Exploring Guam’s Turbulent History

February 7, 2017


“My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”  —George Washington


WWII history buffs could spend days investigating sites on Guam centered around this devastating war. Although some of the sites are located within the borders of military bases and can only be visited with proper military identification or accompanied by a sponsor, there are many others that dot the island and can be accessed by anyone. From underwater shipwrecks and weapons shelters to memorials and parks, the island is home to more than a dozen WWII sites. Although most notably in WWII, Guam has been a strategic military location for hundreds of years and to this day continues to house a strong U.S. military presence. Below are a few of our most memorable historic site visits on Guam…

But first a little history…

Guam has been a U.S. territory since 1898 when it was ceded to the U.S. in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. On December 8, 1941, almost simultaneous with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese seized control of the island. Control was regained by the U.S. in July 1944 when 55,000 U.S. troops landed on Guam’s beaches and, over a three-week period, eventually overtook Japanese forces. Guam’s location 3,300 miles west of Hawaii and 1,550 miles south of Japan made the small island extremely valuable to both the Axis and Allied powers.

And a little Spanish history…

Fort Nuestra Senora de la Soledad was one of four fortifications built by the Spanish to protect galleons sailing between Mexico and the Philippines. For 250 years, beginning around 1565, the Spanish ships made this round-trip journey and Guam was the only replenishment stop along the route.

Due to political unrest in Mexico, the sailing ceased in 1815 and the fort was abandoned. The fort then saw years of considerable damage due to weather, treasure hunters, and World War II. After the war, the government of Guam restored the area and transformed the fort into a park. You can now visit the park and see cannons that point out over the bay, pointed turrets that dot the landscape, and the remnants of a stone village that housed soldiers. The fort also offers superior view of the Umatac village, the bay, the rugged coastline, and Guam’s southern mountain range.

War in the Pacific National Historical Park

You can’t miss the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. The history starts in front of the museum where a Japanese Midget submarine is on display.

The park is scattered over the island’s many WWII sites, but the visitor’s center is a good place to start your exploration. Here you will find films about WWII in the Pacific and exhibits highlighting life on Guam before, during, and after the war.

You will also find directions and maps to the many sites around the island – landing beaches, bunkers carved by prisoners of the Japanese, all kinds of guns on display, and memorials to those who lost their lives.

Asan Bay Overlook

This memorial sits atop the ridge line and features a panoramic view of Asan Bay and the eastern half of Guam.

The Memorial Wall lists the names of 1,880 U.S. servicemen who died in the 1941 defense of Guam against the attacking Japanese and those who died retaking the island from Japan in 1944. The wall also lists the names of 1,170 people of Guam who died and 14,721 who suffered atrocities of war from 1941-1944. There is also a monument dedicated to the first Chamorro U.S. Navy casualties of WWII.

A bronze plaque at the entrance to the memorial reads, “In remembrance of all who sacrificed for liberty. May peace and understanding prevail so that no future generation will ever be compelled to repeat these sacrifices.” As you gaze out over the brilliant blue waters of the Philippine Sea, the memorial servers as a reminder of the human cost of war.

WWII Bunker on Dadi Beach

This bunker is located on Dadi Beach on the U.S. Naval Base, and is therefore only accessible to military personnel (which we are). At the end of beach is a bunker carved into the rocks right at the water’s edge. Had it not been pointed out, we would have totally overlooked this site. The only thing visible from the beach is the rectangular cutout. As you near the bunker, you have to pass around a slight bend in order to see the entrance, which is really just a shoulder-high hole big enough for a man to crawl into. Once inside the tunnel, you have to duck walk for a few feet until you reach a slightly larger space. From here, you can look out the rectangle cutout onto the beach and bay… although I am sure that soldiers did more than merely look out of the cutout.

B-52 Skeleton

Last, but not least, was our visit to the remains of a B-52E on Andersen Air Force Base, so again you will either need to be military or have a sponsor to get you on base. The area is groomed regularly  by Boy Scout Troop 20 to keep the vegetation from encasing what remains of the tail section and partial wings. A look inside reveals decomposing canvas and a bare-bones skeleton of a once formidable plane.

In 1976, Typhoon Pamela struck Guam and tipped the original plane on its top and blew the tail section 800 feet into the jungle. It was not rediscovered until 1997 after Super Typhoon Paka tore up enough trees to reveal the missing section

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