Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif. -- In the opening hours of the United States’ involvement in World War II, Hawaii wasn’t the only island under attack by Imperial Japanese forces.
The U.S. military base on Wake Island was attacked simultaneously during the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the attack on Pearl Harbor lasted hours, the Battle of Wake Island lasted 15 days.
During the Battle of Wake Island, Henry T. Elrod, Marine aviator, earned several distinctions: he assisted in the first defeat of Japanese forces in the war, he became the first aviator in WWII to receive the Medal of Honor, and was the first man to sink a warship from a fighter plane. These distinctions however, would come at the cost of his life.
Elrod was born Sept. 27, 1905 in Turner County, Ga. After attending the University of Georgia and Yale, Elrod joined the Marine Corps in 1927, and in 1931 became an officer in the Marine Corps. By February 1935, Elrod earned his wings and was designated a Marine aviator.
Elrod, with other pilots in Marine Attack Squadron 211, flew 12 F1F-3 Wildcats to Wake Island on Dec. 4, 1941. Four days later, a Japanese invasion force attacked Wake Island in tandem with the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor.
In the initial bombardment by Japanese forces, eight of the 12 Wildcats were destroyed, the remaining were out on patrol at the time. Though none of the shore defenses were destroyed, Wake Island was left with only four planes to fend off the assault.
Over the next several days, Elrod, while flying one of the remaining four Wildcats, assisted in repelling several Japanese landing attempts by providing air support for the islands defenses. Elrod single handedly attacked a flight of 22 A-6M Mitsubishi Zeros, shot down two of them, and sank the Japanese destroyer Kisiragi after multiple strafing and bombing runs.
After his plane was damaged by hostile fire and unable to fly, Elrod helped organize the remaining troops on Wake Island into beach defense units. Elrod and his men repelled several waves of Japanese troops during the battle. He was later mortally wounded while protecting unarmed ammunition carriers resupplying a gun emplacement.
For his superb flying skills against overwhelming enemy forces, and unflinching conduct in defense on the ground, Elrod was posthumously promoted to major, and received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Wake Island.
Though initially buried on Wake Island, Elrod’s remains were reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va. The U.S. Navy named the destroyer USS Elrond in his honor.
Information from this article was gathered from http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-e/h-elrod.htm, http://web.archive.org/web/20071009081801/http://www.elrod.navy.mil/namesake.htm, and http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/npswapa/extcontent/usmc/pcn-190-003119-00/sec2.htm.