Thomas J. Pechacek
U. S. Marine Corps, 1st Defense Battalion and Prisoner Of War (POW)
In memory: Thomas J. Pechacek passed away July 22, 2019
Thomas Joseph Pechacek (pronounced Pay-Check) was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated high school in 1937. During November 1939, he joined the United States Marine Corps (USMC) with serial number 277224. He attended recruit training at Parris Island, SC. Afterwards, sent to Cuba, San Diego then Oahu. Assigned to the 3rd Defense Battalion on Oahu. During August 1941, assigned to the 1st Defense Battalion on Wake Island to replace a Marine that was evacuated for health reasons.
On Wake Island, he was responsible for communications, maintaining telephone wire between gun positions and servicing field telephones around Peacock Point on the southeast tip of the island. He was armed with a Springfield M1903 rifle and a bayonet and was issued a World War I era helmet.
On December 8, 1941 he experienced the first Japanese air raid against Wake Island. He remembers the Pan Am "Philippine Clipper"
NC14715 in the lagoon damaged during the raid and the skin was repaired. On December 23, 1941 he was wounded by a piece of shrapnel from a Japanese bomb that hit his left leg above his ankle. That same day, the entire garrison of roughly 1,600 including Marines and civilian contractors surrendered to the Japanese and became Prisoners Of War (POW).
Prisoner Of War (POW)
Pechacek and the other prisoners were loaded aboard the Nitta Maru and transferred to Yokohama then on to Shanghai and forced to march to Woosung Prison Camp. For the next two years, the prisoners labored for the Japanese. Later, he was transfered to Korea and performed hard labor hauling salt onto Japanese ships working 12 hours per day. Afterwards to Hokkaido to Hakodate POW Camp and worked in a coal mine for the remainder of the Pacific War. After the surrender of Japan, liberated on September 16, 1945 and was transported to Guam and a month hospitalized in San Francisco. Discharged on January 1946 with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Hired at Pan Am as a duty supervisor and foreman and worked 28 years at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station supporting space missions during Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.
Pechacek lived in retirement in Melbourne, Florida. Due to the efforts of Donna Loretti, his home health aid he was awarded the Purple Heart on April 14, 2018 at American Legion Post 163 POW-MIA Recognition Day ceremony. He is active in both the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War (VFW).
Pechacek passed away on July 22, 2019 at age 98. He is buried at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery section A-B4 row B site 1.
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File - Thomas J. Pechacek
NARA World War II Prisoners of the Japanese Data Files, created 4/2005 - 10/2007, documenting the period ca. 1941 - ca. 1945
Florida Today "Melbourne World War II POW finally receives Purple Heart, 76 years after his capture" May 10, 2018
Florida Today "Thomas Joseph Pechacek - Funeral Notice 98, 22-Jul, Brownlie-Maxwell Funeral Home" July 24, 2019
Florida Today "Melbourne WWII POW who waited 76 years for his Purple Heart dies at age 98" July 31, 2019
FindAGrave - Thomas Joseph Pechacek (grave photo)
Thanks to Thomas J. Pechacek for additional information