KOROR, Palau -- From the economic center of downtown Koror to the northernmost towns of Babeldaob Island, Palauan flags line streets and bridges, flying proudly in the coastal breeze. While the people of the Republic of Palau are proud of their heritage and history, the month of September has ushered in particularly auspicious milestones for the young nation. Namely, the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Palau and the Battle of Peleliu, and the 25th Anniversary of Palau’s Independence and the Compact of Free Association with the United States.
Also celebrated this year was the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. military partnership in Palau through the Civic Action Team (CAT). Currently deployed from the 84th Engineer Battalion, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, CAT 84-06 has played a prominent role in joining hands with the people of Palau and sister military services to honor this month of remembrance.
These milestones in U.S. and Palauan history are rooted in the sacrifice of the brave men and women that fought for freedom of the Pacific during World War II. From the start of the invasion of Peleliu Island on Sept. 15, 1944, the Battle of Peleliu was one of the bloodiest military conflicts of the Pacific. Through a combined effort, over 28,000 service members from the 1st Marine Division and 81st Infantry Division fought and endured a 40 percent casualty rate to liberate the island from over 10,000 Japanese soldiers.
Ensuring that we never forget the bravery of our predecessors, CAT 84-06 travels monthly to Peleliu and Angaur State Islands to maintain and conduct repairs at seven World War II monuments. This month, the team additionally conducted a memorial flag raising and wreath ceremony at Bloody Nose Ridge, joined by U.S. Veterans, Marines and representatives from Palau.
“It was an honor to conduct this ceremony in the presence of U.S. Veterans and Gold Star Families of the Battle of Peleliu,” stated Spc. Cory Lee, lead carpentry mason for CAT 84-06. “I was fortunate to have lunch with a gentleman named David, whose uncle served in the Marines during World War II. He told me about how this visit to Palau has allowed him to visit the approximate location where his uncle was killed in action, and to pay respects for his ultimate sacrifice.”
Lee and two other members of CAT 84-06 joined the Marines on Peleliu again for the Koa Moana 2019 exercise. Working alongside, the engineers of CAT 84-06 and I Marine Expeditionary Force constructed a new playground at Peleliu Elementary School, thereby supporting an initiative by Palau’s Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to enhance outdoor recreational facilities for children. In addition to engineering construction projects, the Marines also partnered with local law enforcement agencies to conduct subject matter expert exchanges.
“Koa Moana is built to enhance our relationship with partner nations in the Indo-Pacific region,” said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Ashley Spikes, Officer in Charge of Koa Moana 2019. “Our relationship with Palau traces back to 1944 during WWII, when 1st Marine Division as well as 81st Infantry Division were engaged on the island of Peleliu. Understanding the result of those times creates a special bond between nations, allowing us to strengthen our relationship and demonstrate our continued commitment to security and sovereignty of the Republic of Palau”
At the culmination of Koa Moana 2019, a remembrance ceremony was held on Peleliu to formally commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Palau and the Battle of Peleliu. During the ceremony, delegates from the United States and Palau unveiled a new pillar presented by the Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, Commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force.
For the final event, the Civic Action Team joined the United States Embassy of Palau and U.S. military officials to congratulate and celebrate Palau’s 25th Independence Day, Oct 1. In only a quarter-century, The Republic of Palau has taken strides in the international community, creating policies such as the Palau Pledge, which unifies governmental and commercial organizations in order to integrate global environmental initiatives and local conservation efforts.
It is the very initiative and footsteps of our American and Palauan brothers and sisters across these islands, which has brought peace and prosperity to our two nations. The Battle of Peleliu profoundly shaped both the physical and societal landscape of Palau, still evident 75 years later. Today, it is an occasion for the United States, the Republic of Palau and our allies to reflect on the historic sacrifices that have enabled progress through partnership in Palau.
1st Lt. Kirsten Walsh is the Officer in Charge for Civic Action Team Palau 84-06, 84th Engineer Battalion. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science and commissioned through Army ROTC at Dickinson College. She is a graduate of the Engineer Basic Officer Leader Course, Sapper Leader Course, Air Assault School and Unit Movement Officer Course.