Brigadier General James P. S. Devereux, Commanding Officer of the 1st Defense Battalion during the heroic but futile defense of Wake Island in December 1941, died 5 August 1988 in Baltimore, Maryland.
For his gallant leadership in defending the tiny American outpost for 15 days against overwhelming odds, he was awarded the Navy Cross. His citation reads in part, “For distinguished and heroic conduct in the line of his profession in the defense of Wake Island…”
On the morning of 7 December 1941, (it was 8 December on Wake), he received the message that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese. In the fight that followed, General Devereux, then a major, and his men added a brilliant page to the annals of the Marine tradition. They went down, but in doing so damaged two cruisers, sank two destroyers, one escort vessel, and destroyed or damaged a total of 72 aircraft, and probably sank one submarine. Two more destroyers were damaged the last day.
Born in Cabana, Cuba, on 20 February 1903, General Devereux attended the Army and Navy Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., Tome School, Port Deposit, Maryland, and later La Villa at Lausanne, Switzerland.
He served both as an enlisted man and as an officer. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in July 1923, was commissioned a second lieutenant in February 1925, and then was assigned to duty in Norfolk, Philadelphia, the Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 1926 he was detailed to the mail guard detachment in New York and later was transferred to the force of Marines in Nicaragua as a company officer.
Returning to the United States early in 1927, he was assigned to the USS Utah and subsequently was transferred ashore again to Nicaragua. Shortly thereafter he was ordered to the Orient and while in China was promoted to first lieutenant. Other duty in China included command of the Mounted Detachment of the Legation Guard at Peking. An expert horseman, he has always been associated with mounted activities at stations where he had been assigned.
In 1933, following a year’s tour of duty at Quantico, he was assigned to the Coast Artillery School at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Following his promotion to captain in December 1935, he was ordered back to Quantico, where until 1936, he instructed in the Base Defense Weapons School and aided in the preparation of a Marine Corps manual on Base Defense Weapons. This knowledge was most useful later on the wind-swept coral atoll known as Wake Island.
Following a tour of duty with the Marine Detachment on board the USS Utah, General Devereux was transferred to the Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California, in 1938.
In January 1941, he was ordered to Pearl Harbor and later assumed command of the 449 Marines, who, after a bitter struggle, surrendered to the Japanese on 23 December 1941.
“After our capture we remained on Wake until 12 January when we were sent away on the Nita Maru,” stated General Devereux upon his release from the Japanese prison camp on Hokkaido Island in September 1945.
“We stopped at Yokohama where some of our officers debarked, but we continued to Woosung, China, downriver from Shanghai, arriving on the 24th of January 1942,” he added.”We remained there until 9 December of the same year, when we were transferred to Kiangwan, just outside of Shanghai, and there we spent 29 months… On that day we were sent to Fungtai, near Peiping, for five weeks and then were transferred to camps in central Hokkaido…”
While a prisoner of the Japanese, he was selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel, but it was announced that men who were listed as prisoners of war would not be able to assume their new rank. Therefore, it was not until shortly after his repatriation that his new rank became effective. He was promoted to colonel in January 1946, to rank from 10 November 1942, in order to assume his rightful place on the lineal list along with his contemporaries.
Upon returning to the United States following his release from prison camp in Hokkaido, General Devereux was ordered to Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington to narrate his personal account of the defense of Wake to General Alexander A. Vandergrift, then Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was given a rehabilitation leave, and late in 1945 was ordered to the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia.
Later, from September 1946 to May 1947, he was assigned as a student in the Senior Course, Amphibious Warfare School at Quantico. Upon completion of his studies he was detached to the First Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California, and was serving with that organization when he concluded his brilliant 25-year career on 1 August 1948.
General Devereux was advanced to his present rank upon retirement in accordance with law, having been specially commended for the performance of duty in actual combat.
In addition to the Navy Cross, General Devereux was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation with one star, Wake Island 1941; Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal, Nicaragua 1927-29; Yangtze Service Medal, China 1930; Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, China 1930; and Wake Island with Wake Island Clasp and Silver “W”; American Defense Service Medal with Base Clasp and one Bronze Star; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Star; and the World War II Victory Medal.
Source: United States Marine Corps History Division