Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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H-002-4: Wake Island Sword 

H-Gram 002, Attachment 4
Samuel J. Cox, Director NHHC
29 December 2016


Color photo of katana (Samurai sword)

This 500-year old katana (Samurai sword) was recently donated to the National Museum of the United States Navy by the family of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy. The Leahy family generously donated not only FADM Leahy's collection of historic swords, but also all of his military and diplomatic awards, honors, tributes and medals, plus other artifacts that define his remarkable career as a Naval officer, territorial Governor, Ambassador and Presidential advisor to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. This sword was surrendered by Company Commander Tetsu Matsudaira on Wake Island at the end of WWII on 4 September 1945 and was subsequently presented to FADM Leahy by RADM W.K. Harrill. We do not know the exact history of the sword, but it represents a very dark period in history. The commander of the Japanese invasion force (first and second assault), RADM Sadamichi Kajioka, impressed by the bravery and effectiveness of the resistance, ordered a halt to the execution of the approximately 1600 Marines, Navy and civilian personnel who surrendered at Wake Island. During the next years, some prisoners were beheaded for various infractions or died of other causes, but most were eventually shipped to prison camps and forced labor in Japan and China. However, in October 1943, in anticipation of an imminent U.S. assault (which didn't happen) the Japanese garrison commander, Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, ordered the execution of the 98 U.S. civilian workers who had been kept on the island for forced labor. The execution was carried out by machine gun. However one prisoner (whose identity was never known) escaped and carved into a rock "98 US PW 5-10-43" before being recaptured three weeks later and personally beheaded by RADM Sakaibara with a sword such as this. Although the Japanese attempted to blame the U.S. deaths on U.S. bombing, RADM Sakaibara was subsequently tried, convicted, and hanged for war crimes. The rock and inscription still exist as a monument on Wake Island.

Published: Tue May 07 17:12:42 EDT 2019