ASAN, Guam (Nov. 16, 2018) – Flag officers and civilian leadership participating in the annual German Chief of Defense capstone course joined Guam-based U.S. military representatives for an honorary wreath laying ceremony at the SMS Cormoran II headstone at the U.S. Naval Cemetery in Hagåtña Nov. 15.
Joint Region Marianas Chief of Staff Capt. Hans Sholley retold the events surrounding the ship’s sinking in Apra Harbor during World War I and the death of seven German Sailors, who were later buried at the cemetery.
“Low on coal, [the crew of Cormoran II] sought refuge in a neutral American port,” Sholley explained. “At that point, they came into Apra Harbor and requested from the naval governor a load out of coal, and America, choosing to remain neutral, said ‘We’re not going to give you coal’ because coal was such a limited resource here, ‘but you’re welcome to stay.’”
“For two and a half years, Cormoran and her crew were guests here in Guam, and [they] were hospitable guests,” Sholley continued. “There were parties thrown both ashore and on the boat. Many German Sailors married Chamorro ladies and started families here.”
In April 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, the commanding officer of Cormoran II, Capt. Adalbert Zuckschwerdt, decided to scuttle Cormoran II rather than surrender.
Learning of the plan to sink the ship, U.S. naval forces in Guam fired a shot over the ship’s bow. This shot is considered the first by U.S. forces during World War I. The crew continued to scuttle the ship and the subsequent explosion killed seven German Sailors. The remaining German Sailors abandoned the ship and were rescued by American Sailors and held as prisoners of war until their release in 1919.
Retired Gen. Rainer Schuwirth, senior mentor of the capstone course, said the wreath laying was meaningful to the group, especially being 12,000 kilometers from home during the time of year that the German people commemorate the victims of war, terror, and other unfortunate events.
“It is a good tradition in our civilized cultures to honor those who have given their lives in wars or on behalf of their country,” he said. “It definitely means that we are confronted with a piece of common history. We have to learn from the past and do better in the future.”
For more information, contact the Joint Region Marianas Public Affairs Office at (671) 349-4055.