Daily Archives: 07/24/2005

War Diary Postscript

I thought I should include the background material on W.G. Johnston that ran in a sidebar to the Pacific Daily News series. For those interested in the invasion and occupation of Guam during World War II, I recommend the National Park Service 50th Liberation Anniversary site documenting the capture, occupation and liberation of Guam.

W.G. Johnston

  • William Gautier Johnston was a Tennessee-born Marine who came to Guam in the first part of the 20th century. Johnston met and fell desperately in love with his future wife, the young and brilliant — and later famous — Agueda Iglesias Johnston. After being discharged from the military, he found his way back to Guam and married his love in 1911. The couple eventually had seven children.
  • Both William and Agueda Johnston were devoted educators and successful businesspeople. However, the life they built together fell apart in December 1941, when Japanese forces invaded the island.
  • Because William Johnston was American-born, he was imprisoned with other civilian and military Americans and sent to a prison camp in Kobe, Japan. Nearly two years after being sent to Japan, Johnston would die in a hospital near the camp.
  • Though he died without ever seeing his family again, William Johnston left behind a treasure: A diary in which he meticulously documents the invasion of Guam and his time in the prison camp. Though the 180-page diary is too long to publish in its entirety, here we present excerpts that describe the invasion and taking of the island.
  • At the time of invasion, five of the Johnstons’ seven children were on island: the oldest was Cynthia, married to Joe Torres; bachelor Herbert; Marian, who was 20 at the time; teenager Tom; and the baby of the family, 9-year-old Eloise.

Here are the four posts in the War Diary series: War Diary I, War Diary II, War Diary III, and War Diary IV.

War Diary IV

This is the final installment of Guam resident William G. Johnston’s World War II diaries published in the Pacific Daily News. The first three detailed the capture and surrender of the island to Japanese forces in December 1941; this final article follows Johnston’s capture and imprisonment in Kobe, Japan. W.G. Johnston died in prison on October 1943. The first three segments of his diary are available here: War Diary I, War Diary II and War Diary III.

‘No flowers from my camp, No. 3, yet’

By William G. Johnston
Excerpts “U.S.-Japanese War, Personal Experiences,” W.G. Johnston”
Written from 1941 to 1943

Editor’s note: This is the last installment in a series. It is the first-person account of the invasion and capture of Guam, written by William G. Johnston, taken from his diary. The content is edited for spelling, punctuation and space, but otherwise is published as written more than 60 years ago.


What has been related in the last three days’ installments was taken from the first 50 pages of Johnston’s 180-page diary, which covers the next two years of his life. A few weeks after first being imprisoned in Agana, Johnston and the rest of the Americans on Guam were taken to a prison camp in Kobe, Japan. There, Johnston’s health deteriorated. The 6-foot-1-inch man went from a sturdy 185 pounds to a frail 135 pounds at the end of his life. He was ultimately hospitalized in the International Hotel near the prison camp, and there his life ended on Oct. 11, 1943. His ashes and personal items — including his diary — were brought back to Guam by his friend and fellow prisoner James Underwood.

December 1941, shortly after Johnston’s imprisonment, while he was still on Guam.

Saturday, I had a few minutes talk with my wife, in which she (said she) had been requested by Mrs. Dejima and Mrs. Takano to help entertain the higher Japanese officers at the officers club.

My daughter Marian was a fine hula dancer, and my two boys Herbert and Tom could play the piano very well and could do the “Ponope stick dance” and other stunts. The Underwood girls would participate if my wife would let our children take part.

Naturally, we did not want to do anything to welcome our conquerors, but we were absolutely at their mercy, and any opposition or any show of a “superiority complex” was likely to result in slaps of the face or search of the house and destruction of property and clothing. And besides, the Japanese officer who had protected our house the first day, through Mrs. Dejima as interpreter, said the general would appreciate it very much if my wife would help to entertain them.

As much as we both hated to do anything for our enemy, Agueda reluctantly agreed to do as requested. I was in no position to tell her what to do.

January 1942, upon arriving in Kobe, Japan

Our group was mustered in front of the dock buildings, standing in about two inches of snow, with snow still falling. After about half an hour of this, we were turned over to the Army.

The officer in command mercifully marched us into an unheated sort of waiting room, where we were out of the snow and were a little warmer. Here we were given half a loaf of cold bread, the first food since the meager breakfast aboard ship. I was so cold I could eat only the crust of mine.

After another delay we were marched half a mile, where we took electric cars, which took us to the prison camp of Zentsuji, where we were again lined up, counted and marched into a large-frame two-story barracks, which was divided into rooms holding 16 men.

I was in a room with 15 other Guam men. These rooms were heated by charcoal-burning braziers, which diffused little heat unless one stood very close to the brazier. Our “beds” were made by a 1-by-6-inch piece of lumber running lengthwise (through) the room with “accommodations” for eight men to a side. …

We had just about finished making down our beds when a guard appeared with a bucket of hot soup, which to us half-frozen beings was most welcome. It was about 11 p.m. before we got to sleep and most of us got a fairly comfortable night’s rest, after the coldest day I think, bar none, I ever experienced.

April 1942, after being transferred to another prison camp with better accommodations.

The 18th was the day of the big thrill! It was a warm, sunny afternoon and most of us were outside the building. Some were sitting on the terrace overlooking the waterfront. I was on the sun porch. About 2:30 p.m. we heard the sound of a large airplane approaching, but we had been seeing so many Japanese planes that, though we watched it casually, no special attention was given it.

Suddenly, it dived as it got over the Kobe Navy yard, and we saw bombs fall and heard five distinct explosions. The pilot shot up and was gone before the Japanese realized it was one of our planes, and that they were being bombed.

The anti-aircraft guns went into action, and raid alarm sirens were sounded after our plane, undamaged, was out of sight. We could see several fires break out, and a large oil tank was hit and set on fire. We could see big billowy clouds of black smoke streaked with lurid red flames. We had a grandstand seat to view this remarkable airplane attack made by one of our own. Later, our Japanese guards told us that Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya had been bombed at the same time, and an interpreter said the damage done “was plenty.” …

June 1943, after a year and a half in the camp.

The 14th was our Flag Day, and I lay awake at night thinking of past Flag Days in happier days, and the dance that followed, and I could see, in my mind’s eye, my wife and the girls in their pretty new dresses, and (sons) Herbert and Tom at the bar.

When will we be together again?

Sept. 16, 1943, hospitalized at the International Hospital in Kobe.

Feel myself growing weaker. Cannot walk up steps without difficulty and shortness of breath. Stopped going down to meals and have meals brought to my room, generally by Wolford.

Friday, Flaherty said I needed medical attention and went and called up Dr. Kenito, who came right away to the camp. He gave me a hurried examination and went and phoned for authority to put me in the hospital. Obtaining same, he called the hospital for the ambulance. Flaherty packed my suitcase. Feary and Sachers carried me downstairs and out to the street to the ambulance, and in a half-hour I was on my way. I was made a stretcher case and carried to my bed and rolled into it. …

This International Hospital compares favorably with the Susana in Guam. A Swiss-trained nurse is in charge, a German-trained nurse is her assistance, and three experienced Japanese nurses are on duty. They are very capable and accommodating. All speak English.

On the 12th I was surprised to get a letter from my wife in Guam — the first one. It was cheerful and optimistic. They are living well but working hard. Herbert and Tom are running the soap factory. Marian is running the beauty shop and Cynthia and Joe are on his father’s ranch on Barrigada Road. Eloise is going to a Japanese school. All shows are closed. Lack of films, I supposed.

By comparing letters Butler, Underwood and others received, it seems the Japanese government is encouraging things to get back to normal, and to have the people satisfied. Of course, they expect to keep Guam.

September 30, 1943

I have been in the hospital in bed now for almost two weeks. My doctor gave me an examination today and said (I) was stronger and my pulse almost normal. All I needed was care, medication and rest, which I could not (get) at the camp. Also, freedom from worry, now that I have heard from my family in Guam.

October 5, 1943, Johnston’s final entry, six days before his death.

Brunton and McNulty sent me a basket of beautiful flowers — two kinds of carnations, purple and yellow chrysanthemums, and three large red dahlias. They are in Camp 4. No flowers from my camp, No. 3, yet.

Originally published July 22, 2005

Open Season

Am I the only one disturbed by this incident of the London police gunning a man down on the Tube? It seems awfully egregious to pin a man to the ground and then fire five shots into him.

He ran onto the train; he was hotly pursued by three plainclothes officers. One of them was wielding a black handgun. He half-tripped. They pushed him to the floor and basically unloaded five shots into him.

And now this morning comes the news that the poor unfortunate was unconnected to the bombings and was in fact a Brazilian electrician. However, British police reiterated their ‘shoot to kill‘ policy for suspected suicide bombers. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a dark-skinned man riding around on London’s mass transit system. It seems the terrorists have succeeded in planting the seeds of discord and fear into British society.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Set For Liftoff

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is in the final stages of preparation for liftoff. This NASA probe will be the largest space vehicle ever sent to Mars, and it will orbit closer to the red planet than the currently operating probes. New Scientist has a good overview of the upcoming Mars mission.

In a related note, a BBC article cites research into Martian meteorites that indicates the surface of Mars never experienced any significant warming. Perhaps this new spacecraft can shed some light on this new mystery.