LIBERATION Guam Remembers
A Golden Salute for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Guam
At Agana Bay, a fisherman throws his
talaya (throw net). Pre-war Guam was a society of subsistence. Farmers
and fishermen secured their family's food for the day from the abundance
of the sea and the fertility of the land.
Guam obstacle to Japan's ocean empire
By PAUL J. BORJA
In pre-World War II Guam, life was generally as it
had been for decades. Except for the presence of those responsible for
the naval administration of the island, Guam was basically a land of
farmers and fishermen, the people living a simple lifestyle where they
met their essential needs.
So when war came to this kind of community, this kind
of society, it was devastating, bringing unstoppable change.
The first war to visit the island and its people came
in the Spanish colonization. Though Ferdinand Magellan had come upon the
island in 1521 and the explorer Legaspi had "claimed" Guam for the
Spanish crown in 1565, it was only in 1668 that the Spanish attempted to
colonize the isle.
In that year, Guam found itself the focus of Catholic
missionaries, notably the padre Luis de San Vitores, and their
accompanying military protectors. The effort to bring Catholicism to the
island was successful - today, the great majority of the people call
themselves Catholics - but the price to Guam and its native people was
costly. The resistance of the indigenous people to the Spanish resulted
in conflict and war with the Spanish military. So by the time the United
States came unto the island in 1898 in the aftermath of the
Spanish-American War, the war of colonization and disease brought by
Western man reduced the native Chamorro population from a high of
perhaps as many as 100,000 people in 1668 to 9,000 by 1898.
Palm trees and their reflections upon a
river's tranquil surface are captured in this tropical scene (top,
left). Members of the Marine barracks fire a cannon during a ceremony at
the Plaza de Espana (top, right). Guam residents enjoy a parade along
the streets of Agana. In the float, note the little girls making up the
flower bouquet, much to the delight of the spectators (bottom).
By 1898, the people and the island were at peace, but
both people and island were neglected by a Spain whose empire was fading
into history. In spite of America's rise in power and influence around
the world, the life of the people of Guam saw relatively little change
in the transition from being one nation's colony to being a possession
of another. A great part of the reason for that was the ambivalence, and
ignorance, of the United States toward the Pacific and Oceania. As a
result, of all the Spanish islands of the Marianas, only Guam was taken
as a spoil of war under the Treaty of Paris between Spain and the
United States. Spain retained the northern Mariana islands - Saipan,
Tinian and others - and sold them to Germany in 1899.
26 Jul 1940
Relations between Japan and the United States deteriorate as America
initiates first trade embargo on war-related goods to the Asian
Because Guam was merely looked upon by the Navy as a
coaling station for its ships as they sailed the Pacific, the island
changed little, although the military did add to the economy by buying
from farmers and fishermen and employing people.
Naval administrators of the island did initiate and
sustain typical government departments such as schools, a hospital,
courts and police, but overall the island's lifestyle changed
Men build the framework of a house and
prepare its roof for sections of woven palm leaves. In spite of the
American presence since 1898 when the Spanish-American War ended, little
had changed in the pre-war society of Guam.
Chamorros had gained in terms of democratic government;
a House of Assembly served as a legislative body but it was merely
advisory. Chamorro self-determination was non-existent. The naval
governor still possessed absolute authority - he was legislator, chief
executive, judge, all under one hat.
Japan, though, was much more active in its efforts
around the Pacific islands. When the opportunity arose in World War I as
Germany was reeling from its defeats in Europe, the Japanese were
unfurling the flag of the Rising Sun in German-held islands above the
equator. Their presence in the central and western Pacific was vast, as
vast as the area of the continental United States: from the Marshall
Islands in the east, to the Carolines, to the Marianas and anchoring the
line of Japanese-occupied islands was the Palau archipelago. In the
Treaty of Versailles which ended World War I, Japan's occupation of
these islands was formalized under a mandate of the League of
Japan wasted little time in solidifying its claim to
these islands. The Japanese, who had a strong economic presence in the
islands even before World War I, was now sowing its influence upon the
islands through schools, agricultural programs, and, what would later
prove deadly to American Marines and soldiers, the fortification and
buildup of the islands as military
With little political or financial support coming
from Congress to fortify Guam, the United States signed an agreement
with Japan in 1921 at the Washington Naval Conference. The two nations
along with other world powers agreed not to fortify their possessions in
However, Japan's designs on the islands began taking
on a militaristic tone, and by 1935, the country refused inspection of
the islands under the mandate and walked out of the League of Nations.
The action was typical of Japan in those times as the nation, causing
worry and concern for all those in Asia and in the Pacific, was growing
more and more committed to a policy of aggression.
Only then did the United States begin thinking of
fortifying Guam, and in 1938 a Navy study did recommend that the
island's naval facilities be improved to the point where they could
support a fully-equipped and operational fleet to help in the defense of
the Philippines. But the price tag - possibly tens of millions of
dollars - needed for such a buildup was considered too
It was in this atmosphere that in December 1941 the
people of the United States and Guam began paying - in blood - for a war
that suddenly swept the nation and the island into years of struggle,
years of sadness, years of tragedy.
27 July 1940
Japan declares the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere concept,
desiring to ensure its dominance in Asia and the Pacific and its ability
to take raw materials from its neighbors. Japan's determination to
realize the concept through a policy of expansion through aggression
would lead to direct conflict with numerous nations, particularly the
United States and Britain.
The Governor's Palace, adjacent to the
Plaza de Espana, was the headquarters for the American naval governors
responsible for the administration of the island.
The China Clipper, a Martin flying boat
of Pan American Airways, docks off Sumay in November 1935 on the first
transPacific air mail flight. The aircraft, with its 130-foot
wingspread, began its 16,000-mile voyage from Alameda, Calif., soared
over the seas to Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, and Manila,
then doubled back the same way for the return (top). Marine Henry Delooff poses near the bow
of the Clipper. The Pan American base and the Marine Barracks were both
located in Sumay, which was devastated in the Liberation (right).
Men of the Insular Force Guard march in
parade (top). Paid $30 a month, they performed duties of naval enlisted
men and dressed like Navy personnel; the group was attached to the Naval
Station garrison. The Insular Guard, members of which challenged the
Japanese invasion force at the Plaza de Espana on Dec. 10, 1941, were
part of this group. The group was established only months before the
At top right and bottom, members of the Guam Militia drill in formation
at the Piti Navy Yard. The pre-war, quasi-military organization was
manned by volunteers.
7 December 1941
Aircraft of the Japanese navy launch a surprise strike on U.S.
military facilities on Oahu, Hawaii. The attack cripples the Navy at
Pearl Harbor as the U.S. is thrust into World War II. Killed were more
than 2,500 Americans; 21 warships were either destroyed or damaged; 169
aircraft demolished. The attack and others nearly simultaneous across
the Pacific, including Guam, and Asia would eventually net Japan an
empire of more than 20 million square miles.
Sumay village, in what is now the Naval
Station, rivaled Agana as the island's commercial center in pre-war Guam
(top). Governor George McMillin and his family in a portrait. He was the
naval governor of Guam on Dec. 8, 1941 (bottom, left). Three Chamorro
women pose for a photograph (bottom, right).