Yigo, Guam: A place for remembering
The quiet village of Yigo may not attract as many tourists as the beaches of Tumon Bay, but its historical significance is equal to the sands of Agat and Asan. Known more as home to the Yigo Raceway Track and Andersen Air Force Base, it is also the site of a historic battle and a memorial to those fallen on both sides of the war.
Tucked away just a couple of miles south of Andersen’s main gate, the privately owned South Pacific Memorial Park pays honor to all of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Pacific War.
Twenty years after the War, Mitsunori Ueki, a member of the House of Councilors and representative of the South Pacific Memorial Association Mission, traveled to several Micronesian islands with the purpose of locating and paying respect to the war dead. In 1965, there were still numerous casualties of the war that were unaccounted for.
As part of the healing process, Ueki made a proposal: “Let us collaborate in building a memorial tower which will heartily console the souls of all the people who perished while dedicating their loyalty to their respective countries, and at the same time symbolize the wishes for friendship between Japan and the U.S. and also for world peace.”
Five years later the memorial tower was completed on the very grounds where the Imperial military was forced to give up its control of Guam. The South Pacific Memorial Park is located on Mataguac Hill, the site where Lt. General Hideyoshi Obata of the Imperial Army established his final command post on Guam.
Prior to the U.S. Operation Forager, Lt. Gen. Obata, the commander of the 31st Army, was stationed at the headquarters on Saipan. While on an inspection trip in Palau in June 1944, Obata learned of the U.S. assault on Saipan. Though he attempted to return to his post, Guam was the farthest he could travel.
Despite yielding control of Guam to the island commander, Lt. Gen. Takeshi Takashima, in the days following the U.S. invasion of Guam and Takashima’s resulting death, Obata was eventually forced to take command of Japanese forces on Guam.
By August. 1, the success of U.S. forces resulted in the withdrawal of the Imperial Army to the north where a defensive line in the Mataguac-Santa Rosa area was established. It was in the depression of land below Mataguac Hill that the Japanese military forced their prisoners to dig and construct elaborate caves.
On the morning of Aug. 11, 1944, the final battle for Guam began. U.S. troops from the 77th Infantry Division had picked up enemy fire on the preceding day when patrolling areas in Yigo and were alerted to the enemy’s bulwark. Aware of being outnumbered by the enemy in both manpower and weapons, Obata sent his final message to Japan mere hours before the conclusive battle for Guam.
After several hours of intense firing against the Imperial stronghold, U.S. troops at last descended into the depression at Mataguac Hill. The caves were sealed with explosives; however evidence gathered later revealed that Obata had already taken his own life in the opening hours of the battle.
Today the grounds of the Mataguac Hill are lush and green, dotted with tropical flowers that accentuate the stark white memorial tower that rises 50 feet into the sky. The tower’s design emulates the shape of hands pressed together as in prayer.
There are several monuments, shrines and prayer sticks located around the memorial that have been placed there by visitors. Located a few steps from the tower is a Buddhist temple which also houses artifacts that have been collected from the battleground and caves.
The construction and maintenance costs have been exclusively paid for by donations given by Japanese people and managed by the South Pacific Memorial Association of Japan.
The South Pacific Memorial Park is solemn yet beautiful place to pay respect to both the Japanese and Americans who died in the battle for Yigo, ultimately for the liberation of Guam. There is no cost to visit the memorial and it is open daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
This story was originally posted on Stripes Guam website on July 19, 2012.