5th Marianas History Conference Day 7 - 10

Page 61

Panel: WWII Imprisonments

Camp Chulu

From Tragedy to Triumph

By Don Farrell


Abstract: Tinian was captured from Japan by US forces in July 1944. Of the 17,000 Japanese and Koreans who had been living in Tinian in 1943, 11,500 were put in “protective custody.” A Civil Patrol established by the 18th Naval Construction Battalion was responsible for their immediate care during the invasion. The refugees were in shock, half-naked, thirsty, starving and infected with a variety of diseases after surviving six weeks of air and naval bombardment. Camp Chulu was officially established on July 30, 1944, in the prewar farming village of Chulu. The Seabees continued to improve the camp with many of the refugees helping, while Military Government Civil Affairs personnel oversaw all phases of camp development and operations. The civilians were repatriatriated by July 1946 in healthy condition, including the many infants born in the camp. Supported by original documents from Seabee, US Marine Corps, and US Military Government Civil Affairs files, this essay tells the story of the Camp’s evolution from a barbed-wire stockade with Marine Corps guards to a self-sustaining civilian community with an internal economy and an elected government. It is a story of a tragedy of war transformed into a triumph of human resilience, through good will and common sense.

King then ordered Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, to provide for the welfare of civilians living in areas captured by the United States Navy during the forthcoming Central Pacific Campaign. Nimitz subsequently established a command structure to accomplish that task. Among the first positions created by Nimitz was “Atoll or Island Commander.” The island commander would be responsible for implementing every task order detailed in his island’s base-development plan, within the priorities assigned to each task, as assigned by Commander, Forward Areas, Vice Adm. John Hoover. To assure the system worked, King requested a bi-weekly report from Nimitz on each Atoll and Island Command.

In April 1944, Admiral Nimitz called planners to Pearl Harbor to prepare for the proposed June 15 invasion of the Marianas. Major General James Underhill, USMC, was named Tinian Island Commander. Underhill, Deputy Commander 4th Marine Division, was an obvious choice as he was already scheduled for the invasions of both Saipan and Tinian. After capturing Saipan and Tinian, General Underhill would assume the position of Island