LIBERATION Guam Remembers
A Golden Salute for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Guam
Japanese soldiers: Death before dishonor
By PAUL J. BORJA
The Japanese defender of Guam on July 21, 1944, was
certainly fighting not only the enemy U.S. forces but also tremendous
The Japanese defenders of Guam, numbering perhaps
17-18,000, would be engaging in battle more than 50,000 Marines and Army
infantry. There would also be no relief from the strikes and strafing of
U.S. warplanes; likewise, there would be no respite for the soldier from
Japan from the shattering support of the guns aboard the U.S. ships
cruising so close to shore. And there would be no resupply of his
Strategy, though of course vital, was not complex for
the Japanese defending force. To perhaps oversimplify, the strategy on
July 21, 1944 was this: defend on the shores the weakest points of the
lines of defense, destroy the enemy on those beachheads, and deny him
progress from beyond that battle line.
The trouble for the Japanese defender was that the
American attacker would be ready to thrust himself onto those same
beaches with massive effort to establish a beach head for continued
"It seems evident that both we and the Japanese have
been thinking along the same lines, that is, the beaches that we find
best for landings are those the Japs find most dangerous to them and
have fortified the most," wrote the intelligence staff of Marine Maj.
Gen. Roy S. Geiger in making their conclusion of strategy prior to the
U.S. planners and strategists also would be handed a
tactical advantage by their foes. Although the physical geography of the
Gilberts and the Marshalls thin but long atolls are quite
different than the geography of Guam and Saipan high islands, that is
with mountains, hills, ravines the Japanese doctrine of defense
never changed. The Japanese standard greatly emphasized defending the
beaches and consequently placed less significance on defenses beyond
American forces, with their superiority in the air
and on the sea unchallenged, would capitalize on the Japanese failure to
adapt their defenses to the terrain of Saipan or Guam.
So, the Japanese defender in July 1944 was stripped
of support, without hope of relief, his strategy and alternatives fairly
estimated by the enemy. But surrender even in the face of tremendous
obstacles was not even a consideration. And the reason for that is
stated in one word: Bushido.
The one characteristic of the World War II Japanese
soldier that would never fail to amaze, confound, arouse fear in his foe
was his dedication to the code of Bushido, the way of the
The code was Japanese chivalry in practice, with
members of the Japanese army and navy its greatest followers,
particularly officers. Emphasizing discipline, loyalty, courage and
death before dishonor, the Bushido ethic of the samurai of feudal
Japan was entrenched in the mind and in the soul of the
20th century Japanese soldier. So many would give their lives in
suicidal charges thought to be honorable, their lives given in sacrifice
for the Emperor and Japan.
To Marines and soldiers who experienced a banzai
charge, it was fearful. "Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. It was the
most traumatic experience I ever had," said retired Marine Capt. Jack
Eddy, a veteran of the battles of Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima. On
the night of July 25, in Guam, Eddy and his platoon repulsed the charge
of not one, not two, but seven banzai attempts.
Eddy had settled his platoon of the 3rd Marine
Regiment, of the 3rd Marine Division, on the frontlines, near the
present day Commander Naval Forces Marianas headquarters. Marines had
fought their way all day from the ridges overlooking Asan to the top,
near Fonte Plateau. As the Marines dug in, Japanese Lt. General
Takashina was preparing a counter-attack in a gap that his patrols had
detected between the 3rd Marines and 21st Marines. At 0300, the
counterattack erupted; the Japanese were trying to roll down the gap and
onto the beach to cut off Marines from supplies and reinforcements.
"I had expected to be in battle, but never anything
like this. When you think about fighting, you think that you're 100
yards away, but this was pretty gruesome, fighting them from 20 feet
away and they're running all around you and screaming.
"They were of a different culture. They did things
that Marines wouldn't do - yelling, screaming. They didn't give a shit if
they got killed, they just wanted to make sure that you got killed. That
was what got to you - they wanted to die. They were willing to sacrifice
"It was a nightmare, truly a nightmare. I can still
remember the flares, the eerie green light (of illumination) over the
battlefield. And it was like the lights in ... in a disco, and all the
people are jumping around, slow motion. It was completely eerie," said
Eddy, who won a Silver Star for bravery during that night.
The next day, where Eddy's platoon and others were,
Marines counted about 900 dead; through the gap and down to the
beachhead 3,500 Japanese dead were found. "The numbers are no
exaggeration," Eddy said. One of his machine gun section sergeants, Dale
Whaley, received the Navy Cross for gallantry on that midsummer's night.
"He was credited with 80 Japanese that night. I saw stacks of them in
front of his machine gun."
Those soldiers, under their code, in the center of
their mind and soul was tremendous loyalty to the Emperor, who was the
symbol of Japan, and a reverence for authority.
With Bushido at the heart of Japanese culture
- in the home, in the schools, in the military, in general society - the
Japanese soldier was a tremendous and fearsome opponent no matter the
odds, the superiority of force brought up to face him, no matter the
enemy to go before him.