U.S. Ambassador to the FSM, Robert Riley, joined Ulithians to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the entry of the U.S. Navy into Ulithi Lagoon, in Ulithi, Yap, FSM, on September 23. The celebration was one of a series of events around the world this year and next, commemorating World War II military milestones, of which the entry into Ulithi Lagoon is one. Remarkably, for a six-month period during World War II, there were over 700 U.S. Navy ships berthed in the Ulithi Lagoon, making it the largest port in the world during that period of time. Particularly remarkable is the fact that a port of this magnitude was masked from the Japanese. Its disguise was critical to the success of its mission, as Ulithi was a staging area for a number of decisive Pacific naval battles towards the end of the war and was critical to victory in the Pacific theatre.
Commencing with a tour of Ulithi high school, re-constructed by USAID with funding from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, after Typhoon Maysak ravaged the island in 2015, ceremonies proceeded at the USAID-constructed outdoor pavilion, with speeches and local dances, songs, and chants performed by islanders of all ages.
The event began with an invocation by Lawrence Yaimangruw, followed by remarks by U.S. Ambassador Riley, Governor of the State of Yap, The Honorable Henry Falan, and Chief Ramon Payel, Chairman of the Council of Tamol. Master of Ceremonies, Peter Manglor, acknowledged the following World War II survivors of Ulithi:
Asor: Pedrus Polmal and Louis Haglerus
Falalop: Pisenti Paiyudul, Teresa Rulmal, and Father Nick Rahoy
Fedrai: George Hofalul, Tagoladep, Tomasa Lehoryel
Mogmog: Cicilia Hachegelmog, Hilary Tacheliol, Conception Leper, and Rosa Tarulemel.
U.S. Ambassador Riley addressed the historic importance of the Ulithi effort in World War II, and reminded everyone that this event was the beginning of “our unique and special relationship, forged decades ago.” He described the heretofore unheralded interactions among the Americans and the local residents during the Ulithi operation. He reminded the audience that “although the history books may give them short shrift, we know about them in the chronicles of Ulithi residents, and of U.S. soldiers.” In that spirit and in honor of the occasion, the U.S. Embassy bequeathed to the island 10 historic photographs, donated originally by U.S. soldiers and sailors who remember their time in Ulithi with great fondness. The photos show not only the scope of the operation but the engagement among island residents with U.S. military personnel. Chief Ramon Payel, who spoke movingly of local residents’ reminiscences of the kindness of U.S. Navy soldiers, further personalized his connection to the event when he pointed out his father in one of those historic photos.
Ambassador Riley used the occasion to remind everyone that “the U.S. takes Title III provisions under the Compact seriously and will defend the FSM and its people to ensure that we all continue to live in peace and exercise our human rights and sovereignty.”
Yap Governor Henry Falan lauded the occasion, noting that the positive benefits of the U.S. presence in the region resonated then and remain even more relevant now. He described the advantages of societies built upon the foundations of democracy and human rights, and reminded everyone of how Ulithi played a role in the fight for peace.
Two indigenous presentations re-created, through oral histories, chants, and dances, the experience of World War II for the local residents. The Falalop Women Association performed “Tangel Hafohoy” (“A Mourn of Sorrow”) and the Asor ladies performed “Santomaas, a marching dance influenced by the military occupation in the islands. Programs handed out to audience members included a transcript of the lyrics in both the native language and in English. Audience members could follow the story of how the islands feared the Japanese and welcomed “the great mighty USA,” as the fleet “shocked the sand bars .. like an earthquake.”
Tapping off the commemorative program, Yap Governor Falan, Chairman Payel, and Ambassador Riley laid a Mwarmwar wreath at the World War II monument in Falalop, followed by a visit to the display of the historic photos, as local residents sang, accompanied by guitar.
Marking the occasion with the symbolism of the large presence of the U.S. Navy there during World War II were two U.S. military ships, the USNS Vadm K.R. Wheeler and the Coast Guard Cutter Kiska. Coast Guard and Navy personnel joined the festivities and hosted U.S. and Yapese officials for lunch on the USNS Vadm K. R. Wheeler, adding to the intercultural exchanges throughout the day.