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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

War in the Pacific National Historical Park
Guam
 
Assan Beach on Guam Assan Beach on the Island of Guam
Courtesy of the National Park Service

Scattered across Guam in six units – Asan Beach, Agat Beach, Fonte Plateau, Mount Alifan, Mount Chachao/Mount Tenjo, and Piti Guns – War in the Pacific National Historical Park commemorates the role the island played in World War II. The war, a massive conflict, was waged on opposite sides of the globe in Europe and the Pacific Ocean, with bitter fighting in both theaters of the war. Today, visitors to the Park learn about World War II on one of the Pacific islands and about the life of native Guamanians. The Park honors and remembers the efforts by all Allied forces in World War II.

Long before Guam became a vital military resource, it was home to the Chamorro, who came to the island from southern Asia in approximately 2000 BC. The Chamorro had a complex society that European explorers disrupted when they arrived in the 1500s. The wealthiest Chamorro families lived in huts built on top of stone pillars known as latte stones, some of which are still on the island today. The explorers brought new customs, new diseases to which the Chamorro had no immunity, and new languages.  Spain was the first European power to arrive, and the Spanish remained in control for more than 300 years, until the United States gained control of Guam at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

U.S. Marines crouch on a beach on Guam
as Japanese mines knock out their tanks.
Courtesy of the United States Marine Corps

Even though Guam was far from the mainland, the U.S. began to develop the island to strengthen the American military presence in the Pacific. The administration of this important military outpost fell to the Navy. Rule under naval governors did not always respect the civil rights of the native Chamorro. Life on the island did not change much during World War I, but the Great Depression and World War II greatly altered the landscape. Visitors to the Park will see the remains of a number of World War II defensive fortifications that record multiple battles for control of the island.

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces bombed US Navy ships and facilities at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. War began to spread throughout the Pacific and Guam, with its American military base, was on the list of targets. Guam and other nearby islands were strategically important as supply bases in the Pacific and were valuable as a place from which planes could land and take off and ships could refuel. As World War II intensified in the Pacific, Guam became even more important to the U.S. as a base for possible attacks against the island of Japan. The Japanese also recognized Guam’s strategic position and attacked the island on December 8, 1941, beginning with heavy bombing across the island and the strafing of the Piti Navy Yard. The air strikes continued until December 10th when Japanese forces, numbering 5,400 soldiers, invaded the island. They were met by the small American force on Guam consisting of 153 Marines, 271 U.S. Navy personnel, 134 civilian construction workers, and 247 members of the local Chamorro militia and the Chamorro Insular Guard. The militia, Insular Guard, and American personnel attempted to stop the advancing Japanese forces and for almost an hour fought a holding action in the Plaza de España in Hagatna, but they were greatly outnumbered. The American military governor on the Guam, U.S. Navy Captain George J. McMillin, realized that his small command was no match for the Japanese invasion force and formally surrendered the island on December 10th. Guam became the first American possession to be occupied by the Japanese during World War II. In his report to the Secretary of the Navy after the war, McMillan noted that the native militia and Insular Guard bravely "stood their ground in their short action in the Plaza, until they were called back. I consider that these fine natives are entitled to recognition for the showing they made on this occasion."

 Chamorro Combat Patrol on the island of Guam, August 14, 1945. Chamorro Combat Patrol on Guam, August 14, 1945.
National Archives and Records Administration

While the island was under Japanese control, the Chamorro were used as forced labor and made to build defensive structures such as the extensive system of tunnels in the Hagatna area. They were also beaten, executed, and incarcerated. By the time of the battle, the Japanese had placed between 10,000 and 15,000 Chamorro in concentration camps on the island.

Sites related to Japanese occupation of the island and the battle by U.S. troops to retake Guam are highlights of the Park. The Japanese had guns and traps built into the coast to defend the island.  Part of the U.S. invasion of the island began along the shore in July 1944. At Agat Invasion Beach outside Agat Village on Highway 1, U.S. troops attacked from the bay, which the Japanese had filled with mines and bombs. Overlooking the beach the Japanese constructed fortified positions called pillboxes from which they could defend against attack. A number of these concrete pillboxes and bunkers remain on the beach today. At Ga'an Point in Agat, visitors can also see some of the guns the Japanese used and a heavily fortified, well-hidden stronghold from which the Japanese fired on the attacking U.S. Marines. In addition, there are other defensive gun mountings at Piti.

American invasion forces also landed on Asan Beach. As at Agat, the beach at Asan had heavy fortifications to deter attack. U.S. Marines fought hard for a week to gain control of the area around Asan.  Memorial Beach Park at Asan Beach has gun placements and several monuments that are reminders of the battle. On Asan Ridge above the beach, there are still gun mounts, pillboxes, and tunnels from which bullets rained down on U.S. forces. The capture of the area around Asan, including the area in the Fonte Plateau Unit of the Park, was key to breaking Japanese dominance of the island. Visitors to the Fonte Plateau Unit can see the former Japanese communications center and the site of the battle to capture the hill.

Troops of the 77th Division, U.S. Army, advance
toward front lines on Guam , July 31, 1944.
Courtesy of the United States Army

The U.S. assault on Asan Beach did not end the fighting on the island as the battle moved inland. In caves near the Asan and Matgue rivers close to Asan beach, Japanese soldiers fought U.S. Marines in an unsuccessful counterattack in which approximately 3,500 Japanese soldiers were killed. The Asan Inland Unit of the Park contains some of the difficult and hazardous terrain in which fighting took place. Overlooks located along Routes 1 and 2 provide visitors with the opportunity to learn more about the fighting in this area.

The Park's Mt. Alifan and Mt. Chachao/Mt. Tenjo units were both Japanese defensive positions during the struggle to retake the island. At Mt. Alifan near Agat Beach, the Japanese built a command center in the hills. Though bombed, the foxholes and trenches the Japanese constructed are still intact. At Mt. Chachao/Mt. Tenjo overlooking the landing location of American troops at Asan Beach are foxholes and trenches and the site of an American gun mount from World War I. Both of these units are in relatively undeveloped areas that may not be easily accessible.

The Americans did not take the entire island of Guam back from the Japanese until August 10, 1944. Although Guam was liberated and declared secured, efforts by the Third Marine Division and Chamorro Combat Patrols continued to track down Japanese soldiers who were hiding out on the island.

20 centimeter short-barrel Japanese Coastal Defense
Gun and the Japanese Twin Mount 25 millimeter
Anti-Aircraft Gun at Ga'an Point in the Agat Beach Unit
Courtesy of the Department of the Interior

Approximately 55,000 U.S. troops were part of the landing forces that helped to liberate Guam. Ultimately more than 7,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces and 17,000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives in the battle for Guam. The Allied assault on Guam was an important challenge to Japanese control of the Pacific and approximately a year after U.S. forces retook the island, Japan surrendered following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945.

Today, the Park visitor center shows films about World War II in the Pacific and has exhibits highlighting life on Guam before, during, and after the war. The Asan Beach, Agat Beach, Fonte Plateau, Mount Alifan, Mount Chachao/Mount Tenjo, and Piti Guns units of the Park allow visitors allow visitors to see Japanese coastal guns, trenches, pillboxes, caves, bunkers, gun emplacements, bomb craters, fox holes, and structures from World War II and interpretive signs and roadside pull-offs provide additional information about the island. The Asan Bay Overlook offers a panoramic view of the landing beaches and the Memorial Wall contains 16,142 names of Chamorro and American casualties who suffered or died on Guam during the war. In addition, over 3,500 marine species and 200 species of coral are located within the scuba and snorkeling areas of the Park's waters.

Plan your visit

War in the Pacific National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, is located across seven units on the island of Guam. Visitors may want to begin exploring the Park at the T. Stell Newman Visitor Center, located on Route 1 (Marine Corps Drive) next to the main gate of Naval Base Guam. Directions to the other units of the Park may be found here. The visitor center is open Sunday to Saturday, 9:00am to 4:30pm. It is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's day. Please note, visitors to the Park should not enter caves or tunnels, as they may contain hidden explosives. Unexploded ordnance may be found on land or offshore in the Park. Visitors should not disturb any found ammunition, but should report its location to a National Park Service ranger. For more information, visit the National Park Service War in the Pacific National Historic Park website or call 671-333-4050.

War in the Pacific National Historical Park is featured in the National Park Service Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary. Components of the Park are listed separately in the National Register of Historic Places. Click on the individual links for each components' file: Agat Invasion Beach (text and photos), Asan Invasion Beach (text and photos) including Memorial Beach Park (text and photos), Asan Ridge Battle Area (text and photos), Matgue River Valley Battle Area (text and photos), Piti Coastal Defense Guns (text and photos).

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