SANTA RITA, GUAM – Sailors assigned to U.S. Naval Base Guam (NBG) welcomed island residents the third annual Back to Sumay Day celebration April 14.
The annual event began in 2010 by then-base commanding officer Capt. Scott Galbreaith with the goal of inviting former residents of the pre-World War II village and their descendents back to this once flourishing site.
“Today is a sentimental journey back in time as we look around and try to imagine how life was here,” said Santa Rita Mayor Dale Alvarez. “It was the center of activity both in business and family gatherings.”
Sumay village was once known as the “Pearl of the Island” before the war between U.S. and Japanese forces decimated the area. Evolving from a small fishing village to the agricultural and commercial hub for ships in the mid-1800s, it became an economically rich village by the 1930s. It was located near Apra Harbor and within proximity to the Orote Airfield and other U.S. military stations that helped the village thrive.
The event kicked off with a religious mass near the Cross of the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, which is all that remains of the former Sumay church. Afterwards, opening remarks were made by Alvarez, who also invited Capt. Richard Wood, commanding officer of NBG, to say a few words.
“It’s truly an honor to host this today,” Wood said. “We’re so thrilled to have so many people who have an historic tie to this land back today. We hope that you feel welcome and that you enjoy the day.”
Former Sumay resident Lucy Anderson attended the event and vividly recalled different activities that occurred in what was once the island’s hub for businesses and communities.
“The way Sumay looked, it was a beautiful place,” she said. “Everything was in Sumay, the Pan American [Skyways Hotel], the Marine Barracks, the [Trans-Pacific] Cable Station. Sumay was the biggest place in Guam.”
When the Japanese attacked Guam December 8, 1941, the same day Pearl Harbor was attacked, it was the beginning of the end for the village. All the residents including Anderson, who was just 16 at the time, were forced to leave so the Japanese could occupy the homes and buildings.
Three years later the pre-liberation bombardment by U.S. forces destroyed several west coast villages including Sumay. Because of its strategic value to the war campaign in the Pacific, Sumay and surrounding area at Orote peninsula was absorbed into the new Navy Operating Base or Naval Supply Depot, and all former residents were relocated to what is now the village of Santa Rita.
“It was pretty complex town, and it’s unfortunate that the war had to happen and some of these towns had to go away,” said Senior Chief Navy Diver William Dunn, assigned to USS Frank Cable (AS 40).
Dunn was just one of many sailors from various commands on Guam who volunteered their time for this event. Early in the morning, Sailors assisted the mayor’s staff in setting up tents, tables and chairs. Some directed guests to parking areas, escorted the elderly, picked up trash, and assisted with anything else that was needed.
“We’re on their land and I think it’s good for us to show respect for them and let them come back and visit it to see that we’re taking good care of it,” Dunn said. “It also lets the Sailors understand a little bit more about Naval Base Guam and Guam itself, and maybe a take a little more pride in the history that is here.’
Throughout the day there was food, music, cultural dancing entertainment and historical displays and photos dating back to a pre-World War II Sumay. The elders of the former residents ranging in age from 83 to 92 were also honored with gifts presented by Alvarez.
In1974, the former Sumay village area became known as the Sumay Historic District and was listed on the Guam Register of Historic Places.