A Slice of Palau History : The Battle of Peleliu

This little piece of paradise has a big past and played an integral part in World War II. The details of the Battle of Peleliu, and the significance of this island's topography, taught a painful lesson for all parties involved.

I'll admit it! I would never have thought to visit Palau if it wasn't for a medical mission trip scheduled there. I didn't even know where it was and I had to look it up. But once I arrived and got to spend some time there, I was struck by several things:

  1. The immense depth of its history, specifically that which relates to World War II,

  2. The colorful local culture (yum, bats!), and

  3. The jaw-dropping beauty of the islands.

In this post, I will share some fascinating details about the country's critical role in World War II. But first...

Where Is It?

Palau - officially the Republic of Palau - is an island country located in the western Pacific Ocean. It sits between the Philippines and Guam, and the country contains approximately 340 islands and 16 states!

But its total area is only about 180 square miles, and just 17,907 people live there. The most populous island is Koror, where Belau Hospital is located (the location of our clinic).

Obviously, it's very isolated, but in recent years it's gotten easier to get there efficiently. My trip went from PDX to SFO to ICN (Seoul) to KOR (Palau) and took two full days. Of course, keep in mind the time difference for KOR from PDX is also 16 hours ahead.

History Lovers, Buckle Up

These islands have transferred ownership many times. Here's a quick run down:

  • The country was originally settled about 3,000 years ago by migrants from Southeast Asia.

  • In 1574, they were made part of the Spanish East Indies.

  • In 1898, when Spain lost the Spanish-American War, they were sold to Germany and were deemed part of German New Guinea.

  • After World War I, they were ruled by new owners, the Japanese.

Whew! But it would change hands yet again. This time to the United States in 1947, following World War II.

During the war, American troops were determined to seize Palau from the Japanese. Why? Because the location of the islands near the Philippines was very advantageous for U.S. troops.

In September of 1944, troops arrived at Peleliu, planning to storm the islands using tactics that always had for them worked before: they came onshore in waves and waited until they had accumulated large numbers of soldiers. They then pushed inland together.