Island Memories of World War II
© 1987, East-West Center
. . . .gun noises, and the actual sight of the
ships seemed to have removed the bones of the people. They could not run
and even if they did try to run, they could not. It was a unique
disaster beyond anybody's memory...
That afternoon. . . . there was no time to go to
your village to gather your family or collect your valuable belongings.
Wife ran naked without her husband and children. Husband ran naked
without his wife and children. A child ran without his parents... All
ran in different directions into the bush. All ran like rats and
bandicoots in the Kunai grass. The night fell and each individual slept
either in the grass or under trees. The soil was your bed and the rotton
logs your pillow You go to sleep wherever you happened to run to. The
noise of the guns died down at night.
Alfred Duna of Konje village describing Japanese
landings at Buna, Papua New Guinea
Hundreds of islands and atolls stretching across the
Pacific Ocean were affected in vastly different ways by the war. In
parts of the New Guinea Highlands, large populations remained unaware
that the war was taking place, even as coastal areas were in the throes
of European evacuation or Japanese occupation. But on those islands
which became battlegrounds, there was every form of disruption and
degradation, ranging from the inconvenience of severed communications to
the devastation of entire communities.
Daily life in many areas became harsh and regimented
as Islanders were recruited to work for victoryMicronesians for
the Japanese, Polynesians for the Allies, and Melanesians for both
sides. Then, as battles raged, occupied areas were cut off from supply
lines, bombed incessantly and, in some cases, invaded with massive
force. The death toll of Islanders killed by the warring powers, either
accidentally or deliberately, will never be known. It is estimated that
in Papua New Guinea alone, 15,000 villagers perished in the fighting,
bombings and executions.
As U.S. forces drove north during the final week of fighting on Guam,
many people emerged from hideouts in the hills. Here a Chamorro woman
suffering from malnutrition is brought in for treatment by the
Americans. Much of the indigenous population of Guam remained loyal to
"Uncle Sam" after the Japanese occupation on December 10, 1941, and
suffered greatly as a result.
U.S. Marine Corps
Uprooting and Evacuation
For people who find their identity and well-being
rooted in the land, forced movement away from villages and ancestral
lands was one of the most bitter experiences of the war.
The flight of the people sometimes took place in
torrential rain, or cold....The hunger was terrible and in some places
one taro sufficed for five or six people's appetites. The children often
cried and nursing mothers wept because they were suckling
Peter Buck, New Georgia, Solomon Islands
Villagers were evicted from their settlements as
military authorities on both sides moved people out of the way to
establish their own bases. Nearly the entire population of Nissan
(Green) Island was evacuated by the American forces to Guadalcanal where
many died of malaria. On Rennell, where Americans cut down a coconut
grove and moved its owner to make room for an airstrip which was never
used, the owner, Tekiuniu, composed a song in retaliation:
Dig up my coconuts, remove my house,
kill my forest trees
as the geemugi of harvest songs.
Would there were a path to tread upon,
as I would retaliate such my thought
as I ravage America I lay waste.
War has come.
The young men are leaving
to defend alien land.
The foreigners will be saved.
What has called
the young men away
to become enemy victims?
The conquerors will be happy.
The mother is deserted
lonely without her son
a barren beggar
abandoned to heartache.
The mother who lost blood
has become a barren beggar
The one who bore him
I am a lonely beggar
Gavide, Kotaure village, Papua New Guinea
And I sit crying in the belly of my house,
thinking of my brother.
And he truly went into the thick of war
in which people vanish....
Kiabig, Siar village, Nissan Island
The massive and often chaotic movement of people during the
warfor refuge, for labor, and for fightingseparated mothers
and sons, husbands and wives, and kin from kin for months and years at a
time with no certainty that they would ever see each other again. The
intensive recruiting of workers and soldiers left many communities empty
of young men and struggling to survive.
Islanders remember attempts by both the Japanese and Allied forces to
keep them out of targeted areas, but thousands became innocent victims
of indiscriminate bombing. Others died in bombing raids carried out, by
both sides, against villages suspected of collaboration. In January
1943, U.S. planes bombed several villages on Bougainville and dropped
leaflets warning neighboring peoples of a similar fate.
In Guam, where Chamorro residents of the former U.S.
possession had lived for two and a half years under harsh Japanese
supervision, numerous atrocities were perpetrated prior to the American
invasion in 1944. Atrocities happened afterwards, too. The people of
Enewetak, on February 4, 1944, took cover in bunkers from an awesome
naval and air barrage. Whereas most of the local inhabitants of the
lagoon recall being treated well by the American invaders, the people of
Meden were the victims of a senseless attack. One of the survivors
. . . All of us were in the holes. Anything not in
the holes disappeared. . . . In the holes it was awful. We were hungry and
thirsty but no one could go out. If you traveled outside you would
disappear. Then in their coming the (US) warriors were not straight in
their work. They came to the shelter of ours, guns ready and looked
toward us inside. So great was our fear that we were all in a corner,
like kittens. And then they yelled and threw in a hand grenade... When
it burst, the whole shelter was torn apart. So powerful was the thing
one could never stand. Earth fragments struck us, but the others in the
other half, they died. All the force of the explosion went over