Thursday, December 8, 2011

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Wake Island Vets Remembered

Boise--Exactly 70 years ago today marks the attack on Wake Island where hundreds of Idaho construction workers fought shoulder to shoulder with US Marines against elite Japanese forces.

The Boise-based Morrison-Knudsen workers were on Wake building an American outpost in the Pacific when war broke out. Some were killed, many captured and then held as prisoners of war until 1945. On Wednesday afternoon, the workers, living and dead were recognized with a new monument dedicated at Veterans Memorial Park.

After Wake Island was attacked, the construction workers joined U.S. Marines on the island in defense and the island earned the nick-name Alamo of the Pacific. The battle lasted 15 days, followed by years of brutal treatment in POW camps. Many died, including the great-grandfather of the high school sophomore who planned the monument to the brave construction workers.

"They ended up being in a war." Eagle Scout candidate Noah Barnes told the crowd at the ceremony.

When Barnes was tasked with an Eagle Scout project he chose something special, deciding on a sandstone monument honoring Wake Island veterans, funded by local donations and it includes the story of the battle.

"My great grandfather was on the island, and I wanted to do something to recognize them, because they really didn't get any recognition," said Barnes.

"Around here we had a lot of buddies over there, now there's only 7 of us," Goicoechea said.

"It means an awful lot and it shows the respect of our people thats unknown. When we came home from prison camp, hell, nobody knew anything about us," said Wake Island survivor Joe Goicoechea.

Seven decades have passed since the 8th of December attack but for survivors its bitter and fresh.

"It's just like it happened this morning," Goicoechea said. The workers on the Island knew the Japanese had attacked Pearl. It was just a few hours later when they were attacked across the International dateline.

"I can still remember that morning and the noise we heard, we thought it was our planes." Goicoechea said.

So daring, so close that survivors will never forget that moment. "They were low enough, you could see the whites of their eyes. The pilots, when they went by," Gary Rogde said.

"That night. That was the worst night I ever had in my life, I was scared as hell and still shake," Goicoechea said.

Survivors now have a monument in Boise to honor the brave construction workers who held off the Japanese for two weeks giving the American people hope in the days after Pearl Harbor.

"Long past due," Rogde said.

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