The United States acquired the island of Guam from the Spanish in 1898 during the Spanish American War. It was handed over to the U.S. by the Spanish governor without a shot fired. The reality was that the condition of the colonial Spanish garrison on Guam was so decrepit that they had no ammunition to defend it.
The U.S. maintained a small force on the island for the first four decades of the Twentieth Century until storm clouds began to gather over the Pacific in 1941. In the fall of that year, non military dependents were sent back to the States and the small contingent of about 300 Marines and local Chamorro Insular Guard began to prepare for war.
It came on the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 8th, (Guam is on the other side of the international date line) the Japanese began overflights of the island. On December 10th, Japanese planes began strafing and bombing the island. Up to 5,000 Japanese troops waded ashore that night and began a coordinated attack at Sumay and at the capitol, Hagatna. The Marines and the Chamorro militia put up a valiant defense but were quickly overwhelmed.
The U.S. Naval governor was forced to appear on the parade field in Hagatna without trousers to sign the surrender. He, his staff and the surviving Marines were placed on ships to serve out the war as the first and longest held American prisoners of war of the Japanese.
The local Chamorro islanders were to face their own hell. The Japanese treated them as virtual slaves, occupied their homes, used them for forced labor and raped and killed them by the hundreds. The Japanese occupation began with brutality and grew progressively worse until, in the summer of 1944, the Chamorros of Guam were forced into a hasty concentration camp on the east side of the island. It is was pure horror: filth, disease, hunger and death.
On July 21, 1944 – two and a half years after the Japanese invasion – the United States Army and Marines staged a massive assault and invasion of the island. Landings took place at Asan and, farther to the south, at Agat. The Japanese were overwhelmed and defeated in a manner of a few weeks.
These photos were taken in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion and liberation of Guam. The original prints were given to me to scan by the niece of a citizen of Guam who lived on the island during the two and a half year Japanese occupation; December 1941 to July 1944. They have never been published before.
Warning: The photos are graphic.
There are still many reminders of the Japanese invasion, occupation and defense of Guam to be seen around the island.
Today the people of Guam celebrate Liberation Day each July 21 with a giant parade, fiestas across the island and fireworks. Guam boasts the highest per-capita participation in the U.S. Military of any region. In this photo, members of the Guam National Guard take part in the 2005 Guam Liberation Day parade in Hagatna.