Massacres in final days of WWII

The Fena Caves Massacre occurred on 23 July 1944, shortly after American troops invaded the island on 21 July, when Japanese soldiers killed more than 30 young men and women from Hågat and Sumai with grenades and bayonets in the caves near Fena Lake, raping many of the women before killing them. In some accounts, it is reported that 66 others barely survived the massacre.

The massacre at Fena was one of several such atrocities that took place in the final days of the Japanese occupation of Guam during World War II. The Japanese forces became increasingly pressured by the American air attacks on the island, and by a dwindling food supply, and as the American forces landed on Guam, the Chamorros were rounded up and forced into long marches, mostly to the Manenggon concentration camp in Yona.

Young men and women rounded up

In the case of the southern villages of Hågat and Sumai, a group of about 50 young women and about the same number of young men were selected to serve as a basic work force and stay behind in the Fena area. Japanese soldiers were sent out to each family, ordering them to go to an area known as Manenggon, which is in the interior of the island where a concentration camp was set up, and ordering the sons and daughters to stay behind as part of the work force. Parents who refused to send a son or daughter were threatened with beheading.

Told it was a celebration

The young men and women in the work force were to assist the Japanese soldiers in various tasks, including clearing jungle paths for the movement of heavy war vehicles, the construction of temporary wooden bridges over rivers and streams, and cooking and furnishing other needs for the enemy soldiers.

Later in July, as the American bombings became more intense, Japanese officials began to order dozens of Hågat and Sumai residents into caves located in Fena area in the village of Sumai. Most of the men and women were between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. Many of the men were given whiskey and Japanese sake (a liquor distilled from rice) to drink and were told it was a celebration for all their hard work. Many of the men got drunk, and they celebrated by eating rice and salmon with their alcohol.

But then, suddenly, the Japanese soldiers used machine guns and grenades on the Chamorros in the caves, and then went in to bayonet those who were still alive. Many of the Chamorros survived, after being buried under dead bodies and pretending to be dead. A number were wounded by bullets and bayonets and couldn’t move. A few were able to go deeper into the caves and hide or escape.

Women repeatedly raped

The timeline of events at Fena are not clear, as it is pieced together from numerous survivor recollections, but during this time further atrocities were done to many of the young women. One group of about dozen women were ordered alone into a cave, and were then repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers. When it was over, a few escaped. Others waited in the cave until morning, and some of them ended up being beheaded by the Japanese.

On another night, the Japanese taicho (commander) of the Fena area, an officer named Takebana, ordered seven girls sent into a cave. They were hungry after several days without food. Takebana and his soldiers arrived with food and sake, and the girls ate and drank. Takebana then told the women they were to give themselves freely to the soldiers, or face death. Throughout the night, the women were raped by soldiers. Nearby, in another cave 18 other women suffered the same atrocities.

The next morning, some of the girls escaped into the jungle as the US Marines approached the area and killed some of the Japanese guards. Some of the girls fell victim to Japanese grenades.

Memorial services

In 1998, some members of the Guam Legislature, along with members of the Hågat-Sånta Rita-Sumai communities, began holding an annual memorial service for the victims and survivors of the Fena Caves Massacre.  Sånta Rita-Sumai was a village established after the war, and many of the displaced residents of Sumai and their descendants live there, in an area close to Fena.

During the memorials a number of survivors have recounted their personal recollections of the tragedy, and a mass service and candlelight prayer are also held. In most years, the memorial service has been held at various sites in Hågat and Sånta Rita-Sumai, as the Fena Caves are located in what is now US Naval Magazine, a munitions supply area that is off limits to local residents.

By Leo Babauta

For further reading

Coulehan, Kathy. Fena Caves Massacre Memorial Service. Hagåtña: Caves Massacre Memorial Service Committee, 1998.

Farrell, Don A. The Pictorial History of Guam: Liberation, 1944. Tamuning: Micronesian Productions, 1984.

Guam War Survivors. “Home.” Last modified 27 June 2021.

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