The ROUTES Project aims to use deeply engaging personal stories with transnational themes as a way of teaching history, below is an example of the kinds of stories the ROUTES team is working with.
Clyndon Dollar: Civilian POW
We like to think that the United States has never had colonial holdings but the fact remains that when planes of the Japanese navy bombed Pearl Harbor several thousand US civilians remained abroad working in various islands beyond the reach of the Hawaii based pacific fleet. These men and women worked as civilians not soliders, in the rapidly hostile territories such as the Philippines, Guam, Caavite, Midway, and Wake Island. The story of the civilians on Wake Island is especially tragic and shows an amazing transnational journey for an unsuspecting civilian caught up in war.
A photograph of Clyndon Dollar taken as a prisoner of the Japanese Imperial Navy
Our link to the story begins with Clyndon Francis Dollar, a traveling contractor turned plumber, from Monrovia, California. Like many people who grew up in the 1930′s, Dollar worked various occupations, travelling the country working various government sponsored projects.This included several seasons in Alaska on Mckinley National Park, as well as various military base construction jobs in California. In the years leading up to World War II the US. government saw the need to improve its defensive installments in the pacific not only as a way to stimulate jobs, but also to prepare itself against potential attack from the Japanese Empire. Thus, a conglomerate of private companies was formed under the leadership of the Navy, called Contractors Pacific Naval Air Bases. Clyndon Dollar was subsequently hired by a Boise based company in CPNAB called, Morrison Knudsen to work as a plumber/ pipe welder for MK’s part of the contract on Wake Island. With the promise of great wages, bonuses for continued service, and adventure, Dollar left San Francisco for the middle of the pacific island of Wake to work for what he thought would be a year long contract.
After only two months,the infamous day of December 7th, 1941 came and Wake Island was continuously bombed by Japanese long range bombers along side Pearl Harbor. The 1,200 civilians took refuge on the small atoll, with many dying from the daily bombing. Some civilians helped move weapons and ammunition to help the undermanned marine garrison of around 200 soliders fight off the attacks. Their success at repelling the first Japanese invasion attempt gained them a popularized hero status in the US homefront. The defense of the marines was glorified as an Alamo or David vs Goliath like myth and served as great propaganda for the wounded American fighting spirit. Still the civilians remained on Wake Island with evacuation in the planning stages at the still smoking Pearl Harbor On the 23rd of December the Japanese landed and took the island, forcing the evacuation and reinforcement task force, that was only one day away, to go back to Hawaii.
With the Japanese in possession of Wake Island, Clyndon Dollar found himself amongst marines and civilians alike; tied barebacked to each other on the airfield they had made. With machine guns and bayonets fixed on him and the thousand other civilians and marines they awaited their fate. Non could imagine they would experience for the remaining four years of World War II traveling the Empire of Japan. Clyndon Dollar would see the Japanese Empire through the eyes of a “civilian internee.” Travelling across the pacific to Japan and China working in through slave labor conditions, disease, starvation, abuse, and death; he experienced war in an Empire he probably didn’t know existed. His story and the story of the Wake Island civilians gives an amazing perspective of what war truly means for those involved. Their Route shows us the destruction of what happens when two Empire collide.