74 years ago today: A silent testimony

In command of occupied Wake Island after the American surrender of that U.S. Territory in the opening weeks of WWII, Rear Adm. Sakaibara Shigematsu was cut off from resupply by U.S. submarines, and subjected to periodic bombings. After one particularly gnarly raid on 5 October 1943 by Task Force 14 (TF 14), he ordered the execution of the 98 remaining U.S. civilian prisoners to avoid a possible escape attempt.

One escaped, carved “98 US PW 5-10-43” on a coral rock as declaration to the war crime, but was soon recaptured, and beheaded by Shigematsu personally.


Shigematsu was subsequently tried and convicted of war crimes in 1945, and was hung, on Guam, in June 1947.

The identity of the escaped civilian worker who carved the rock was never ascertained. The remains of the murdered civilians were exhumed and reburied at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in section G.

A bronze plaque nearby lists the names of the 98.


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