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War in the Pacific National Historical Park

Established to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of those participating in the campaigns of the Pacific Theater of World War II and to conserve and interpret outstanding natural, scenic, and historic values and objects on the island of Guam for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations

- Park Mission Statement August 18, 1978

Pre-War Guam

Guam had been ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898 at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. Guam’s value to the United States was strictly strategic from a military perspective. At first, the island could serve as a coal depot for American naval ships plying between Hawaii and the Philippines. When coal was phased out not long after the Spanish-American War, Guam’s military value was uncertain.  However, the US held on and did not make huge investments in building up the island as a naval base.  In 1936, the island gained added American significance as a convenient stop-over for the Pan Am Clipper.

By 1941, Guam was still a quietly developing island of 22,000 people. Most residents still supported themselves by farming, but more people were earning a salary working for the slowly expanding civil government and modest military presence. A few years before the war, enlistment in the US Navy, limited to the role of mess stewards, became available to Guam's young men. As a result, many Chamorro men were serving on Navy ships all around the world when their island was invaded by the Japanese.

Unprepared For War

The isolationist mood in the U.S., with stronger national concerns regarding the Great Depression, worked against any move to strengthen Guam’s defenses. Arming Guam, it was believed, would only antagonize the nearby Japanese and accelerate the road to war. Various attempts to fund military development on Guam were consequently defeated in Congress. 

 

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Guam was the only American possession in Micronesia within the western Pacific.  The island was surrounded by Japanese-held islands, including the rest of the Mariana Islands which had come under Japanese control in 1914.  These islands shared the same ethnic, linguistic, and cultural ties with Guam, but fifty men from these islands were conscripted by the Japanese to assist them in the occupation of Guam. Rota, the closest to Guam, was just 54 miles away. Only hours after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Guam was attacked by Japanese planes based in Saipan, 135 miles north of Guam, on the same day. With Guam being located on the other side of the International Date Line, Guam’s attack occurred on December 8, 1941.

 

When war finally broke out, Guam’s American military assets consisted of 427 Navy and Marine personnel, many of them non-combative (against 5,900 Japanese troops), one mine sweeper, two patrol boats, and one freighter (against 20 Japanese vessels, including destroyers, cruisers, and submarine chasers). About 100 Chamorro members of the Insular Guard participated in the defense of Guam, armed with limited and outdated weaponry. Many of the rifles were labeled, “Do not shoot. For training only.” Thus, the Americans could only offer token resistance which lasted only hours when the Japanese landed on December 10.

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Occupation Of Guam

When the Japanese invading forces landed on Guam on December 10, it was a quick and easy victory. Nothing stopped their movements. The Japanese lost one life in the invasion while 13 Americans and 7 Chamorros were killed. In addition, 13 unarmed civilians were killed when their truck met the oncoming Japanese just west of the landing beach.

 

The American community, both military and civilian, were rounded up, confined and later sent to prisoner of war camps in Japan. Even elderly, long-time American civilian residents who had Chamorro wives and children were exiled. The residents of Hagåtña, the capital city, fled to their ranches but returned on orders from the Japanese to be given identification tags.

 

What followed was two-and-a-half years of Japanese occupation during which the Chamorro people had to focus on feeding themselves and the Japanese occupation forces. Those who were already farmers continued their work, and those who had other jobs had to return to farming, with few exceptions. Chamorros faced the daily stress and pressure of meeting Japanese food quotas, complying with Japanese rules, avoiding offending the Japanese and, when the Americans began their military action in early 1944, avoiding death or injury at either the hands of the Japanese, whose demands on Chamorro labor were increased as the Japanese built defensive structures and air fields, and whose paranoia and insecurity were heightened, or by American bombing and strafing. Close to the American invasion on July 21, 1944, more atrocities were committed by the Japanese which increased Chamorro resolve to survive and retaliate if necessary.

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