Last month the United States Marine Corps activated its first base since March 1, 1952. Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Blaz, named in honor of the late Brig. Gen. Vicente “Ben” Tomas Garrido Blaz who was the first Chamorro Marine to attain a general officer rank, was activated on October 1 on Guam. Its official activation ceremony will be held next spring.
MCB Camp Blaz, which has become the Marine Corps ‘ first new base since Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia, will be home to nearly 5,000 Marines of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, currently based in Okinawa, Japan.
“As the Marine Corps presence on Guam grows, I am confident that we will live up to our motto of honor, courage, and commitment – we will honor the history of the island of Guam, we will have the courage to defend it, and we will remain committed to preserving its cultural and environmental resources,” said Col. Bradley M. Magrath, the first base commander of MCB Camp Blaz.
The plan to move the Marines to the island began in 2006 with an agreement between the United States and Japan to reduce the presence of U.S. forces on Okinawa. The Marine Corps has noted that is a significant milestone of the Realignment of Forces and honors the international agreement with the Government of Japan while also securing a Marine Corps posture in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Leathernecks and Guam
The United States Marine Corps and Guam have a shared connection that goes back to 1899 when the first Marines were deployed to the island after it was transferred to the United States Navy control following the Spanish-American War. The Marines Corps established its first barracks at Sumay in 1901, and today the U.S. Marine Corps Monument on Guam is at the site of those original barracks.
On December 8, 1941, the Barracks had just 145 Marine Corps riflemen who were armed mostly with the Springfield M1903 bolt action rifles and a few Browning M1917 and M1919 machine guns. The First Battle of Guam began when the Barracks and other military targets were attacked by land-based aircraft from Saipan, while 6,000 Japanese infantry and marine forces landed on the island over the course of three days overwhelming the American forces.
In July-August 1944, the Marine Corps retook the island in a hard-fought battle with the Japanese. Following the liberation of the island, a plaque was dedicated to the Barracks, which had been destroyed in the December 1941 fighting. The plaque is now on display in the WWII Gallery of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia.
Honoring Gen. Blaz
Blaz was born on February 14, 1928, and was just thirteen years old when the island was attacked and occupied during World War II. After the conflict, he was awarded a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame and later was commissioned into the USMC, and served a combat tour in Vietnam. During his honorable and faithful service he awarded the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for valor, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal twice, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
In addition to serving in the Marine Corps for 29-years, Blaz went on to serve as Guam’s Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives for four consecutive terms. He passed away on January 8, 2014, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. His legacy reflects the strong relationship that the Marine Corps has had with the people of Guam.