There was a time on Guam when the ringing of four double bells set a lot of things in motion: the band played; the colors were hoisted; the pledge of allegiance was recited; calisthenics for the school children began; and, the work day commenced for the adults.
Likewise, there was a time when a ship's bell was used for a variety of purposes: to tell time; to signal foul weather; and, to sound alert. Sophisticated electronics systems are now used on board ships and bells have been essentially relegated to ceremonial roles.
But seventy years ago, when the United States Navy decided to name one of its six gunboats, scheduled for duty in China, the USS GUAM, it stirred a lot of excitement in our little island. It energized the Guam Chamber of Commerce to mastermind a fund-raising campaign to raise money for the purchase of ship's bell with an accompanying plaque as a gift to the ship from the people of Guam. Even today, $700 is a lot of money. Imagine raising that much in 1927 but that is what happened. Virtually every school child in Guam participated with many children literally giving their last penny.
For the next dozen years or so, the USS Guam was part of the River Patrol of the U. S. Asiatic Fleet that cruised up and down the treacherous Yangtze River up to about 1500 miles from Shanghai and the sea. It was a very chaotic period with pirates, river bandits, revolutionaries, and warlords at odds with one another along the long river to the heart of China. The fact that gunboats of Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States were all involved in some form of gunboat diplomacy in China greatly distressed the proud Chinese. One can only imagine American reaction to an armed foreign boat cruising up and down America's Mississippi River.
In January 1941, the Navy changed the name of the gunboat to USS Wake, in order to save the name Guam for a battle cruiser that was being built. War with Japan was looming over the horizon and the U. S. gunboats were being followed everywhere. During crew and cargo transfers in Shanghai when the gunboat was redesignated the USS Wake, the ship's bell, a present from the people of Guam, disappeared.
Following the liberation of Guam in 1944, Quentin Reynolds, one of the premier war correspondents of World War II, paid Guam this high tribute: "These are real Americans. There never were any Quislings on Guam." In other words, there never were any traitors in Guam. These same words were frequently quoted in reference to the naming of a new battle cruiser in honor of Guam.
Within a few days after liberation, upon hearing that a second ship was to be named USS Guam, a few of our local leaders hurriedly gathered on the beach to write a letter to the Prospective Commanding Officer of the new USS Guam. In their letter, they pointed out that although Guam's native population was only 23,000, over 1,000 of her sons were serving in the U. S. Navy.
On September 17, 1944, a new USS GUAM was commissioned. She saw action in the Pacific and was serving along the China coast when World War II ended. She was decommissioned in 1947 and removed from the Navy List.
On January 16, 1965, Guam was honored a third time with the naming of one of the Navy's newest class of ships, USS GUAM. It is a ship specifically designed to transport about 2000 Marines, their equipment, and helicopters to a combat area. She has never been to Guam and is not likely to ever get there since she is supposedly scheduled to be decommissioned in 1998. That is not to say, however, that Guam has not been with her.
Remember the bell that the school children of Guam bought for the original USS Guam with the River Patrol in China that disappeared in Shanghai? Well, somehow, it reappeared thirteen years later in 1954 at Marine Barracks, Sumay, Guam. No one seems to know how it got from Shanghai to Sumay but it got there. The Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks, Guam, decided to return the bell to the people of Guam and presented it to the Governor of Guam who had it displayed in the Nieves M. Flores Library for a number of years.
In 1985, Governor Ricardo Bordallo, who was born the year that the school children of Guam gave their pennies for the purchase of the bell, delivered the bell to the current USS Guam in a special ceremony at the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia.
The bell's original home, the gunboat in China which was renamed the USS Wake, ended up ingloriously. When the Japanese invaded Shanghai in December 1941, she surrendered, the only ship of the U. S. Navy to do so during the entire World War II.
During the past quarter of a century, many Guamanians have sailed on USS Guam either as Marines or members of the Navy crew. I am very proud to say that I was one of them.
And now, I request permission to leave the ship.