Headlines in today’s news tells of the threat by North Korea’s Premier to fire missiles onto Guam, one of The United States territories. The threat may be very real, or it may not be anything but sabre-rattling by a despot who is allowing his people to starve while he maintains a 400,000-man (and woman) army and has his scientists and engineers constructing missiles.
But the shores of Guam are no stranger to combat.
Guam came to the United States as part of the settlement with Spain after the Spanish-American War. It seemed strategically placed for a coaling and supply station as our fleet reached out into the broad Pacific, offering protection to our merchant ships as they ventured to the riches of the East.
The island itself is mountainous as Pacific islands go. Thirty miles long and ten miles wide, it has Apra Harbor, an airport at Agana and a large airfield at the northernmost tip. The beaches are beautiful and it rains a lot, almost every day.
The first battle of Guam occurred in mid-December 1941. The Japanese had planned to take the island and they began their successful invasion on 8 December. Subjugating the native Chamoros, they began construction of the underground caves and tunnels that seemed to be part of their global strategy.
By 1944 the fleets of the United States had taken back Guadalcanal, Tarawa and many islands that had once been the defense boundaries of Imperial Japan. In July of that year American forces retook Guam, but only after a fierce defense by the Japanese. American Marines had over 7,000 casualties and the Japanese lost just over 18,000.
American military forces were led by Marine General Roy Geiger, Admiral Richmond K. Turner and Marine General Holland M. Smith. The Japanese defenders were under General Takeshi Takasina, who died in combat, and Hideyoshi Obata.
Landings were difficult. Reefs across beaches on the Orote Peninsula stopped landing craft and Marines had to swim and wade in. Gun emplacements, interconnected with each other, were sighted in on the beach and they fired until silenced by warships. There were four Medals of Honor given to Marines, two posthumously.
For months after the cessation of the battle, pockets of Japanese soldiers would strike at Americans. When this writer was stationed at Agana Naval Air Station in 1952 a ragged, weathered Japanese officer surrendered at the main gate. In 1974 another surrendered, finally convinced that the war was over and he would not be ostracized in modern Japan for not dying for his Emperor.
Today a visitor can land at the airport and visit the plush hotels and enjoy the culture of the island. If he or she wishes, a hike through the mountainous area of Orote Peninsula will allow the visitor to see caves and gun emplacements bordering the beautiful beach at Tumon Bay.
Today, the visitor can learn a part of American history that is sometimes forgotten amid the prosperity of our country and its lands.
Will there be a third Battle of Guam?