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The history of Guam and the U.S. Marines

  • Published
  • By Cpl. Nathan Wicks
  • Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan

“Some people wonder all their lives if they’ve made a difference. Marines don’t have that problem.” – Ronald Reagan

On June 21, 1898, the U.S. gained control of the island of Guam, the largest and most southern of the Mariana Islands located in the Pacific Ocean, during the Spanish-American War.

The capture of Guam was the result of a bloodless battle. The U.S. Navy USS Charleston approached the shores and remained there until the Spanish, who controlled the island at the time, surrendered the land to the U.S.

In the years after, Guam was utilized as a port for naval operations and also housed a barracks for U.S. Marines.

Later, Japanese forces seized control of the remaining Mariana Islands, which were occupied by the Germans, during World War I and heavily fortified the islands. Japan began developing plans at the beginning of World War II to capture Guam, which was the only Mariana Island not under Japanese control.

The U.S. caught wind of Japan’s intent to capture the island but was unable to fortify the island in time before the attack.

On Dec. 8, 1941, Japanese forces began their aerial assault of the island shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William K. MacNulty, commanding officer of U.S. Marine forces in Guam, had his men raise their defense for the attack to come, which resultied in a loss of over a third of his troops.

Subsequent attacks followed with more aerial raids of the entire island, the landing of a Japanese carrier transporting over 6,000 men and submarines positioned along the coast of the island leaving no means to escape.

Outmanned and outgunned, the U.S. was forced to surrender the island on the morning of Dec. 10, 1941.

The battle resulted in a loss of over 20 men and many more wounded from the U.S. Some Chamorros, Guam natives, helped hide those who were able to escape capture, but Japanese suspicions were raised, which resulted in the interrogation of many locals.

In the later years of WWII, the Allied Forces developed Operation Forager. This campaign heavily bombarded the largest of the Mariana Islands including Saipan, Tinian and Guam.

On July 21, 1944, the 3rd Marine Division and 1st Provisional Marine Brigade landed on the western coast of Guam bringing with them nearly 60,000 men. The battle lasted until Aug. 10, 1944, when the American forces successfully defeated the occupying Japanese forces giving ownership of the island back to the U.S.

Today, Guam is still a U.S. territory, and its inhabitants celebrate Liberation Day, a day where they celebrate the end of Japanese control and honor the sacrifice of the men who liberated their land.

A strip of highway along the north-western coast of Guam signifies the location where the U.S. Marines landed in WWII while reclaiming the island is formally known as Marine Corps Drive.

Though the U.S. Marines do not have a base established on the island, they still return for exercises with their sister services and enjoy learning about the history of their organization during their stay.

“For some, this exercise is just another check in the box,” said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Quillin, an aviation ordnance technician currently deployed to Guam for exercise Cope North. “The more you learn about the history of the island, the more aware you become of its relevance to the U.S. and the importance of the Marines’ actions in the past. It gives me pride knowing that I’m part of an organization whose predecessors had such an impact on the world.”