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Thumbnail profile: Wake Island / Wake Atoll
Wake Island is a coral atoll composed of three small islands (i.e. Wake, Wilkes and Peale) surrounding a central lagoon. Isolated in the North Pacific Ocean, it is about 3,700 km west of Honolulu, Hawaii and 2,400 km east of Guam. Located west of the International Date Line, Wake is one day ahead of the 50 US states. This US territory is administered by the Department of the Interior and managed by the US Air Force and US Army. The largest island (Wake) and centre of activity on the atoll features a 3,000 m runway, especially for military aircraft.
In October 1568, Álvaro de Mendaña de Neyra, a Spanish explorer, discovered "a low barren island” which was eventually named after Captain William Wake, master of the British trading schooner, Prince William Henry.
Just over a century later, Wake Island was annexed by the United States. In 1935, Pan American Airways built a small village nicknamed ‘PAAville’ to service flights on its U.S.-China route. This first settlement, which relied upon the U.S. mainland for food and water, remained in operation until the first Japanese air raid in World War II.
The US Navy constructed a military base on the atoll in January 1941 and Wake Island became the scene of repeated battles, first taken by Japan, then retaken by the United States in 1945. Since 1974, the island's airstrip has been used for over 700 landings a year by the US military and some commercial cargo planes, as well as for emergency landings. There are also two offshore anchorages for large ships.
In 1985, the wishbone-shaped Wake Islands group was designated a National Historic Landmark. The island remains a strategic location in the North Pacific that was used for strategic defense during the Cold War and is now administered by the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command.