We were in Boise for the 84th birthday party for my father, Oscar Paulson. The people there were either family or co-workers from his years with Morrison-Knudsen (M-K). I listened in to an interesting conversations about the capture of Wake Island by the Japanese and the M-K construction workers who were taken prisoner.
I did some Google searching and the story is quite amazing. First some background on M-K. According to the Idaho State Historical Society Harry W. Morrison and Morris H. Knudsen:
became partners in March 1912, with six teams of horses, some equipment, and $100 in cash. Their first major job was the Three-Mile Falls Dam in Oregon in 1914.
… In 1926 they built Guernsey Dam in Wyoming, where Morrison pioneered the concept of the joint-venture — several firms joining to bid and complete a single project. In 1929 they built Deadwood Dam in Central Idaho, using for the first time bulldozers and diesel trucks instead of horses. In 1931 Morrison formed the Six Companies, Inc. to construct the mammoth Hoover Dam (wiki). The joint venture concept was also used when M-K worked on the San Francisco side of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
… The company began work on foreign construction with projects for the U.S. military — M-K employees were among the Americans killed or captured on Wake Island during World War II. In 1943 the company began projects in Mexico and Canada and quickly spread worldwide. Later M-K projects included Grand Coulee Dam, the St. Lawrence Seaway, railroads in Peru and Brazil, and Karadj Dam in Iran.
According to an Associated Press story about the company:
The projects were big and made a difference in the way people lived. In 1954, Time magazine called Harry Morrison the one builder in history who had done the most to change the face of the earth.
My family has always been an M-K family. Both of my parents have worked for the company, 4 out of the 5 of us kids have worked for M-K, and even 2 of our spouses worked for M-K when we met them. My younger brother and myself were in Viet-Nam (3/1966-1/1969) with my folks during the war on an M-K job and my brother was with my parents in Iran as a high school senior when the Shah was deposed. The school graduated his whole senior class mid-term and the company strongly suggested all family members leave the country.
So, back to Wake Island. Harry Morrison was devastated to have over 1,000 employees of his small Boise, Idaho company captured and/or killed while working for him on Wake Island. The best account of the story I have found is by Major Mark E. Hubbs. It is hard to comprehend the worldview of the Japanese soldiers whose barbaric treatment of the prisoners was based on the fact that they could not understand why these men would surrender unless they were cowards who were unfit to live. All but 98 of the men were shipped to labor camps in Japan and China. Over 200 of these men either died on the ships or in the labor camps. The 98 men who were left on Wake Island were mostly experienced construction hands who could operate the machinery. All 98 of these men were killed before the island was liberated. It is a gruesome tale.
Wake Island Documentary: The real story of a band of forgotten WWII civilian soldiersUpdate: I just found out about this documentary. Check it out on the Wake Island Documentary facebook page.
CURRENTLY SEEKING photographs, film, home movies, journals, letters and other items related to Wake Island, especially the 1941 Battle of Wake Island. Please contact us if you can help. Our focus is on the civilian workers and their role in this important chapter in our history… Reach us through via Facebook or at email@example.com
Some books I would like to read:
- Remember Wake by Teresa R. Funke
- Pacific Alamo: The Battle for Wake Island by John Wukovits
- Hell Wouldnt Stop: An Oral History of the Battle of Wake Island by Chet Cunningham
- Jims Journey: A Wake Island Civilian POWs Story by Leilani A. Magnino
Here is a list of the articles I found online:
- Massacre on Wake Island by Major Mark E. Hubbs
- Wikipedia article on Wake Island
- The Peter Hansen Story by Gerard Moran -The Testimony of Claude Davis Howes a diary account
- 44 Months of Strict Hell By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald staff writer
- Nampan Recalls 16 Days Under Fire by J.O. Young, Idaho Press-Tribune. (Parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7)
- Farm Bureau Fall 2006 Magazine pages 36,37,41
- A Magnificent Fight: Marines in the Battle for Wake Island by Robert J. Cressman