The First Battle of Guam was an engagement during the Pacific War in World War II, and took place from December, 8 to December 10, 1941 on Guam in the Mariana Islands between Japan and the United States. The American garrison was defeated by Japanese forces on December 10, which resulted in an occupation until the Second Battle of Guam in 1944 and the capture of eight radiomen. The following is Captain Harold Joslin’s account, one of the Radiomen captured.
Not only was Captain Joslin an On-the-Roof Gang member, but he was the last one to pass.
In 1941 I was stationed at our radio intercept activity at Libugon on the island of Guam. Guam is about 6,000 miles from the United States, and in 1941 news was not very timely nor complete. World-wide news coverage consisted of a few United Press stories transmitted in Morse code, usually from San Francisco or Hawaii. These transmissions were copied by the general service radiomen and published in a small mimeographed daily newspaper called the Guam Eagle. Publication of this sort were common navy practice at the time, whether aboard ship, or on foreign shore duty.
Sometime prior to November 1941, the Island Commandant, CAPT McMillin, USN, ordered all dependents to return to the States via the next transport. So about 1 November, 1941, all dependents, except one chief’s wife who was about to have a baby, left Guam on USS HENDERSON. From this action, we surmised that CAPT McMillin had some vital information that we didn’t know about. The following personnel remained at our station: Barnum, Smith, Parr, McCune, Dullard, Faulkner, Ellis and myself. Barnum was the Chief in Charge.
At this time, one-man watches were in effect at the intercept station. Early in the morning of 8 December, RM2/c Dullard ran up to the barracks with the news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese. The bombing had begun at 0800 7 December, which was 0430 8 December Guam time.
With this rude awakening we all proceeded immediately to the station and commenced destroying any evidence of an intercept nature, knowing that a full scale war was about to begin. A couple hours later we saw aircraft approaching. We thought they were American, but when they began bombing the Piti Navy Yard in Apra Harbor we knew we were mistaken. Soon the planes were bombing and strafing our station. We posted a lookout to warn of approaching aircraft, and when the alarm was given we would all head for the tall sword grass that surrounded the station. In between raids we continued the very difficult task of destroying everything at the station. The traffic files were tightly bound and had to be torn apart and the sheets separated. We placed everything in a huge pile in the center of the operating spaces, including equipment which we had smashed with a sledgehammer, poured gasoline on the pile and soon had a blazing fire which we hoped would destroy all evidence of a tall-tale nature. The next day Stu Faulkner and I carefully examined the remains, and repeated the process for things that had not been consumed. We next tried to set up emergency radio communications with the Philippines. This required carrying emergency radio equipment into the hills by night. We were missing some necessary parts, and never were able to get on the air.
We were anxious that everything at the station be completely destroyed, and particularly any evidence that we were Japanese radio intercept operators. This was important for navy security reasons, and also to cover our own trail. We all wore radioman insignia on our uniforms, and could claim we worked at the naval radio station as long as the Japanese did not find any incriminating evidence to the contrary. The ploy worked, however we spent the rest of the war worrying that somehow the Japanese might inadvertently discover our true identity.
On the third day, while in the mountains, we saw Japanese soldiers all over the surrounding hills. M. T. Smith put a skivvy shirt on a stick and we all followed him toward the Japanese soldiers. We were soon captured, placed in a circle, and forced to strip to our skivvies. In addition to the eight of us, I had my pet dog with me. We were all loaded on a truck, including the dog, and were taken to Agana, where everyone else had assembled. That was the last saw of the dog. The Chief’s wife, and baby, were placed in a hotel. A Japanese lady was assigned to take care of her and the baby, and appropriate clothing for the baby was made available. Chief Boatswains Mate Lane, in charge of thee Insular Guard, was the main person who dealt with the Japanese on Guam and later when we were in the POW camp in Japan. All the Americans were taken into Agana proper and stripped down to their skivvies. It was reported that the Japanese had bayoneted a couple of Marines, probably because of inappropriate comments or moves, or just to establish their authority.
All of us were then placed in the Catholic Church where we remained for a month on a real starvation diet while on the other hand, the Japanese were living it up on the American food they had captured. During this month we were very closely watched by the soldiers, and if we went outside we had to bow to them. A month later we were marched to Piti and put aboard ARGENTINA MARU. During the trip to Japan we made a plan to take over the MARU. Captain McMillin vetoed this plan, and it was probably a wise decision because we had navy nurses, and the Chief’s wife and baby aboard. The takeover would not have been without a struggle. Enroute to Japan the discipline imposed by the Japanese was strict and severe. Five or six days later we pulled into the Inland Sea. It was January, and bitter cold; especially so because we were all wearing our white uniforms from Guam. We went ashore by lighter in a stormy sea, and really suffered from the near freezing temperature. On landing each of us was given a small loaf of bread which tasted just as good as a piece of cake. The chief’s wife and baby, and the Navy nurses, were later returned to the United States on the first exchange ship. Amazingly enough, the next and last, part of the journey for the rest of us was made by ordinary street car to our final destination, the Zentsuji Army camp. We were on the island of Skikoku, across the Inland Sea about 70 miles from Hiroshima. The POW camp was situated inside a Japanese Army camp, made up of barracks, administrative buildings, a brig, galley, bathroom facilities, wash racks, and toilets. There was no heat except for a small charcoal brazier per room, useless as far as heat was concerned. Our wet clothing and shoes were frequently frozen in the mornings, after working on the docks the previous day, but we had to put them on anyway. The clothing issued to us was mainly British army clothing captured in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Except for the officers, who invoked the Geneva Convention, we were soon put to work as cargo handlers. The officers were segregated and placed on reduced rations. At the end of the war they were in much worse condition than the enlisted personnel. Each day we POW’s were taken to nearby towns where we loaded and unloaded boxcars. This was very hard work carrying on our backs the tons of military equipment and food going to the war zones. On a typical day we would distract the guards and steal food, or sabotage equipment. We would steal rice, beans and other food stuff, hide it in our clothing, and take it back to camp. We always shared food with the ill prisoners in camp. After the first year or so, food became progressively more scarce and of lesser quality. Often grain, not pure rice, and boiled sweet potato tops was all we had. Once in a while some sort of meat was provided and with vegetables was made into soup. We also had boiled seaweed. Fresh fruit was extremely rare. Ground meat of some sort, complete with small pieces of bone, was given to us from time to time. This was made into what we called “bone burgers.”
Once, the Japanese asked for volunteers to work in the bakery. I volunteered and found it to be a great job. I was able to steal lots of bread and began putting on weight. I got up to about 180 pounds. There were six of us on the bakery detail. One evening, enroute back to our barracks, we were apprehended and searched by the guards. We were really loaded that evening; doughnuts in our socks, eggs in our pockets, pastries in our hats, and raw sugar. We were taken into a back room and ordered to unload everything we had stolen, and put it into a pile. We did this, and were then ordered back to the barracks. About 2000 that night we were taken to a small building, which had black out curtains in place. Everything we had stolen had been placed on a table. Then each man was told to sort out each item he had stolen. We all figured that this was it! The Japanese sergeant in charge paced back and forth, and then said: I could have you beheaded for this, but I am a good sergeant, so next time don’t steal so much. That was it. We never knew how the Japanese guards would react. Sometimes they overlooked things, and the next day might be excessively severe with us. I suppose it related to their own war experiences. Some guards were sympathetic, but you could never trust them. As a result of the theft incident all of us lost our jobs in the bakery and it was back to stevedoring. We really sabotaged lots of food and war equipment going to the Japanese soldiers. We would remove the bungs from barrels containing food, place horse manure inside, and then replace the bung. Every chance we had we would puncture material with cargo hooks, knock tops off bottles, take parts of war equipment, etc. I was once caught doing this to some material inside a boxcar. The guard began beating me and I had almost decided to throw the guard out of the boxcar. Our Marine sergeant told me not to be foolish. It probably was good advice.
We received very little war news. However one of our officers was a Japanese linguist and was able to translate any newspapers we were able to steal. Sometimes we were able to get a little news from the guards. The Red Cross did not seem to be very effective in Japan. When we did receive Red Cross food or medicine, which wasn’t very often, the Japanese would issue small amounts at a time, keeping their share of course. I remember one instance when a box of raisins was divided among several of us. We each received 8 raisins. After about seven months in the camp we were allowed to make a brief recording. A man in San Francisco intercepted my recording, rerecorded it on a plastic disk and sent it to my wife in Seattle. The message just told where I was and that I was okay. My wife still has the disk. After this, mail began to arrive. This too was given out in dribbles at the whim of the Japanese. Sometimes we were told we had letters and pictures from home. The Japanese would hold the material for 2-3 weeks, or not give it to us at all.
Much later in the war American aircraft began bombing Japan. The city of Takamatsu, where we usually worked, was fire bombed. This was our closest, and most frightening, bombing experience. Although we were not aware of it, the Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, only 70 miles away, on 6 August 1945. A few days later the guards were very upset, and took us back to camp in the middle of the day. This was the first time this had been done. They did not take us back to work for several days so we decided the war over. We went to the Japanese office, told them what we believe, and they agreed. We then had our own Marines placed at the camp gates, using Japanese weapons. At last we were enjoying our first freedom in almost four years. We made local train rides, walked about the area, and some of the men took the swords from the Japanese officers. American aircraft dropped us food, and the Japanese also brought us more food than we could imagine. Finally we were visited by three American army men who said they would take care of us. They put their carbines in the corner of a building and told us we could use them if we wanted to. We did not use the carbines, but did search for the guards who had treated us brutally. They were not to be found. We made reports to the Military occupation teams on what had happened at the camp and I understand some of the Japanese officers and guards did stand trial. I do not know what happened to them. The surrender was signed 2 September 1945, my birthday, but it was almost a month later before I left Japan. In the meantime we enjoyed lots of liberty and plenty of food. I finally left Japan on 20 September on a destroyer, enroute to Gam. We ran through a typhoon, and finally made Guam. I was hospitalized briefly and made the last lap to San Diego on the old USS LAMAR. I arrived in San Diego on 12 October 1945. I had been a POW almost four years.