1942: Julius “Babe” Hoffmeister, alcoholic POW

Add comment May 10th, 2019 Headsman

An American Morris-Knudsen civilian contractor captured when the Japanese forces seized Wake Island during World War II was executed on this date in 1942.

Julius “Babe” Hoffmeister’s essential offense was alcoholism; this indeed was the reason for his presence on Wake in the first place, as he’d signed up for this remote hitch in an effort to force himself to cold-turkey detox. Thereafter finding himself in a war zone did no favors for his illness.

During the December 1941 Japanese bombardment of Wake, Hoffmeister looted alcohol from the hospital and stashed it around the atoll, stealing back to them periodically in the subsequent months of slave labor for the occupiers to self-medicate against the misery of his situation. By May those stockpiles had been exhausted, forcing Hoffmeister to more desperate ventures.

We catch a glimpse of this unfortunate man his countrymen’s diaries.

One of those observers was an officer named Leal Henderson Russell, whose rank entitled him to milder treatment and a degree of cordiality with his Japanese opposite numbers. On May 8th, Russell’s journal (self-published in 1987 and hard to come by) recorded

Wakened by guards on coming into the barracks. They went inside and I could hear them questioning someone. After breakfast I found that they had arrested Babe Hoffmeister who was out of the compound during the night. Okazaki told me later he had broken into the canteen. They called several of the men in to question them concerning it but I think he was alone at the time. I also heard he was drunk. It is apt to go very hard on Babe as he had been repeatedly warned.

Two days afterwards, it did go very hard.

May 10th — Julius ‘Babe’ Hoffmeister was murdered this morning. Nearly all foremen and dept. superintendents were called to witness it. Possibly it will serve as a warning to some who still feel that they have some rights here.

A different prisoner, Logan Kay, noted well the warning

The Japs made Hoffmeister crouch on his hands and knees. A Jap officer took his sword, laid the blade on his neck, brought it back like a golf club and then down on his neck, severing his head with a single blow.

Far more extensive horrors awaited the prisoners of Wake as the war progressed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,History,Japan,Occupation and Colonialism,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1943: 98 American civilian contractors on Wake Island

47 comments October 7th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1943, after Japanese-occupied Wake Island was subjected to a withering bombardment from the United States Navy, garrison commander Shigematsu Sakaibara ordered the summary execution of 98 American prisoners of war.

Wake Island came under Japanese attack immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor raised the curtain on the Pacific theater — and was overrun in two weeks.

It was strategically situated halfway between Hawaii and the Philippines. That’s why the Japanese wanted it — and that’s why the Americans wanted it back.

Caught in the middle were 1,600-plus Americans captured when Wake fell in December 1941, 1,100 of them civilian contractors of construction conglomerate Morrison Knudsen there to build a naval base. Most of these, and all military personnel, were shipped to POW camps in China early in 1941; only 700 contractors would survive their four-year sojourn in Japanese captivity.

By September 1942, only 98 Americans remained* on Wake Island — all contractors, the last remnants of the prison labor force who had been forced to lattice the island with defensive fortifications against the expected American invasion.

U.S. forces bombed Wake Island repeatedly during World War II — rare respites from the monotony of forced labor — but the most intense attack was an orchestrated naval bombardment and aerial attack beginning Oct. 5. Shigematsu Sakaibara feared it was the prelude to a long-anticipated landing attempt. And he wasn’t the only one: reporting the attack, the New York Times tried to read the tea leaves of the official pronouncements:

The fact that Wake was attacked yesterday by surface bombardment as well as aeriel bombing probably indicates that a major reduction of Wake is now intended. The atoll, which is the closest Japanese base to Pearl Harbor with the exception of a few islands in the Marshalls group, is a key stepping stone on Japan’s fastest aeriel route to her other central Pacific possessions in the Marshalls and Gilberts southwest of Hawaii.


[o]ccupation by United States forces of Wake Island, which is 1,033 miles from Midway, has been predicted for some time, but there is no indication that such an operation is probable immediately.

Sakaibara, unfortunately, didn’t have a Times subscription.

Expecting a landing, and fearing the prisoners would rise up as a “fifth column” against their captors when it came, Sakaibara had the 98 prisoners machine-gunned en masse on the beach. One of them managed to survive and escape the slaughter, but was recaptured shortly after, and is supposed to have been personally beheaded by the admiral. It’s said that unidentified man carved a (misdated) testimony to the crime on a nearby coral rock known as “98 Rock”: “98 US PW 5-10-43”.

As it turned out, the landing never did come. The U.S. Navy bypassed Wake Island, allowing it to languish under a blockade as it advanced elsewhere in the Pacific, and received Sakaibara’s peaceful surrender after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Although the Japanese had hastily exhumed the murdered POWs and reburied them in a cemetery as the end of the war approached, the cover story on the “Wake Island Massacre” soon cracked. For this day’s affair, Sakaibara was convicted of war crimes by an American tribunal, and hanged in Guam on June 18, 1947.

* The identities of the 98 are known, and are listed online here as well as on a plaque at the site.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Executions Survived,History,Innocent Bystanders,Japan,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Summary Executions,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,


December 2022
« Nov    



Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!