MAKING OF “THOSE
WHO ALSO SERVED”
The men that history almost forgot
In April of 1942, Paramount Pictures produced “ Wake
Island” starring William Bendix, Brian Dunleavy
and Robert Preston. It was Hollywood’s very first
World War II movie.
The film told the story of “ Wake Island,” a
Pacific island outpost that was attacked only hours
after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The
severely out-manned and out-gunned Marines held out
and fought off almost daily bombing raids, and repelled
an invasion attempt only to be overwhelmed by a second
one after their sixteenth day of battle. The movie
was a huge success not just monetarily, but also for
the Marine recruiting program.
The idea for a documentary was considered because
the actual events of the last days of Wake in the original
1942 movie were based on conjecture, due to the island
having surrendered to the Japanese and all of the combatants
having been either killed or captured. For over twenty
years, I have had a copy of Major James P.
S. Devereaux’s book “ Wake
Island,” published in 1947, that gives
his account of the battle, as the Marine commander
on the island. I realized that the original movie did
not do the defenders of Wake justice in portraying
their sacrifice and heroism.
During my preliminary research I discovered that there
had been over 1,000 civilian construction men on the
island. These were the men of CONTRACTOR’S
PACIFIC NAVAL AIR BASES, civilian construction
men, who had volunteered to build a base on Wake. The
concept of Navy construction men, SEABEES,
did not exist until after the war started. A great
number of these civilian construction men had taken
part in the defense of Wake Island either by actually
handling weapons or by daily building and rebuilding
the defenses of the island. Although, I had known civilians
had been on the island, I had not known the extent
to which these men had played a part in the defense
of Wake or that they had been sent to POW camps alongside
the military defenders and spent almost four years
as prisoners. Being a student of history, a former
Naval aviator and Naval Academy graduate I felt I should
have known this, but I didn’t. I felt this story
needed to be told. The documentary format was selected,
so that people could actually see these men –-the
men that history almost forgot.
The documentary was over two years in the making.
The film covers: why Wake was important, who these
men were and why they went there, as well as what they
did, not just during the battle, but before as well.
It covers the island commander, Navy Commander
Winfield Scott Cunningham; the Marines, Major Devereaux,
Major Paul Putnam, Captain Wesley Platt, Lt. Poindexter and Lt.
John Kinney to name a few. It, of course,
presents the head civilian contractor, Nathan “Dan” Teeters, and
several of his men such as Walter “Swede” Hokanson and Dr.
The documentary does not address
their prisoner of war experience. This was at the request
of the survivors. At the time they had a lawsuit pending
against Japanese manufacturers similar to the one filed
by those who had been used as slave labor in Nazi Germany.
My travels to meet Marine and civilian survivors took
me to Arkansas, Idaho, California and Hawaii. I made
several trips to the National Archives in College Park,
MD., and to the National Archives Annex in San Bruno,
CA. The Department of the Army now supervises Wake
Island and the people there readily lent me their assistance
to travel and do filming and research on Wake. Curators
at the Air Force museum at Pearl Harbor and the Navy
SEABEE museum at Port Hueneme, California,
were very helpful. Professor Gregory J.W. Urwin, of
Temple University and author of “Facing Fearful
Odds: the Siege of Wake Island,” was invaluable.
The defenders of Wake Island, both civilian and military
were a pleasure to meet. The youngest man I met was
78 and the oldest was 92. They were all gentlemen and
it is with deep sadness that I learned two of them
passed away before this documentary was finished. Colonel
Arthur Poindexter passed away just four weeks after
I interviewed him. Civilian Pete Ingham passed away
seven months after his interview.
Lastly, this documentary could not have been made
without the assistance of John Stewart of Walther/Stewart
and Associates. When I decided to tell this story,
he readily signed on, bringing his camera and editing
system to help make the story come to life.
It has been an honor to tell this story.
William F. Kauffman
Producer “Those Who Also Served”