General James P. S. Devereux: The Hero of Wake Island and Maryland Congressman
James Patrick Sinnott Devereux, born on February 20, 1903, in Cabra, Ireland, was an American military officer, politician, and author best known for his heroic leadership during the Battle of Wake Island in World War II. Devereux’s remarkable courage and resolve throughout the conflict earned him the moniker “The Hero of Wake Island.” Following his military service, Devereux continued to serve his country as a United States Congressman representing Maryland.
Early Life and Military Career
Devereux’s family emigrated to the United States when he was a child, and he grew up in the state of Maryland. He attended Loyola College in Baltimore and then continued his education at the United States Naval Academy, graduating in 1925. After serving in various positions in the Marine Corps, Devereux was promoted to Major in 1941 and was appointed as the commanding officer of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion stationed on Wake Island.
The Battle of Wake Island
Devereux’s leadership abilities were put to the test during the Battle of Wake Island in December 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The tiny atoll, a strategic outpost for the United States, was defended by a small contingent of Marines, sailors, and civilian workers led by Devereux. Outnumbered and outgunned, they faced the Japanese invasion with unwavering determination.
For 15 days, Devereux and his men repelled enemy attacks, earning the admiration and respect of both their allies and foes. They inflicted significant damage on the Japanese forces, sinking two destroyers, damaging multiple warships, and shooting down several aircraft. Despite their valiant efforts, the defenders were ultimately overwhelmed and forced to surrender on December 23, 1941.
Devereux’s leadership and courage during the battle earned him the Navy Cross, the second-highest military decoration for valor awarded to members of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. His gallantry and tactical acumen were widely praised and contributed to his reputation as “The Hero of Wake Island.”
Post-War Life and Political Career
After spending the remainder of the war as a prisoner, Devereux returned to the United States and continued his military service. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1947 with the rank of Colonel. In 1948, Devereux published a memoir, “The Story of Wake Island,” which recounted his experiences during the battle and became a best-seller.
Capitalizing on his wartime fame and public admiration, Devereux entered politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1950. He served as a Republican Congressman representing Maryland’s 3rd District for four consecutive terms, from 1951 to 1959. During his tenure, Devereux focused on national defense, veterans’ issues, and economic development in his district.
General James P. S. Devereux’s life was marked by dedicated service to his adopted country, both in the military and in politics. His extraordinary courage and leadership during the Battle of Wake Island remain an inspiring example of American resilience and bravery. His accomplishments as a Maryland Congressman further demonstrated his commitment to public service and the welfare of his constituents. Devereux’s life and legacy continue to be celebrated as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the American people.