We’re going to do a history of Guam first because it’s interesting and it’s all probably stuff you didn’t know about Guam. A lot of it relates to some of the stuff we saw and did.
Brief History – colonies
The US was a colony and didn’t like that so we quit. Britain obviously said you can’t quit, we had a war. We quit. Then decided the only real way to be a country and prove ourselves as a country was to have colonies ourselves. Unfortunately everyone else owned everything already. We went to war with Spain and took their colonies including the Philippines. Guam was one of these colonies. Also we bought the US Virgin Islands from Denmark. We lost Guam to the Japanese in 1941, we later fought for it and got it back. Now Guam belongs to us, still, kind of. They are American citizens and have American passports but can’t vote in elections. They elect a delegate that represents them in congress but they can’t vote for things either. Guam does send delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions but that’s about it. Citizens also don’t pay taxes to the federal government. Many people we talked to were quick to complain they couldn’t vote. But no taxation without representation – they don’t pay federal taxes so they can’t vote.
So that’s the short history.
Here’s the long history
The native first Guamanians are called the Chamorro people. They were seafaring people a lot like the Hawaiians. They probably descended from modern-day Indonesia/Philippines/Malaysia. The most famous thing about them is probably the Latte Stones. These stones were used as the foundation to prop up homes and are now a symbol of Guam.
The first European to visit Guam was Magellan. He didn’t really like the Chammoros because they stole everything off his ship, he declared it the Island of Thieves and left.
Spain declared Guam theirs 40 years after Magellan’s visit. They introduced corn, cattle, western clothes and the big one: Catholicism. The Chamorros were not huge fans of this initially because babies near death were baptized which lead them to believe the baptism was killing the babies. A village chief brutally killed a priest after he baptized the chief’s baby without his consent. Now Guam has embraced Catholisism with 85% of people identifying as Roman Catholic.
Spain built roads, ports, schools and hospitals. They tried to build a cross-island road (hard with all the jungle) and some of the bridges are still surviving to this day.
The US took Guam from Spain in 1898. (This is when we wanted to be a big boy country with colonies and went to war with Spain) an American fleet showed up and fired warning shots at Guam. Messages were dispatched on Guam that the Americans were greeting the ports and a friendly captain of one of the forts got in a rowboat to go greet the Americans to which he was informed that Guam was now American and all the militants were POWs. Much to the surprise of everyone.
The whole conversion from Spanish rule to American was actually pretty peaceful and friendly- here’s the letter the governor wrote to the Americans to organize the occupation
“…I have been courteously requested, as a soldier, and, above all, as a gentleman, to hold a conference with you, adding that you have advised him that war has been declared between our respective nations, and that you have come for the purpose of occupying these Spanish islands.
It would give me great pleasure to comply with his request and see you personally, but, as the military laws of my country prohibit me from going on board a foreign vessel, I regret to have to decline this honor and to ask that you will kindly come on shore, where I await you to accede to your wishes as far as possible, and to agree as to our mutual situations. Asking your pardon for the trouble I cause you, I guarantee your safe return to your ship.
Very polite. America actually thought it was a trick but everything was worked out.
The main museum on Guam said that the Chamorros were so used to being colonized and told what to do so it was an easy transition. I think that’s an interesting thing to say and will let you think about that on your own.
Our story now turns back to colonies… in a way. Japan was tired of Asia not getting along and was tired of the colonization. It wanted to prove itself as a country a little like the US had and also argued it had absolutely no natural resources and that just wasn’t fair. It decided the best way for everyone to get along, for them to have resources, and for the colonization to stop would be to just colonize everyone. They called this the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The biggest problem with this would be the Americans, and the best way to stop the Americans from meddling with their plan would be to remove the American Navy from the Pacific.
So the same day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor it invaded Guam and many other islands in the pacific. Many people today don’t know this because Pearl Harbor overshadowed all else. At the time we suspected it was coming but decided Guam wasn’t really worth protecting. In fact some World War 1 guns and seaplanes had been removed in the 1930s.
4 hours after Pearl Harbor Japanese soldiers invaded Guam and within 48 hours (barely that) Guam surrendered. Many American soldiers were killed, some were put into hiding by local Chamorros and one hid on the island until 1944 with help by locals.
Japan used the Chamorros as slave labor to build up the defenses of the island. Any Japanese caves you see (hundreds are still on the island today) were carved out of the strong limestone rock by forced labor.
Also many guns were transported up hills and mountains by forced labor.
Chamorros were forced to learn Japanese language and customs. At one point 60 or so troublemakers, teachers and people who didn’t bow (fit into their Japanese world) were taken into two different caves where Japanese soldiers threw grenades in and stabbed survivors with bayonets. In one cave 14 people survived (amazingly).
Life under Japan wasn’t great for the Chamorros. They couldn’t rebel or really do anything but they did come up with a song that the Japanese quickly banned
“Early Monday morning
The action came to Guam,
Eighth of December,
Oh, Mr. Sam, my dear Uncle Sam,
Won’t you please come back to Guam?
Our lives are in danger
You better come
And kill all the Japanese
Right here on Guam.”
The Japanese taught the Chamorros a simple song in Japanese about the flag saying the Japanese flag is pretty, it has a red center like the sun and a white background. They changed the lyrics from “white” to a local word that meant dirty. The Japanese never figured out they were being made fun of.
So Japan occupied Guam and killed thousands of Chamorros. We don’t know the exact number but heres a monument that shows all the names of the locals killed from December 10th 1941 to about August 9th 1944
That’s certainly not all of them.
On July 21st 1944 American soldiers began the invasion of Guam. They landed on two places – Asan beach and Agat beach because there aren’t many decent beaches for invading. Most of it is very rocky or protected by gigantic reefs.
Underwater demolition teams actually went in to try to make it easier for landing craft but it still wasn’t easy.
Here is the view of Asan beach from Fonte Hill, this is where the Americans landed and eventually hiked up the hill fighting the whole way. This view is more or less what the Japanese would’ve seen except the field would’ve been rice paddies.
We visited the Japanese caves where Japanese were living on Fonte Hill.
From these caves they organized a banzai attack where they rushed at the established US soldiers hoping to overwhelm them. They made it far into US defenses to the point where injured Americans were fighting from their hospital beds but the attack didn’t work. 7 days after the invasion the two beachheads Asan and Agat met up and began securing the mountains.
The jungles are ridiculously thick in Guam so it was really tough work to fight, hunt and secure the island.
Dogs were majorly important to the fighting on Guam. They could hear/smell/find Japanese soldiers and alerted to surprise attacks. They detected mines and booby traps and of course protected soldiers while they slept. 60 Marine dogs landed on Guam, 20 were wounded and 25 died. One dog Kurt saved 250 lives on a single patrol when he alerted to an attack ahead. Theres a War Dog Cemetery in Guam but we couldn’t see it because it’s on the Naval Base. Military bases actually cover almost 30% of the land on Guam so we weren’t allowed to see 30% of the island.
If we had been allowed to see the memorial it would have looked like this
I think it’s good we recognize how important the dogs were for the jungles/cave systems/booby traps. I’m sure this list of names of those killed fighting for Guam (pictured below) would be a lot longer without the dogs.
At one point the Japanese rounded up all the Chamorros and sent them to concentration camps in the middle of the island/the mountains. They did this mostly to stop the Chamorros from assisting the Americans (they were sympathetic to the Americans and were eager to help – plus they carved out most of the caves and established gun embankments, it would’ve been easy to tell the Americans where everything was). What’s interesting about this is that it saved many Chamorros’ lives.
The Japanese had about 3 years to build up defenses on the island so they carved caves right into the limestone. They hid them, too, so aerial reconnaissance didn’t see many of them. Because the battle of Saipan had been so bloody the technique for taking Guam was to just sit out at sea and fire endlessly at the shores to take out the fortifications.
If the Chamorros hadn’t been in concentration camps in the mountains a lot more probably would’ve died at the hands of American artillery.
Americans landed on July 21st 1944 and on August 10th 1944 the island was taken. 7,000 Japanese soldiers were still at large so there were sweeps to be done.
On August 11th 1944 General Hideyoshi Obata who was in charge of the Marianas Islands committed ritual suicide on Guam
The last interesting piece of history is the story of Shoichi Yokoi who was discovered in the jungles of Guam in 1972 – 28 years after American forces took the island. He was the third to last Japanese WWII holdout (that we know of) to be discovered after the war ended , the final one was found in 1974 hiding in the jungles of Indonesia.
Shoichi Yokoi lived in the jungles with 9 other soldiers for a while – about 7,500 soldiers were thought to be at large so it’s not surprising groups were together. Some left, some died in a flood. He lived off the land and underground until some fishermen found him in 1972. It’s a big fake tourist attraction to visit his cave – the real one was destroyed in a typhoon long ago.
Just like how some people claim the tourist cave is the real one most people say he didn’t know that the war was over. He knew what year it was by keeping track of moon cycles and said he knew the war was over since 1952 but it was too embarrassing to come out of hiding. He told the Japanese people upon his return “it is with great embarrassment that I have returned.” It’s possible he knew it was over because Japanese people specifically hid flags with modern newspapers and notes saying the war is over across many islands to try to get soldiers to return home. Some people speculate he may have stayed hidden so long because
- the unit he was with was supposed to fight to the death but he and the 9 others retreated.
- he may have been expected to commit suicide rather than be captured but hid instead.
- Others have speculated he committed war crimes against Chamorros and didn’t want to be tried for them/didn’t want to return to society.
So that’s all the interesting and incredible things we learned about while on Guam. I bet you didn’t know half of that because we sure didn’t.