Wake Atoll (19º17'50"N, 166º37'29"E) is a coral atoll in the North Pacific Ocean about 2,300-miles (3,701-kilometers) west of Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii; 1,180-miles west-southwest (1,900-kilometers) of Midway Islands; and 1,500-miles (2,414-kilometers) east-northeast of Guam, Mariana Islands. The atoll includes three islands:
- 2.85-square-mile (7.37-square-kilometer) Wake Island,
- 0.4-square-mile (1.02-square-kilometer) Peale Island, and
- 0.31-square-mile (0.88-square-kilometer) Wilkes Island.
The three islands form a rough "V," 4.5-miles (7.2-kilometers) long and 2.5 miles (4.0-kilometers) wide at the opening. Wake Island forms the apex, with two narrow peninsulas jutting from its main body. Separated from the end of the northern peninsula by a narrow channel is Peale Island; Wilkes Island is separated by a similar channel from the end of the southern peninsula. The lagoon, 3-miles (4.8-kilometers) long and 1.25-miles (2.0-kilometers) wide, is almost landlocked as the two channels are narrow and the open end of the "V" is virtually closed by the reef which surrounds the group. The maximum elevation is 24-feet (7.3-meters) and the coastline is 12-miles (19.3-kilometers) long. Deep water surrounds the entire atoll.
Wake Atoll is a barrier reef which varies in width from 30-to-1,100-yards (27-to-1,006-meters). It is widest at the open, northwest end and narrowest along the southern side, where its width averages less than 100-yards (91-meters). The underwater section of the reef is free of loose material but has occasional potholes and large coral boulders. Off the southern coast, the reef has the usual characteristic fissures running perpendicular to the shoreline.
The surface of the three islands is a smooth roll of disintegrated coral and the beaches are of white coral sand. At many places along the shore line they are strewn with jagged coral rocks and king-size boulder, which are most numerous on Wilkes Island and the southern leg of Wake Island where they range to 5- or 6-feet (1.6- or 1.8-meters) in diameter. Because of the porous soil, drainage is good so that no natural water supply is available. Beaches vary in width from 60-to-510-feet (18-to-155-meters), but average 300-feet (91-meters). The narrowest beaches are located on the north coast. Beach slope is gradual. Natural terraces or embankments exist only along the north coast (except along the south shore of Wilkes Island). At the coast line, or vegetation line, there is frequently a moderate rise in elevation. Exits from the beaches are available at all points.
A heavy surf roars continually against the northeast (windward) reef. The atoll is large enough to provide a lee in any weather and there is therefore much less surf on the southern (leeward) side, but heavy surf occasionally runs on the southeast end of Wilkes Island during periods of heavy swell and rough sea. The boom of the surf is never silent on Wake, and reduces the range and acuity of hearing of persons in any part of the atoll.
Trees, thick tropic shrub growth (often with thorns), and grasses are scattered through the islands and provide much opportunity for natural concealment. Vegetation is densest on the south leg of Wake Island, west and south of the airfield. Trees sometimes reach a height of 20-to-25-feet (6.1-to-7.6-meters), but the towering coconut palms found on most atolls are missing.
There is no wide variation in temperature. Yearly maximum is 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius), minimum, 68ºF (28ºC). Mean monthly temperatures run from 76º to 83ºF (24.4º to 28.3ºC) . Rainfall is light, averaging 33-inches (83.3-centimeters) for the year. The wettest season is from July through October.
The first European to sight the atoll was the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana in 1586 who, with two ships, lay-to off the atoll and finally landed in hopes of replenishing his supply of food and water. The Spanish, who found neither food nor water but only brambles, named it San Francisco and fixed it accurately in latitude and very badly in longitude (east of the Hawaiian Islands). In 1796 British Captain William Wake arrived, located the atoll accurately, and gave it its eventual name; shortly thereafter, a British fur ship made a similar landfall and independently reported the discovery. On 20 December 1840, Commodore Charles Wilkes, USN, the famous Pacific oceanographer and explorer, landed and surveyed the atoll, bringing with him as well the naturalist, Titian Peale, who collected many new specimens, mainly of marine life. From the explorations of Wilkes and Peale, the two lesser islands of the group were eventually to find names, but now Wake was of insufficient interest to cause Wilkes to take possession in the name of the United States.
On 4 July 1898, Major General Francis V. Greene, USMC, commanding the Second Detachment, Philippine Expeditionary Force, in the U.S. Army Transport Thomas, ordered two boats ashore and raised an American flag. Shortly after, on 17 January 1899, the USS Bennington (Gunboat Number 4), commanded by Commander Edward D. Taussig, USN, acting on orders from Washington, "took possession of the atoll known as Wake Island, for the United States of America."
The first intention in formally acquiring Wake had been to establish a submarine telegraph cable station there for the Guam-Midway cable which was a section of the Honolulu - Manila cable. The absence of fresh water, taken with evidence that Wake at some time previous had been completely inundated, dissuaded Commander Taussig from recommending that the cable station be put into service; as a result, the cable was laid past Wake directly to Guam and went into service in 1903. After USS Bennington departed, although Wake was occasionally visited by trans-Pacific vessels, the only visitor of note was Army Captain (later General of the Armies) John J. Pershing, who, in December 1906, landed on Wake and caused a high durability canvas American flag to be hoisted.
Wake slumbered through World War I, still visited only by Japanese fishermen and gatherers of bird feathers, but in June 1922 the submarine tender USS Beaver (AS-5) made the first--and still the basic--survey of Wake. In 1923, the minesweeper USS Tanager (AM-5), bearing a joint scientific expedition sponsored by Yale University and the Bishop Museum of Honolulu, camped at Wake for about two weeks (27 July-5 August) while further survey and collection of general scientific data was completed. The land area of the atoll was measured, and now Wilkes and Peale were formally recognized as separate islands and duly christened with their present names.
Preparations for World War II
In 1934, by Executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, jurisdiction over Wake was passed to the Navy Department, and in 1935, Pan American Airways (PAA), selected Wake as a useful intermediate base for their flights from Hawaii to the Philippine Islands. The Navy Department, quick to sense the potential military value of PAA’s base development of Wake, cooperated with the airline’s project by dispatching USS Nitro (AE-2), nominally an ammunition ship, but nevertheless man-of-all-work for the prewar Naval Transportation Service, to bring the 1922-23 surveys up to date. Two of the Nitro's boats, hardly amphibious landing craft, were lost in the surf during this project.
Between 5 and 29 May 1935, PAA’s air base construction vessel, SS North Haven, landed supplies and equipment on Wilkes Island for eventual shipment to Peale Island which, because of its more suitable soil and geology, had been selected as the site for the PAA seaplane base. By the time SS North Haven's returned to Wake, after a month's voyage westward to Manila, Philippine Islands, the project was well under way, and on 9 August the PAA Sikorsky S-42 seaplane, manufacturer’s serial number (msn) 4201, registered NC823M and named Pan American Clipper, made the first aerial landing in the atoll. The PAA facility, known as PAAville (19º18'30"N, 166º37'26"E), had aircraft mechanics, radio and weather facilities and a 48-room hotel. Passengers would deplane and spend the night in the hotel while the aircraft was refueled, the crew rested and the mechanics inspected the aircraft and made any necessary repairs. Between 1935 and 1940, two typhoons swept the atoll with resultant extensive damage to the PAA facilities which were repaired.
In 1938, the Navy’s Hepburn Board was convened and tasked with reviewing America's national defense structure during the deteriorating international situation. The board made its survey of the naval shore establishment in the Fall of 1938 and stated that the U.S. had five island possessions west of Pearl Harbor that were of strategic value as potential patrol-plane bases. These were the islands of Midway, Wake, Johnston, Palmyra, and Canton. The board's recommendations for the development of each island were the basic criteria on which their subsequent fortification was predicated. Wake Atoll, considered next in importance to Midway, and also, a station on the commercial air route to the Orient, was adapted to, and recommended for, development similar to the one proposed for Midway.
In early 1939, the U.S. Congress approved a bill to build bases on these five islands. Because of Wake’s high priority, the Congress recommended a US$7.5 million (US$122 million in 2012 dollars) three-year base-development program intended to make the atoll an advance air base, primarily for long-range patrol-plane reconnaissance, and secondarily an intermediate station on the air route to the Far East. Wrote the Board: “The immediate continuous operations of patrol planes from Wake would be important at the outbreak of war in the Pacific.” The work was to be performed by civilian contractors.
On 26 December 1940, in implementation of the Hepburn Board's recommendations, a pioneer party including 80 civilian men and some 2,000 tons (1,814 tonnes) of equipment, sailed for Wake from Hawaii in the transport USS William Ward Burrows (AP-6), as the advance detachment to begin establishment of a naval air station on Peale Island. The Burrows made her landfall on 9 January 1941, lay-to off Wilkes, and next day began landing naval supplies and advance base equipment for development of the base. The 80 men were accompanied by large amounts of construction materials and equipment, which included an 80-ton (72.5-tonne) crane on caterpillar treads, two heavy bulldozers, and a large tractor.
The channel between Wilkes and Wake Islands was first chosen for development, but surveys indicated that this was an excavating rather than a dredging job, so the preliminary work was done with pneumatic-hammers, bulldozers, and a crane. Sufficient width and depth was obtained by this method to permit entrance into the lagoon of a 1,000-ton (907-tonne) barge loaded with construction materials.
Work was also started on two of the three runways planned and access roads were built. Simultaneously, erection of a camp and headquarters for civilian workers was begun. Considerable construction had been completed, such as the installation of evaporators and refrigerators and general camp improvements, when the hydraulic dredge Columbia was brought in. However, because of its many breakdowns, only one channel, necessitated by construction requirements, was ever developed.
Tanks were installed for the storage of 150,000 barrels (6.3 million U.S. gallons or 5.4 million Imperial gallons or 23.8 million liters) of gasoline, 20,000 barrels (840,000 U.S. gallons or 699,446 Imperial gallons or 3.2 million liters) of fuel oil, and 6,000 barrels (252,000 U.S. gallons or 209,834 Imperial gallons or 953,923 liters) of diesel oil.
On Peale Island, a naval hospital and a seaplane ramp and apron (19º18' 37"N, 166º37' 24"E) were under construction.
On 22 August 1941, the advance detail of Marine Detachment, 1st Defense Battalion, Wake Island, five officers and 173 marines and sailors, arrived at Wake in the cargo ship USS Regulus (AK-14) to begin work on defense installations. On 2 November 1941, the stores issue ship USS Castor (AKS-1) arrived carrying nine officers and 200 enlisted Marines to join the advance detail. Also aboard were five U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) radiomen and a communications van to assist Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses beingflown from Hawaii to the Philippine Islands. This was followed on 29 November by the arrival of an officer and 47 Marines of Marine Air Group Twenty One (MAG-21) to service the aircraft that would be deployed to Wake. On the morning of 4 December 1941, twelve Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats, the advance echelon of Marine Fighting Squadron Two Hundred Eleven (VMF-211), flew off the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) and landed on the 5,000-by-200-foot (1,524-by-61-meter) coral runway airfield on the southwest coast of Wake Island. Also on 4 December, a Japanese Nell bomber (Mitsubishi G3M2, Navy Type 96 Attack Bomber) based on Roi Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, reconnoitered Wake Atoll undetected.
Living facilities for the Marines were about 50 per cent complete in December, but little work had been done on defense installations and fortifications.
Wake Atoll and World War II: Invasion
Wake Atoll is west of the International Date Line and therefore it was 8 December 1941 on the atoll when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On that date, there were 1,669 men on the atoll, 1,146 civilian contract workers, 449 marines, 69 sailors and five USAAF radiomen. In addition to light weapons, the Marine detachment was armed with:
- Six 5-inch (127-millimeter) guns,
- Twelve 3-inch (76.2-millimeter) antiaircraft guns,
- Eighteen .50-caliber (12.7-millimeter) heavy machine guns, and
- Thirty .30-caliber (7.62-millimeter) heavy machine guns.
There was no radar equipment on the island.
From a military defender's point of view, especially that of a Marine defense battalion, several aspects of Wake's 1941 terrain are of preeminent importance:
At 1158 hours on 8 December, 36 Japanese Nell bombers attacked and inflicted heavy damage on airfield installations and destroyed seven Wildcats on the ground; an eighth was damaged. This left the aerial defense of the atoll in four F4Fs. A PAA Martin M-130 seaplane, msn 557, registered NC14715 and named Philippine Clipper, was being prepared for a scouting flight with an escort of two F4Fs when the attack came. In the aftermath of the disaster, the aircraft evacuated airline staff and passengers. Another individual who somehow failed to get a seat on the outgoing flying boat is an official from the Bureau of the Budget who was on Wake to go over construction costs.
Japanese aircraft returned and bombed the atoll on 9 and 10 December. On the 9th, the aircraft bombed defense installations on Wilkes and Wake Islands. The raid on the 10th was especially destructive because a dynamite cache, including 125 tons (113 tonnes) of explosives, blew up on Wilkes Island with major damage to batteries on that island.
On the 11th, Japanese Mavis seaplanes (Kawanishi H6K4, Navy Type 97 Flying-Boats) bombed the atoll in a pre-dawn raid and then the Japanese attempted to land 450 troops. In general, the plan was to have 150 men land on Wilkes Island and the balance, 300 men, on the south side of Wake Island to capture the airfield. The Japanese naval force comprised a task force of one light cruiser (the flagship), two obsolescent light cruisers (fire support and covering duties), six destroyers, two destroyer-transports, two new transports, and two submarines. Marine shore battery gunfire sank a destroyer and damaged three other destroyers and a patrol boat. Marine F4F Wildcats bombed and sank a destroyer and strafed and damaged a light cruiser and an armed merchant cruiser. The Japanese force retired and following this abortive assault, 30 Nell bombers attacked the gun batteries on Peale Island.
Between 12 and 22 December, the Japanese flew 11 bombing missions against Wake using Nell bombers and Mavis seaplanes.
On 20 December, a Navy Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina of Patrol Squadron Twenty Three (VP-23) based at Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, arrived at Wake to deliver information to the garrison about the relief efforts then underway. At 0700 next morning, 21 December, the PBY took off. At 0850, with no warning, 29 Kate torpedo bombers (Nakajima B5N2, Navy Type 97 Carrier Attack Bombers) and Val dive bombers (Aichi D3A, Navy Type 99 Carrier Bombers), escorted by 18 Zeke fighters (Mitsubishi A6M2, Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighters), bombed and strafed all battery positions. These aircraft were from two Japanese aircraft carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor and had been assigned to help soften Wake's unexpected toughness. The Japanese concern over the potential presence of patrol planes at Wake, occasioned by the large amount of radio traffic that accompanied the sole PBY’s arrival at the island, prompted advancing the date of the first carrier strikes.
On 22 December, 33 Kate torpedo bombers and Val dive bombers, escorted by six Zeke fighters, attacked the atoll. This force was met by the last two flyable F4F Wildcats; one was shot down and the second crashed on landing leaving the atoll without air defense.
On 23 December, the Japanese Maizuru Second Special Naval Landing Force executed a predawn landing on the south shore of Wake and Wilkes Islands, and, after almost 12 hours' fighting, surrender of the American garrison was completed.
Marine casualties were 49 killed in action and 32 wounded; Navy casualties were three killed in action and five wounded; and 70 civilians lost their lives and 12 were wounded. A total of 368 Marines, 60 sailors, five USAAF radiomen, and 1,104 civilian personnel were taken prisoner after the surrender of Wake. Japanese casualties during this operation were 820 killed in action and 1,153 wounded.
On 12 January 1942, the U.S. prisoners of war were evacuated from Wake for confinement in the Japanese Empire; 98 civilian construction workers were kept on the atoll to construct facilities for the Japanese. Seventeen of the military prisoners died during their captivity, including two Marines and three sailors who were beheaded and their bodies mutilated and thrown overboard from the SS Nitta Maru, en route from Yokohama, Japan to the POW camp near Shanghai, China. About 180 of the civilian prisoners died during their captivity, including the 98 left on the atoll. On 7 October 1943, following two days of attacks from U.S. Navy aircraft from six aircraft carriers, the Japanese marched the 98 civilian contractors to the northern end of Wake Island. After almost two years of mistreatment and forced labor, they were bound, blindfolded and forced to the ground, and were executed by machine gun and rifle fire. One of the 98 men had escaped and carved 98 US PW 5-10-43 on a rock on Wilkes Island; this has become known as 98 Rock. This man was re-captured and was beheaded personally by the Japanese commanding officer three weeks later.
Under Japanese Occupation
During the rest of the war, both the USAAF and USN attacked the Japanese on Wake Atoll. During the first 11 months of 1942, the USAAF flew single aircraft photographic reconnaissance missions to Wake on 14 February and 31 July and a bombing missions on 31 July by three Consolidated LB-30 Liberators. Then, on the night of 22/23 December 1942, 26 Consolidated B-24D Liberators staged through Midway for a strike with 135 x 500-pound (227-kilogram) general purpose bombs and 21 incendiaries. The next offensive mission came on 25 January 1943, when six B-24s staged through Midway for daylight reconnaissance and incidental bombing of Wake. Again, on 15 May, seven out of 18 B-24s struck Wake during daylight. Finally, on 24 and 26 July eight B-24s flew two missions against the atoll. Wake would not be hit again by the USAAF until 1944 when 12 missions, for a total of 204 B-24 sorties were flown during March, April and May in support of U.S. landings in the Mariana Islands. A further 11 missions were flown in September and October; the 15 October mission was the last USAAF mission to Wake.
The first mission by the Navy on Wake Atoll was on 24 February 1942 when a task force consisting of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), two heavy cruisers and destroyers bombed and shelled the atoll. Another mission occurred on 5 and 6 October 1943 by a task force composed of the aircraft carriers USS Essex (CV-9), Lexington (CV-16) and Yorktown (CV-10), and small aircraft carriers USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), Cowpens (CVL-25) and Independence (CVL-22), three heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, 24 destroyers, and two oilers. As a result of this mission, the Japanese executed the 98 civilian workers.
In 1944, Navy Consolidated PB2Y-3 Coronados of VP-13 from Midway Islands carried out nocturnal bombing raids to neutralize Japanese airfield installations that could threaten the imminent Marshall Islands operations. These four missions, for a total of 50 sorties, were flown between 30 January and 9 February. The missions were continued in February by Navy Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberators based in the Gilbert Islands.
Aircraft of a Navy task force consisting of the aircraft carriers USS Essex (CV-9), Wasp (CV-18) and San Jacinto (CVL-30), escorted by three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and 13 destroyers, attacked Wake on 23 May 1944. This was followed on 3 September by an attack by the aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26), three light cruisers and three destroyers.
In the summer of 1945, the Navy attacked Wake five times. The first was on 20 June when aircraft from the aircraft carriers USS Hancock (CV-19), Lexington (CV-16), and Cowpens (CVL-25) en route to Leyte, Philippine Islands, bombed Japanese installations. On 18 July, planes from the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-18) attacked the atoll. On 1 August, aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS Antietam (CV-36) bombed installations while the battleships USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) and Tennessee (BB-43). and four destroyers bombarded the atoll. Five days later, aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CV-11) bombed installations and on 9 August, the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62), a light cruiser and four destroyers bombarded Wake.
On 3 September 1945, the Japanese surrendered Wake Atoll in a ceremony on board destroyer escort USS Levy (DE-162). The next day, the Japanese admiral in command of the island and 15 of his officers and men were arrested and sent to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands to stand trial for the murder of the 98 civilians. Two men committed suicide en route and left statements that implicated the admiral and others. While being held during the trial, which was conducted by a special military commission for war crimes, a lieutenant also killed himself and left behind a signed statement. After being confronted with this statement, the admiral finally confessed that he had ordered the murder of the men and stated that all responsibility should rest on his shoulders. The trial concluded with a sentence of death for the admiral and he was hanged on 19 June 1947.
Wake After World War II
Post war, the Navy established a naval air facility on Wake Island and the atoll became a refueling stop for commercial and military aircraft. On 1 July 1947, the Navy delegated the administration of Wake Island to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), the forerunner of the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), with the understanding that it was still owned by the Navy Department. The naval air facility was disestablished at that time. In 1949, the CAA built a 7,000-foot (2,134-meter) paved runway over the old coral runway to accommodate larger aircraft.
In the 1950s, the North Koreans invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950 and Wake Atoll became a major refueling stop for aircraft going to and from that conflict and at its peak, an aircraft landed every 20 minutes. Wake was the site of a meeting between U.S. President Harry Truman and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command, on 15 October 1950. The meeting, which had no agenda and no structure, took the form of a free-wheeling discussion between the President and his advisors on one hand, and Army and Navy officers on the other. Topics discussed included Formosa (now Taiwan), the Philippines and the wars in Vietnam and Korea. Nothing was resolved. In 1952, Typhoon Olive, with winds of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour), struck the atoll on 16 September and destroyed 85 percent of the structures. Reconstruction of the facilities on the island was completed in 1953. To accommodate larger jet aircraft, the FAA extended the runway on Wake Island to 9,800-feet (2,987-meters) in 1959.
The 1960s brought a rash of construction. In the “Downtown” area, a bowling alley, transient quarters, mess hall and laundry were built in 1961 followed by the construction of a new passenger terminal building. In 1962, the jurisdiction of the island was transferred from the US. Navy to the Department of Interior, however, it would be carried out by the current caretaker, the FAA. In 1964, the Trans Pacific Cable 1 (TPC 1), an 8,078-mile (9,782-kilometer) submarine telephone cable stretching from Hawaii to the Philippine Islands and Japan via Midway Islands, Wake Atoll and Guam, went into service giving the residents of Wake Atoll access to direct telephone service. A second typhoon with 104 mile per hour (167 kilometers per hour) winds struck Wake on 16 September 1967 damaging 95 percent of the structures.
In the 1970s, the FAA turned the administration of the atoll over to the US. Air Force’s Military Airlift Command in July 1972 and began phasing down its operations on Wake. Since 1974, the U.S. Army has used Wake Atoll as a launch platform for military rockets involved in testing anti-missile systems and atmospheric re-entry trials. In 1975, Operation NEWLIFE, the relocation of almost 100,000 Vietnamese refugees to the Mainland US., came to Wake between 25 April and 2 August. Some 15,000 refugees passed through Wake and at one point 8,700 refugees were on the island.
In 1974, the Grumman Aerospace Corporation agreed to restore an FM-1 Wildcat for the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. (The FM-1 was a version of the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat built by the Eastern Aircraft Division of the General Motors Corporation.) The restoration was completed in 1975 but one part was missing, the engine cowling. The Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia was contacted and they had an F4F cowling from one of the 12 F4F-3s based on Wake Island in 1941. This cowling was from an aircraft flown by Captain Henry T. Elrod, USMC, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Elrod had shot down two Japanese aircraft, sank a Japanese destroyer and when all the aircraft were gone, led an infantry unit. After the war, a temporary memorial to the Wake Marines was built and part of it contained the cowling, tailhook, and propeller of Elrod’s plane. The temporary memorial was dismantled in 1965 and replaced by a permanent memorial and the parts were shipped back to the Marine Corps Museum. The cowling, still bearing battle damage, was attached to the restored FM-1 that is still on display in the Washington, D.C. museum.
In the 1980s, Typhoon Freda with 75 mile per hour (121 kilometers per hour) winds struck Wake Atoll on 15/16 March 1981. A new US$7 million (US$19 million in 2012 dollars) seawall was destroyed in about 30 minutes and only 2,500-feet (762-meters) of usable runway was available after the storm. On 16 September 1985, Wake Atoll was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior's National Park Service.
The 1990s saw the US Army Space and Strategic Defense Command began testing Brilliant Pebbles missiles from Wake. This was part of an anti-missile program of the Reagan and the first Bush Administrations, to deploy a 4,000-satellite constellation in low-Earth orbit that would fire high-velocity, watermelon-sized projectiles at long-range ballistic missiles launched from anywhere in the world. The Clinton Administration canceled the program in 1993. Because of the large Army investment, the US. Air Force handed over the administration of the islands to the US. Army on 1 October 1994, but retained control of the atoll.
In the new century, the U.S. National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operated research stations on the islands. In August 2006 Typhoon Ioke, a “supertyphoon” [a tropical cyclone with sustained winds over 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour)], caused severe damage to structures on the atoll after the inhabitants had been evacuated to Hawaii. On 6 January 2009, President George W. Bush included the atoll as a part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. There is no permanent population except several hundred U.S. Air Force personnel and civilian contractors. The island remains a strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean and serves as an emergency landing location for twin-engined ETOPS (extended operations pertaining to twin-engine aircraft as defined by the FAA).