Today’s story begins on Monday, December 8, 1941, less than twenty-four hours after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and dragged the United States into World War II. It was the day that the Japanese took control of the tiny Pacific island of Guam.
Now, just in case your geography is a bit rusty, let me just say that Guam is a fairly isolated island. It is south of Japan, east of the Philippines, and north of Australia. It was the only island in this region that the United States occupied at the time, and as a result, the Japanese strategically wanted it.
They invaded Guam at 3 AM to virtually no opposition. That’s because the island was basically unfortified. There were just 155 US Marines and 400 Navy personnel stationed there. And most of these men were untrained for combat. So that left any member of the US military with just two choices: A) Surrender to the Japanese and risk sitting the rest of the war out in a prison camp or B) Run for the hills and try to avoid capture.
Most of these men took option A. They surrendered. Some tried to run but were quickly captured or killed. But six men managed to escape and did their best to avoid capture.
One of these men was a man named George Ray Tweed, a radio equipment repairman in the Navy’s communication office. He was married with children, but his family had been previously evacuated from the island due to the impending war.
George Tweed had been a military man for the past 18 years and knew that to leave without permission from a commander was a definite no-no. He needed permission from headquarters and dodged machinegun fire to get to the palace of the Governor. Upon arrival, Tweed was told by a commander that they were all planning to surrender to the Japanese, but it was his decision to join them or flee. He opted to flee, figuring that the Americans would retake the island within four to six weeks.
Tweed quickly ran back to his house and filled a pillowcase with necessary provisions. Along with another Navy man named Al Tyson and a native Chamorro named Gevarra, they jumped into a 1926 REO and floored it. I’d like to say that it was an REO Speedwagon, but it was a different model.
Their first stop was Gevarra’s ranch, where Gevarra jumped out. The two military men then drove ten miles (16 kilometers) to a dirt road, went up it for about a half-mile, and ditched the car in the brush.
Both ran to hide in the bush and were immediately overwhelmed by the island’s lemon china plants – chest-high plants with sharp thorns about ½” long. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch…They eventually found a flat spot to get some rest, but in their desperate rush to save their behinds from enemy fire, they forgot the most essential ingredient to human life – water. One of the first rules of survival would be to immediately find a source of water, but it turns out that Guam has a scarcity of streams and surface water.
Luckily, an old man named Francisco spotted them and invited the two men into his home. They were provided with food, water, and a place to sleep. But, they had hardly stretched out when they heard the rumble of approaching Japanese army vehicles. Francisco quickly led them to the bush, but he didn’t forget about them. At sunup, Francisco returned and moved them to a safer spot, about ½ mile (0.8 kilometers) from his home. He continued to provide them with food and water. His life was certainly at risk, but this was common among the people of Guam. Nearly all of them supported the United States and had a hatred for the Japanese occupation of their island.
While in hiding, the Japanese had recovered a list of military personnel stationed on the island and had accounted for all but the six men that had taken to the hills. They offered a reward of 10 Yen for the other five and 50 Yen for George Tweed. The high price on Tweed’s head was due to his ability to repair radios. The Japanese had either destroyed or confiscated all of the radios on the island. But they feared that Tweed could get his hands on one of these radios, and using his skills, get in contact with the United States.
The Japanese soldiers rounded up the citizens of Guam and ordered them to assist in hunting down the six Americans. District by district, groups of 200-400 men would sweep through the bushes in an effort to force them out of hiding.
After about a week on the run, it was clear that the area that Tweed and Tyson had been hiding in was next on the list of those to be searched. They were back on the run.
The price on their heads had gone up significantly. Each American was now worth 100 Yen, except for Tweed, who was worth 1000. Their next stop was in an excavated dirt shelter that a man named Jesus ‘Sus’ Quitugua had dug in a hillside for his family to hide in during the Japanese invasion. Another man named Juan Cruz provided a beat-up radio, which Tweed was able to get working. But, by early February, the Japanese closed in and they were on the move again. Juan Cruz led them to a man named Manuel Aguon, who had been helping to hide the other four Americans. All six were now back together in one spot.
And, once again, the Japanese encroached on their hideout. They decided to split up since they felt it was safer than staying as one larger group.
Tweed and Al Tyson stuck together, but not for long. They learned that Manuel Aguon – the guy who was hiding the four other men – had been arrested by the Japanese as a suspect in helping the Americans avoid capture. They beat him daily in an attempt to get him to spill the beans, but he didn’t break. At this point, Tweed and Tyson had different ideas of what to do and decided to separate.
In March, after about three months on the run, Juan Cruz’s brother Manuel found George Tweed what seemed like the perfect hiding spot. It was considered a cave but was really just a giant rock that was leaning against a hill. Even so, it was fairly roomy inside. One man provided George with a generator, which he used to operate an electric light and a stolen radio. To say he was hiding out would be a bit of a misnomer. It seemed like just about everyone in the area knew where he was.
Tweed was able to pick up a radio station from the United States and started to publish an underground newspaper that he called the Guam Eagle. 5 copies were printed each day. Why five? Very simple – the newspaper was produced on a typewriter with carbon paper between the sheets of paper. The sixth copy just wasn’t legible.
He continued producing the Guam Eagle for about four months. In exchange for the paper, the islanders provided him with local intelligence and supplies in return.
And, once again, he received word that the Japanese soldiers were getting close. He left his cave on May 24, 1942. Keep in mind that he went into hiding on December 8th of 1941. Now I won’t go through every place that he went after this, but at one point he learned that three of the Americans had been caught on September 12th of 1942. The Japanese soldiers had the men dig their own graves and then decapitated them.
Ultimately, he ended up in his final hideout. A man named Antonio Artero lived in the northern part of the island and led Tweed to a place that he knew no one would find him. It was about 1-1/2 miles (2.4 kilometers) from the road, at which point one had to scale a cliff, then cross over 150 feet (45 meters) of rough lava rock, and then up a 25 foot (7-1/2 meters), nearly vertical cliff to a crevasse in the rock. The best part was that it had a clear view out over the ocean, which was about 300 feet (90 meters) below.
His new home had nearly vertical walls on both sides that stood about 10 feet (3 meters) high. It was about 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide and extended about 25 feet (7-1/2 meters) back. The only problem was that it lacked a roof, something that Antonio solved by carrying in pieces of metal corrugated roofing. I just can’t imagine how he carried that and all of the other supplies in.
He soon learned that he was now the last man standing. The remaining two Americans had been executed by the Japanese. They surrounded the chicken coop that the two had been sleeping in and shot one of the men six times. Al Tyson stepped out with both of his hands high in the air in an attempt to surrender, but they shot him in the head at close range.
Even though the danger to anyone helping the Americans had become increasingly dangerous, Antonio continued to help Tweed. Excluding his wife, Antonio told no one that he was hiding the American. Since the Japanese had closed all of the churches on the island, Antonio brought fresh supplies to Tweed every Sunday.
Tweed promised that he would repay Antonio in some way when rescued, but Antonio refused the offer. One day, during a casual conversation, Tweed asked Antonio if he could have all the money in the world, what would he want. He replied “a new 4-door Chevrolet sedan.”
But it seemed that Tweed wasn’t leaving any time soon. Day after day, month after month, he lived in that big crack in the rock that he called home. Everything changed on June 11th of 1944. As he looked out from that precipice, he suddenly saw American planes flying over the island. It was just a pre-invasion flyover, but for the first time in a long while, George Tweed actually began to think that he could be going home soon.
That day would come about one month later. On July 10th he noticed that the US ships were much closer than they had been in the past. He knew that he had to try and get their attention somehow.
He ran to the top of the cliff and took out his small pocket mirror. He used it to flash the sun onto the bridge of the leading ship. Tweed then picked up a pair of semaphore flags that he had made from large pieces of gauze and attempted to send the ship a message.
Now I don’t know about you, but I have zero knowledge of the semaphore code. Luckily George Tweed had learned it early in his Navy career, but he couldn’t remember all of the letter configurations. But, he did his best. He figured that even if he messed up an occasional letter, they could still decipher the visual messages he was spelling out.
His first message was “Please answer by searchlight.”
And they did, with a simple “K” being flashed back, which apparently means “Go ahead.”
My next message would have been HELP! HELP! HELP!, but Tweed signaled back:
“The Japs have a battery of coast guns mounted at Adelup (Add-el-loop) Point.” “The Japs kill every American who falls into their hands.”
This was followed by “Can you take me aboard.”
Within five minutes he saw a boat lowered into the water to come to get him. But there was one big problem – he was perched high up on that cliff and he couldn’t just walk right up to the shoreline. So he signaled back one final message “Please wait for me. It will take me a half an hour to get down to the water.”
When he did, the rescuers refused to get too close to shore. They were afraid that it may have been a trap, so they made Tweed strip off all of his clothes and swim out to the rescue boat. They pulled him aboard and then went to shore to grab his clothing and the records that he had kept of his 2 years and seven months in hiding.
Upon reaching the ship, he was provided with a good meal and was then able to shower, shave, and obtain a new uniform. When he went to throw his ragged, smelly clothes overboard, he was stopped and about a dozen men took pieces home as souvenirs.
The admiral of the ship promoted him from Radioman 1st Class to Chief radioman and, best of all, he was given about $6,000 in back pay.
Nine days after he returned home to the States, he filed for divorce from his wife, which was granted on August 17, 1944. It turns out that they had already separated before his capture, so this simply finalized their decision.
He did return to Guam after the United States recaptured the island. In a strange twist of fate, some of the Japanese soldiers took to the hills and tried to avoid being captured – just like George Tweed had done. Now the hunters had become the hunted.
I should note that not all the people of Guam were happy with Tweed’s return since they felt that his refusal to surrender resulted in the torture and death of others. In particular, Father Jesus Duenas, one of three Chamorro priests on the island after the Japanese invasion was publicly tortured and killed for supposedly helping to hide George Tweed.
In 1946, after the war ended, Tweed returned again. This time it was with one brand-new 4-door Chevrolet sedan to be delivered to Antonio Artero. But he faced a number of protesters carrying signs that said things like “Father Duenas Died for a Good Cause – One Chevrolet” and “The Path to Patriotism Leads but to a Chevrolet.”
As for the rest of his life, George Tweed remarried on July 2nd of 1945 to a 29-year-old War Department Employee named Delores Kramer. He returned to active duty but was forced out in 1950 due to spinal arthritis. Residing in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, he initially ran a bowling alley, but ultimately used his electronics expertise to operate a TV & radio repair shop.
Two years later, in April of 1952, he made the news again when he fell 30-feet from a tree while putting up a swing for his children. He suffered a fracture in his back and a broken leg but did recover.
Sadly, on January 16, 1989, George Tweed lost control of his car while driving near Smith River, California. He hit a power pole and was killed. He was 86 years old.
Useless? Useful? I’ll leave that for you to decide.