Last Naval Governor of Guam

Charles Alan Pownall (1887 – 1975) was a Vice Admiral in the US Navy and Governor of Guam (30 May 1946 – 27 September 1949). He was the last Naval Governor of Guam following the US recapture of the island from the Japanese during World War II.

Early Naval career

Pownall was raised in Atglen, Pennsylvania. After high school he was appointed to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He graduated in June 1910 and was commissioned Ensign. Pownall served briefly aboard battleships before World War I. During WWI he commanded the patrol vessel USS Vedette on convoy escort and antisubmarine operations in the Atlantic Ocean and European waters and was awarded the Navy Cross.

World War II

During World War II, Pownall commanded the fast aircraft carrier Task Group 50.1 in the Pacific Theater. He was in command when it raided the Japanese positions on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands on 18 September 1943 in preparation for the American invasion that would follow in November 1943. Pownall distinguished himself in the early phase of Gilbert Islands campaign and received a Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

However, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz ordered him replaced after a perceived lack of aggressiveness during the capture of Marshall Islands in February 1944. Pownall subsequently commanded Naval Air Forces, Pacific Fleet before he was ordered back to the US to command Naval Air Training Command.

In September 1945, Pownall was sent back to the Pacific area to serve as Commander Naval Forces Marianas with additional duty as military Governor of Guam beginning 30 May 1946.

Governor of Guam

As Governor of Guam Pownall helped organize much of the island’s basic government. In 1948, Pownall, along with the US Secretary of the Navy, gave the Guam Congress the power to create laws, pending the governor’s approval. The Secretary of the Navy had the power to override a veto from either the Guam Congress or Governor Pownall. When the Guam Congress attempted to pass a law allowing them to subpoena American citizens, Pownall vetoed it.

Despite this, while investigating suspected abuses involving Americans owning businesses through Chamoru frontmen, the Guam Congress subpoenaed businessman Abe Goldstein over his involvement in a local women’s clothing store. Citing Pownall’s veto, Goldstein refused to testify. The Guam Congress cited Goldstein for contempt and issued a warrant for his arrest, but were stopped by Pownall.

When confronted, Pownall told Guam Speaker of the House Antonio Borja Won Pat to leave the matter to him. When Won Pat told the House Assembly what Pownall said, they were angry.

Stirred by Pownall and with media support, the House resolved to pass a bill requesting citizenship for CHamorus, and decided not to reassemble until the US Congress had addressed the bill. On 12 March, Pownall called a special joint session of Congress, but most Congressional members refused to attend. Pownell dismissed all those Congressmen who chose not to attend, and appointed replacements.The dismissals caused outrage among CHamorus and representatives from 12 of Guam’s 19 villages voted not to recognize the replacements.

President Harry Truman ordered an investigation into the incident. Upon review, Truman ordered a transitional government created, and pressured Pownall to restore the former Congressmen to their seats on 2 April 1948.In September 1949, administration of Guam was transferred to the US Department of the Interior and an Organic Act was signed for Guam.

Under the new government, the Governor of Guam was appointed by the President. Truman appointed Carlton S. Skinner as Guam’s first civilian Governor, replacing Pownall. Pownall was the last military governor of Guam.

Retirement

Pownall announced his retirement on 4 June 1949. He was advanced to the rank of Vice Admiral. He died on 19 July 1975 in San Diego, California and is buried at El Camino Memorial Park together with his wife, Mary Chenoweth Pownall.

Shannon J. Murphy

For further reading

The Navy Book of Distinguished Service: An Official Compendium of the Names and Citations of the Men of the US Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Foreign Governments Who Were Decorated by the Navy Department for Extraordinary Gallantry and Conspicuous Service Above and Beyond the Call of Duty in the World War (editor: Harry R. Stringer, p 117, Fassett Publishing Company: Washington DC, 1921).

“Valor awards for Charles A. Pownall”. valor.militarytimes.com. Militarytimes Websites. Retrieved 7 October 2018.

Budge, Kent (2008). “Pownall, Charles A.” The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia.

Sanchez, Pedro (1988). Guahan Guam: The History of Our Island. Hagåtña, Guam: Sanchez Publishing House.