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US Carrier Yorktown is hit by Japanese bombs during the Battle of Midway, June 1942
Guam 1941-1944: Conquest and Liberation
The 1944 liberation of Guam, shown on the map above, followed the same pattern as several dozen similar campaigns conducted by American forces between 1942 and 1945: the opening air and naval barrages, the amphibious assault, the contested landing, the hard jungle fighting against well-entrenched Japanese forces. The only questions were how long the campaign would last and how many lives it would cost. The black lines and dates on the map signify the stages in which the Americans occupied the island and cleared it of its Japanese defenders. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

The Japanese conquest of Guam began about an hour after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Saipan-based Japanese dive bombers launched the first in a series of raids on the Island. At that time Guam's total protection consisted of 153 Marines, 271 U.S. Navy personnel, 134 civilian construction workers, and 247 members of the local Chamorro Insular Force Guard and the Naval Militia. (Chamorros are the indigenous people of Guam.) The garrison had no artillery, only a few .30-caliber machine guns, and various small arms. For two days the Japanese bombed and strafed the island and its defenders. In the early morning hours of December 10, a special Japanese naval landing party of about 400 men from the 5th Defense Force based on Saipan began landing at Dungca's Beach in Agana Bay. At the same time, a Japanese Army unit known as the South Seas Detachment landed on the beaches of Aporguan, Tumon, Togcha, Agat, and other areas. The Insular Guard made a gallant attempt to stop the Japanese advance at the Plaza de Espana in Agana (now Hagåtña) but was soon driven back. By 5:45 a.m. Capt. George J. McMillin, USN, the Island's governor, realized that his tiny command was no match for the invasion force and began to surrender his post and the island.

Guam remained in Japanese hands for two and a half years and Chamorros were forced to endure the hardships of military occupation in a war not of their making. For the first four months the island was controlled by army troops, who were housed in schools and government buildings in Agana. The island was renamed Omiya Jima (Great Shrine Island) and Chamorros were required to learn the Japanese custom of bowing. Japanese yen became the island's currency, and civilian affairs were handled by a branch of the army called the minseisho. Cars, radios, and cameras were confiscated and food was rationed until supplies became exhausted. Chamorros suspected of hiding family members wanted by the Japanese, or of aiding the few Americans that did not surrender, were harassed, beaten, or tortured, and, in some instances, executed by order of the authorities.

Control of the island came under the Imperial Japanese Navy in March 1942. The keibitai, as it was known, governed the populace for about 19 months. Chamorros were allowed to remain on their farms and trade for products they needed. Social activities included parties, Japanese movies, and sports competitions. Mass meetings were held in Agana to reinforce the "Nippon Seishen" (spirit of Japan). Schools were reopened and Chamorros were required to learn the Japanese language and customs. English was forbidden. Adults and children were taught reading, writing, math, and Japanese games and songs.

In early 1944, with the war going badly for Japan and an American invasion threatening, the Japanese Army returned to Guam, bringing with it a new and stricter form of government—the kaikon tai. Social activities were terminated, schools were closed, and Chamorro men, women, and children over the age of 12 were forced to work long hours in the fields, repair or build airstrips and defense installations, and dig hundreds of Japanese shelter caves, many of which are within the boundaries of today's park. Chamorros, laboring at bayonet point, were mistreated and, in some cases, executed after completing defense installations. Without warning, 10,000-15,000 Chamorros, young and old, were forced to march with only the belongings they could carry to concentration camps in Guam's central and southern jungles. With inadequate shelter, little food, and no sanitary facilities, life in these camps was miserable. Despite the hardships, however, incarceration proved to be a blessing in disguise. Had they not been moved, many Chamorros would have been killed by the American pre-invasion bombardment and the Japanese crossfire.

The Guam operation "was brilliantly and valorously conducted and resulted in the recovery of important American Territory and the liberation of loyal people. Well Done." —Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

On the morning of July 21, 1944, after one of the longest and heaviest pre-assault naval bombardments of the war, the American recapture of Guam began with simultaneous landings at Asan and Agat beaches by 55,000 men of the 3rd Marine Division, 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, and 305th Regimental Combat Team of the 77th Army Infantry Division. By day's end, despite some initial confusion over landing sites and stiff resistance by the island's 18,500 Japanese defenders, both beaches had been secured. In the three weeks that followed (see map at far left), the Americans cleared Orote Peninsula and secured Fonte Plateau. They then moved north toward Agana, Barrigada, Mount Santa Rosa, and on to Ritidian Point, where the island was declared secure. The recapture of Guam cost more than 7,000 American and about 17,500 Japanese casualties. Japan's grip on the Marianas was broken and the end of the war was now just slightly over a year away.

Lt. Commander Homura, Governor of Japanese-occupied Guam, inspects Chamorro workers planting rice. Chamorro and Korean laborers were forced to work in the fields to produce food, clear runways for airstrips, and dig hillside caves, trenches, and other Japanese defense fortifications. Assault troops of the 3rd Marine Division wade ashore under fire at Asan Beach, July 21, 1944. Their objective: capture the cliffs and high ground immediately inland and prepare for further operations to the east and southeast.

Seeing the Park
park map
Park Map. (click on image for an enlargement in PDF format ~1.2mb)

With the establishment of War in the Pacific National Historical Park, the United States National Park System now extends across the Pacific Ocean. Authorized on August 18, 1978, the park was 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..."

Like many other Pacific Islands, Guam contains historical features associated with World War II, especially the 1944 American liberation. The park itself consists of seven separate units. They are located in or near the villages of Asan, Piti, and Agat, on the west side of the island facing the Philippine Sea.

The Asan Beach Unit is the site of the northern landing beach, It was here that the 3rd Marine Division came ashore for the initial assault and was met by troops of the Japanese 320th Independent Infantry Battalion. War-related structures are located at Asan Point and Adelup Point. The remains of some American military equipment and coral-encrusted ordnance lie underwater in the offshore area.

The T. Stell Newman Visitor Center and Park Headquarters is closed due to extensive damage from Supertyphoon Pongsona.

At Asan Point, the "Liberators' Memorial," installed during the Liberation of Guam 50th Anniversary ceremonies, honors veterans of the armed forces who participated in the 1944 landing. The Guam Combat Patrol is also honored for helping the Americans scout out Japanese stragglers. Funding was provided by the Guam Chapters of the National Association for Uniformed Services and the Third Marine Division Association, and by the people of Guam.

Discover hidden Japanese fortifications and historic sites along the Asan Ridge Trail. More than 50 years ago, Chamorros were forced to build these Japanese defenses.

The Asan Inland Unit is directly opposite the Asan Beach Unit across Marine Drive. It was on the face of these cliffs and hillsides that the American landing forces met heavy resistance. Today, thick jungle growth or swordgrass savannah covers the area, making hiking fairly difficult.

Asan Bay Overlook, on Route 6, contains a memorial garden in honor of Chamorros and Americans who died on Guam during the war years. Their names are inscribed on the memorial walls along with the names of Chamorros who endured the hardships of war through injury, forced labor, forced marches, and internment. Bronze panels illustrate scenes of the invasion, occupation, and liberation of the island. The site provides a panoramic view of the Asan landing beach.

The Piti Guns Unit is on the ridge behind the village of Piti. After a steep ascent, the 1/4-mile trail leads to three Japanese coastal defense guns.

The Mt. Chachao/Mt. Tenjo Unit provided the Japanese defenders with a view of United States troops landing at Asan Beach and a scenic overview of Apra Harbor and Orote Point. The unimproved trail leads to foxholes, trenches, and a World War I American gun emplacement.

The Agat Unit is the site of the southern landing beach. It was here that the First Provisional Marine Brigade and the 305th Regimental Combat Team of the 77th Army Infantry Division came ashore. They were met by the Japanese 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry. Apaca Point, Ga'an Point, Bangi Point, and Bangi Island contain historic sites and structures, including caves, bunkers, latrine foundations, and pillboxes.

The beach and offshore area here are relatively unspoiled and provide a good impression of how they looked in 1944. Several pieces of American military equipment still lie underwater near the edge of the reef.

The Mt. Alifan Unit, site of a former Japanese command post, contains the remains of bomb craters, fox holes, and trenches. The slopes of these hills saw intense battles between United States Marines and the defending Japanese forces. This area is undeveloped, making access difficult.

The Fonte Plateau Unit, site of a former Japanese naval communications center, is currently undeveloped.

Marines take cover behind bomb and shell debris and fallen coconut trees, July 1944. U.S. Army tanks of the 77th Infantry Division take a few moments' rest to view the damaged ruins of Agana (now Hagåtña). Marines of the III Amphibious Corps Artillery fire one of their 155-mm. howitzers in support of the 305th Infantry's attack on the Orote Peninsula, July 22-24, 1944.

Things You Should Know

Guam's warm climate, sandy beaches, and turquoise waters beckon visitors to rediscover the Island's rich heritage.

Fishing, hiking, picnicking, and (for those with experience) snorkeling and diving are among the many recreational opportunities available in the individual park units and around the island.

The year-round temperature averages 27°C (80°F) and the ocean temperature a pleasant 27.2°C (81°F) May to November is the rainy season, and you can expect wet, hot, and humid days. Temperatures cool down from November through April, the dry season, and tropical trade winds are common. Typhoons can occur in any month, although they are more common during the rainy season. But don't worry; typhoons give ample warring of their coming and there is plenty of time to take shelter.

Park historic structures and military equipment are more than 50 years old and are very fragile. Do not disturb any of the historic ground features, such as foxholes, trenches, and bomb craters.

Please do not remove or mar the historic and natural objects beneath the water's surface. They are protected by law.

Do not trespass on private property. Some lands within the park are privately owned. Please respect these property rights. If in doubt, check with the ranger at the information desk in the visitor center.

Administration War in the Pacific National Historical Park is part of the National Park System, which consists of more than 388 parks that are important examples of our country's natural and cultural heritage.

For more information write Superintendent, War in the Pacific NHP, 460 North Marine Corps Drive, Piti, Guam, 96915; www.nps.gov/wapa on the Internet.

For Your Safety

War in the Pacific National Historical Park is a new and developing area and your safety and enjoyment are our main concern. You can ensure both by observing the following:

Do not enter any caves or tunnels. Some may contain hidden explosives. Do not open any sealed caves; it is illegal and dangerous.

Most important of all: Do not disturb any ammunition that you may find on or off shore. It is extremely dangerous and may detonate at any time. Report its location to a ranger, who will have it removed by qualified personnel.

War in the Pacific National Historical Park contains numerous World War II relics, including three Japanese coastal defense guns in the Piti Guns Unit (far left) and the miscellaneous remains of American military equipment sunk offshore during the July 1944 landings.

Last Updated: 09-Mar-2004