Thursday, April 28, 2011


It's a nice place to walk, fly kites and sit watching the blue sea, but Camp Asan is very quiet today compared to what it used to be in times past.

Late in Spanish times it was used as a leper colony.  Early in the American Navy period, it was used as a camp for Filipino political exiles.  Many people don't realize that when the Spaniards and Americans were peacefully and quietly deciding who owned Guam (without involving us), many Filipinos were fighting for independence from both countries.

The American forces beat these Filipino nationalists in battle, but many of their political and military leaders refused to acknowledge the new American administration.  So, off to prison in Guam many of them were sent by the Americans, in order to achieve in Manila some of that political serenity that Guam could claim.

Exiled to Asan, Guam
Perhaps the most famous of all these exiles was Apolinario Mabini, often called the "Brains of the Philippine Revolution."  American General Arthur MacArthur (father of the more famous Douglas) had nothing but praise for Mabini's intelligence and talent.  From Mabini's letters written from Camp Asan, we learn that the Americans served a lot of canned food, which Mabini and the others did not take to.  Mabini was able to get others to purchase for him fresh fruits and vegetables in Hagåtña, which was within walking distance.  The boredom and monotony of prison isolation on quiet Guam were not easy for him.  He was on Guam from 1901 till 1903.

Mabini Memorial
Camp Asan

Later, the U.S. Marines used the site but this was closed in the 1930s.  The American invasion of Japanese-held Guam occured at nearby Asan Beach on July 21, 1944.  In reconstructing the island, the Seabees were based at Camp Asan.  Then it became a Navy Civil Service facility and then a hospital annex during the Vietnam War.  When Saigon fell to the communists in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese refugees were housed at Camp Asan during Operation New Life.  In 1976, Typhoon Pamela destroyed the camp, by then vacant.  It is now a park run by the National Park Service.

I remember the thousands of Vietnamese crowded at Camp Asan.  Riding in the car with my dad in 1975, I remember seeing them holding on to the chain link fence, looking at the cars pass by.  I felt sorry for their cramped conditions and the longing for normal life seen on their faces.  Hard to imagine when I look out and see the quiet green fields of Camp Asan today.

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