University of Guam researchers to study less-documented WWII sites in Chuuk

A 1944 photo of the American bombing of Tonoas in Chuuk, which was considered by the Americans as payback for the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The 50–60 sunken ships that resulted from the bombing are now known as the “Truk Lagoon Underwater Fleet” and have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. It is one of two sites in Federated States of Micronesia dedicated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark (1985). Photo: National Archives

A University of Guam team led by Associate Professor William Jeffery has received grant funding to identify, survey, and help preserve the less-documented World War II sites, including three unlocated shipwrecks, in Chuuk — the Micronesian island the Americans attacked in 1944 in retaliation for the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.

The funding is a $150,000 grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program of the U.S. National Park Service.

The project aims to recognize Chuuk’s World War II heritage more holistically for purposes of historical preservation, interpretation, and appreciation of the Chuukese experiences during World War II.

One focus of the project will be terrestrial surveys on the island Tonoas.

“While Chuuk’s underwater cultural heritage sites are locally, regionally, and internationally well-known from a tourist perspective, the terrestrial sites and living heritage are not,” Jeffery said.

Tonoas housed the Japanese headquarters and the greatest concentration of buildings in Chuuk when the Americans attacked.

Through site surveys and oral history surveys with the residents of Tonoas, the researchers will identify and interpret underrepresented terrestrial sites, such as those where U.S. military personnel were imprisoned and facilities used by the Japanese commander-in-chief. It will also include Chuukese traditional indigenous heritage impacted by the war.