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Places on Guam: Naval Base Guam

Basic Information

  • What: Naval Base Guam
  • Where: Guam, USA
  • Cost: Free
  • More Information: Navy.mil

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Narrative

Guam is filled with many historic sites that are accessible to the public.  However, one of the areas filled with the most historic sites is not accessible to the public which is Naval Base Guam:

The expansive US Navy base is located on the Orote Peninsula which has an incredible history that showcases the various historical changes the island has been through.  Remnants from the island’s Chamorro, Spanish, Imperial Japanese, and American past can all be seen on the peninsula.  The peninsula’s Chamorro heritage can be seen at the site of the old Sumay village:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

It is hard to believe today looking at how expansive Naval Base Guam is, but there was actually once a Chamorro village that called the Orote Peninsula home.  Sumay village was located on the peninsula for centuries until the residents of the village were forcibly removed in 1941 during the Japanese occupation of Guam.  The war ended up destroying the entire village.  Today an open field is all that is left of Sumay village:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

In the middle of the open field is a cross which is a memorial to the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Church:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The church during the Japanese occupation was used as a horse stable before being destroyed by US bombing during the Battle of Guam:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Where ever there is a village there is always a cemetery and Sumay was no different.  Across the street from the village is where the Sumay Cemetery is located:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The cemetery has 167 grave sites with the earliest markers from 1910.

Picture from Naval Base Guam

However, the cemetery was badly damaged during the war and all records of who was buried here were lost.  This makes it impossible to know accurately how many people are actually buried here and how old the cemetery is.

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The cemetery today is in good shape and well taken care of.

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Something I found interest was how some of the gravestones showed local residents who died during the Japanese occupation at a young age such as Soledad Santos:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

He died at the age of 22 during the Japanese occupation.  Was he one of the hundreds of Chamorros killed by the Japanese during the occupation?

The next period of Guam’s history, the Spanish era is also easily seen on Naval Base Guam.  Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan who was sailing for the Spanish Crown landed on Guam on March 5, 1521 as part of his voyage around the world.  Guam over the centuries would continue to be a resting point for Spanish ships making the long sail across the Pacific from Mexico.  The island did not officially become part of Spain until 1565, but even then it was not really colonized until 1668 when Jesuit missionaries began to arrive and introduced Catholicism and forced Spanish culture on the Chamorros.  To defend the growing colony and its strategically important port on the Orote Peninsula the Spanish constructed a number of forts.  The remains of one of those forts, Fort San Luis can still be seen today:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Fort San Luis was built in 1787 to protect Apra Harbor from English pirates.  Little remains of the fort today due to it being cleared during World War II:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The other old Spanish fort on Naval Base Guam was Fort Santiago:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

This was actually the first fort the Spanish built on the Orote Peninsula.  Construction of the fort began back in 1710 and was completed in 1721.  The fort eventually fell into disrepair and was just a look out by 1855.  The old fort is accessed by a short walk off the road that passes Gab Gab Beach.  The trail is marked by the large Fort Santiago sign.  From the sign a trail leads into the jungle:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

After a short walk the trail ends at what remains of the fort:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

During the Spanish era the fort had five cannons to defend the opening to Apra harbor with:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

When the US captured Guam in 1898 the fort had long been abandoned.  The US put in its own gun batteries which remained until the 1920s.  After the Japanese captured Guam in 1941 they installed their own guns on Fort Santiago.  So it is pretty amazing how this little bluff has seen gun batteries emplaced on it by three different empires.   Besides views of Apra Harbor the bluff also provides a view across the western tip of the Orote Peninsula:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The next era in the Orote Peninsula’s history after the Spanish was the American era.  The US captured Guam in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.  Guam had been part of the Spanish Empire for 333 years before being captured by the United States.    The American flag was raised in Apra Harbor by the Captain of the USS Charleston, Henry Glass, on June 21, 1898.  A monument to where Captain Glass landed can be seen at the popular Gab Gab Beach on Naval Base Guam:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

When Captain Glass entered Apra Harbor and fired his cannons the Spanish commander actually thought it was celebratory fire and welcomed the American ship to the island.  Guam was so remote at the time, that word had not arrived that the US and Spain were at war.  Needless to say the Captain Glass’ capture of Guam was quite easy and done so with no gunshot ever fired.

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Here is a picture of the western end of the Orote Peninsula from the memorial to Captain Glass at Gab Gab Beach:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Here is a wider angle picture of the view:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

In 1899, the U.S. formally purchased Guam and other Spanish-held territories for $20 million.   Guam would go on to be administered by the US Navy per an executive order by U.S. President William McKinley. Under the U.S. naval government, many changes and improvements occurred, including agriculture, public health and sanitation, education, land management, taxes, and public works. The Navy also built a trans-Pacific cable line that ran through Guam:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The cable station was built in 1904 and kept the US mainland in contact with its other major territorial spoil from the Spanish-American War, the Philippines.  The remains of this old building can still be seen today:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Another improvement was building a Marine Corps aviation station on the Orote Peninsula:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Guam was where the first US Marine Corps unit stationed west of San Francisco would be located.  The unit was deactivated in 1931 as part of an effort to demilitarize Guam in order to appease the Imperial Japanese.  History has since shown how well appeasement worked.  Here is the area where the unit was located:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

After its deactivation one of the buildings from the aviation station was turned into a hotel:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Pan American Skyways used Guam as stopping off point for their trans-Pacific flight from the US to China.  Chamorros that lived in the nearby Sumay village used to work in the hotel.  During World War II the hotel was used as a residence by Japanese officers.  During the Battle of Guam the hotel was completely destroyed with nothing remaining of the hotel today:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

In 1941 the next era of Guam’s history began, the Japanese Imperial era.  Shortly after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese began bombing Guam as well.  On December 10, 1941, the Japanese military invaded Guam.  The small US Marine force stationed on the Orote Peninsula prepared for a last stand at the Plaza de Espana in the capital city of Hagatna.  After a short final battle the Governor of Guam, US Navy Captain George J. McMillin surrendered.  The surrender would lead to a brutal two and half year occupation of Guam by the Japanese.  The US returned to take back Guam on July 21, 1944.  Besides being an island that was home to captured US citizens, the island was strategically important because the Japanese runway on the Orote Peninsula could be used for bombing missions on Japan.  Remnants of the old runway can still be seen today:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The Battle of Guam was a bloody battle that saw thousands of US, Japanese, and Chamorros die.  A monument in memory of the nearly 1,900 Marines and 712 Chamorros who died fighting the Japanese can be seen on Naval Base Guam:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Another memorial can be seen that is in honor of the 161 Marines killed during the Battle of the Orote Peninsula:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

161 trees were also planted along the road in their honor:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

A grim marker for the Japanese war dead can be seen on Naval Base Guam as well:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

3,372 Japanese soldiers died fighting on the Orote Peninsula.  Many of them died during a drunken banzai charge where US Marines mowed them down with their heavy machine guns.  The stupidly incompetent drunken banzai charge is what largely caused such a huge disparity in casualties during the battle.  The huge amount of Japanese dead bodies caused the Marines to have to bury them in hasty graves.  Because of this Japanese bodies are still dug up today.  According to the marker a mass grave of Japanese soldiers were found in the housing area and transferred to the Pacific Memorial Park in Yigo.

If the Japanese would have held out in their fortifications the battle for the peninsula would have been much more difficult.  Next to the site of the old Sumay village is a hillside that is filled with caves built by forced Chamorro and Korean laborers to entrench the Imperial Japanese defenders on the peninsula:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

When the Marines advanced on the Orote Peninsula it required hand-to-hand combat to drive the Japanese out of these caves:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The cave pictured below may have been a Japanese command post during the Battle of Guam:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Here is a closer look at how small these caves are:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

After the Battle of Guam not all the Japanese defenders were killed.  The Japanese that did surrender were put to work by the US military to build public works projects. One of the projects they led was to build an outdoor amphitheater for US troops:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The amphitheater was built quite well considering that it is still visible today despite being abandoned many decades ago:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Another one of the projects that can still be seen today are the Japanese steps:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The steps are built in a traditional Japanese building style which makes them different from any other steps that can be seen on Naval Base Guam:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Here is a closer look at the steps:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

I don’t know what the steps originally led to, but today they lead to a children’s playground:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Near the Japanese steps is the War Dog Memorial:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The memorial is actually quite nice and commemorates the 25 dogs that died during the Battle of Guam:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Here is a closer look at the memorial:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Each of the 25 dogs each has their own headstone at the memorial:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Another site of interest is the Commander William C. McCool School:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Commander William McCool was tragically killed in the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.  McCool grew up on Guam and considered Guam his hometown.  He was actually carrying a Guamanian flag with him on the shuttle when he died.  Next to the school are flagpoles that represent the location of where the old World War II era Marines Barracks was located:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The recapturing the barracks was a major goal of the US Marines during the Battle of Guam.  It was a point of pride for them which they accomplished.  However, it cost the lives of 161 Marines who’s names are cataloged below the flagpoles:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

The Marine Barracks were destroyed by the fighting during the war, so all that remains to remind people of their existence is this marker:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Here is a closer look at the marker:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Today Naval Base Guam is one of the major US naval bases in the Pacific.  It is home to numerous U.S. Navy commands with a total of 6,300 active duty Navy servicemembers and 6,900 family members:

Picture from Naval Base Guam

Conclusion

Visiting Naval Base Guam is actually very fascinating to see the various eras of the history of Guam all on one small peninsula.  These eras cover hundreds of years of history, but on Naval Base Guam it is possible today to see a bit of this history in a half day.   For those who have access to Naval Base Guam, spending a half day checking out the historical sites followed by snorkeling at Gab Gab Beach is a great way to spend a day on Guam.

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