A look back in Guam's history: Marine endures war in POW camp

Photo courtesy of War in the Pacific National Historic Park
Photo courtesy of War in the Pacific National Historic Park

A look back in Guam's history: Marine endures war in POW camp

by Raj Sood
War in the Pacific National Historic Park

Editor’s Note: These stories were first published on the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Guam.

 

World War II was an experience that shattered lives around the globe, leaving few countries little affected by the conflict. History was unfolding before people’s eyes everywhere.

But retired Marine Brig. General Charles S. Todd saw little of World War II. For him, World War II was a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan. Todd was among the American military and civilian personnel taken from Guam in January 1942 after the Japanese invasion of the island.

The Japanese occupation of Guam overturned Todd’s world. He and his wife Marcelline, and their child, loved their life on Guam. He had come to the island in 1939 after 18 months of duty at sea, and he and his wife lived in a home between Piti and Asan.

Todd served as the aide to naval Governor George McMillin, was named by the governor as chief of police, and was also part of the naval justice system. “I was wearing three hats,” he said.

Assisting him in the police department were Juan Roberto, Adolfo C. Sgambelluri and Juan Taitano; Todd described his staff and those men as “outstanding,” and the crime rate as practically nil.

When Japanese planes attacked Guam on Dec. 8, 1941, (the same day as Pearl Harbor because of the International Date line), McMillin ordered Todd to imprison Japanese residents of the island. “He said, ‘Charlie, round up all these Japanese (local residents), put them in the jail and turn all the other prisoners loose,’ which I did.”

Later, as the Japanese sent aircraft to strafe and bomb the island prior to a troop landing, explosions rocked the jail, causing some distress to the prisoners inside. “Some of the bombs fell close to the jail - didn’t hit them, but jarred the building. They were not very happy about that. Anyway, I had a hard time when they were finally released. After that, I was taken prisoner, of course.”

After Gov. McMillin surrendered Guam, all Americans, military or civilian, and some Spanish clergy, notably Guam Bishop Miguel Olano, were imprisoned. Todd’s wife and child, however, had already left Guam and were in the United States at war’s beginning.

On Jan. 10, 1942, the prisoners were taken to Piti to board the Argentina Maru. “Who can forget that day?,” Todd said. He and the 500 or so prisoners from Guam were transferred to camps in Kobe, Japan to be prisoners of war.

“It was cold there, and those of us taken from Guam had no warm clothes, not until the fall of Singapore (in February 1942) when we were brought captured British uniforms. These uniforms were odd sizes - none of them fit, but at least they kept us warm.”

The prisoners were made to work. Officers spent their time caring for a garden, and others were conscripted to load food from one train to another. But the prisoners took advantage of the situation - they were able to take some of the food being transferred from train to train. “That, along with what we grew in the garden, helped our chow,” Todd said.

About news of the war, the POWs were able to obtain some, at least the Japanese views of the conflict. “The Japanese civilian labor used to carry newspapers which our people would snag. We had a person who knew Japanese and he would translate for us,” Todd said.

But there were some rough times for Todd and the POWs. “They gave us a bad time when (Army Air Force Lt. Col. James) Doolittle took off from a carrier and flew over Japan.” On April 18, 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor, Doolittle led a raid of B-25 bombers on Tokyo and other cities.

“It shook them up. Their mood changed drastically for awhile. They were mean, real mean. That was even before the B-29 raids started (in 1944).”

As the war’s momentum switched to the Allies, conditions for the POWs worsened. “When things really started going badly for them, it got worse for us too. A few times they lined us up facing their soldiers with fixed bayonets. We thought that was it, but for some reason they changed their minds.”

In August 1945, the Japanese began to rant about “the inhuman bomb,” the retired general said. Todd and the POWs did not have any knowledge of the atom bomb, so they believed that this “inhuman bomb” was some kind of gas. “We had no idea.”

A few days after the atomic bomb, the camp commander gathered all the internees together. “He told us that Japan had quit fighting in the interest of world peace,” Todd said.

The men, after more than four years of imprisonment, would be repatriated to a world so greatly changed by a war of which they saw so little.

Photo Caption:
Japanese Governor Homura, third from left on bottom row, and other officials pose with students graduating from a teachertraining program. The eight month-long training was held in Agana, with students staying in a dormitory, said Francisca Quintanilla Franquez, fourth from left, second row, and Dinang Atoigue Manibusan, to her left. Teachers were strict, but fair and very good, they said. Second row, left to right, are Ana S.N. Ofeciar, Maria Sablan Perez, Maria Garrido Taitano, Franquez, Manibusan, Teresita Perez Salas, Agnes Carbullido Tabor, Lois Charfauros Muna, Lourdes L.G. Toves, Maria Castro Ada, Maria Perez San Nicolas. Top, left to right, Edward Camacho, Antonio Charfauros, Alejo Quinata, Jose Rosario, Tomas Mendiola, Sabino Flores, Juan Tenorio, Jose Mafnas, Vicente Diaz, and Jesus Torres.

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