In times of war, it is almost a given that men will push themselves far beyond their former limits to commit feats of extraordinary courage and valor. Those who perform such exploits are usually honored and commemorated.
However, often war necessitates the testing and breaking of other kinds of limits too, requiring a man to go far beyond what most can imagine or endure. A perfect example of this was the case of George Ray Tweed, a radioman first class of the United States Navy.
He managed, through extreme stealth and endurance, to survive on his own and successfully evade the Japanese Army for two years and seven months on the island of Guam, in spite of their best efforts to capture and behead him, a fate that they had inflicted on the other Americans they had caught on the island.
Tweed had already been in the US Navy for 16 years when the Japanese launched their assault on Guam in December 1941. Furthermore, he had been living on Guam with his family since August 1939, so he was no stranger to the island.
All the family members of US military personnel had been evacuated from Guam in October 1941, so when the Japanese Army began their attack on the island on the 8th December, the only Americans on Guam were US Navy and US Marine personnel, and some nurses.
The numerically superior Japanese forces quickly swamped any resistance on the part of the Americans, and the American garrison surrendered on the 10th of December.
However, six American Navy men decided not to surrender. Instead of resigning themselves to spending the rest of the war in a Japanese prison camp, they chose to flee. One of these six was Tweed.
As soon as Tweed and another man, Radioman First Class Albert Tyson, heard the news about the American surrender, they took off. On the way out of town, Tweed stopped at his place and filled a pillowcase with essentials, as did Tyson.
Unfortunately, in their haste, they forgot to take one of the most crucial items for survival: water. This was a dangerous oversight, as Guam suffered from a dearth of fresh water.
After moving through the bush and getting cut up by the island’s lemonchina plants (spiky, chest high plants covered with ½-inch thorns) they managed to get some rest, They were spotted, but the person who discovered them was a native Chamorro, an old man named Francisco. He took them to his house and gave them food and water.
They didn’t have much chance to rest, though, as the Japanese were already looking for the escaped Americans. Francisco helped Tweed and Tyson find a safe place in the bush where they could hide overnight. He also fed them again the next morning.
The fact that the local Chamorro people were so willing to help the Americans proved to be a crucial factor in terms of Tweed’s long period of evasion of the Japanese. Without their assistance, he probably would have been captured.
The Japanese initially tried to get the native islanders to assist with their efforts to capture the Americans by offering a monetary reward to the Chamorro for information. This started out as 10 yen for each American, and 50 for Tweed, because of his skill in repairing radios.
Nobody helped though. The Chamorro hated the Japanese invaders and only cooperated with them when they were threatened.
After the first week of evading the Japanese, Tweed and Tyson realized that efforts to catch them were being ramped up. They moved to a new, more remote hideout: an excavated dirt shelter dug by another local, Jesus Quitugua. Another Chamorro, Juan Cruz, managed to smuggle them an old radio.
Tweed got the radio working. He and Tyson managed to survive for a few months in the dugout shelter. Meanwhile, the Japanese upped the rewards for information to 100 yen per American and 1,000 for Tweed. But still nobody would turn them in, so the Japanese intensified their searches.
Up to this point, the other four Americans had been hidden by a Chamorro named Miguel Aguon. Juan Cruz helped Tweed and Tyson to meet up with the others. When all six Americans were together once more, they decided that their best bet for long-term survival was to split up. Each went their own way, and from this point on, Tweed was on his own.
Things didn’t go so well for the other Americans after this. Three were captured at once and were made to dig their own graves before they were beheaded.
Tyson and another American named Johnston held out longer, but eventually the Japanese discovered them hiding in a chicken coop. They shot Johnston six times, and when Tyson came out of the coop with his hands up, they put a bullet through his head. Tweed was now the last American left alive on Guam.
Up to this point, he had been hiding in a cave, but now that he was the last one left to catch, the Japanese were pulling out all the stops to find him. He had also been typing out a local resistance newsletter on a small typewriter one of the locals had smuggled to him.
With the help of another Chamorro, a man named Antonio Artero, Tyson found his new and final hideout spot on the island: a hidden opening at the top of a high cliff overlooking the ocean in the northern part of the island.
This was where Tweed would end up staying until he was rescued. During this time, Antonio Artero regularly brought him food and water. Tweed promised to repay Artero for his help one day, even though the Chamorro refused to entertain the idea of payment for this assistance. Artero once mentioned, though, that he dreamed of one day owning a Chevrolet sedan.
Meanwhile, the Japanese had taken to torturing and executing local islanders whom they believed were withholding information about Tweed. Even in the face of such atrocities, still nobody gave him up.
Weeks passed by, then months, then years, and Tweed continued to hold out. Finally, on the 11th June 1944, he saw American planes flying over the island. A month later, on July 10, American ships got close enough for him to signal.
However, instead of begging for rescue he flashed them a coded message warning them of the location of Japanese gun batteries on the island. Only after they had acknowledged receiving this information did he ask them for help.
George Tweed was rescued on the 10th July 1944, after two years and seven months of evading the Japanese. He received the Legion of Merit and the Silver Star.
After the war he not only returned to Guam to thank the locals who had helped him, he also fulfilled his promise to Antonio Artero and gifted him a brand new Chevrolet.
Tweed retired as a lieutenant in 1948 and passed away in California in 1989.