OUR WWII STORY: Legionnaires beheaded on Guam
American Legion Mid Pacific Post 1 in 1935. Photo courtesy Guam Museum

OUR WWII STORY: Legionnaires beheaded on Guam

Hours after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces stormed strategically located islands in the Pacific Ocean where the U.S. military had established footprints. Guam was an early and obvious target.

The island had been governed by the U.S. Navy since the Spanish American War ended. A naval hospital there produced a large percentage of Mid-Pacific American Legion Post 1’s early membership after it was chartered in 1930. Sailor John A. McCormack, originally of Colorado and one of the organization’s early national vice commanders, organized the post, which was known for stable membership and active participation. In 1941, Post 1 Adjutant Juan San Nicholas wrote to American Legion National Headquarters that 100 percent of the membership – all 101 – had participated in ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of the armistice of World War I that year. “There are very few posts, wherever placed, that can boast 100 percent attendance at any meeting,” The American Legion Magazine reported.

Most of Post 1’s early history, however, was stolen or destroyed after the island was officially surrendered on Dec. 10, 1941.

Japanese air bombings Dec. 8-9 were followed by a ground invasion that left the situation on Guam “hopeless,” Territorial Gov. and Navy Capt. George J. McMillin would later report. Most American civilians had been evacuated over a month earlier as tensions in the Pacific heightened.

At about 6 a.m. on Dec. 10, the island was surrendered by McMillin, who spent the next three years as a prisoner of war. “I have been assured by you that the civil rights of the population of Guam will be respected and that military forces surrendered to you will be accorded all the rights stipulated by the International Law and the laws of humanity,” he wrote in the third of a three-paragraph statement of surrender to the Japanese commanding officer.

Those assurances were soon ignored.

Sailors, Marines and native islanders were treated with brutality during the Japanese occupation of Guam, which the emperor specifically hoped to develop after World War II.

Following the takeover, American Legion Post 1 members “were under constant surveillance, often arrested and seven were accused of being spies and beheaded,” according to a Mid-Pacific Post 1 history online. “The Japanese either destroyed, or kept for souvenirs, all post records, flags, uniforms, caps and other paraphernalia they could find.”

The post existed to a certain degree during the occupation, the only American Legion post in history, according to the website, to have operated under enemy rule during wartime.

In the early hours of July 21, 1944, the U.S. 77th Army Division, 3rd Marine Division and 1st Provisional Marine Division, landed at Asan and began a two-week battle against defiant Japanese forces. U.S. control was regained on Aug. 10, 1944. About 3,000 Americans were killed and another 7,100 wounded in the mission to liberate Guam. More than 18,500 Japanese were killed and another 1,250 were taken prisoner in the battle. Four U.S. Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions in the fight, which converted the island from an enemy stronghold into an Allied air base.

Guam Liberation Day continues to be celebrated each July 21, with parades and ceremonies honoring U.S. military sacrifices that were made to free the island in World War II, a key step to victory in the Pacific Theater.

Mid-Pacific Post 1 is now located in Tamuning and plays an active role in community service and Junior ROTC at four of the island’s high schools.