One of my wife’s cousins told us about all of the events planned by the National Park Service who manage the War in the Pacific National Historical Park on Guam. There was only one event scheduled during our two-week stay on Guam and so on Saturday, April 4th we drove down to Agat to attend a thirty-minute lecture on what happened at Ga’an Point on July 21, 1944.
What happened in a nutshell is that thousands of US Marines from the Third Marines Division landed at Asan Beach (east of Orote Point and Apra Bay) that day and from July 21st to July 24th thousands more soldiers (US Army 77th Infantry Division) and Marines (First Marines Provisional Brigade) landed on another beach that stretched from Bangi Point to Apaca Point south of Orote Point. Ga’an Point is near the center of this beach and is where the Japanese centered their defense. The Battle for Guam lasted three weeks and when it was all over, 18,000 Japanese and 1800 Americans lay dead. Also, about a thousand Chamorros died between the Japanese invasion of December 8, 1941 and their final defeat on August 10, 1944.
I thought the NPS did a good job publicizing the event but only 13 people showed up to hear Ranger Rufus Halapur deliver his talk while we walked along the coral outcroppings where the Japanese had their Chamorro slaves build concrete fortifications. American warplanes bombed the coastal areas of Guam for days before the invasion but they left the rocks alone, not knowing that those rocks were filled with caves, bunkers, pill boxes, guns and Japanese soldiers. One of the concrete blockhouses is still there and was recently reinforced with steel for safety purposes. You can still see the Japanese writing a soldier inscribed on the entrance years ago. We were told that the inscription was the number of the military unit stationed there.
One of the 13 people who attended the lecture that day was Jim Richardson, the National Park Service Superintendent on Guam. I asked Jim about the three flag poles standing at the point near a couple of Japanese guns. Flags of Japan and Guam flanked the American flag. Jim told me that the Japanese flag was there as a peace gesture. We saw some Japanese tourists walking along the paths in the park but none attended the lecture. There were also a couple of local families playing on the beach who ignored our little tour group.
My wife and I were there that day along with her sister, two other couples, Jim the superintendent and an ex-Marine with his wife and their three kids. One of the couples were missionaries who operated a radio station that broadcasts all over Micronesia. Most of us had done our own research and were familiar with some of the events of 1944. My sister-in-law was five years old when the Japanese invaded Guam in 1941 and eight years old when they were driven out. When Rufus finished his lecture my sister-in-law with tears in her eyes recalled some of her childhood experiences. A few days before the American invasion Chamorro families were rounded up and forced marched to concentration camps such as “the death camp” at Manenggon. That’s where my wife and her family were living when they were liberated by American troops, members of the US Army 77th Infantry Division, on July 31, 1944. These were the same soldiers who landed on Ga’an Point a little over a week before. My wife was only eight months old at the time and has no memories of this time in her life.
At the end of our walk Ranger Rufus brought up the subject of global warming and mentioned that there is a good possibility that in 50 years where we were standing (about six feet above the beach) would be under water. So only two more generations will be able to see the actual coast where the soldiers and marines actually landed. But maybe, I thought as I counted the number of people in attendance, nobody will care by then, anyway.
Ga’an Point is one of seven sites on Guam that the NPS maintains as part of their War in the Pacific National Historical Park. Four of the other sites are in the Asan area further up the coast near Hagatna. They also manage the marvelous T. Stell Newman Visitor Center just outside the entrance to US Naval Base, Guam. We visited the museum and bookstore a few days later. I’ll write about that visit in another posting.