BOISE -- This week marks the 70th anniversary of the attack on Wake Island where hundreds of Idahoans were working for Boise-based Morrison-Knudsen to build an American airbase on a tiny Island in the Pacific. Some were killed, many were captured and held as prisoners of war for years. On Wednesday afternoon, they were all recognized as heroes when a new monument was dedicated at Veterans Memorial Park.
When Wake Island was attacked, the civilians joined U.S. Marines on the island in defense. It was a horrific battle that lasted two weeks, followed by years of brutality in POW camps. Many died, including the great-grandfather of the high school sophomore who planned a new monument to the heroes.
"The workers signed up for a job; they ended up being in a war." Eagle Scout candidate Noah Barnes read from the monument text he drafted.
For Barnes' Eagle Scout project, he wanted to do something special. He decided on a monument to honor those who fought the Battle of Wake Island in 1941. The monument is made of local rock and was built with help from local donations. It includes the story of what happened in 1941.
"My great grandfather was on the island, and I kind of knew a little bit about it, but I wanted to do something to recognize them, because they really didn't get that much recognition," Barnes said.
"It means an awful lot. Shows the respect of our people that was unknown. When we came home from prison camp, hell, nobody knew anything about us," Wake Island survivor Joe Goicoechea said.
Today, very few Wake Island survivors are still living.
"Around here we had a lot of buddies here, now there's only 7 of us," Goicoechea said.
While 70 years have passed since Japan invaded the island, the survivors still remember the attack and following years of imprisonment very clearly.
"Just like it happened this morning," Goicoechea said. That morning, the workers knew Pearl Harbor had been attacked. It was just hours later when Japanese planes descended on Wake Island.
"I can remember the noise we heard. We thought it was our planes." Goicoechea said.
"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. Still shake," Goicoechea said.
Years after that horrific day and the months of capture that followed, Gary Rogde is now one of only two living survivors from his POW camp.
"It's too bad this [monument] didn't happen years ago, while people can remember better." Rogde said.
Today, he's glad there's something tangible in place to honor those defenders who endured Wake Island seven decades ago.
"Long past due," Rogde said.
Barnes coordinated the donations for the monument. Gerhard Borbonus, Mesa Tile and Stone, and Stone Creations all helped make the long-awaited monument a reality.