day took mercy on Guy Jr. and got him to a Japanese dentist who made him a set of wooden teeth.

From Yokohama he was sent to the Kamaishi steel mill as a slave laborer.  Ironically Guy Jr.’s brother was stationed on the USS North Carolina that bombarded this mill.  The steel mill was destroyed by U.S. air bombing, strafing, and naval gunnery.

After the bombing only 127 of the 800+ POWS walked out.  In other words, more than 85% of them died.

Guy Jr. weighed 87 pounds when he got on a hospital ship two weeks after the Allies first started dropping food and aid to the POWs. This was about  two weeks after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Those who recovered and returned home spent 33 years petitioning the Pentagon to recognize them as enlisted Marines.  Part of the problem was the Marine major who surrendered Wake Island later denied that Guy Jr. and his friends had enlisted, probably because the major never left his bunker during the assaults.

Finally, an Air Force officer took an interest in their claims and located a box filled with documents that was shipped out on the last Pan American clipper to leave Wake Island.  The list of enlistees was in that box.

In 1978 Guy McGee, Jr. received an Honorable Discharge, medals, and 100% disability rating for his wounds.  He always laughed that he was one of the few combat Marines who never went through boot camp.

In the fifties he bought a surplus 03 Springfield for moose hunting in Alaska, his home state.

Later Guy Jr. and his wife visited Kamaishi and met Japanese civilians with whom he had shared the experiences of the bombardment.

Guy McGee, Jr., a WWII survivor, died in 2003 of asbestos poisoning which he contracted as a POW repairing damaged Japanese ships.

Tip: This story came to me through Guy Jr.’s son, Brant McGee, whom I will see at Alpha Company Reunion in Myrtle Beach this April.  Brant served as my husband’s platoon medic during the Viet Nam war.  Since Brant was opposed to the Viet Nam war, he felt obliged to enlist as a medic.


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