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The Wake Island Surrender Pens

(This page published March 6, 2024)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]


On September 4, 1945 the Japanese surrender document executed aboard USS Levy was signed with two American fountain pens. What were they, and who used which one?
USS Levy

USS Levy, anchored off Wake Island September 4, 1945. Photo by Eliot Elisofon for LIFE Mag­a­zine; not used in the September 24, 1945, LIFE article on the Wake Island sur­ren­der. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

The Setting

The three islands, together forming the Wake atoll, would have had little strategic value to the U.S. in World War II, but “Remember Wake Island,” like “Remember Pearl Harbor,” became a rallying cry in the United States. Americans wanted Wake back, and in 1945, they took it back.

The Preliminaries

Shiga signing

Capt. Masanori Shiga signing the Instrument of Surrender. At the table, from left to right: an unidentified IJN junior officer; Capt. Shiga; Lt. Emanuel S. Harris, USN; Lt. Col. Chauncey V. Burnett, USMC; and Capt. Grow. U.S. Navy Photo.

Captain Shiga signed with the dip pen shown below, from among the supply aboard Levy. Captain Grow signed with an unidentified pocket fountain pen, almost certainly his own property.

Mille surrender pen

U.S. Navy Photo.

On August 28, after having undergone some routine maintenance, Levy departed Mille for Jaluit Atoll, approximately 310 miles distant. At Jaluit on August 29, she hosted negotiations arranging for a surrender of the atoll, to be formalized on September 5. On August 30, she returned to Mille, proceeding two days later to Eyebe Island, the Navy’s principal anchorage in the Kwajalein Atoll. The stage was now set for the surrender of Wake.

The Main Event

All parties were seated, only to rise again as U.S. Marine Brigadier General Lawson H. M. Sanderson arrived on deck. After all had taken their seats again, Sanderson introduced a Nisei serviceman as his official interpreter and gave the press permission to photograph at will.

Sanderson’s letter of authorization from Rear Admiral William K. Harrill, Commander Marshalls-Gilberts Area, was given to Sakaibara for his inspection. He was then questioned about the instructions that had been dropped earlier by plane, and he responded that he was busily engaged in complying with those instructions. He was then given a copy of General Order Number 1; upon reading it, he noted that the instructions it contained were not exactly the same as the earlier instructions but that he would comply with them in every way.

The Instrument of Surrender (including Japanese translations) was brought forward and given to Sakaibara to inspect. After having done so, he said that he was ready to sign. He also said that he was sorry Japan had lost the War but was happy that the Americans were accepting his surrender. He then took out his personal fountain pen and put it to paper to surrender Wake Island, its airfield, and Wilkes and Peale Islands, along with the 1,262 servicemen, less than a third of the original garrison, who had survived starvation resulting from an American submarine blockade and damage from periodic American bombardment and strafing raids since 1942.

Sakaibara signing
Sakaibara’s pen

Rear Admiral Sakaibara signing the Instrument of Surrender. In the photo, from left to right: Sakaibara, Paymaster Lt. P. Hisao Napasato, and Brig. Gen. Lawson H. M. Sanderson, USMC. Photo by Eliot Elisofon for LIFE Mag­a­zine; not used in the September 24, 1945, LIFE article on the Wake Island sur­ren­der. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

I found identifying Sakaibara’s pen difficult but not impossible. In the photo above, it looks like a black Parker Vacumatic Major, but it turns out not to have been black. In the greatly expanded photo below, showing the pen in Sakaibara’s hand from another viewpoint, the contrast has been altered to show as clearly as possible the faint but unmistakable traces of the lateral striations present in the material of all Vacumatic Major colors except that used for opaque black parts. In this photo and in the one above, the pen is too dark to be any color except Azure Blue Pearl, and many examples of Azure Blue Pearl photograph as virtually black unless the lighting is just right.

vacumatic_in_sakaibaras_hand
vac_azure

Accepting the surrender on behalf of Rear Admiral Harrill was U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Lawson H. M. Sanderson, embarked in Levy. Commander of the 4th Marine Air Wing and of Shore Based Air Force in the Marshalls-Gilberts Area, Sanderson had been an aviation pioneer from World War I, known for having developed the technique for modern precision dive bombing. He proved its effectiveness in a 1919 skirmish in Haiti, when as a lieutenant he rescued a troop of Marines by diving a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” to drop a 100-pound bomb accurately on the Haitian rebels who had trapped them. Sanderson also signed the Instrument of Surrender with his own personal pen.

Sanderson signing
Sanderson’s pen

Brigadier General Sanderson signing the Instrument of Sur­ren­der. At the table, from left to right: Sakaibara; Napasato; Sanderson; and Sanderson’s Nisei interpreter. Photo by Eliot Elisofon for LIFE Mag­a­zine; not used in the Sep­tem­ber 24, 1945, LIFE article on the Wake Island sur­ren­der. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

Sanderson’s pen was a black Sheaffer Defender, a standard-sized non-Lifetime Balance model with a military clip. Its color is apparent in the photo above, but its identity is not. For that, I found another photo (below), taken from a different angle, in which the shapes of the pen and its clip leave no room for ambiguity as to its Sheaffer origin, and the absence of a White Dot on the cap below the clip identifies it as a non-Lifetime model. The Defender shown below is a lever-filling model; it is not known whether Sanderson’s pen was a lever- or plunger-filler.

Sheaffer Defender, black
Sanderson signing
Sanderson’s pen

Brigadier General Sanderson signing the Instrument of Sur­ren­der. At the table, from left to right: Sakaibara, Napasato, and Sanderson. Photo by Eliot Elisofon for LIFE Mag­a­zine, as published in the Sep­tem­ber 24, 1945, LIFE article on the Wake Island sur­ren­der. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

In the second photo, shown above, Sakaibara can be seen signing one of the additional copies of the Instrument of Surrender as Sanderson signs the second copy. Note the open bottle of Sheaffer Skrip ink on the table. That bottle is capped in the earlier photo, of Sakaibara signing. (Whose pen ran out of ink?) Note also the two “pen cups” made from 40-mm shell casings. One of these casings is being used as an ashtray, while the other holds a selection of wooden pencils and the dip pen that Captain Shiga used August 22 to sign the Instrument of Surrender for the Mille atoll.

instrument_of_surrender

The Aftermath

Rear Admiral Sakaibara’s next few months were not a happy time. He had been the garrison commander at Wake since his installation there in December 1942. On October 5, 1943, aircraft from USS Yorktown bombed Wake while accompanying cruisers blasted the island with 8-inch and 5-inch shells. The largest bombardment up to that time, the raid caused major damage, and Sakaibara mistakenly interpreted it as the softening-up bombardment that customarily preceded an invasion. To prevent an uprising during the expected assault, he ordered that the 98 American POWs remaining on Wake be “shot to death.” Fifteen of his officers and men arranged for a firing squad, and just after sunset on October 7, the Americans, all civilians, were blindfolded and made to sit on the edge of a tank trap (an antitank ditch), with their faces to the sea. Behind them were three platoons of Japanese troops armed with rifles and machine guns, who thereupon shot them dead. Unceremoniously dumped into the ditch and buried, the bodies were hastily dug up, counted, and reburied after an enlisted man reported that he had seen one of the prisoners escape during the confusion of the massacre. A search was instituted, and the escapee was recaptured the next day.

In an attempt to disguise the nature of the Americans’ deaths, the Japanese dug up the remains again two years later, shortly after Emperor Hirohito’s August 15, 1945, order ending hostilities, and reburied them in a slightly more respectful way, in two common graves, with cairns, crosses, and a freshly painted fence. The exhumation was done carelessly, however, leaving some of the bones in their original grave.

Sakaibara concocted a story that half of the POWs had been killed by American bombardment and the remainder had died during a mass escape attempt in October 1943, in which they had tried to contact U.S. forces, and the fifteen men and officers all told the same lie when questioned. Their American interrogators, however, were suspicious of the uncanny consistency among the stories and of the freshly painted fence, and by November 1945 the truth had come out, admitted in a signed suicide note by Lieutenant Toraji Ito, one of the fifteen. Sakaibara and those of the fifteen who had not already suicided were arrested and tried as war criminals. Sakaibara was executed by hanging June 18, 1947, on the island of Guam; his executive officer Lieutenant Commander Soichi Tachibana’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

A large coral boulder, known to most military personnel as POW Rock, stands near the original burial site as the only trace of the massacre. Nearby is a bronze tablet listing 98 names, placed after the war by the men’s employer, the Morrison-Knudsen Company. On the rock is a roughly chiseled inscription reading “98 US PW 5-10-43.” The inscription was made by the prisoner who had escaped during the massacre, in the hours before his recapture. Sakaibara personally beheaded him three weeks later, and his name is not known.

POW Rock

POW Rock, also called the 98 rock. U.S. Air Force Photo. The granite tablet inset into the rock next to the chiseled message, reads:

THE 98 ROCK
INSCRIBED BY
UNKNOWN P. O. W.

This article is one in a series about the historic pens used at the official German and Japanese surrenders that ended World War II.



Notes:
  1. Today, the name of the island and atoll is usually spelled Mili in English or Mile in Marshallese. It was formerly spelled Mille, and that is how it appears in many English-language documents of the time. For historical continuity, I have chosen to adhere to that convention.  Return

  2. It has been suggested that Sakaibara might have obtained the Vacumatic during the looting of the Philippines after their capture in December 1941; but he was in dry-land staff positions from his 1940 promotion to captain until he was posted to Wake, and I consider it highly unlikely that he came by the pen in that manner.  Return

  3. Various sources have stated that Levy was present at the surrender of Jaluit aboard USS McConnell (DE-163). Some of these, seeing that she was at Jaluit “a few days later” (referring to the Mille surrender), have confused the August 29 negotiations with the later formal surrender. Others, also confusing the two events, place her at Jaluit on September 5, the date of the surrender; but according to Levy’s and McConnell’s war diaries for the month of September 1945, Levy was not present at Jaluit on September 5.  Return


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