There are two museums on Guam that tell the story of the US involvement in various wars that occurred in or near the Pacific Ocean during the 20th century. The big one at the entrance to the US Naval Base Guam is run by the National Park Service and contains numerous exhibits and an excellent bookstore / gift shop. Then there’s the little one located at the base of Nimitz Hill where many of the 1500 Marines who died during the liberation of Guam met their fate at the Battle of Fonte Hill where the Marines had to withstand a half-dozen banzai counter-attacks after they took the beachhead at Asan. This little museum is known as the Pacific War Museum and is the work of one man, John Vincent Pangilanan Gerber. Gerber’s museum concentrates on the role the US Marines played in Korea and Vietnam and especially in the liberation of Guam in 1944.
John Gerber was born and raised in Guam and he joined the Marines immediately after high school. He served in Vietnam and was discharged from the Marines in 1975. He returned to Guam after his military service and embarked on a successful career as a disk jockey and record store owner. He also began researching the history of the Marines in Guam and started collecting souvenirs — weapons, vehicles, uniforms, letters, pictures — from the war all over Guam. In 2008 he moved all of the memorabilia he had been accumulating over the years to the present site of his museum. Gerber died of a heart attack at the age of 58 in 2010. The museum is now run by his wife Mela and is supported by volunteers, by visitor donations and by funds gathered from an annual 5k marathon.
In 2011 Gerber posthumously received the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s Colonel John H. Magruder Award. This national honor “is bestowed to one individual or organization annually for outstanding contributions through a public exhibit pertaining to Marine Corps history.” Also in that year the US Post Office in Barrigada was renamed the John Pangilinan Gerber Post Office Building.
In 2004 Gerber was the instigator in getting a bill introduced to change the name of Marine Drive (the main road on Guam’s west coast) to Marine Corps Drive. When the bill stalled in the Guam legislature he walked during rush hour the 27 miles of Route 1 from Andersen Air Force Base in Yigo to Naval Base Guam in Santa Rita pushing a cart with a sign saying Marine Corps Drive. “It’s the Marines, not the ocean” was Gerber’s campaign slogan. Governor Felix Camacho was so impressed that he issued an executive order to have the name of Route 1 officially changed to Marine Corps Drive.
There’s a sign on the wall in Gerber’s museum that reads “These are the names of 1548 U.S. Marines, 226 Army soldiers, 55 Navy corpsmen and 55 sailors, killed in action on Guam after only 20 days of fighting, liberating Guam on July 21st through August 10th 1944.” There’s a long list under the sign.
The Pacific War Museum can be found on Route 6 in Hagatna just after the intersection with Route 7 and on the way up to Nimitz Hill. It’s less than a mile from the Chamorro Village on Marine –oops, I mean Marine Corps — Drive.