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By John C. Pursley
3/12/2009 • World War II Time Travel

Photos mounted on placards in the park show how the beach appeared on the morning of the July invasion, when preinvasion bombardment had rendered the entire area a desolate landscape, spiked with the trunks of broken palm trees.

I next headed a little farther south toward the village of Piti, partway up Nimitz Hill. Just above the village, on a hillside overgrown with dense jungle foliage, lie the remains of three Japanese coastal defense guns. Although I knew to look for the guns there, finding them in the quiet jungle setting still felt like a discovery. The weapons—Japanese-made 140mm Vickers-type Model 3 guns, called “Piti guns” by the locals—were never fired. The Japanese had used Chamorro slave laborers to haul the guns, which weigh thousands of pounds each, up the steep hillside. But they weren’t yet operational by the time of the American invasion—something the sight of the open and rusted breeches made me glad of.

About two miles farther up Nimitz Hill is Asan Bay Overlook, one of the better-maintained and more contemporary memorials on the island. This serene, windblown site offers a commanding view of the assault beach. From here Japanese commanders launched a large but ultimately unsuccessful banzai attack early the morning of July 26 in a last-ditch effort to repel the Americans. While I was there, several busloads of Japanese tourists arrived and departed. I briefly wondered why they’d come until I realized they, like me, were paying respects to their slain soldiers.

One of the most moving memorials I came across was dedicated to another group of fallen warriors: the Doberman pinschers that served alongside marines in the liberation of Guam. Sixty dogs entered Guam with the 3rd Marine Division; headstones arranged in a semicircle mark the burial sites of the 25 dogs that died there. These animals were used to flush Japanese troops from their caves, pillboxes, and dugout positions, and served as sentries as well. Dogs accompanied marines into combat throughout the Pacific, and no marine unit with a dog was ever ambushed or its position infiltrated by the Japanese. The War Dog Memorial is located at the U.S. Naval Base; civilian visitors must be accompanied by a military sponsor.

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