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

Just outside the entrance to the naval base is the headquarters of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park. And in front of that, resting on keel blocks, is a rare sight: a Japanese Type C midget submarine, possibly the only surviving one of its type. The 78-foot-long sub ran aground in August 1944, was captured, and was displayed on the base until last spring, when the navy donated it to the National Park Service. Outfitted with two torpedoes and crewed by only two men, it was a formidable weapon. Submarines have been a professional focus of mine for more than 30 years, so I found this especially thrilling.

But the highlight of my visit came at the end of a long and very muddy trek through a savanna on the east side of the island. For more than two miles, my colleagues and I hiked along deeply rutted red clay roads, which were fiercely sticky from a persistent downpour. Every hundred yards or so, we would come across the strange spectacle of yet another abandoned shoe left in the grip of the muddy road.

But when we finally reached the Tank Farm in Yona, it was worth the trip. There, the remains of two Sherman tanks and three amtracs used for Allied target practice have been rusting away since the end of the war. The vehicles were of limited utility during the battle for Guam because, I wasn’t surprised to learn, the sticky red clay soil was so difficult to negotiate. Being able to examine the old vehicles up close and in a natural setting was a moving experience that made me gladly overlook the large blue spiders that seemed to share my affinity for the tanks.

Something with wider appeal to the average tourist is the park at Talofofo Falls. Here, gondolas carry tourists over a series of waterfalls, the occasional pig meanders about, and a monorail system offers grand jungle views. Here is where the last Japanese holdout of the war, a sergeant named Shoichi Yokoi, chose to hunker down and hide until local farmers found and captured him in 1972. He went back to Japan a hero, married—and returned to Guam for his honeymoon.

The latter, at least, is something I understand, because having once been a reluctant traveler to Guam, I’m now hoping the navy will send me back.

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