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The Selfless Defenders of Wake Island

December 7th 1941 is a date which lives in infamy. Thousands of miles across the Pacific, while Japanese planes were bombing Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Navy also launched an assault on the tiny atoll of Wake Island. Alone in the remote Pacific Ocean, the American soldiers fought a brave but ultimately unsuccessful battle against the Japanese. This lesson explores the resilience of the soldiers on Wake Island and how their struggle and sacrifice helped inspire the nation.


  • Students will examine the tensions in the Pacific in the lead up to December 7, 1941
  • Students will analyze the role of imagery and propaganda
  • Students will examine the Battle of Wake Island and analyze how the struggle for the Island influenced the United States war effort.


Lesson Guide [30 minutes]

Before Class

Have your students read the background to learn about Japanese militarization of the Pacific in the 1930’s and look at the view the World War Two Poster and answer the following questions.

  • What was happening in the Pacific in the 1930’s?
  • What happened on December 7, 1941?
  • What is the objective of the poster?
  • How does the poster attempt to achieve this objective?
  • Do you believe it is effective?


Have your students read the Handout: Narrative: The Selfless Defenders of Wake Island, and answer the questions below on their own. Discuss these answers and the homework questions as a class. Write

  • Where is Wake Island and who occupied it in 1941?
  • What was the outcome of the battle?
  • Imagine you are one of the soldiers on Wake Island. You know the coming battle will likely end in your death or capture. What is your motivation for fighting? How do you think your actions might motivate others?
  • How did the actions of the soldiers and civilians on Wake Island help advance the American war effort?
  • How can selfless actions help advance a cause?

Wrap up activity

Using your students answers as a starting point, have a discussion about how students can be selfless in their own lives. In school? In their family lives? With their friends? In their communities? How can these selfless actions help improve all of these areas of our lives? How would selfish actions act in the contrary way? To check out more of our American Portraits Series CLICK HERE

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