Proud History of US Marines on Guam
November 10, 1775, is a date every Marine, in every clime and place, proudly celebrates as the birthday of the Marine Corps. Every Marine can tell you what happened, “Back in 1775” when our “Marine Corps came alive,” as the popular cadence goes. However, not many Marines can tell you what happened on August 7, 1899.
Marines first came to Guam on June 1, 1898, as a result of the United States’ action in the Spanish American War. After the seizure of Guam, the Marines helped conduct a brief inspection of the island and then sailed to Manila.
On April 20, 1899, orders were issued to Marines located along the east coast, from Washington D.C. all the way up to the state of New Hampshire. The newly formed battalion was made of 150 enlisted Marines, one Major, two Captains, three Lieutenants and Captain Richard Leary, USN, who also became the Military Governor of Guam. The Marines knew they were in for a long hard journey aboard the USS Yosemite and bid farewell to their loved ones as they knew some would not make it home. Even President McKinley himself, boarded the ship to bid his farewells and good luck to the Marines and the USS Yosemite crew. These Marines from the expedition known as the Pioneer Marine Battalion at Guam were the first Marines to land on the island of Guam August 7, 1899.
From August 7, 1899 to November 26, 1900, when the Marines left for the Philippines, the Marines built a barracks, drill field, and the town of Agana, to include a school system, roads and bridges, and helping in the development of Guam’s first civilian police force – the Insular Patrol. In addition to this, the Marines helped establish Guam’s first militia under the Stars and Stripes. However, during a huge storm and a massive tsunami on November 13, the town of Agana was wiped out except for a few stone buildings and a church. The Marines were ordered to assist all survivors and to disperse all military rations to the towns and the people of Guam.
In 1900, the outbreak of the Philippine insurrection in Cavite led to the Marine Battalion, being issued orders November 25th, to continue their expedition to the Philippines where they would lead the famous campaign on the Island of Samar, Philippines in 1901. Prior to their departure, the Marines were relieved by a fresh Marine Battalion on Guam.
During World War I, the Marines on Guam became briefly involved with the sinking of the German warship Cormoran in Apra Harbor. After the war, the Marines and islanders joined to build a new Naval Air Station on Orote Peninsula. This station was built in its entirety under the joint efforts of the Marines and the Chamorros in the remarkable time of two years. During the 1930’s the Marines continued to provide island-wide security and concurrently stressed the importance of assuming a responsible position in the civilian community. The Marines would keep a constant presence in Guam until December 10, 1941.
Before Pearl Harbor was bombed the Japanese were planning a massive attack on US controlled islands, located in the pacific. The first Japanese attack was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, HI on December 7, 1941. The next planned attack, by Japanese forces, was to invade and capture the island of Guam on December 10, 1941. The battle consisted of 5,500 Japanese Marines and soldiers invading the island utilizing amphibious boats and water landing crafts in two different locations. Due to a lack of preparation and weaponry the island was surrendered within a few hours of fighting and the Japanese only received one casualty. The Japanese may have won that battle but the war was not over and the Marines would never forget what was taken from them.
The Marines returned, on July 21, 1944, to liberate the island of Guam and to recapture the strategic Marianas islands. The 3rd Marine Division, 1st Provisional Marine Brigade and 77th Infantry Division invaded the island of Guam at two separate locations. The 3rd MARDIV landed at Asan beach and the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade and 77th Infantry Division landed below the city of Agat. The fighting lasted for 21 days with 3000 Americans and 18,000 Japanese killed. The original Marine Barracks was destroyed during the American and Japanese bombings in World War II.
Since the end of World War II, the Marine Barracks’ primary duty was to provide security for Naval forces located on Guam. Marines maintained a constant presence on the island with both the Navy, building a Naval Base on Orote Peninsula and Finegayan, and the Air Force, building bases at the north end of the island and near Barrigada. More than 300 Marines served at Marine Barracks Guam: headquartered on Naval Station, with posts on Naval Magazine and Naval Communications Master Station (WestPac).
The colors were lowered for the last time at Marine Barracks Guam when it was officially deactivated in the 1992 and the Navy took over all Marine Corps buildings. All that is left of the Marine Barracks located on the Orote Peninsula is a flagpole and monument dedicated to the old Marine Barracks next to the current location of the McCool Elementary School on Naval Base Guam.
The small contingent of Marines currently assigned to Marine Corps Activity Guam are responsible for building relationships with the community and facilitating the coordination required to make Marine Corps Base (MCB) Guam a reality.