Tuesday, July 15, 2014


An American PT boat during World War II

Fermin Flores was a Chamorro from Palau. His father Joaquin left Guam during the late Spanish era and, by way of Yap, eventually settled in Palau.

A Chamorro community developed in Palau, many of them living in Ngatmel, at the very northern tip of Babeldaob, the main Palauan island.

Fermin was working for the Japanese military on a special project, producing coconut oil for the needs of the Japanese as supply ships from Japan could no longer reach Palau due to American advances in the Pacific.

Thus, Fermin was able to circulate around the island quite a bit and, being fluent in Japanese, could understand everything being said around, even things that perhaps were not meant for his ears. For some reason, people would converse in his hearing, even though he shouldn't have heard things like - the possibility of killing all the Chamorros in Palau so that they would not aid the Americans should they invade.

Black smoke indicates hits by Americans on Japanese naval positions in Palau

Palau was being hit pretty badly by American bombs in the fall of 1944. Many people left their homes to seek shelter in more wooded areas, in caves, trenches and foxholes. This included the Chamorros in Ngatmel.  Everyone was unsure of the future. Would the Americans really invade? Would the civilians survive that, or would they perish alongside the Japanese troops? Would the Japanese themselves turn on the Palauan and Chamorro civilians?

Fermin was putting all this together in his head in October of 1944.  The Spanish missionaries and Hondonero family were, at least, missing, by then.  Even if people had no proof the Japanese had killed them, their absence would have raised suspicions.

Perhaps all this moved Fermin to seek a radical solution to this uncertainty. He abruptly asked his cousin Jack Borja if he would follow him.  "Where?" Jack asked. Fermin told him to never mind that and just answer the question. Jack must have sensed the underlying message and agreed to do it.

Fermin and Jack knew that American PT boats patrolled Palau's waters, but at about two miles' distance, keeping adequate length from any Japanese shore guns. Their plan was to steel away in darkness from an isolated point and make it to one of these American PT boats.

At 7PM that night in October, Fermin and Jack pushed out to sea. The waves were high and they had reason to fear that they may not make it in one piece. It took them all the way till dawn the next morning to reach the PT boat, which thought the two Chamorros were Japanese. Once they realized they were not Japanese, the Americans brought them aboard.

The Americans brought Fermin and Jack to Peleliu, in the southern part of Palau, which was now in American hands. The Americans obtained information from the two about Palau and the Japanese military strength there and overall conditions.

But then came the next thing, which must have been quite a surprise. The Americans said that they would rescue the Chamorros from Ngatmel. The plan was for Fermin and Jack to go back to Ngatmel and inform the Chamorros about the plan. That is what Fermin and Jack did. Then, in December of 1944, the Chamorros did as planned.  On three long boats, 119 Chamorros from Ngatmel reached an American ship lying outside Palau.

The Americans took the Chamorros to Angaur, another southern Palau island taken by the Americans, where a refugee camp was set up. The Chamorros of Palau were now safely out of Japanese hands. The Japanese would not surrender Palau for another nine months or so. One can only imagine what danger the Chamorros avoided by not living under the Japanese for another nine months.

Ruins of the Japanese Lighthouse at the Northern Tip of Palau

The day after the Chamorros escaped from Ngatmel, the Japanese noticed that no Chamorro showed up to work. Some of the Chamorros did the cooking for the Japanese. The Japanese figured the man on duty at the lighthouse should have spotted them. When they interrogated him, they found out that the man fell asleep.

(For further info, read Fermin Flores' book Vision Fulfilled)

1 comment:

  1. The full story of the Chamorros in Palau can be found in David Flores Borja's book, "The Chamorro is Born." More about David's cousin, Fermin Borja Flores, and the rest of the Flores-Borja clan can be found in this book, which was privately published by David Borja and is kept by the family.