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Wake Island (U.S. Minor Outlying Islands)

Last modified: 2013-07-20 by ian macdonald
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[United States Flag]
by Joseph McMillan

Unofficial flag
[Flag of Wake Island]
by Roy Stilling

ISO Code: UM-79
ISO 3166-3 Code: WKUM
FIPS 10-4 Code: WQ
MARC Code: wk
IOC Code: Not Applicable
Status: unincorporated territory of the United States

See also:

According to the CIA World Factbook:

Wake Island - 7,8 sq. km. (with Wilkes and Peale), 302 inhabitants; unincorporated territory of the US administered by the US Army Missile and Strategic Defense Command since 1 October 1994.
Jarig Bakker, 29 January 2000

According to Ludvik Mucha's 1985 book The Orbis Encyclopedia of Flags and Coats of Arms (ed. by William Crampton), p. 195, Wake Island does have a flag of its own, albeit an unofficial one. It's horizontally white over red with a vertical blue stripe at the hoist.  The trailing edge of the blue stripe is not straight but forms a point where the white and red stripes meet. In the blue there is a yellow disk containing a map of the atoll in blue, with the words WAKE above and ISLAND below in blue. The disk is flanked by three yellow five-pointed stars, all with one point upwards, one above, one flywards and one below.  The badge is nearly right except the words should be a bit smaller, maybe 2/3, and the map more pronounced - the elements of the island should be thicker and oriented so that the "arms" are parallel with the top and bottom of the flag.
Roy Stilling, 5 and 21 October 1996

Wake Island was first discovered by the Spaniard Álvaro de Mendana in 1586, who named it San Francisco and claimed it in the name of the King of Spain. This claim was internationally recognized, the atoll being viewed as worthless. It was completely uninhabited, isolated, without fresh water, and very literally in the middle of nowhere. Wake remained a territory of Spain for the next three centuries. It lay undisturbed for the next 210 years, until in 1796 the Englishman Captain Samuel Wake of the merchant vessel Prince William Henry rediscovered it. He gave the atoll its present name, also carried by its largest island. "Wake Island" properly refers only to this island; the collection of three islands, the reef, and the lagoon are known as "Wake Atoll."

Soon after, another British ship stumbled across the island, unaware of Captain Wake's recent visit, but no other ships came that way for another 44 years. On December 20, 1840, the USS Vincennes brought the explorer Charles Wilkes and the naturalist Titian Peale to the island. They conducted a series of surveys and lent their names to the other two islands of the atoll.

Upon their departure, Wake again lay undisturbed for many years. On the night of March 5, 1866, the German ship Libelle, en route from Honolulu to Hong Kong, was caught in a mid-Pacific storm, blown far off course, and finally went ashore on the coral reef outlying the atoll. The few survivors managed to salvage two small boats (and $300,000) from the wreck of their ship. Making the boats seaworthy, they departed the island after three weeks in a desperate voyage for Guam and survival, 1400 miles distant. One boat reached Guam; the other vanished. A subsequent salvage expedition recovered the money.

During the Spanish-American War, an American troop convoy bound for the Philippines (then owned by Spain) stopped off at Wake. Major General Francis V. Greene hoisted the Stars and Stripes, then with 45 stars, there on July 4, 1898. The flag was actually tied to a dead tree limb. The subsequent peace treaty which ended the war transferred Wake to the United States. The US desired the island for a cable station, but these plans were dropped when it was realized that no fresh water was available. Until 1935, Wake continued much as before, although visits were more frequent. Captain John J. Pershing, subsequently General of the Armies, replaced the older flag with a larger, more durable canvas version, also 45-starred, in 1906. US surveying expeditions visited in 1922-23, presumably replacing Pershing's flag with 48-starred versions.

In 1935 Pan American Airways began construction of a seaplane facility on Wake, which provided a convenient point for servicing and refueling of the famous "Pan Am Clippers", four-engine flying boats which provided aerial transportation between Manila, Tokyo, and San Francisco. Wake became one of the stopping points on the Manila-San Francisco run (others included Midway and Honolulu.) The US Navy recognized the potential of Wake as a military base and contributed both materially and financially to the construction of the Pan Am facilities, which were completed in the fall of 1935.

In January 1941, as war with Japan loomed, the US Navy began construction of a military base on the atoll. As such, Wake would provide a vital American outpost in the Pacific. It was not until August 19, however, that the first permanent US military garrison arrived, elements of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion. When war did come, these men were the backbone of Wake's defenses. In a gallant struggle lasting over two weeks, the US flag was never lowered. (Although shot off its pole during the final battle, it was quickly replaced on a lookout tower.) Wake first repulsed a Japanese landing attempt (the only time in World War II that an amphibious assault was defeated), was besieged without resupply, and finally succumbed to a second Japanese landing on December 23. After that, Wake was a backwater of the Pacific War and was occasionally raided, but never attacked in force. On September 4, 1945, the surviving Japanese garrison (many had starved to death, no resupply being available) surrendered to elements of the US Marine Corps. In a brief ceremony, Master Technical Sergeant Ralph Broc and Private First Class Millard Moore raised the Stars and Stripes over Wake, replacing the Japanese flag flown there since December 1941. Subsequently the island was turned over to the administration of the US Navy. Eventually the island passed under the control of the US Air Force, which used it for various purposes during the Cold War, mostly related to strategic defense and operations. At present it is administered by the Army Missile and Strategic Defense Command, but its role has not significantly changed.
Theodore Leverett, 19 August 2000