The 8 to 22 December 1941 defense of Wake Island provides an interesting example of Navy and Marine Corps cooperation before the advent of “jointness.” Recognizing the island’s strategic location, the U.S. Navy began to develop facilities including an airfield on Wake in January 1941. This work was undertaken by some 1,200 civilian contractors supervised by Mr. N. D. Teeter. At the time, it was also an airport for the Pan American Airlines clippers.
In October, the U.S. Marines of the 1st Defense Battalion arrived under Major James P. S. Devereux to provide for base surface and air defense with what would eventually total 450 men.
As the clouds of war gathered in November, Commander Winfield S. Cunningham arrived as naval air base commander along with 67 officers and sailors. Also present were five U.S. Army Air Corps communicators engaged in moving bombers to the Philippines.
Final reinforcements arrived by carrier with Marine Fighting Squadron 211 led by Major Paul A. Putnam. This disparate group fought a sustained air and surface battle for two weeks against Japanese air and naval forces. The gallant defense against impossible odds was with the cooperation of all involved—civilian contractors preparing defenses, a Pan Am clipper flying search patrols, and the Marines providing air and surface fighting power. Though ending in defeat, it provided a model for success at Midway, Johnston, Palmyra, and American Samoa and highlighted the value of interservice, civil, and military teamwork.