This poster is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Nancy Farrell and David Gaddis
The battle for Peleliu, Palau, in 1944 was the longest of the Central Pacific amphibious operations of World War II. Peleliu Battlefield was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1985. The Peleliu War Historical Society, founded in 2005 by the son of a veteran of the battle, was awarded a preservation planning grant by the American Battlefield Protection Program in 2007. The Preservation Plan for the Peleliu battlefield was the first ABPP award for work outside of the of the U.S. Additional grants have supported intensive archaeological surveys in 2012 and 2014. Removal of unexploded ordnance remaining from the conflict was undertaken in 2009 and 2018.
Palau was part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) which the United States administered on behalf of the United Nations from 1947 to 1978. The Republic of Palau entered into a 50-year Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1994. Under the Compact, the United States provides economic and financial assistance, defends Palau’s territorial integrity, and allows uninhibited access by Palauan citizens to the United States in return for exclusive and unlimited access to Palau’s land and waterways for strategic purposes.
Traditional Palauan land tenure is complex and is a central consideration in any landscape preservation efforts. Palauan society is traditionally built on land, the scarcest and most valuable resource on any island. Families, lineages, and the clans they make up are identified primarily by the lands they own. Every parcel has a distinct name, and a history of who migrated to it, who fought for it, who received it for services rendered to other lineages or clans, and who lived on it. Most parcels are owned collectively by lineages and clans. Peleliu is divided into five primary village land holdings. Social and political organization in these villages prior to being displaced in World War II had its roots in the 16th century. Traditional Palauan culture, the Japanese occupation, and America’s presence during and after the war present a challenging and unique preservation setting in a very confined area, roughly five square miles.
The long term goal of the Plan is to develop a National Heritage Area designation for Peleliu in cooperation with the Government of Palau. A Heritage Area seeks to preserve an entire system of natural, cultural, and historic resources for recreation, education, and commemorative purposes. Battlefield heritage and traditional Palauan cultural sites would be protected and presented within the boundaries of a Heritage Area. The common preservation model of a set-aside landscape or park with restricted use and access is not feasible. This is a “living landscape” where traditional agricultural and gathering activities take place daily. A Plan that integrates the battlefield, colonial and traditional Palauan elements in the landscape promises to be the best long term strategy for protection of these resources.
Nancy Farrell is the President of Cultural Resource Management Services (CRMS), a small woman-owned company incorporated in 1985. CRMS provides historic preservation services primarily in California, Hawaii and Micronesia. Ms. Farrell is the daughter of a US Marine who fought in several battles of the Pacific War. Her interest in the impacts of that war on the islands and islanders of the region was further amplified by fieldwork in the Trust Territory of the Pacific in the 1970s, when the physical reminders of the war were ubiquitous.
David Gaddis has worked on historic preservation projects in the Pacific with Cultural Resource Management Services (CRMS) since 1994. These projects have included the following: a summary and assessment of Wake Island World War II and Cold War resources, DOD Legacy oral history interviews of veterans of Pacific WWII battles such as the Pearl Harbor attack and the defense of Wake Island, a preservation plan for the Peleliu Battlefield National Historic landmark for the Peleliu War Historical Society, Inc. and the American Battlefield Protection Program. Mr. Gaddis is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has an MA HP from Goucher College.