Wake Island, which actually is an atoll, is one of the most remote occupied locations in the Pacific Ocean, lying 1,200 miles southwest of Midway Atoll and more than 1,400 miles northwest of the Marshall Islands. Wake now is administered by the U.S. Air Force as a mid-Pacific refueling stop, but in October 1943, it was a heavily fortified redoubt the Japanese had captured 21 months earlier after a vigorous defense by U.S. Marines. In early October, the USS Lexington (CV-16) and five other fast carriers closed on Wake to begin a two-day bombardment that would mark one of the opening engagements of the Fifth Fleet’s push through the Gilbert and Marshall island groups.
On board the Lexington was Carrier Air Group 16, which included Fighting Squadron (VF) 16, Torpedo Squadron (VT) 16, and Bombing Squadron (VB) 16. As a VB-16 radioman-gunner, I flew in the rear seat of the SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber piloted by Lieutenant (junior grade) William E. “Mac” McCarthy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were headed for the most unforgettable experience of my Navy career or my civilian life.