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Making Peace | Guam's Military Museum | The American G.I.

Guam's Military Museum in Sumay
Annette Donner

A museum dedicated to the history
of the military's interaction
with Pacific peoples

An American veteran stood fascinated in front of the pre-war Sumay
village photographs. He remembered the village during the 1944 liberation when its shell shattered buildings were his only protection against the Japanese troops shooting at him. His buddy had been killed here.

A Japanese veteran quietly recalled his time in the tunnels above
the Agat landing area watching the American ships blanket the waters just
prior to the liberation. He offered his personal mementos for the museum
collection as a gesture of friendship between countries.

A young man soberly fingers a canteen, a gun, a uniform similar to
the one his father wore when he died during the Liberation campaign on Guam. 

These are just three of the scenarios which play out at the Marianas Military Museum on the Orote Point peninsula on Naval Station,
Guam. One of Guam's three museums, this one is tied closely to the heart
strings of Guam's history.  The museum is located in the area of the pre-war village of Sumay...near the site of the pre-war Marine Barracks. The barracks' placement there at the turn of the century played an integral part in the development of the Sumay fishing village to its place of pre-WW II 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 museum 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.  "Being located
in Sumay,  right where the two major pre-war island entities (Chamorros and military) intersected, is significant, " says Donner. "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 Jennings Bunn, museum manager and Navy Historic Preservation Officer. "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 fund raising plans for this fledgling museum through the museum
foundation board.  "The Navy does not fund this museum,"  he says.   However, he explains they provide generous support through the use of the building and the utilities.  Eventually the museum foundation wishes to become self-supporting through donations, a gift shop, etc."

Another project on the museum's wish list is to relocate to the
museum site the two-man Japanese submarine currently on display elsewhere on the Navy base. "This is, after all, one of only two remaining two-man subs of this class known in the world," says Bunn.  "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 in three years.

The museum makes do with a volunteer staff of dedicated history buffs. "Without them we'd have fewer displays, and shorter visiting hours."  Bunn says volunteers are always welcome.

Began in Drawers

The office drawers where the museum began in 1993 belonged to
Captain 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 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 andJapanese 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 historic trail passes just outside the museum and is a
perfect companion to a day exploring a part of Guam's history. A
descriptive booklet of the trail is handed out at the museum.