Sunday, March 10, 2013

History That Tugs at the Heart

Not all history is about impersonal tales from the distant past.  Some stories, even those from several generations ago, can have an closeness and intimacy that can stir emotion.

Christmas Card sent home by Carlton Church, his last correspondence before
capture by the Japanese in December 1941.

I started writing about Wake Island almost 15 years ago. First in magazines and later in my blog. I get correspondence off-an-on from family members of men who served at Wake Island or were murdered by the Japanese there in 1943. They used to come by US mail, but they increasingly come by email, especially since I launched my blog last year.  When I did the first article on the massacre of 98 Americans on Wake Island by the Japanese in 1943, I mentioned in the article that I wondered if there were still sons or daughter or brothers or sisters who still remembered and thought about these men.  I have learned that after that after seventy years have passed, there are indeed many family members who still mourn the lost.  I suspect the dead of WWII, from all over the world, still have family who think of them. 

Some, like my new friend Gary Binge, tracked me down and phoned me.  The story of Gary's grandfather, and the helmet he brought home from the War, generated the article you can find linked below, and much of the new correspondence that I have received.

Some letters seek information, that sadly I usually cannot provide.  Some write to give me more information, which is very much appreciated.  Some just write to thank me and let me know that families of the "Murdered 98" have found my articles and appreciate them.  I was surprised by how many loved ones did not know the details of their loved one's death, until they found my articles.  Those are the most precious to me.  Here are parts of emails I've received over the last few months.  I've removed full names and hometowns so I would not violate the privacy of these fine folks.  These letters are humbling and gratifying at the same time.  It makes all the research and writing worthwhile. 


Dear Major Hubbs,

I'm writing to thank you for helping solve a long standing family mystery. My wife is the great-niece of Charles M Villines, one of the Wake 98. For all of her life, the ultimate fate of Charles had been unknown to her family. The family had known that he was on Wake island, and had assumed that he had been taken to China, although no record was ever found of it. Charles had married and had had a child before he went to Wake, but his wife had divorced and he and the rest of my wife's family lost contact with her before the war started. We assume that the notification sent in 1946 to the families went to her, although she may well have not received it, having moved in the interim. We do know that his mother, Zula Villines never received any notification and never knew what had happened to her son.

 Although Charles is listed as being from Salt Lake City, he was an Oklahoma farm boy, born and raised in Pottawatomie County. He had moved to Utah looking for work. Charles had two brothers, James and Tony. They both fought in the Pacific Theater and survived the war. Tony died in an oil-field accident in the 1950s. James is still alive, though in very ill health. James has one daughter (my wife's mother) three granddaughters (including my wife), and five great-grandchildren. For my wife and her sisters that unknown fate of their lost great uncle was a wound that was passed on from generation to generation.

 Today my wife was telling our daughters about her lost uncle and our elder daughter, became curious and started searching the Internet and found your account at I had done an Internet search years ago and found nothing. Knowing what happened to Charles, as horrible as the fate was, has brought a great deal of relief to my wife and her sisters.

 Thank you,

David S.


 (Author's note: This letter from Bonnie C. was especially poignant, and includes a poetic tribute to one of her WWII veteran uncles.)

Dear Friend

 Jack Fenex who was in the mass murder is my uncle. I wept when I read your account that my daughter found. We had many answers, but we had some doubts. My uncle, Elmer Christler was also there, but he became a prisoner of war for four years and came home. My Dad, Walter Christler, wanted to go, but he was turned down because of a bad knee (thank goodness). He served in the Army in the states and left just after I was born.

 I was a baby when the war ended, but the war stories have greatly impacted my life. My uncle Melvin Christler flew "The Hump." My uncle Bill Fenex, walked it. As a child, I remember my mother reading Uncle Jack's letter and crying.

 I know that the stories of sacrifice and service that I grew up with helped me face my trials. It was in my blood.

I was a fussy baby and my Grandpa Fenex rocked me as he listened for war reports. He wasn't sure if Jack had been beheaded because he heard there was a Jack that broke into the kitchen for food as well as the massacre. You simply can't judge.

 My uncle Bill Fenex passed away a short while ago. I wrote this tribute to him:

Good-bye, Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill fought for his country
As an "Honor and duty" with pride.
It scarred his mortal life for sure
In ways that he could never hide.
He held his head so very high
And conquered demons one by one.
May he find the peace he gave to us
With loved ones, the Lord, and blessings won.

 I have sent your article on to many family members and I told them to send them on their families. Again, thank you with all my heart.

 Sincerely, Bonnie C.


Maj Hubbs;

I just came across your article written about the POW Rock on Wake Island, and in it you mention that you travel there from time to time, I have a favor to ask.  If you should travel to Wake Island again, would it be possible to get a small amount of the coral sand from the area around the POW Rock?

Carlton Church's signature is partially obscured by a very fragile chin strap on Glen Binge's helmet.

 Please allow me to explain, though I never knew him, Carlton G (Graves) Church was my Great-Uncle, my Grandfather's brother on my mother's side of the family, and one of the 98 civilians murdered on Wake Island.  Ever since I took a simple picture of the memorial at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific back in the 70's, I have been researching Uncle Carl and Wake Island.

 Just this past Tuesday, while going through old boxes of photos etc, I found a small metal lockbox that belonged to my Great Grandmother (Carl's mother), and in it I found a Christmas Card from Uncle Carl, bearing the return address of Wake Island, and written on the edge of the envelope is "last letter received" is postmarked San Francisco Dec 27, 1941.

 If you are interested, I can send you pictures of the cards, envelope and letter.

Thank you,

Philip M.

Carlton Church's last note home before his capture by the Japanese. 
Carlton was one of the 98 Americans executed by the Japanese in October, 1943.


I want to thank you for the Blog you’ve established for relatives of Wake Island Americans who were attacked in 1941. My grandfather worked for the Morrison-Knudsen Co. as a dredge operator. I’ve read several books about the battle for Wake, but unfortunately, the military authors did not include much about the civilians who also bravely fought and suffered.

 Barbara M.



 Hello Mark.  

 My name is Ron.   Uncle, Redmond James (Jim) Wilper was one of the “forgotten 98” on Wake Island.  I have seen photographs of the Binge helmet and I see that my Uncle Jim signed it because you have listed the names of all who signed.  I would like to see a photo of the signature.  Do you have photos of every single signature?  If so, could you possibly send me a photo of Redmond (Jim) Wilper’s signature?  Perhaps you know how I could get in touch with the Binge family or pass my inquiry on to them.  I appreciate your help and I really enjoyed your blog.  Ron

 (Author's note:  I provided a close up of photo of Jim Wilper's signature as soon as I found this email.  The owner of the helmet, Gary Binge, was more than delighted for me to pass on the photo to Jim's family.  I received this reply)
Redmond (Jim) Wilper's signature on Glen Binge's helmet. 
Jim was barely out of his teens when he was murdered by the Japanese.
Mark: Thank you so much. It came through just great. Jim's little brother Frank, age 88 will greatly appreciate this as will my siblings and our children. It is very thoughtful of you Mark, and you Gary for sending this to us. The saga of Wake Island is still well remembered here in Boise. Best wishes. Ron


1 comment:

  1. Mark, having been to Wake myself many times, this article is one of your best. Thank you for sharing the comments by so many who have been touched and affected by your research. Very poignant. -EA