THE LAST AMERICAN FLAG TO LEAVE WAKE ISLAND BEFORE ITS CONQUEST BY JAPAN
An extremely important relic of the Pacific Theater of World War II, a wool American flag, 5'' by approx. 7''1", flown over Pan American Airways'' Wake Island office when the island was attacked by Japanese aircraft on December 8, 1941, signaling the start of the Battle of Wake Island. The flag was manufactured by Annin and Co. of New York, under the "Sterling brand name, and is so marked on the sewn-in hoist. Each stripe is a separate piece of fabric sewn together to form the main body of the flag, with the blue upper canton consisting of yet another separate piece. Each of the forty-eight white stars is in turn sewn onto the canton. The hoist bears two metal grommets at the top and bottom, into which have been inserted two metal split rings. The corners of the flag at the hoist have an additional sewn-in triangular reinforcement. The colors of the red stripes are somewhat faded in places, and show some soiling, and the ends of the fly are frayed, with the loss of several inches of their length, and with the individual stripes coming a bitunsewn. The condition is entirely indicative of its age, as is the wool construction, which was largely phased out beginning in 1939. It would not have been unusual for a civilian enterprise such as Pan Am to have used a commercially-available flag such as this in its overseas installations. The first Japanese air raid on Wake took place just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, although it is recorded as occurring on December 8 due to the International Date Line. A flight of 36 Mitsubishi G3M3 bombers destroyed eight of Wake''s complement of twelve F4F Wildcat fighters. Pan Am''s Philippine Clipper had recently arrived and was preparing to evacuate the company''s personnel when the raid occurred. It was slightly damaged by Japanese machine gun fire, but was still able to evacuate all but two of the Pan Am passengers and personnel. The only personal item removed from the item on this flight was this flag, which was flown over Pan Am''s administration building, making it the last American flag to leave the island in American hands. Left behind on the island were forty-five Chamorro (indigenous people of the Mariana Islands) employees of Pan Am, as well as the island''s complement of Marines and a number of civilian civil engineers. The defenders of the island would hold out against the Japanese until December 23, repelling two more air raids and an amphibious assault, surrendering after exhausting nearly all of their ammunition. This flag was given by the crew of the Philippine Clipper to William Van Dusen, then Pan Am''s public relations director. Van Dusen''s estate later presented the flag to noted aviation collector and historian Don Thomas, who allowed it to be displayed at the St. Petersburg Museum of History in Florida. In 2004, the flag was purchased from Thomas by Jon E. Krupnick, who featured it in his book "Pan Am''s Pacific Pioneers - The Rest of the Story", where it was pictured along with an image of the Pan Am station over which it once flew. Finally, the flag was purchased from Krupnick in 2004 by our consignor. Present with the flag is a letter between Krupnick and our consignor, attesting to the above chain of ownership, a second letter from Krupnick describing Thomas''s acquisition of the flag fromVan Dusen''s widow in greater detail, a photocopy of the check used to purchase the flag from Krupnick, and several pages of excerpts from Krupnick''s book. All things considered, the flag presented here is an important and evocative relic of one of the United States''s darkest hours, at the immediate outbreak of a war for which we were unprepared and under-equipped, but which would cement our position as a world power.