Trip to the National Archives in San Bruno
by Thomas Dollar
While researching my grandfather, Clyndon Dollar, it became apparent to me that I could not solely rely on letters and document he left behind. I realized that in order to better understand the story of Clyndon Dollar and his journey through the Japanese Empire I had to get a better context of why he was on Wake Island in the first place. Through gather the context of the Wake Island civilian story one can fully grasp the structure of both the Japanese and American Empire. Thus I decided to put down my books make arrangements to see what could be found at the nearby National Archives. After talking with an archivist at the National Archives in San Bruno, it became apparent that a trip to archives would yield some helpful research.
Upon arriving at the archive and filling out the necessary paper work I met with the archivist and he showed me all the files he had available on the subject of Wake Island. He explained that the main bulk of the documentation was a 1939 report on defensive potential for the largely inhabited atoll.
As I had already known from other histories, Wake Island had initially been a refueling air station for Pan American Airways. If you actually watch the beginning of “Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark” you can see Indiana Jones even stops in at Wake Island on a Pan American flight. However as early as 1935 the US government was contemplating the use of Wake Island as an airbase to counter the potential threat of the Japanese Empire. The only problem was that the 1930’s United States still had the sour taste of World War I and thus remained opposed to any expansions of the United States. This policy of isolationism made building a base on Wake Island very difficult to accomplish.
Amidst this context, I began looking through the documents before me. Using the archive’s camera stand I was able to take photos of all the documents to use later if I needed to. The majority of the documents seemed to be very detailed estimations of what was needed to make all the necessary infrastructure for an air base. The in depth report also contained several photos which added are great for giving a visual of what life was like on the island. After looking through near 200 page report, the significance of what I was looking at became clear. Most of the documents were dated in 1939, just two year before the war. Even more startling was the realization the civilians didn’t arrive on Wake to start working until the spring of 1941, giving them very little time to complete their projects before the war began. The irony of this seems obvious in hindsight, but the contrast of the preparedness of the Japan vs. the ill preparedness the United States is striking. While the Japanese Navy and Army had already entrenched bases in the Marianas and former German holdings, the US armed forces were still in the planning stages of making bases.
The material gathered at the San Bruno Archives was very helpful in providing evidence for why Wake Island’s civilians were on the island. It also helped me realize that Clyndon Dollar’s story can be placed within the context of understanding how the isolationist policy of the United States came into direct confrontation with the militarist policies of the Japanese Empire.