Friday, January 08, 2016

Two Men on an Island: The Radio Scene on the Island of Guam

The island of Guam lies in the Pacific Ocean, directly north of New Guinea, 3800 miles west of Hawaii, and 1200 miles east of the Philippines.  It is the largest and the most southerly island in Micronesia, which includes more than 2,000 small islands and islets in the western Pacific.
            The island of Guam is 30 miles long and a dozen miles wide, and nearby is the Marianas Trench, which at 6¾ miles deep, is the deepest part of any ocean upon planet Earth.  Guam enjoys a tropical climate the temperatures of which are modified due to the waters of the surrounding ocean.  This island can be subject to storms and cyclones, and also to earthquakes though there are no volcanoes on the island itself.
            The total population on Guam is about 160,000 made up of American forces personnel and local Chamorro people who speak their own language.  The capital city is Agana), which is also the headquarters for the American navy in the region.
            One of the main industries on Guam is tourism, and more than one million people visit the island each year, mainly from Japan.  Very popular for the Japanese people is to celebrate a wedding on tropical Guam.
            The known history of the island of Guam extends back some four thousand years, to the time when the original settlers moved into the area from Southeast Asia.  The first European to sight the island, on March 6, 1521, was the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan who circumnavigated the world on behalf of the royal family of Portugal.
            The island was claimed by Spain forty four years later, and the first Spanish colony was established as part of the Spanish East Indies a hundred years later again.  Over a period of time, Guam became a calling place for Spanish galleons plying the Pacific on their many trade missions.
            Guam was surrendered to the United States in 1898, and along with Hawaii and the Philippines, it became one of Americas’s three major possessions in the Pacific.  The island is 6,000 miles from California in the continental United States, and it has been built up as a major base for American personnel.
            Just five years after taking over the island, an undersea cable was laid between Guam and Hawaii in 1903, thus enabling direct communication between the island and the American mainland.  During the era between the two World Wars, many important wireless and radio facilities were installed on the island of Guam, and the first radio broadcasting station was inaugurated back in the early 1930s.
            However, in spite of these many major developments, Guam was caught virtually unawares when Japan began its invasion into the islands of the Pacific.  Just a few hours after the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor, another Japanese attack was made, this time against Guam, and some 5,600 Japanese navy and army personnel invaded the island. 
            Captain George J. McMillin, the American governor of Guam, surrendered the island to Commander Hayashi Hiromu of the Japanese navy at 7:00 am on Wednesday December 10, 1941 (Guam date &  time), just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
            On the morning of the initial invasion, a total of six enlisted navy men managed to escape inland into the jungle, though five were subsequently captured and executed.  The fortunate successful escapee was Lieutenant George Tweed, who had worked in the naval communication office at wireless station NPN where he served as Chief Radioman in repairing radio equipment.  
            When the Japanese forces were approaching the town of Agana, George Tweed jumped into his car, a beat-up 1926 Reo, and with two passengers aboard, he drove into the hinterland.  This vehicle, made in Lansing Michigan, was a 6 cylinder Roadster which the Reo company first introduced during the previous year.
            A quick 10 mile jaunt brought them to a dirt track that disappeared into high thorn bushes half a mile later.  They abandoned the vehicle and hid, and over a period of time, George Tweed found himself alone, though he was often assisted by local Chamorro people. 
            After moving to another more concealed location which was described as some sort of a cave, a large rock leaning against another, Tweed was given a power generator and a beat-up American Silverstone radio receiver.  In March 1942, three months after his rapid departure from society, George Tweed was able to coax the radio receiver into a working condition and he tuned in to the San Francisco shortwave station KGEI, which propagated an excellent signal across 6,000 miles of open salt water ocean from California to Guam.   
            Using an old typewriter, Tweed began to produce a “newspaper”, just five copies of each issue with carbon paper between each page, and he called his news reports the Guam Eagle, in honor of the then defunct English language newspaper on Guam.  Other news reports were obtained from the “Voice of Freedom” WVDM, a temporary shortwave station established in Malinka Tunnel on Corregidor Island by General Douglas MacArthur.  Tweed’s typewritten and carbon-copied issues of the Guam Eagle were published and circulated irregularly in this way for a period of four months.
            At one stage in order to avoid detection, George Tweed buried his restored radio receiver and fled to another safer location.  However, when he returned to recover the hidden radio receiver, he discovered that it was damaged beyond repair.  Soon afterwards, he obtained another beat up American made radio receiver, made by Zenith Electronics in Chicago, which again provided him with shortwave news and information.
            In total, Tweed was able to avoid detection and capture for a total period of two years and seven months.  Then, on July 10, 1944, from his isolated and rugged hill top cave, he noted the return of American navy vessels into the nearby waterways. 
            With the aid of a mirror and his own home made signal flags, he was able to signal two American destroyers in the waters below.  The USS McCall sent out a whaleboat to rescue Tweed from the nearby ragged coastline, and from that time onwards he was honored as a World War 2 hero.
            In the meantime, there was another wartime fugitive on the island of Guam.  He was a Japanese soldier who became isolated during the intense fighting on the island between the Japanese and the Americans in July 1944.
            As a 26 year old tailor’s apprentice, Shoichi Yokoi was drafted into the Japanese army in 1941 and he first served in Manchuria.  Then, a little less than two years later, he was transferred for service in the occupation army on the island of Guam.
            At the end of the Pacific War in August 1945, it is estimated that there were some 150 holdouts on Guam, including Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi and his ten companions who fled into a jungle area in the mountains.  Over a period of time, the number in his group was whittled down to just himself, and he became a lone war time fugitive, living as best he could with what he could find for food, clothing and utensils.
            Sergeant Yokoi dug a cave hideout some seven feet underground, nine feet long and three feet high, with a drop down access by his home made ladder.  He finally learned in 1952 that the war had ended some seven years earlier. though he continued to live in isolated exile.
            Over a period of time, rumors occasionally surfaced in Guam that there was still one Japanese survivor on the island.  Then around 6:00 pm on the evening of Monday January 24, 1972, two Chamorro fishermen, Manuel Garcia and Jesus Duenas, inadvertently accosted Yokoi.  After a brief scuffle, Yokoi was taken into custody, and next day he was presented to the authorities in Agana,
            Ultimately, Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi was repatriated to Japan where he was interviewed by numerous radio and television stations, as well as by the newspapers; and from that time onwards he too was honored as a World War 2 hero.
            More on the Guam radio story next time.

 (AWR-Wavescan/NWS 358)