Battle of Wake Island

I just finished reading the article in the February issue of Leatherneck by Dick Camp retelling the account of the Wake Island battle at the beginning of World War II.

I had the honor, privilege and pleasure of working under a Wake Island defender while stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., from 1955 to 1958. There were two Marines rated to wear the ribbon with the “W” and clusters on their uniforms, both of whom were prisoners of war: Master Sergeant LaPorte and Technical Sergeant Virgil P. Vardel.

MSgt LaPorte was in charge of the training program for the 1st Reconnaissance Training Battalion. TSgt Vardel was my immediate noncommissioned officer in charge. Our duties at that time were in the Marine Corps Depot Butcher Shop, Food Service. I was told that TSgt Vardel was in communication, not food service, on Wake Island, but that did not keep all hands from manning positions to thwart the enemy. A Marine is a Marine rifleman first.

TSgt Vardel was and is a hero to me, and you would never have known it by the way he conducted himself.

I asked him one time about the “W” on his ribbon, and he did very little talking about it, except to say, “As a POW under Japanese cruelty, there are a lot of things you do just to survive. Things you wouldn’t normally do outside of the present situation.” That was about all you ever heard from him, except on one occasion, he said, “I learned during that time to never pass up an offer for a meal or drink because we learned to live without a lot in those 44 months.”

My wish while in the Corps was that I could live up to the standards set by Marines such as TSgt Vardel of Oklahoma. Did I? I tried but fell short in many ways. Wake Island defenders and POWs, I salute you. Semper Fi, Marines!

Cpl Gilbert L. Cron

USMC, 1954-58, USMCR, 1958-62

Friend, Neb.