Sunday, July 21, 2013

Guam's Liberation Day

July 21 is Guam's liberation day.

Marine Landing first hour
In 1944, after hours of Naval bombardment, American Marines and Infantry soldiers stormed the beaches. Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger, commanding general of III Amphibious Corps urged them forward saying "You have been honored. The eyes of the nation watch you as you go into battle to liberate this former American bastion from the enemy. The honor which has been bestowed on you is a signal one. May the glorious traditions of the Marine Corps' esprit de corps spur you to victory. You have been honored."

The Battle for Guam, lasting 21 days, was as nasty and brutal as any had been in the Pacific. The Imperial Japanese forces put up a tenacious resistance exacting heavy casualties. Japanese stragglers fought for months after the defeat and the last one was not found until 1972.

Soon, from airfields on Guam, as well as those on Tinian, B-29s were bombing the Japanese home islands. Hard fighting was yet to be experienced by Marine divisions on Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. But whether they knew it or not, the end of the war was less than a year away.

The War in the Pacific National Historical Park is a memorial to the citizens and liberators of Guam. It was established in 1978 to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of those participating in the campaigns of the Pacific Theater of World War II and to conserve and interpret outstanding natural, scenic, and historic values and objects of the island of Guam. The National Park Service's website on Guam is an excellent historical resource including first person accounts and photos.

Part of Japan's terrible cost on Guam were 10,971 battlefield casualties, and more than 8,500 Japanese were killed or captured on Guam between August 1944 and the end of war in August 1945. In the 21 days of the Guam campaign ending 10 August, American Marine units of the III Amphibious Corps reported 1,190 men killed in action, 377 dead of wounds, and 5,308 wounded. The 77th Division's casualties were 177 soldiers killed and 662 wounded.

According to Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam, an account of the POWs from Guam, there were 414 civilian and military, men and women POWs (five Navy nurses and a civilian wife and infant). Somehow, despite desperate conditions and dismal leadership only three percent perished. They were all taken to Japan aboard the Argentina Maru in January 1942 and first held at the Zentsuji POW Camp on Shikoku. There they did agricultural and stevedore labor. Some reportedly were used for human experimentation.

Today, of the more than 22,000 people who lived in Guam through World War II, less than 1,000 are still alive to share their memories. One constant, is the respect the people of Guam hold for their liberators, the US Marine Corps. The above video is from this past weekend's memorial ceremony.

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