How did you come across the story for Remember Wake?
I was working as a research assistant for a PBS series on the history of Idaho and was sent to do a preliminary interview with a man named Clint Haakonstad, a survivor of the Battle of Wake Island. I was excited because, though I was a history major, I'd never heard of Wake. I found his story compelling, informative, and utterly inspiring. But I couldn't help but notice his wife, Audrey, who sat beside him showing off scrapbooks and filling in details for him. She knew his story as well as he did, but her presence made me wonder what the experience must have been like for women back home. Later, I had a chance to interview Audrey for an exhibit I was working on and learn more about her interesting past.
You based this story on real people?
I interviewed thirteen men and women who actually lived the experiences depicted in my novel, so virtually everything you read, down to the smallest details, actually happened to at least one of my interviewees. That authenticity was important to me.
Why write this true story as fiction instead of nonfiction?
Because it was important to me to tell the women's story as well as the men's, I felt a novel format would allow me to build the necessary tension in the women's story to assure it could hold its own against what the men went through. Also, Wake Island has been covered in nonfiction, but this story has never been told in fiction, so it was a chance to inform a new audience. Furthermore, there couldn't be a better story for a novel.
Why is the Wake Island story important?
Wake Island is often overshadowed by Pearl Harbor. Few people have heard of this important early battle in WWII. Wake marked the first small victory for our American forces after the decimation of our fleet at Pearl. It gave Americans a chance to once again believe in our fighting spirit. The Wake defenders became heroes to a country still adjusting to war.
Where did the title come from?
As the men fought for sixteen long days to hold the island against overwhelming Japanese forces, people back home couldn't help but see a comparison between their siege and the famous siege of the Alamo. So "Remember Wake" became a battle cry, much as "Remember the Alamo" had been in the previous century.
What makes Remember Wake unique?
This was the first time the Wake civilians' story had been told in such detail. Usually, the Wake civilians are given a mere mention, whereas the Marines are given most of the credit for holding the island and there is some validity in that. But I wanted to tell the civilians' story and let people know the particular hardships they and their families suffered. This is the first time the women's story has ever been told.
Were the Wake Island civilians ever given their due?
In 1981, special legislation finally provided Veterans status to the civilians, making them one of only a handful of nonmilitary groups to be granted veterans benefits. Though the country has forgotten these men, they hold no grudges. They continue to support each other through the Survivors of Wake, Guam and Cavite Organization. It is my hope that Remember Wake will honor their contributions and will inspire as well as inform.