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Japanese force civilians into a camp

One of the worst atrocities that took place at the end of the Japanese occupation of Guam during World War II was the Manenggon concentration camp. In July 1944, as American forces prepared to invade Guam, Japanese forces ordered nearly the entire civilian population of Guam to move to Manenggon as well as other smaller concentration camps.

Manenggon is a valley area located between the villages of Yona and Talofofo. On July 10, General Takashina, the Japanese commander, ordered all Chamorros throughout the island to be evacuated from their villages and marched to campsites in the southern interior of the island. Thousands of people, from infants to the elderly, were forced to march to the Manenggon camp, with very little possessions, from as far north as Yigo and as far west as Agat. Southern villagers were collected mostly at inland campsites near Malojloj and Merizo.

A long, hard march

Over several days and nights, long columns of people poured out of the villages and marched on roads and trails, carrying whatever they could. Some rode carabao carts, but most were on foot. They were herded along by soldiers wielding bayonets who were noted in many accounts for their cruelty.

The long march was an extreme hardship for some, and many accounts exist of people who died along the way, or babies lost during childbirth who were left on the side of the road to Manenggon. They were not allowed to give a proper burial for those who died on the route, and when some fell sick, the others had to continue the march, leaving their loved ones behind. Dolores Jones, who was an orphaned 11-year-old at the time, recalled the ordeal forty years later and how she was in charge of her small brothers and sisters. She tied her three-year-old brother to her back, carried her four-year-old sister with her right arm, and carried her six-year-old sister with her left. She said they walked day and night, and she couldn’t keep up with everybody. When she got tired, she just laid on the ground and slept.

The families who were forced to march were gathered in a hurry, had no food to eat along the way, and had to scavenge for fruits or anything edible along the route. There are also many accounts of beatings on the march to Manenggon, including the beating of those who tried to leave the path to get water or food.

No food or shelter provided

Once the Chamorros arrived at Manenggon, there were about 18,000 or so of them camped out in different spots along the Manenggon river. They built temporary huts using tangantångan sticks and coconut leaves. No buildings, latrines, food, or medicine were provided at the campsites. The Chamorros used water from the river and foraged for anything edible in the area.

Some learned that the Japanese soldiers had set up machine guns surrounding them, and later found out that a machine-gun massacre was planned.

Many accounts of experiences at Manenggon exist. Carmen Matias gave birth to a baby girl, July, while her family was encamped in Manenggon. Her husband, Leonardo, was beaten by a Japanese soldier for building a fire.

Eighteen-year-old Ann Borja was among a group of young women at Manenggon who were gathered by Japanese soldiers to be transported to Ta’i Mangilao for unknown reasons. But before Borja and the new group of women boarded the truck, they spotted an American soldier hiding behind a nearby bush. He was with eleven other American soldiers, and they told the girls they were on patrol and not to follow them. The girls didn’t listen, and about 300 ragged people dropped everything and followed the Americans. Borja also described a Japanese truck full of young Chamorro women reaching Manenggon a few days after American troops landed at Asan and Agat. The women were allowed to disembark, according to Borja’s later account, and all the girls were shaking, apparently with fear, and wouldn’t say what had happened to them. She later found out that the girls they were to replace had been raped by Japanese officers.

The soldiers also rounded up men from the Manenggon camp and took them in work groups to carry munitions and other supplies in other parts of the island. Many people in the work groups were later killed. In one account, forty Chamorro men were tied, hands behind their backs, to trees, and then beheaded in order to prevent the Chamorros from escaping and helping the Americans.

Others described the final hours at Manenggon after the Chamorros had been there for more than a week. The Japanese rounded up many of the children and told them that there were cookies in a large hole. The children later found out that they were going to be massacred. But word of American soldiers approaching came just at that moment, and the Japanese scattered at the news. The Americans soon arrived, to the relief of the Chamorros, and took the Chamorro refugees to camps in other parts of the island.

Americans come to the rescue

The American patrols had reached the outskirts of the Manenggon camps late in the afternoon of July 30, 1944, and on July 31, troops of the Seventy-seventh Division overran the main camps. Some of the Japanese guards were killed, and the rest fled. The Americans handed out C-rations, candy, and cigarettes to the hungry refugees, and the Chamorros then trekked westward across the center of the island to American refugee camps at Finile in Agat and Asan.

No records exist of how many people died at or en route to Manenggon or the other camps in the south.

By Leo Babauta

For further reading

Palomo, Tony. “A Time of Sorrow and Pain.” Available online at National Park Service: War in the Pacific National Historical Park Service, Guam. (accessed 18 April 2013).

Palomo, Tony. An Island in Agony. Annandale: T. Palomo, 1984.

Rogers, Robert F. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995.

Untalan, Luis. “The Long Trek to Manenggon.” Pacific Profile: A Magazine Devoted to Guam and the Pacific 3, no.6 (July 1965).