On Wednesday we were given the option to skip our second dive and instead take a field trip to the nearby Peleliu Island for a land tour. Peleliu Island, I learned that day, was an infamous battle ground in World War II between the Americans and the Japanese.
A bit of history: The Japanese had occupied Palau for around thirty years prior to the war. There, they used Korean slave labours to build an airfield, bunkers (like the ones we saw during our kayak tour) and other strategic buildings. After Pearl Harbour, the Americans took aim at the Japanese in World War II. The American battle plan was to secure the Phillipines before capturing Japan. Wtih this plan, Peleliu Island, specifically the airstrip on the island, would be a strategic move, as it would allow the Americans a closer base to attack their new enemy. The Americans attacked the Japanese on the Island in September 1944, and the battle lasted over two months. The Americans stormed the shores of Peleliu to extensive artillery by the Japanese, and then attacked by air, but had little success since the majority of Japanese were hiding in the extensive cave systems built in defense (by the Korean labourers). So in the end it was a long slow battle and one of the most gruesome of World War II.
It is a contraversial battle in American history, not only because of the large number of casulties (over 1500 dead and over 6600 injured of the 47,000 troops that invaded the island – vs the 13,000 Japanese they were fighting) and because before the battle was over the Americans had already captured the Phillipines, making the battle of Peleliu rather moot. But American pride and ego (specifically of one American whose legacy depended on this win) prevailed, leaving a rather senseless history of death and a society of Palauans uprooted from their original island of paradise (most of the orginal inhabitants of Peleliu now live on the main island after being displaced prior to the war). The story is made all the more futile since once captured, the Americans never even used the Peleliu airstrip in future battles in the area.
Back to today. About twelve of us opted for the land tour, heading over by skiff around 9am with Scott and met by a local tour guide, who told us with pride that he was also the acting curator of the island’s museum. Over the next few hours we took an old bus around the island stopping periodically at interesting landmarks and long abandoned military equipment, both American and Japanese, including old tanks, bombs and the tunnel system used by the Japanese. A beautiful paradise marked by destruction.