Howard Homer Mitchell
- Date of Birth: March 16, 1918
- Date of Death: October 7, 1943
- Hometown: Duchesne, Utah
- Place of Death: Wake Island
- Cemetery: Section G, Grave 68. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi
Mentored by Ms. Aliyah Bacca
Salt Lake Center for Science Education
Howard Homer Mitchell was born in Woodland, Utah, on March 16, 1918. He was the son of Arzy Homer Mitchell and Fern Hacking Mitchell and the brother of Truman A. Mitchell, Loren H. Mitchell, Alfreda M. Hayden, and Wayne E. Mitchell.
Howard attended Duschene High School and worked in machine shops in Moon Lake and Deer Creek Utah prior to the war. He and his family were active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Utah during the war played an important role in our country’s efforts. The state’s inland location and terrain made it perfect for training. There were 14 military installations built in Utah during the war.
Howard’s hometown of Duchesne had oil and natural gas extraction industries and was surrounded by vast farmlands. The Duchesne area was the site for mining vital minerals such as coal, iron, dolomite, limestone, alunite, and copper for the war effort. The bordering counties of Uintah and Wasatch provided plentiful water to Mitchell’s home county of Duchesne, making it a rich and productive agricultural area. Women, men, and children all worked on conserving food supplies while increasing the area’s agricultural production. As more men left for the war, women in Duchesne, as in other communities, took on new roles.
Civilian engineering firms and employees who built airfields, bunkers, and defenses across the many islands controlled by the United States were vital to the American preparation for entry into World War II. Howard Mitchell, along with his brother, Wayne, answered the call to help the United States get ready for war.
In early October 1941, Howard took a job with the Morrison-Knudsen Company. He departed from San Francisco, California aboard the SS Matsonia, on June 6, 1941, arriving in Honolulu on June 11. His brother, Wayne, followed him in October. The company assigned him to work on the Pacific Naval Base on EnenKio, also known as Wake Island. The Morrison-Knudsen Company was contracted to build a naval air base and other defense projects on the United States military installations on the island.
On December 8, 1941, the Japanese attacked Hickman Field at Pearl Harbor in Hawai’i and EnenKio, resulting in many destroyed resources, killing and injuring many soldiers and civilians.
From December 9 to 22, Japanese forces bombed and attacked EnenKio to gain new territory in the Pacific. Howard was injured in the leg during the struggle. The island was captured by Japanese forces on on December 23, 1941. When it fell, 1,603 men were captured. Of those, 1,150 were civilian contractors who worked for Morrison-Knudsen Company. Two of these were Howard Mitchell and his brother, Wayne. Howard, Wayne, and the other Prisoners of War on EnenKio experienced unimaginable torture, horrific living conditions, and forced labor.
In February 1942, the United States forces attacked and periodically bombed EnenKio. In October 1943, an American air raid launched from the USS Yorktown hit the island. Japanese Rear Admiral Shigematsu Sakaibara, fearful of an impending invasion, decided to execute the Prisoners of War.
On October 7, 1943, Japanese forces executed Howard Mitchell and his brother, Wayne. One man escaped, famously carving “98 US PW 5-10-43” on a large coral rock. The unknown American was re-captured and beheaded by Rear Admiral Sakaibara.
Howard and Wayne’s parents were informed about their deaths on Friday, October 10, 1943. In 1945, the United States reclaimed EnenKio. The large mass grave meant that Wayne and his Howard’s remains could not be identified at the time. These civilians were interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in 1953. A memorial on EnenKio was erected to these brave civilians who were executed by Japanese forces.
After the war, Rear Admiral Sakaibara was convicted of war crimes and hanged in Guam on June 19, 1947.
Aerial view of Wake Island. Photograph. May 25, 1941. National Archives and Records Administration (80-G-451195). https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/80-G-451000/80-G-451195.html.
“Brothers Perish on Wake Island.” Deseret News [Salt Lake City, Utah], January 11, 1946. Newspapers.com (595315494).
Cuomo, Technical Sergeant Shane A. 98 Rock, Wake Island. Photograph. January 12, 2008. U.S. Air Force (080112-F-2034C-203.JPG). https://www.af.mil/News/Photos/igphoto/2000412578/.
“Duschene County Youths on Wake Island in Pacific.” The Roosevelt Standard [Roosevelt, Utah], December 11, 1941. Newspapers.com (288212444).
Howard Homer Mitchell. Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., Arriving and Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1900-1959. Digital image. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
Howard Homer Mitchell. National Cemetery Interment Control Form. Digital image. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
Howard Homer Mitchell. Utah, U.S., Birth Registers, 1892-1944. Digital image. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
Howard Homer Mitchell. Utah, U.S., Military Records, 1861-1970. Digital image. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
Howard Homer Mitchell. World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947. Digital image. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
Lee, Russell. Young People from Logan picking berries . . . Photograph. August 1940. Library of Congress (2017787356). https://www.loc.gov/item/2017787356.
“Maw Pays Tribute to War Heroes.” Vernal Express [Vernal, Utah], February 14, 1946. Newspapers.com (290172616).
“Navy Reports 3 Civilians From Utah Dead on Wake.” The Salt Lake Tribune [Salt Lake City, Utah], January 12, 1946. Digital image. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
“New Youth Wait Call to Nation’s Service.” The Uintah Basin Standard [Roosevelt, Utah], August 22, 1941. Newspapers.com (545473237).
Utah. Duschene County. 1920 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
Utah. Duschene County. 1930 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
Utah. Duschene County. 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Digital images. https://ancestryclasroom.com.
“War Crimes: Retribution.” TIME, January 7, 1946. https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,797715,00.html.
Barton, John D. “The War Effort At Home.” National Agriculture in the Classroom. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://cdn.agclassroom.org/ut/lessons/cc/war_effort_at_home_article.pdf.
“Duchesne County History.” Duschene County. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://duchesne.utah.gov/gov/about-the-county/history/.
“Howard Homer Mitchell.” Find a Grave. Updated March 3, 2000. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3785544/.
“Howard Homer Mitchell.” Find a Grave. Updated August 17, 2009. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/40801682/.
Launius, Roger D. “World War II in Utah.” Utah History Encyclopedia. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/w/WWII.shtml.
“Rural Life in Northern Utah, 1940.” Utah Historical Society. Accessed October 24, 2023. https://history.utah.gov/repository-item/rural-life-in-northern-utah-1940/.
Smart, Christopher. “World War II Put Utah Women to Work, Changed Face of the State. The Salt Lake City Tribune [Salt Lake City, Utah], September 1, 2015. https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=2879356&itype=cmsid.
“World War II in Utah.” (2016, March 25). History to Go Blog, March 25, 2016. Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement. https://historytogo.utah.gov/wwii-utah/#:~:text=In%20all%2C%20Utah%20had%20fourteen,great%20boost%20to%20the%20state.