Story by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir and Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West
U.S. Coast Guard District 14 Hawaii Pacific
Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Guam, and the U.S. Coast Guard was there alongside partners and allies to commemorate this auspicious occasion.
Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, joined the people of Guam and the military to honor those who came before. In World War II, the allies fought for freedom on the battlefields of Europe, but also on the seas and islands of the Pacific. For more than seven decades, the Indo-Pacific region has shown us its critical strategic importance.
“The Coast Guard has a specific and irreplaceable national security role in advancing the rules-based maritime governance of the Indo-Pacific region that ensures all nations are secure in their sovereignty and can pursue economic growth consistent with international norms. This is a role we have shared for decades,” said Adm. Schultz.
Shortly after the famous attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese forces began their assault on Guam, shelling the island, and soon invaded with over 6,000 soldiers. After a short resistance, they overran the undersupplied and outnumbered defenders forcing them to surrender to spare further losses.
The people of Guam suffered under harsh conditions from their invaders, and by 1944 the garrison grew to over 18,000 Japanese troops. On July 21, 1944, after 31 months of occupation, United States forces began the carefully coordinated liberation of the island. The Coast Guard Cutter Tupelo (WLB 303) and 10 Coast Guard-manned Navy warships stood alongside their fellows in Operation Forager. Their goal — to liberate the island of Guam from Japanese control.
Following weeks of bombardment, units from both the Marine Corps and Army, with support from the Navy and Coast Guard, began their counter-assault. After 19 days of fierce fighting and thousands of casualties and wounded on both sides, Maj. Gen. Geiger, the commanding general of the III Marine Amphibious Group, declared the island secure on Aug. 10, 1944.
Following liberation, Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, established the island as his headquarters for the remainder of the war. The strategic location of Guam and the rest of the Mariana Islands allowed, for the first time, American land-based bomber crews to make roundtrip strikes directly at the Japanese home islands.
Since World War II, the bond between the people of Guam and the Coast Guard remains strong. The first civilian governor of the island, Carlton Skinner, was appointed after serving as a Coast Guard officer during the war. His legacy was one of civil rights and equality. He purposed and implemented a policy of desegregation during an unprecedented experiment aboard the USS Sea Cloud (IX-99) and even after leaving office supported greater self-rule for Pacific islands under the United States jurisdiction.
Shortly after liberation, work began on the Mariana Islands Long Range Navigation (LORAN) system with stations on Guam, Saipan, and the Ulithi Islands. The LORAN system was developed during World War II and was the most dependable form of navigation before the development of GPS. After the war, the LORAN stations were turned over to Coast Guard service members who continued to operate them for years to come.
The stationing of numerous Coast Guard cutters and units on the island over the years have provided for safety and security as well as a stronger maritime transportation system and increased regional partnerships. Their crews offer a range of services from aids to navigation maintenance to search and rescue. Guam is now home to Coast Guard Sector Guam, Station Apra Harbor, the Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia (WLB 215) and the two 110-foot Island Class patrol boats Washington (WPB 1331) and Kiska (WPB 1336).
Soon, three newly built Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) will arrive to replace the two aging patrol boats as the Coast Guard continues to modernize its fleet to deal with the increasingly complex global Maritime Transportation System and the demand for forces to counter Chinese influence.
“The Fast Response Cutters are part of our specialized capabilities,” said Capt. Chris Chase, commander Coast Guard Sector Guam. “They are an advanced tool but not a replacement for our people who work so hard to serve the people of this region. These islands are remote but resilient because we support each other. Following typhoons, Mangkhut and Yutu Coast Guard crews were in first with our DOD and FEMA partners to follow to begin rebuilding. Earlier this month we flexed our reach and our partnership by sending Kiska with two Mark VI patrol boats, attached to Navy Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2, to Colonia, Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia for a port visit and exchange. This consistent and deliberate approach to supporting our common goals is what keeps our bonds strong.”
The United States is a Pacific nation, and the Coast Guard has enduring relationships across the Indo-Pacific, some dating back over 150 years. In recent years the U.S. Coast Guard has transferred cutters through the Excess Defense Articles process to improve maritime security and law enforcement capability. They have also participated in multi-national security exercises; entered into bilateral search and rescue agreements, hosted shipriders aboard Coast Guard cutters for fisheries enforcement, and deployed training teams to share technical expertise and build proficiency across all of a Coast Guard’s mission areas.
Coast Guard service members on Guam continue to play an important role in United States foreign policy in the Pacific. In addition to recent actions, earlier this year the crew of the Sequoia traveled to Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands to assist with aids to navigation operations and the patrol boats are regularly engaged in joint activities with the Navy and efforts to curtail illegal actions in the region.
Patrols such as these support the Coast Guard’s commitment to nurture and maintain our essential partnerships in the Pacific as outlined in the commandant’s recent State of the Coast Guard address. The Coast Guard is committed to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.