War in the Pacific: The First Year
Great Shrine Island: The Japanese Occupation of Guam
In January, 1942, the Argentina Maru sailed away from
Guam, taking with it prisoners of war, including American military and
civilian personnel, Navy nurses, American and Spanish priests. All
unaware that they would remain in concentration camps in Japan until the
end of the war in 1945. This was a harsh reminder to the Chamorros that
the island was truly in enemy hands, and ushered in the second
occupation of Guam. Many Chamorros were forced from their homes and
loved ones, some never to return.
In March, 1942, three months after the Japanese
invasion and initial occupation of Guam, the island came under the
control of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The keibitai, the newly installed
military government, controlled Omiya Jima, meaning Great Shrine Island,
for nearly one and one-half years. Commander Hayashi Horace, who
initially led naval landing troops during the December Japanese
invasion, headquartered the keibitai at the former Governor's Palace in
Agana. A detachment of troops was also stationed at the former U.S.
Marine Barracks in Sumay.
Chamorro students are instructed in the
Japanese language during the occupation of Guam.
The troops of the keibitai were kept under very
strict control by their officers. During weekend liberties, sailors
would don their white uniforms and stroll through Agana. The sailors
would sometimes visit the homes of those Chamorros who chose to remain
in the city, bringing gifts of candy, as well as much appreciated
Japanese Kinsei and Sakura cigarettes. Chamorros would, in turn, give
the Japanese cooked food, fresh fruit, and handicrafts. However, this
was not to say that all was well. The Japanese were often ruthless in
their search for six American Navy men who chose to hide out in the
jungles, rather than surrender.
The day-to-day administration of island affairs was
under the control of the minseibu, whose offices were located at the St.
Vincent de Paul building, adjacent to the Dulce Nombre de Maria
Cathedral in Agana. The cathedral was used as a public auditorium for
various activities, greatly offending the predominantly Catholic
Chamorros. To care for the people's spiritual needs, the Japanese
allowed two Catholic priests, Father Jesus Baza Duenas and Father Oscar
Calvo, as well as the Baptist minister Reverend Joaquin Sablan to remain
on island. Beloved and respected by the community, Father Duenas openly
voiced his concerns for the protection of the people and often refused
to make announcements for the Japanese, unless it was for scheduled
meetings and regulations.
Troops of the Imperial Japanese Navy
muster in front of the former U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Sumay.
Assisting the minseibu as interpreters and
investigators during this period were Chamorros from Saipan, Tinian, and
Rota. (These islands, along with other Northern Mariana Islands, were
seized by Japanese forces during World War I. The takings were
subsequently approved by the League of Nations.) This greatly disturbed
Guam's Chamorros as these men, their brothers, later proved to be just
as cruel, if not more so, as the Japanese soldiers themselves.
Lieutenant Commander Homura, an elderly Japanese
officer, served as the governor of the island. Homura's glowing accounts
of Japanese victories during the first months of the war, angered many
Chamorros who could not imagine the defeat of such a powerful country
such as America.
As Homura governed Guam, George Tweed, a U.S. Navy
radioman and the sole American not captured during the Japanese
occupation, was hidden from the Japanese by many courageous Chamorros,
including Father Duenas, as well as the Cruz, Limtiaco, Tanaka, Castro,
Pangelinan, and Artero families. Japanese ordered former local policemen
to remain at their posts.
Former veteran police officer Adolfo Sgambelluri
worked closely with Joaquin Limtiaco, a local businessman, who was
forced to look for American fugitives and hidden radio receivers.
Sgambelluri informed Limtiaco of planned Japanese searches for the
Americans which enabled Limtiaco to remain a step ahead of search
Tweed moved from one location to another eventually
settling in the northern jungles of the island. Chamorros suspected of
assisting the American were dealt harshly by the Japanese. Limtiaco was
one to suffer severely for his heroic acts in aiding Tweed. He not only
protected and hid Tweed but, like many others, assisted the American by
providing essential electronic parts to rebuild a radio.
A network of secret radio receivers was in operation
throughout the island by the Chamorros, who would listen to American
broadcasts on the progress of the war. The news was then typed by Tweed
on his old, battered typewriter and distributed island-wide. Another
method of passing secret war information was through soap bars. A
prominent citizen and pre-war high school teacher, Agueda Iglesias
Johnston, was allowed to make soap. She would often put news messages
into the small bars and would then sell them to customers, often under
the watchful eyes of Japanese troops.
As schools were re-opened in April, adults and
children were required to learn the Japanese language and culture, as
the Japanese were intent on re-enforcing the Nippon Seishen or spirit of
Japan. In early 1942, Chamorro laborers were recruited to build the
first defenses, including the construction of the Orote airstrip. Some
laborers were given a handful of rice as the only compensation for their
The Chamorro's faith in the American flag grew
stronger just as life became harsher under Japanese occupation. The
phrase, "Tiuapman! Na'ianimo," or It won't be long; take courage, became
a common greeting among the people. Many Chamorros believed the
Americans would return; it was only a matter of time.
Lt. Commander Homura, governor of
Japanese-occupied Guam, and his military aides, watch over Chamorro
laborers in an Inarajan rice field. Chamorros were forced to endure
harsh keibitai rules and regulations, including changing the name of
Guam to Omiya Jima, the Great Shrine Island.