Dec 5, 2011

December 7 attack on Guam

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 became the “Day of Infamy” but other American territories were also attacked that day. They tend to get lost in the annuals of history because Pearl Harbor became a historic event leading America into World War II. Also confusing the issue when it was December 7 in Hawaii it was December 8 in Guam due to the island’s location to the west of the International Dateline,

On the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they also attacked Guam, Wake Island, and the Commonwealth of the Philippines, which at the time was under control of the United States. The Japanese also, on the same day, invaded the British crown colony of Hong Kong resulting in its occupation, and Thailand where the Japanese continued on down the peninsula to Malaysia.

I always like to “learn the rest of the story” and we did when John and I visited the T. Stell Newman Visitor Center of the War in the Pacific National Park in Guam. Only hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Japanese began aerial bombings on Guam. After two days of strafing, the Japanese came ashore and hours later the naval governor surrendered the American territory. The Japanese invasion of Guam resulted in 21 deaths (fourteen Americans and seven Chamorros). Some 483 prisoners of war that included 368 military personnel and 115 civilians were interned on Guam before being sent to a POW camp in Japan. The island remained under Japanese control for 31 months until July 21, 1944.

The Japanese thought all the Americans had been captured and were upset to learn that six American military personnel managed to escape to a safe place on the island. This became a very serious issue for the Japanese military because it meant that they had not totally secured the island as they had reported to the Japanese head command in Tokyo. After an intensive search, three escapees were found and executed in September 1942 and two others were found and shot in October of that same year. Only U.S. Navy radioman first class George Tweed eluded capture and was finally rescued by a U.S. Navy ship ten days before the July 21, 1944 American landing and liberation on Guam. Tweed’s status, as an U.S. military holdout, was a most serious matter for the Japanese Navy during the entire occupation period of thirty one months. Tweed was never captured due to the efforts of one family who kept his hideout in a cave a secret and took him food and supplies. During the American assault to recapture the island in 1944 Tweed was able to signal the offshore boats giving them the location of gun placements on the island.

On July 21, 1944, now known as Liberation Day, American forces landed on Guam and after almost three weeks of bitter fighting that claimed 1,600 American servicemen and almost the entire 18,000 Japanese Army the island was declared ‘secure’ and Guam was again in American hands. But the last Japanese holdout on Guam did not surrender until 1972. Shoichi Yokoi survived hiding in an underground cave in a remote section of the island of Guam for 28 years.

Today Guam has an American military base on the island. Interestingly, Guam is a popular tropical tourist destination for the Japanese.