May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Today’s post comes from Thomas Richardson, an archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Pacific Theater arguably contained the bloodiest fighting of World War II. Combined U.S. Navy, Army, Army Air Force, and Marine forces trudged from island to island in the vast ocean, defeating large Japanese garrisons on every piece of land. Guam was the first U.S. territory captured by the Japanese and remained under enemy occupation until August 1944.
The Japanese treated Guam’s native population, Chamorros, harshly, with brutal interrogations and summary executions if they failed to cooperate with the occupiers. The Japanese garrison seized homes, ravaged the local economy with food shortages, and stripped the island of many natural resources. The native population endured these abuses for nearly two and half years.
On July 21, 1944, the U.S. Navy, Marines, and the 77th Infantry Division began recapturing Guam from the Japanese. While the U.S. prepared for the invasion, the Japanese committed more atrocities against the Chamorros through forced marches into prisons and executing those who actively resisted. Marines, sailors, and Chamorro guides combatted the Japanese for almost four weeks and on August 10, the island was declared secure. Thousands of enemy holdouts remained in the jungles and caves of Guam, and it was then that the Guam Combat Patrol (GCP) was formed.
Guam Combat Patrol members in photo are Joaquin S. Aguon, Vicente L. Borja, Jose S. Bukikosa, Francisco J. Cruz, George G. Flores, Roman N. Ignacio, Antonio Manibusan, Agapito S. Perez, Pedro A. Perez, Ignacio R. Rivera, Jose P. Salas, Pedro R. San Nicolas, Fred Taitano, and Felix C. Wusstig. Not shown is leader Juan U. Aguon. (Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service)
Guam required extensive “mopping up” (a military term for a campaign to root out remaining enemy forces) after two years of Japanese occupation. Even though a small island, there were hundreds of miles of caves, jungles, and large swamps providing cover for the enemy. The job of the combat patrol was to scout these areas for evidence of Japanese soldiers and flush them out. Some patrols were attached to Marine units to help capture or eliminate larger numbers of holdouts. They moved through the jungles and swamps carefully, which was especially dangerous work. The landscape was filled with booby traps designed to keep intruders out. Patrols destroyed dozens of hideouts defensive structures and killed over a hundred soldiers.
Mrs. Borja stands behind her husband, Vicente Borja, a disabled World War II veteran, after he was presented the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. Borja received the medals during a Veterans Day memorial service at Skinner Plaza, 11/11/1984. (National Archives Identifier 6392718)
Clearing out the island extended long after the Japanese surrender. Because communications between islands were cut, many Japanese holdouts were unaware of the surrender and continued their resistance. By 1948, Guam and Navy officials declared that all Japanese holdouts had been captured or killed, and the GCP was disbanded. (Shoichi Yokoi was the last identified Japanese holdout to be discovered on Guam in 1972.) Every member of the patrol received the Bronze Star Medal, but it wasn’t until years later that GCP survivors received the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign and World War II Victory Medals.
Former members of the Guam Combat Patrol await presentation of the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal during a Veteran’s Day memorial service at Skinner Plaza, 11/11/1984. (National Archives Identifier 6392711)
Guam wasn’t the only Pacific island nation to deal with the dangers of occupation and holdouts. Many locals suffered atrocities under the Japanese and partnered with the U.S. Navy and Marines as they recaptured islands on the way to Japan. Native populations fought bravely to secure their freedom and have finally begun to receive recognition for their sacrifices during World War II.