Chamorro Naval mess attendants undergoing training on the USS Barnes
Sometime in the late 1930s, the US Navy allowed the enlistment of younger Chamorro men from Guam into the Navy but only as mess attendants. These men were basically waiters, especially for the officers at meals.
If you were accepted as a Navy mess attendant from Guam, you were trained on the USS Robert L. Barnes, a Navy oil tanker that sat in Apra Harbor since 1920. For twenty-one years the Barnes was a floating oil barrel for the US Navy, leaving Guam only once in a blue moon. Sometimes the ship would stay anchored at Apra for four or five years without ever leaving the island. When Chamorros were allowed to enlist as mess attendants, the ship was then also used for their training.
But how did one get accepted into the US Navy as a mess attendant?
According to the recollections of one Chamorro man from Sumay who did pass the test in 1940 :
1. Mental Exam - this seems to have been the easy part. The examiners didn't focus a lot on this. It consisted in part of fill-in-the-blank questions. It tested for basic comprehension.
2. Physical Exam - this was performed by the Navy doctor. It was basic. Blood pressure, eyesight, hearing, weight, height, physical disabilities and the like.
This is where quite a number of young men were turned away. A crooked finger, a limp, high or low blood pressure, flat feet and you were told to go home and forget the Navy.
3. Dental Exam - another risky test for the men. Any cavities meant a delay in enlistment. The men were told to find a civilian dentist and get any dental work done and then come back.
4. Police Clearance - to make sure you had never been to jail.
5. Bank Clearance - the Navy didn't want anyone running away from debt.
If one passed all this, he was accepted. In 1941, the US Navy was admitting as many as 15 Chamorro men a month until war broke out in December.
Many of these Chamorro mess attendants were already away from Guam when the war began on December 8, 1941. Many of them never returned to Guam to live.
The USS Barnes lying in Apra Harbor with Orote Point visible in the back