This time of year always puts me in mind of World War II. A little known story of that “good war” concerns Wake Island. The entry of the United States into the war seemed a certainty to our government long before December 7, 1941. The U.S. Navy funded something called CPNAB in 1939. CPNAB stood for Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases, a combine of construction companies that built runways and military bases throughout the Pacific. These combines of several construction companies working together built Boulder Dam and Grand Coulee Dam. Companies like Morrison-Knudsen out of Boise, Idaho, participated in and benefitted from those New Deal projects. Besides refitting bases in Hawaii, the Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases consortium built seaplane bases, landing strips and barracks on Midway as well as Johnston and Palmyra Islands in 1940. While work continued at Midway, CPNAB expanded in 1941 to include construction on Guam and the atoll known as Wake Island. The U.S. government, through the Navy’s Bureau of Docks and Yards, paid Morrison-Knudsen Company $11,987,869 for its work on Wake during 1941. By December 7, 1941, Morrison-Knudsen employed 1,221 civilian contractors at Wake. Those contractors ran the gamut from engineers to surveyors, hammer and nail construction workers, cooks, barge pilots, crane operators, a doctor, and soda jerks. Ages of the contractors varied from teenagers to men in their sixties; many were from Idaho or the Pacific Northwest, but many more stemmed from practically every state in the Union; several father and son teams worked together. CPNAB jobs offered two to three times the salary these men could make back in the States. With that in mind, my great uncle Leonard Ward (I’ve written elsewhere about other aspects of his colorful life) finished his civilian contract on Midway in November, 1941. At that point he had a choice of returning to his wife in California or earning a bonus on top of the good pay if he extended his contract and moved on to Wake Island. As a teenager Leonard literally played a poker game with the ownership of his mother and father’s ranch hinging on the outcome. No stranger to wagers, Leonard gambled and chose the job on Wake, becoming one of the last civilians to arrive there before the war. On December 7, 1941, there wasn’t a single woman residing on the handful of acres that made up Wake Atoll. Just over five hundred Marines and Navy personnel protected the twelve hundred civilian contractors. December 7, 1941 proved an ordinary Sunday on Wake, a day off with ballgames and chocolate shakes from the soda shop; Marines getting by on C rations while contractors ate steaks. Wake lies east of the International Date Line. In real time it was bombed and strafed by Japanese planes a few hours after Pearl Harbor at noon, December 8, 1941, Wake time. Dozens of civilians, Marines, and Navy pilots were caught out in the open and killed. Most civilians took cover amidst Wake’s scrubby kou trees and brush as a fifteen day aerial bombardment ensued until the Japanese landed and overran the main island on December 23rd. The following three years and nine months played out in the senseless way that war has for its participants. The American military were shipped to prison camps in China and later Japan. Uncle Leonard was one of the lucky civilians who survived as slave laborers, first in rebuilding the base on Wake then later in Japan, toiling for the benefit of Mitsubishi, Nippon Steel, Kawasaki, Mitsui, Hitachi, Sumitomo and other corporations that still profit today.