This picture of a lonely cross on a rainy day reflects the starkness and sadness that is still associated with a village that used to be on this site. Although over a half a century has elapsed since its disappearance, those who were residents and their immediate descendants still speak of the village in the present tense, such as, I'm from Sumay.
Located as it was in a cove overlooking Apra Harbor, Sumay was one of the most picturesque villages on Guam before World War II. Findings in a cave complex in the old village site suggest that our Chamorro ancestors dwelled in them for centuries before the Europeans first showed up on Guam.
The Spaniards found Sumay to their liking and had a settlement there. Its easy access to Apra Harbor made it a favorite anchorage town for whalers, pirates, and adventurers plying the Pacific in search of riches from land and sea. The Spaniards fortified the high cliffs behind the village and various vantage points to protect the harbor. The guns at their fort were in such disrepair, however, that they could not even fire a round when the Americans sailed into Apra during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and captured the island without resistance.
Ironically, the Americans also fortified the same cliffline after World War I and stationed a Marine Corps Aircraft Squadron in the area to keep an eye on the Japanese who had deployed military units to islands surrounding Guam which were mandated to them by the League of Nations following World War I. The United States was lulled into believing that Japan was not a threat to security in the Pacific and, in accordance with the provisions of the Disarmament Conference, dismantled the fortifications on Guam in the early 1920's without firing a shot. The Marine Corps' planes were returned to the United States.
On December 8, 1941, Japanese forces landed on Guam and defeated a relatively small and poorly equipped ground force consisting of U. S. Marines and sailors and natives of Guam serving in the Navy Insular Guard. As the Spaniards and the Americans did before them, the Japanese also fortified the hills behind Sumay primarily with anti-aircraft guns. Those guns were fired but did not prevent U.S. aircraft from attaining an overwhelming victory in the famous air battle popularly known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot which severely crippled Japanese aviation in the Pacific.
Caught in the middle of all this was the town of Sumay, a beautiful and peaceful town whose 2000 residents were intensely proud of their village. In addition to its fertile soil, the town enjoyed a bountiful catch from the deep sea fronting it. It was a village first in touch with the world beyond Guam. The Trans-Pacific Cable Company anchored its station at Sumay; Pan American Airways landed its China Clipper at Sumay in 1935 and built Guam's first hotel there. The most prominent tenants of the village, however, were the U. S. Navy and Marines with whom the villagers had an excellent relationship. There were many reasons for local pride.
Sadly, Sumay became a victim of its own popularity. When the Japanese occupied Guam, they took over the village and used it themselves. During the battle for the recapture of Guam, Sumay was totally destroyed. When the U.S. forces returned, they took over the land where the village was located as well as surrounding areas.
The residents were never permitted to return. A separate village, Santa Rita, was established by the American Military Government to placate the sentiments of the former residents of Sumay who refused to be relocated to other villages. This askance street sign is hardly an adequate memorial to remind us of lovely Sumay-by-the-sea which ceased to exist not because its residents did not love it, but because more powerful forces demanded to have it.
During a recent visit to a wooded area behind where the Nuestra Senora De Guadalupe Church was located, we found these ruins of the home of the Vicente J. Garrido family, complete with pock marks from being strafed with machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft. It was a tearful sight for those of us who remember better days. Sumay, ancestral home of native Chamorros for centuries may not appear as a village on paper maps today but they remain indelibly etched in the hearts and minds of families whose roots are forever buried there.
Finally, in a particularly ironic twist of fate, the Americans decided once again to refortify the cliffs behind Sumay when they recaptured Guam in 1944. But, in the 1950's, as they had done in the 1920's, the guns were dismantled without firing a shot at the enemy. They were, however, used for a few years not to shoot at the enemy but as saluting batteries to our own American ships entering Apra Harbor.