The Defense of Guam
SPIRIT OF REMEMBRANCE
By Tony Palomo
Despite rumors of war, the year 1941 dawned on Guam
on an optimistic note. The ill-effects of the Great Depression were
virtually gone. The U.S. Congress had finally appropriated millions of
dollars for various capital improvement projects, including dredging and
expanding Apra Harbor, erecting much-needed fuel tanks and converting
the Agana power plant from coal to oil. Jobs were becoming plentiful,
particularly to hundreds of young men who lost jobs as a consequence of
budget cuts in previous years.
Several major companies commenced operation in Guam,
including Standard Oil of California and Pacific Commercial Cable
Company, and Pan American Airways began recruiting local men for work at
Wake, Midway and Canton islands, where the leading American commercial
airline was expanding airport facilities at these island-hopping
Although 1941 dawned on an optimistic
note, by the end of the year war had come and taken not only the church
at Sumay village, but a way of life.
The local Navy command also was in a recruiting mood.
More than a hundred young men joined the mess attendants branch of the
Navy, increasing the number of Chamorros in the Navy to more than 600.
Another 110 young men were accepted in the re-organized Guam Insular
Force, establishing a guard unit to handle security assignments. The
Guam Militia, whose formation went back to the early period of the
Spanish regime, could count on several hundred men.
Although the American Congress was dominated by
isolationistspeople who opposed foreign entanglementsand was
adamant against extending U.S. citizenship status to America's Pacific
territories, the people of Guam felt deeply that America would live up
to the principles for which she was known throughout the world. From the
advent of American administration at the turn of the century, the
Chamorros were unrelenting in expressing their desire for American
citizenship. They had supporters in and outside Congress such as
Senators Ernest Gibson (R-Vt.) and Millard Tydings (D-MD) and the
American Civil Liberties Union but they couldn't overcome strong
opposition by the Navy Department, which felt that because of
international uncertainties, particularly the deteriorating relationship
between the United States and Japan, that it was not the appropriate
time to consider the question of U.S. citizenship for the people of
Guam. In any event, said the Navy, the Chamorros were being treated as
well as American citizens.
To most Chamorros, it was unimaginable that Japan
would even consider challenging the supremacy of the United States, a
country that was at least ten times larger than Japan, its population
about three times more, and its natural and material resources immensely
more bountiful. The might of Uncle Sam was simply awesome and
indestructible in the eyes of the Chamorros of Guam.
Lobbying for U.S. citizenship on behalf
of Guamanians in 1936 were B.J. Bordallo and Francisco B. Leon
After 40 years of association with America and
exposure to the ways of Americans, it was unthinkable for the people of
Guam to consider adopting any other relationship. As the venerable
Francisco B. Leon Guerrero used to say, "there is only one 'ism, and
that is "Americanism." It was Guerrero and Baltazar J. Bordallo who
journeyed to Washington, D.C., in 1936 to lobby for U.S. citizenship.
Proposed legislation was introduced in both the U.S. Senateby
Gibson and Tydingsand in the House of Representatives by
Congressman Kocialewski, but the bills died in committee.
Notwithstanding the troubling sense of uncertainty,
the people of Guam pursued their daily lives as they had done for
hundreds of years. To most families, the farmlands strewn throughout the
island, from Yigo at the northern end of the island to historic Umatac
at the southern tip, provided most of the basic necessitiescorn,
taro, yam, coconuts, bananas, citrus fruits and the like. The ocean was
still a dependable source of food although the Chamorros, were no longer
pre-eminent fishermen and deep-sea divers, as they were before and
during the early Spanish regime.
By 1941, the Americanization of Guam was a dubious,
success. The Chamorros had been ingrained with the virtues of
democracyfreedom, liberty, representative government, the right to
vote, et cetera, although their exercise was greatly limited. The naval
governor still had absolute authoritylawmaker, chief executive and
supreme judge, all in one. In other words, there had been no fundamental
change in governmental authority since Spanish Captain Don Francisco de
Irrisari y Vinar assumed the position of governor of the Marianas in
Francisco B. Leon Guerrero used to say, "there is
only one 'ism', and that is 'Americanism'."
Automobiles, were fast replacing the bullcarts, the
predominant mode of travel and transportation in yester-years. Don Pedro
Martinez, among the first Chamorros to obtain higher education in the
United States, was the dealer for the best cars from DetroitNash,
DeSoto, Chevrolet and other products of General Motors. Many homes were
blessed with telephones and one could call a friend or relation by
simply dialing three or four digits. More and more homes boasted having
flush toilets and running water. Electricity was no longer a rare
commodity and the cost per month ranged from $3 to $5.
Butter and cheese, corn beef and cabbage, pork and
beans were cheerily adapted into the local menu. The tobacco companies
found eager clientele for the likes of Camel, Lucky Strike, Old Gold,
Chesterfield and Philip Morris, best sellers since '99.
Among the most popular American movie stars were
Errol Flynn, a flashy debonair, Spencer Tracy, James Cagney, Gene Autry,
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Diana Durbin, Bobby Breen, Nelson Eddy and
Jeannette MacDonald. Shirley Temple, of course, was loved by all. The
local theaters the Gaity and the Aganawere popular
entertainment centers, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when
they offered prizes, particularly in a roulette-type game called
A lively baseball game (above) at the
Plaza was a favorite way to pass an afternoon. Among the local baseball
teams was the Department of Education team (left). Basketball was a
favorite as well. This team (far left) features Joaquin Manibusan
(front center), now a Superior Court judge.
The national past-time of baseball was by 1941
well-established, with local aggregations such as the Agana Cubs, KCK
(Knights of Christ the King), Education, the Carabaos, and the Guam
Institute generally more than equal to the military contingents and
visiting servicemen. The diamond stalwarts included such players as John
(Korori) Camacho, Joaquin Atoigue, Charlie Perez, Tas Salas, James
Sablan, Bill Lujan, Ben Zafra and Juan Muna.
To most Chamorros, it was unimaginable that Japan would even
consider challenging the supremacy of the United States, a country that
was at least ten times larger than Japan.
The boxing game was ruled by such fighters as Slugger
Quitugua, Mauling Maanao, Tommy Cruz, Rocky Aflague, Battling Mariano
and Nick de Mike. Almost annually, the local pugilists would travel to
Cavite in the Philippines to light such Filipino battlers as Young Teddy
and Baby Grande, or the Filipinos would visit Guam and fight the locals
at the Agana Stadium, which was usually packed to the rafters during
these popular confrontations.
Guam's top wrestler was the redoubtable Joe Sudo, who
was supreme in the scientific approach to wrestling. Angel Santos, a
behemoth of a man, became an overnight hero when he challenged and
demolished a Japanese import who came as an added attraction to a
mini-circus brought from Japan.
Except for minor criminal activities such as thievery
and street fighting, Guam was as peaceful as an earthly tropical
paradise can be. A man's word of honor was sacred. Properties were sold
or exchanged without any legalistic formalities. Door and window locks
in the homes were rare. Families left their residences in Agana and
spent days or even weeks at family ranches without worrying about their
personal belongings. Their neighbors were as trustworthy as their kin.
In fact, it was a common practice for neighbors to share their fortunes,
good or bad, be it a cup of ground coffee, a quarter pound of sugar, a
palmful of salt, a half dozen eggs or ten pounds of shank.
The rebuilding or repair of a home was a communal
endeavor, with family and friends working together to get the job done,
usually within a day or two.
Many hands make a big job easier. Family
and friends often worked together to build or repair houses.
Outside the immediate family, the center of existence
was the church, the bulwark of society. Domestic problemsand to
some extent, civil squabbleswere often resolved by the clergy.
Most districts of the ancient city of Agana, and every outlying village
had a patron saint. Annual religious processions were held honoring San
Antonio, San Ignacio, Santa Cruz, San Nicolas, San Jose, San Dionisio,
Santa Maria, Santa Ana, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, San Roque and San
Vicente, to name some. Attending Sunday Mass was not a matter of choice.
It was inbred into the very being of most Chamorros.
Most infants were given names based on the feast day
of a particular saint. Names such as Sally, Cindy and Andy were a no-no
in homes where saintly icons were revered. Divorce was anathema and an
invitation to ostracism. To the Chamorros, in other words, the virtues
of Americanism were worthy of emulation and adoption, but so were the
high values inherited from more than two centuries of Spanish rule and
influenceincluding the virtues of personal honor, respect,
collective and family responsibility, and spiritual well-being.
To the Chamorros, the virtues of Americanism were worthy of
emulation and adoption, but so were the high values inherited from more
than two centuries of Spanish rule and influenceincluding the
virtues of personal honor, respect, collective and family
responsibility, and spiritual well-being.
To the Chamorros, in other words, the virtues of Americanism were
worthy of emulation and adoption, but so were the high values inherited
from more than two centuries of Spanish rule and
influenceincluding the virtues of personal honor, respect,
collective and family responsibility, and spiritual well-being.
Although the island was at peace, there were
nevertheless signs and rumblings about the possibility of war. From time
to time, there were black outscaused not by snakes but were
duly scheduled as a matter of training.
A small Japanese fishing boat went aground at the
southern end of the island. The 20-man crew were found not to be
fishermen but were a cadre of intelligence operatives, according to
A group of American Marine officers visited the
island for the sole purpose of reviewing various elements in the map of
Guam, re-visiting the coastal areas and re-identifying the location of
rivers and streams, water wells, highways and side roads.
The sound of planes flying over or near the
islandat nightwere reported on several occasions. The weekly
arrival of Pan American's famous Clippers were invariably during
daylight hours, so these aircraft must not be ours.
The several lookout posts manned by members of the
Insular Force Guard reported sighting massive ships bound to or from
Saipan on a number of occasions.
A small police unit kept tab of the activities and
movements of the island's Japanese nationals, about 50 of them.
Our neighboring islands of Rota, Tinian and Saipan
were closed ports, and outsiders were, of course, not welcomed.
The clearest indication of impending trouble came
about on October 17 when all American dependents (except one) were
evacuated from the island, bound for safe ports in Hawaii and the West
Coast. The sole exception was the wife of a Navy chief who was expecting
to give birth anytime.
Notwithstanding these premonitory indicators, the
general consensus was that if there was to be an armed conflict between
America and Japan or any other country, such a confrontation would be
somewhere far from Guam's shores, and that Uncle Sam would
prevailwith ease. And Japan was considered among the least likely
of adversariesa third rate power in the eyes of the citizens of
Guam, an unworthy challenger to the might of America.
The weekly arrival of Pan American's famous Clippers were
invariably during daylight hours, so these aircraft must not be
Guam's faith in America received a severe jolt,
however, on the morning of the eighth of December, 1941. Nine silvery
planes followed the sun from the east, flew over Agana and as people
watched in awe, unloaded bombs at the Sumay Peninsula, striking part of
the recently renovated Pan American Hotel, blasting one of the new fuel
tanks and peppering away at selected targets at the western
Some of the people who watched the action in the sky
were in shock, believing those planes were part of the American Pacific
Fleet, soon learning otherwise. Nowhere on land was there artillery to
counter-attackthanks to the 1922 Naval Disarmament agreement
whereby the United States, Great Britain and Japan agreed not to fortify
their respective overseas territories, the U.S. complying with the
accord, and Japan rejecting the agreement in 1935 and proceeding to arm
its far-flung empire, including the mandated territories in
The U.S.S. Penguin, sunk by her
crew off Orote Point, after an exchange of fire with attacking Japanese
planes on the morning of December 8, 1941. One of her crewmen, Ensign
Robert White, was killed during the attack. Many suffered
The air invaders then proceeded to take on Guam's
only seaworthy vessel, the USS Penguin, an antiquated minesweeper
converted to a tugboat that had seen better days in the North Sea during
the First World War. As best they could, the Penguin crew faced the
buzzing planes, counter-attacking with the only anti-aircraft gun on the
island. The brief but explosive battle ended when Ensign Robert White,
who was manning the anti-aircraft gun, was hit by machine gun fire and
died on the spot.
When the planes departed, flying northward toward
Saipan, the Penguin crew decided to scuttle the Penguin.
The ship's valves were loosened, condemning the valiant vessel to the
bottom of the sea, about a mile off Orote Point, and became among the
first casualties of the Pacific War.
By noon on the eighth, most of the people in Agana
and Sumay had fled to outlying areas, and the city and town became ghost
settlements by nightfall. The day had begun with much promise and
happiness. It was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of
obligation honoring the Virgin Mary. By sundown, it had become a
The enemy aircraft returned on the ninth, roaring
over the island, dropping bombs here and there and strafing selected
targets. It was obvious, even to the Japanese, that Guam posed no
threat. Destroying public and commercial facilities that they were sure
to seize would be unwise, thus the selective attack.
After consulting with his military aides, including
Colonel McNulty of the Marines, Naval Governor George McMillin decided
to deploy the 153-man Marine contingent at Orote Point, and the rest of
the military force, including the Insular Force Guard, in Agana. Thus,
the Marines would defend the western part of the island, and the Insular
Guard and Navy the central part, principally Agana. The most potent
weapons of the Agana defenders were three machine guns, several
automatic rifles and pistols and little else. Indeed, there were 85
Springfield rifles, World War I vintage, with labels reading; "Do not
shoot. For training only."
As one can imagine, the defendersdeployed
generally within the Plaza de Espana perimeterwere as ill-prepared
as a military force can ever be. The Insular Force guards were organized
a mere six months earlier, and no one had ever fired a real machine gun
before. Most of the Navy personnel were trained in administrative and
other non-combative work. They included storekeepers, hospital corpsmen,
radiomen, yeomen and administrative aides.
The Japanese force, on the other hand, was
well-trained, well-equipped, and well-disciplined. Many of the 5,000
invading force had combat experience in Manchuria, Shanghai and Nanking.
The special navy striking force of some 500 and based in Saipan had
undergone war maneuvers, with Guam as the prime invasion target.
As it turned out, the special naval force did all the
fighting. Members of the unit sneaked into Apurguanbetween
Tamuning and East Aganaat about 3 a.m., cut down everyone on
sight, including 13 members of the Limtiaco family of Piti who were
rushing to Yigo in a sedan converted to a jitney. By the time the
invaders reached Agana, at least 30 people had perished.
Plaza de Espana was the center of civic,
religious and social activities for years. In December 1941, it became
the site of a courageous struggle and ultimately a humiliating surrender
of American soil.
The day had begun with much promise and happiness. It was the
feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation honoring
the Virgin Mary. By sundown, it had become a nightmare.
Meanwhile, the South Seas Detachment, with more than
4,000 soldiers, had planned to land in Merizo and march on to the Apra
Harbor area via Umatac and Agat. But as meticulous as the Japanese were,
they discovered too latethat there was no road between
Umatac and Agat. So the invading force had to cancel the Merizo landing
and moved on to Facpi Point, west of Orote Point. By the time this force
reached its new beachhead, the smaller naval force had reached the Plaza
de Espana and forced a surrender after a brief but violent exchange of
By early morning on that fateful day, the Plaza de
Espana, site of countless civic, religious and social functions
throughout the ages, was transformed into an arena where America
suffered its second humiliation in seventy-two hours and where Imperial
Japan seized its first American territory, the beginning of its
cherished goal to establish a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere by
conquering most of Asia and the Pacific.
None of these men saw themselves as warriors,
ready to fight in defense of their faith and nation. But caught in the
web of tragedy, they did what they had to do.
Among the men whose blood was spilt at the Plaza and
its periphery was Ben Chargualaf, an Insular Guard ammunition carrier
who stuck to the end, assisting Pedro (Pedang) Cruz in manning a machine
gun at the northeast corner of the Plaza; Roman Camacho, a young
civilian camera-bug who saw in a machine gun a protective shield against
an advancing enemy, only to die from bullet and bayonet wounds; John
Kauffman, a young Marine orderly whose twitching eye was perceived by a
Japanese soldier as a show of mockery; Angel Flores and Jesus Cruz,
Insular Guardsmen; Malvern Smoot, a Navy chief; and J. Kluegel, an
None of these men saw themselves as warriors, ready
to fight in defense of their faith and nation. But caught in the web of
tragedy, they did what they had to do. And knowing the circumstances
under which they fought, they achieved the highest in human
attainmentheroes of the first order. The world may not know it, but
we doand that's what counts.
(left) Boy Scouts of America, Guam
Chapter. From left, front: Daniel Torres, Teddy Taitano, Joe Nededog;
unidentified, unidentified; Greg Unchangco, Manuel Bias and Robert
Flores. Second row: Augusto Calvo, Elo Calvo, John Cepeda, John Borja,
Julio Camacho and Pete Siguenza. Third row, standing: Carlos Gutierrez,
John Rivera, Ben Guerrero, Adrian Sanchez, John Mendiola, Luis Perez
(with hat), Joaquin Flores, John Rojas, John Tuncap Taimanglo, Benny
Butler, Kin Salas, and Ben Champaco.
(far left) Seaton Schroeder Junior High
School graduates, class of 1936. Shown with the young graduates were
Simon Sanchez, Superintendent of Schools,, Principal Agueda Johnston,
and teachers Eugenia Underwood Robinson, Maria Leon Guerrero, Cynthia
Torres, Lagrimas L.G. Untalan, Carmen Ojeda Herrero and Reverend Joaquin