by Annette Donner
A museum dedicated to the history
of the military's interaction with the Pacific peoples
A Japanese veteran told his story of being in the dugouts above Adelup at the Asan landing area when the Americans came across the reef. He offered his personal mementos for the museum collection.
These are just two of the scenarios which play out weekly at the Marianas Military Museum on the Orote Point peninsula. One of Guam's three museums, this newest one is tied as closely to the heart strings of Guam's history as the other two.
The museum is located in the area of the pre-war village of Sumay...near the site of the pre-war Marine Barracks on the cliff above, a placement there in 1899 which played such an integral part in the development of that fishing village to its place of pre-war island prominence.
And that is the museum's mission: to educate visitors, civilian and military alike, on the history of the interaction the military has had on this area of the Pacific and its people in both war and peace. The mission statement reads in part , " To educate.... and help the people explore the history of the relationship between the United States Military and island people of the Western Pacific."
According to the foundation board president, Annette A. Donner, the board is very interested in promoting the exploration of the history of the interaction between Sumay residents and the military. "Sumay was the location of the Marine Barracks in the early 1900s," says Donner, " with an economic and social impact on Sumay." She says the board is currently pursuing funding for the inclusion of a touchscreen computer display of Chamorro and military oral histories and the creation of a three dimensional diorama of the 1940 Sumay Village in the collection.
"Being located in Sumay, right where the two major pre-war entities on this island (Chamorros and military administration) intersected, is significant, " says Jennings Bunn, museum director. "And we take it seriously here, because this is not a military museum for guns and grenades, but a museum about the role the military played in the history of these Pacific islands."
And that distinction does not deter from the military history so prevalently displayed here. "This museum compliments the other two museums on Guam," says Bunn. "The War in the Pacific Park does such a good job focusing on the war years here, the Guam Museum carefully traces the history of Guam, and this museum wishes to explore the history of the interaction of the local people with the military and the military's history in this area."
Standing in front of the prewar Sumay village display, Bunn speaks to future plans for this fledgling museum: the most pressing need bring to acquire more space for the constant flow of artifacts being donated. The space situation will be partially solved as the museum expands into the other half of the building after October 1st.
"We are also working hard at developing a creative and functioning foundation board membership to begin fundraising plans so the artifacts being offered us for sale can be purchased," says Bunn. The board will be empowered to raise money so new displays can be built to house the many artifacts veterans, American and Japanese alike, are donating on an almost daily basis.
"The Navy does not fund this museum," says Bunn. They assisted in the start-up for the 50th anniversary. However, that time is now over and the museum must become self-supporting through donations, a gift shop, etc."
They also hope an additional draw will be the two-man Japanese submarine currently on display elsewhere on the Navy base. They would like to relocate to the museum site, repair and partially restore it, possibly with the assistance of Japanese WW2 submarine associations currently being approached via the internet by members of the newly elected board. "This is, after all, one of only two remaining two-man subs of this class known in the world," says Bunn, "and we think the association members in Japan will have a special fondness for it an wish to see it immortalized."
These are some of the plans Bunn says are on the agenda when the foundation membership increases and is up and running. Meetings since August of 1996 have just now culminated in the formation of the non-profit corporation of the foundation for the museum with officers elected at the June meeting. Museum board members can now receive the many artifacts being offered them by American, Chamorro and Japanese military veterans and organizations and can now officially receive monetary donations. The first cash donation is from the Marianas Naval Officers Spouses Club for $2,500.
"These are a lot of plans, a great vision and we've come a long way," says Bunn, from the inadvertent beginning in office desk drawers to a 40' converted dental trailer to the full fledged building it now occupies.
Without cash, Bunn makes do with volunteer labor of two dedicated gentlemen history buffs, Bill Garner and Luisito Marquez both stationed on the Guam home ported submarine tender U.S.S. Frank Cable. The men, both born the second generation after WW2, are very well versed in the war years here, and take a personal interest in every artifact that comes in, how it is displayed, the upkeep on the museum, etc. "Without them these past months, I'm not sure what shape we would be in display-wise...pretty poor compared to this," he says. Gesturing to "this", you can see that Bunn's vision expands way past the plywood stands and secondhand glass display cases. "But we've got to start somewhere, including getting that first set of brochures printed and articles written to tell people who and where we are!
But one thing is sure. The museum is open to the public from the front gate without special passes. As of April this year, Bunn arranged for the gate guard to have the authority to allow anyone - just for the asking - to drive through the gate to visit the museum. A driver's license, registration and insurance papers should be in the car in case it is stopped for some reason. Visitors follow the clearly marked Navy "Historical Trail" signs, which begin just inside the front gate, lead to and past the museum and back to the front gate. Taxi drivers even drive through with Japanese visitors, and Japanese tourists in rental cars, also. "It's not a flawless system," says Bunn of the new arrangement. "But it's better than before when people had to stop to get passes at the Security Office. Now, with the Admiral's support, we are considered a definitive and important community historical site to visit which happens to be on Naval Station."
The office drawers where the museum began in 1993 belonged to Joe Commette, former commanding officer of Naval Dental Center and was an outgrowth of his interest in the area history piqued during his duties as the Navy's 50th anniversary 1994 Golden Salute commemoration liaison officer. The veterans inundated him with artifacts when they came that year, making it necessary to bring in a 20 foot container as the first 'temporary' museum. "At first we though it would be disassembled after the 50th anniversary," says Commette from his new home in San Diego. "But the interest was high, and through word of mouth among the veterans on the mainland we continued to receive artifacts, letters and photos donated to the museum." Commette speculated that the veterans are getting to an age where they are looking for a permanent place for their artifacts, fearing their families will be unable to attach their meaning and historical significance to them.
Among the artifacts outside are American and Japanese guns. Inside, after the visitor enters through a hallway where photos of the American and Japanese commanders face each other, they find memorabilia including large, colored photographs of World War II aircraft, recruitment posters, the bronze plaque from the original Marine Barracks and photos of the barracks then. Other exhibits include photos of the 1944 invasion and a foxhole complete with machine gun sandbags, mortar rounds, guns and uniformed mannequins. Some of Guam's shipwrecks and artifacts from them are noted here, as well. Fascinating is the exhibit of Sergeant Soichi Yokoi, who lived in Guam's jungles after the war until 1972 when locals discovered him near Talofofo.
Pre-war exhibits include Admiral Glass who claimed Guam for America at the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898, the Americanization of Guam during the American years, including Sumay's growth, until the invasion of Guam by the Japanese December 10th, 1941. Pan American's golden era flying the China Clippers through Guam is depicted, including the Skyways Hotel which was located in Sumay.
The base historical trail passes just outside the museum and is a perfect companion, with its descriptive booklet handed out at the museum, to a day exploring a part of Guam's history.
on the board or a new member in the foundation are former Senator Gordon
Mailloux, local attorney Bob Torres and his colleague Mickey Flynn, who
drew up the incorporation papers for the new foundation. A local visitor
magazine editor, Allen Fintzel, belongs to the group, as does history buff
Frances Siguenza, University of Guam Professor of history Dirk Ballendorf
and Dorothy Horn, one of the first divers on the German sunken ship Cormoran
in the 1960s, rounds out the membership. Col. Adolph Sgambelluri, former
police chief and son of an infamous Japanese occupation years resister
and himself president of an island veterans association umbrella organization
brings military background to the board, as does the first Chamorro Marine
Corps General Ben Blaz, retired, Guam's second congressman, who has offered
his name for the roster. Joining these men is Guam invasion campaign veteran
resident Jack Eddy, who as a 27 year came across the Asan reef under heavy
Japanese shell and morta fire.