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2009 Dec by Jorge Sanchez
When I learnt that the Military Tours Company, based in USA, was going to open that atoll for the Veterans of War to celebrate the 68th birthday of the battle of Wake, I immediately joined!|
It was worth. Not only for the island itself, discovered by my hero: the Spanish navigator don Alvaro de Mendaña in the XVI century, but for the gathering of interesting people, apart from the Veterans of War. Some 50 great travelers, the best of the world, also traveled there, from Guam and Honolulu, and it was most interesting to converse with them.
There were several monuments and plaques along the island of Wake. Americans compare Wake Island with the Alamo.
There is only one bar in Wake Atoll, called Drifter Reef, but very nice, serving cold beers at a cheap price, with a view to the lagoon.
2009 Dec by Ted Cookson
A "MOST TRAVELED PEOPLE" VISIT TO WAKE ISLAND|
by Ted Cookson
Dan Walker quickly descended from the gleaming white Continental Airlines 737-800 in the light rain. After reaching the freshly-laid blacktop on the runway, he turned to the right, walked a short distance, and asked a friend to snap his photo in front of the beige airport terminal building. At 8:39 AM on December 11, 2009 the lanky, six-foot six-inch Walker had become one of a relatively small number of tourists in recent decades to visit Wake Island.
When he is not traveling around the world, Walker, a Canadian living in Costa Rica, heads the Casa Canada Group, an umbrella organization for various companies dealing in investment, company and asset management, and travel as well as the non-profit Association of Residents of Costa Rica.
By participating in this tour operated by Military Historical Tours of Woodbridge, Virginia, the grinning Walker had also become one of only 82 members of Most Traveled People.com (MTP), a free online travel club, to reach Wake Island. Followed by its well over 7,000 members, the club's list, available at www.mosttraveledpeople.com, currently contains 773 destinations worldwide.
What made this tour to Wake Island special was that 24 MTP members living in ten countries participated. Of the top 21 MTP members (at the time of writing there was a tie for number 20), 12 were among the 97 paying passengers on the tour; and 17 of the top 40 MTP members were also there. Some remarked that this might have been the greatest concentration of well-traveled people ever assembled.
Most MTP participants had signed up many months in advance for this seldom-offered one-day Wake Island tour, which was priced at US$1,295 including round trip air from Guam, another American possession situated 2,417 km (1,502 miles) southwest of Wake and 2,507 km (1,558 miles) southeast of Tokyo. In fact, some persistent and patient travelers had even carried over deposits they had made for a longer tour in 2006 which was to have included Wake but which had to be cancelled after powerful Typhoon Ioke devastated Wake Island's air traffic control system in late August of that year.
Lying one-third of the distance from Guam to Hawaii, Wake has been in U. S. hands since it was taken from Spain in 1898 in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. President Roosevelt awarded jurisdiction of the atoll to the U. S. Navy in 1934. Shortly thereafter, in 1935, Pan Am established a seaplane refueling station on Wake in order to enable the airline to begin operating its fabled twice-weekly trans-Pacific Clipper flights. The Clippers were amphibious Sikorsky, Boeing, and Martin aircraft that would depart Alameda or San Francisco, California for a 6-day, 60-hour trip to Manila via Hawaii, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam.
Construction of a naval base on Wake had been underway for eleven months when the Japanese invasion took place on 11 December 1941; and Japanese forces then occupied the atoll for the remainder of the war. The atoll was designated a U. S. national historic landmark in 1985. Today Wake Island is administered by the U. S. Air Force from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. Generally there are round trip flights from Honolulu to Wake twice a month. In addition, a supply barge is towed to the island as required.
Our tour of the island included visits to Invasion Beach, the Japanese-built revetments where enemy aircraft were kept, Drifter's Reef which is the current island watering hole, and the airport terminal building containing a U. S. post office, a one-room museum, and a well-stocked gift shop. Four memorials, a chapel and several old bunkers are all situated within a short walk of the terminal building.
Technical Sergeant Tom Czerwinski was one of a dozen or so support staff from the U. S. Air Force and Continental Airlines who accompanied our Military Historical Tours group from Guam. In preparation for our tour, Czerwinski had ridden one of the supply flights over to Wake round trip from Hickam Air Force Base. During the aircraft's two-hour turnaround, he had taken a quick tour of the island himself to ascertain which sites would be of most interest to a group of about 100 tourists. An Air Force medical specialist and a public affairs official also accompanied the group on the day of our visit.
Our local escort, who joined us for the tour in a yellow U. S. school bus and who hailed from Salem, Oregon, had been employed on Wake for a decade as an environmental specialist. Normally his work involved such things as performing bird counts and conserving natural artifacts. Our escort advised that certain areas around the island which are the responsibility of the U. S. Missile Defense Agency are designated as off limits. However, when questioned, he was unable to confirm whether missiles are in fact positioned on Wake at present.
The tour's finale was a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the sixty-eighth anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Wake Island. In addition to the large MTP contingent, 42 relatives and descendants of war veterans were in our group. Only two individuals who had fought against the Japanese on Wake participated in the tour. Since Military Historical Tours only operates groups to Wake at irregular intervals every few years, ours might have been the final tour to include those who had seen action on Wake.
At the conclusion of the ceremony all tour participants were wanded and our handbags were searched as we re-entered the airport terminal. After a flyover of Wake at dusk, Continental Captain Tom Campanelli smoothly pointed our aircraft toward the blazing sunset in the southwest for the three hour and seven minute flight back to Guam.
It had been a unique day.
Manager - Maadi
Egypt Panorama Tours
26 December 2009
2009 Dec by Veikko Huhtala*
Oili and me participated Wake Island tour 11 Dec 2009. We met many world travelers, for example Bill Altaffer,Bob Bonifas,Carolyn Broadwell,Ted Cookson,Bart Hackley,Kevin Hughes,Christine Cloner,Stephen Newcomer,Don Parrish, Jorge Sanchez, John Shea,C-G Siby,Lynn Stephenson,Bill Walker,Ray Woods,Robert Ippolito,etc.|
If you like tropic, Wake Island is not right place to go, but its history is something else.
We are very happy that we had possibility to go there.
2009 Dec by Bill Altaffer
Wake, the Alamo of the Pacific|
by Bill Altaffer, San Diego
Since 1988, for those not in the US military, it has been virtually impossible to visit Wake Island. Many have tried numerous times over the years. I was one of those hopeful and frequently disappointed travelers. After several failed attempts, I had almost given up. Finally, in commemoration of the 68th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, permission was granted to Valor Tours and Historic Military Tours to bring a group of 141 “country baggers” and military buffs to this most difficult destination. This group represented over a dozen nations and included many individuals both well-known and well-regarded in traveling circles, all who had been trying to get to Wake for years. Rather than mention any names, partly for fear of leaving anyone out, I won’t. Many others in the group were “war buffs,” people who travel the world to see battle sites and other militarily significant locations. For the most part, we all had some historical interest in the area.
Wake is comprised of three atolls totaling six square miles in area and located in the North Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands. Its highest elevation is 18 feet above sea level. It was discovered in the 1500s by the Spanish and renamed two hundred years later by the master of a British trading schooner, Captain Wake. During the 1930s, Pan American Clipper sea planes used it as a refueling stop. Eventually, the US Navy realized its strategic importance and began to use it as a base.
After Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 9 and 10 of 1941, Japanese air raids “softened” the island. Flying from their airfields in the Marshall Islands, thirty-six Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers destroyed much of Wake’s airfield and supply depots. On December 11, there was more naval shelling and an attempted Japanese landing that was repulsed by valiant resistance from US forces. Two Japanese destroyers were sunk and the remainder retreated to Kwajalein. On December 21, facing the reality of the situation, the last US military float planes (the PBYs) departed from the island. Two days later, the remaining military personnel and civilian contractors on Wake surrendered to invading Japanese soldiers, the first time in history that US Marines had ever surrendered. A relief task force that had been on its way from Hawaii was recalled when only 425 miles away, leaving the island in control of the Japanese.
The military personnel on Wake were eventually sent to concentration camps in China for the duration of the war. The civilian contractors on the island were detained to build fortifications and defenses for the Japanese. On October 7, 1943, the remaining civilians were brutally executed in response to a carrier strike and an expected invasion by US forces. After the US invasion succeeded, the two top Japanese officers there were hung for this and other war crimes.
Today, Wake is used by the Strategic Air Command as a base for tracking missile launches. It is home to approximately 300 military and non-military support personnel. Other than military use, its airfield has occasionally served as an emergency stop for trans-Pacific flights.
Our tour began in Hawaii where we boarded Continental’s Air Micronesia (Air Mic) flight to Guam. Ironically, we flew over Wake on this flight, crossing the International Date Line and losing one day and 4 hours. A day later, our charter flight from Guam would take us back to Wake, regaining that lost day and returning us to Honolulu time even though we would still be two thirds of the way from Hawaii to the Northern Marianas. The night before our flight to Wake, we attended a banquet at the Outrigger Hotel in Guam. Also in attendance were current admirals and generals as well as survivors of the 1941 invasion of the island. Opening remarks were made by Warren Wiedhan, USMC Colonel (Ret) and by Guam’s Governor Camacho. Rear Admiral Biesel, Brigadier General Broadmeadow and Brigadier General Ruhlman also spoke to us.
On December 12, we departed on our chartered Air Mic flight from Guam at 5:00 AM. Continental’s top management was also on board, along with a hand-picked crew. They were as excited as we all were. Several of the Wake survivors on board were accompanied by their families. Before landing, the plane circled the atoll several times, allowing passengers seated on both sides of the plane good views of this top-secret missile defense station. Upon deplaning, most of us immediately photographed the Wake Air Station sign at the entrance to the airport lounge. Inside were a small museum, a shop with the usual T-shirts, hats and other souvenirs, all free of tax, and a post office where mail is collected once a week, on Fridays. Our passports were rewarded with a large Wake Island stamp, something I have long coveted. We were then given maps and programs for our 12-hour stay. There are no accommodations for visitors on Wake, so we arrived at sunrise and left at sunset. Box lunches were supplied by the airline.
Our group was divided onto two buses which went off in opposite directions and eventually covered all the sites of the island. One bus started with Prisoner’s Rock where we saw a commemorative plaque marking the location of McArthur’s meeting with Truman in 1950. The other bus started with a visit to the Drifter’s Reef Bar & Grill, passing stores, housing and a church. A tiki statue guarded the entrance to the bar, where we were interested to find that premium beers cost only $2. Outside the bar, we saw a Japanese bunker that had been uprooted and moved by the last major hurricane to hit Wake.
After our bus tours, we had free time to walk around. Some of our group swam in the lagoon. Wake also boasts excellent fishing and scuba diving. As we were exploring, Wake Islanders frequently stopped to offer us a ride. They were extremely helpful and very interested in our tour. They treated us like important dignitaries. Of its approximately 300 inhabitants, about half a dozen are female. Most of the civilian workers are from Thailand. Signs were usually written in both English and Thai. Some of the sites we saw included the remains of the Pan American Hotel and a ramp into the ocean for seaplanes. Large jet fuel storage tanks were scattered about the island, which also boasts a nine-hole golf course. Remnants of a previous Brunswick bowling alley have become decorations in front of many people’s apartments.
Towards the end of the day, Brigadier General Broadmeadow spoke in true military form as John Dale, a 90-year-old survivor of Wake, laid a wreath at the Marine Memorial honoring the past heroes of the battles and the Japanese occupation of the island. We then boarded our flight back to Guam, full of positive memories of the experiences of our short stay. Was the trip worth $1,000 a day? You betcha! Though from start to finish, it lasted less than a week, it was the best short trip I can imagine. It was very special for all involved: Valor Tours, Historic Military Tours, the US military, the Air Mic crew, the honored veterans, and all the rest of us.
I am grateful for the perseverance of Valor Tours and Historic Military Tours in arranging this trip. It took extensive work, including many visits by HMT personnel to Hawaii and the Pentagon, to put it together and get the necessary permission. There is discussion that this tour may be repeated next year. These two organizations also conduct many other tours to historic and military locations. Contact Vicky at Valor Tours in Sausalito, California for more information.