Exploring Guam: Step back in time to WWII at Piti Guns
Exploring Guam: Step back in time to WWII at Piti Guns
The three guns you will find here are 14-millimeter (or 5.5 inch barrel) Japanese coastal defense guns – the most common coastal guns used by the Japanese during WWII.
Region: West Central
Time: 5 – 10 minutes to get there, allow 20 minutes
Length: 1/10th of a mile
Elevation Gain: 50 feet
Sight: WWII Ruins
Cool Stuff: Mahogany forest
This trail is extremely easy. It does go 50 feet up in elevation, but it only takes about 5 minutes of walking to finish. Read the history section for more information about these guns during World War II.
What To Bring: Insect repellant, tennis shoes
Tips: Bring loads of insect repellant and apply it very liberally to every inch of exposed skin. Even though this is such an easy hike, wear tennis shoes as wet leaves and steps can be slippery.
From the Big Navy Base in Santa Rita (reverse if coming from the north):
- Drive north on Marine Corps Drive. You will pass the turn for Polaris Point, the Port Authority, and the Guam Power Authority Piti power plant on your left.
- Soon after the stop light for the power plant, keep a lookout to your right for J.M. Tuncap Street. Take a right at J.M. Tuncap Street. You may notice it is right across the street from Santos Park.
- At the end of the street, turn right at Assumption Steet.
- Then take a left Father Mel Street before the blue and white church (shown as “Fr Mel St” on the sign).
Park underneath the large Saman tree on the left side of the church.
The trail begins to the left of the church up the cement steps.
The Trail Guide
At the base of the trail you will find a trail map, a description of how the U.S. soldiers had to trudge through this jungle to find the Japanese soldiers hiding here, and information about the trail itself. Begin by walking up the cement stairs. These become crumbly and eventually make way to a dirt trail as you ascend.
It will only be 5 minutes of a slightly graded jungle walk on a wide, obvious trail before you reach the first of three guns.
Ascend the steps to view the first gun.
From here you may take the trail to the right to view the mahogany forest. Either a) take this trail all the way to the top of the hill, walk to the left in the clearing below the power line tower, walk through the ferns and down the hill to find the second gun, or b) check out the mahogany forest and return back to the first gun. This trail was not visible through the trees at the time the photograph was taken, but you can see where the trail begins on the map to the right. There is a second entrance to the forest farther down the trail.
To proceed to the next gun, take the trail to the left of the first gun for about 50 feet. The second gun will be to your left. Its damaged appearance is due to the tree that fell on it during a violent typhoon.
Continue on the trail to find the third and final gun, still green in color.
Turn back the way you came and find the trail up the hill, to the left, across from the second gun. This is another way to the mahogany forest and also leads to a beautiful cemetery.
To take this route to the mahogany forest, hike straight up this hill. Follow the trail markers if there are any. Watch out for spiderwebs across the trees and be careful of the slippery leaves on the ground. At the top you will walk through the ferns and turn immediately to the right in the clearing under the power line tower. See the opening in the bushes and walk into the mahogany forest. Take the trail down until it reunites with the trail at the first gun. Identify the trees by their broad leaves.
Optional cemetery walk: To walk to the nearby cemetery, stay at the top of the hill, beneath the power line tower. Walk straight to the cement road and walk on it for about 30 minutes. Lining the road are many plants, including the small, edible yellow fruit of the bush passionflower plant (also known as wild water lemon), shown below. These small berry-looking fruits are in the passionfruit family and can be eaten whole, with the skin on, or can be broken apart to expose its sweet seed-jelly. It tastes just like a passionfruit. Grasshoppers will jump along with you as you graze by the grass where it grows over the road. Walk around the car barrier at the end of the road to explore the cemetery.
If you are not native to Guam you’ll notice that the cemeteries here are very different from those you may find in the states. The grave sites are large, rectangular, cement foundations, with statues of Mother Mary and a cross, fully painted pure white, and are decorated with bright flowers and trinkets. Near the cemetery you may find trees with large red berries (shown below). These are called muntingia calabura, Singapore cherries, or the strawberry tree. These berries are soft on the inside, almost like a very ripe persimmon, and taste just like strawberries.
To return, go back the way you came. Follow the road to the final power line tower and either a) go straight back through the ferns and down the hill back to the second gun or b) walk past the power line tower to the left, through the opening in the brush, and follow the trail through the mahogany forest. This trail reunites with the first trail at the first gun.
To return to your car, walk back down the stairs from the first gun and retrace your steps on the dirt trail, down the first set of steps to the trailhead.
History of the Crosses
The three guns you will find here are 140-millimeter (or 5.5 inch barrel) Japanese coastal defense guns – the most common coastal guns used by the Japanese during WWII. They have a range of 17,000 meters, or 10.6 miles, and were mainly used on Guam to attack ships and landing parties at Asan Beach and Apra Harbor.
These particular guns were actually never fired. When the war suddenly turned against the Japanese forces in the Pacific islands, they only had a few months to fortify their position on Guam. These particular guns were not ready by the time the Americans made their strike, but many others like them were used, quite accurately, to rebuke U.S. efforts to land on and overtake Guam. U.S. Forces began the affront on Asan Beach (where these guns were/are pointing) on July 21st, 1944 and this area of the guns was captured by July 22nd. They were built by enslaved local Chamorros who used tree trunks to roll the huge guns all the way up the hill where this hike now resides. The local people were used this way as forced laborers often during the Japanese occupation.
The dense brush and jungle that you see along this hike are very similar to those which the American forces had to trek through around the island to find and irradiate the Japanese soldiers who were taking cover inland. Imagine what their patrol would have felt like while on this hike, with the air deathly quiet except for a crackle of leaves here or movement in the brush there, unable to see clearly through the trees all around you. Imagine that enemy soldiers could be anywhere, quietly waiting, hidden in the thick vegetation, guns a-ready, surely having the upper hand on you as you trek loudly and tediously uphill through thick vines, grasses, branches, leaves, spiny plants, and trees (now replaced by a nice, wide trail), swimming through heat and humidity.
The death toll of this Battle of Guam includes 7,000 U.S. soldiers, maybe 1,000 Chamorros (local deaths were not properly recorded), and over 18,000 Japanese soldiers. Unimaginable.
The mahogany forest that can be found to the right of the first gun (as well as from the fork at the second gun) was planted around 1928 and is all that remains of the Guam Agricultural Experiment Station and school. These trees are native to Central and South America (thus are not indigenous to Guam) and are renowned in the tropics for their hardness for timber. This deep green, Fern Gully-like forest makes for a lovely change of pace from the typical rainforest and jungle vegetation that is ubiquitous on the island.
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