National Geographic : 1946 Mar
Yap Meets the Yanks BY DAVID D. DUNCAN, 1ST LT., USMC UCK was with me. First, I had the privi lege of covering the surrender aboard the U. S. S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Then, when word was flashed that a Marine and Seabee force was to occupy Jap-held Yap, I was assigned to photograph the landing. For years I had read of this idyllic group, a veritable mountain crowned by coral reefs, projecting three miles above the ocean's floor in the Carolines.* During the Pacific cam paign we had known Yap as one of Japan's closely guarded secrets, second only to the great base at Truk. Hitchhiking by air from Japan through Saipan and Guam, I reached Ulithi just as the last ship of the Yap convoy was shoving off. I swung aboard LCT 999 as she lifted her ramp from the deep sand beach. It was Sunday afternoon, September 16, 1945. Next morning, the little clump of green that is Yap rose above the horizon. As we ap proached, we could see white water. To a Marine in wartime, breakers are the plague of beachheads. In the skipper's cabin I studied the chart of Yap and saw 600-foot soundings close to the outer reefs. Enclosing the four small islands which comprise the group, mile-wide reefs form a natural barrier, impregnable to amphibious attack. A Bomb-shattered Island Capital Our LCT wormed through the narrow dog leg channel to the town of Yap on the island of that name. So constricted was the harbor, we had to wait our turn to drop ramp amid the bomb-shattered remains of the capital. On the muddy dock I met Marine Lt. Col. William H. Doolen, officer in charge of the landing party, and the Japanese Chief of Staff of Yap, Lt. Col. Makoto Miyeno. With them I sped up the harbor in a launch to Dugor, where we went ashore and climbed the wooded path to Miyeno's comfortable headquarters. Colonel Miyeno received us courteously and fulfilled every word of the surrender terms. Even though it was two weeks after the Tokyo Bay signing, it seemed unreal that we could be talking and living with men who so recently had been our mortal enemies. At lunch I told Colonel Miyeno that I wanted to shoot pictures of Yap which would be printed in the United States and that color * See "Yap and Other Pacific Islands Under Japa nese Mandate," by Junius B. Wood, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1921; "Mysterious Micronesia," by Willard Price, April, 1936, and "Pa cific Ocean with Inset of Yap," Map Supplement, September, 1943. photographs might appear in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. From his excitement one would have thought I had told him he was going home! "Please send copies containing the Yapanese pictures to my home in Japan," the colonel requested, jotting down his address. Then he turned me over to an English speaking Army medical lieutenant. For the next three days, Dr. Riketake and I explored the wooded island. The friendly Yapanese received us smilingly, but our advent caused little excitement. My guide told me approximately 4,000 Yapanese now live on the four islands of Yap, Map, Rumung, and Gagil (Tomil). In 25 years of Japanese mandate, 300 Chamorros were imported from the Marianas because Yaps would not work for the Japs (Plate II). The islands were garrisoned by 6,500 first line troops. Most of them were in poor shape, for our attacks had severed their supply lines. Following a flagstone trail, we passed many barefoot women with hibiscus in their hair going to their tasks in the fields (Plates V, VIII). Everywhere frolicking children in coconut-leaf skirts danced and sang. The laughing groups seemed like legged clumps of alfalfa bouncing beside the huge stone disks which once served as money (Plate VI). Okau, nestled under its coconut palms, seemed a real-life Hollywood set-a typical South Sea village (Plate IV). Dr. Riketake told me that all Yap women were required to work in the fields. Rice, taro, sesame, yams, bananas, papayas, and a wealth of similar tropical crops flourished in the gardens. The Yapanese became past masters at the art of harvesting a hamperful and turning in a hatful. The men of Yap wear a minimum of cloth ing-simply strips of cloth and fiber knotted around their waists (Plate I). Apparently their finny catch found its way into more Yapanese than Japanese stomachs. I could find no record of a Yapanese dying from starvation; yet the ravages of malnutrition showed plainly among the garrison troops. Superb swimmers, Yap men make most of their catches in the deep waters of the outer reefs. Naked but for loincloth and a pair of homemade diving goggles, the fishermen knife down through the wonderfully clear water to spear their fish. With wide shoulders and beautifully pro portioned bodies, these dusky swimmers typify the island peoples of the Pacific long famous in the books of whalers and explorers.