LIBERATION Guam Remembers
A Golden Salute for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Guam
Chamorros yearn for freedom
By BEN BLAZ B/GENERAL, USMC (RET)
MEMBER, U.S. CONGRESS (1985-93)
I can't think of anything that has happened to me lately that has
touched me as much as being asked to recall and record in writing, as
part of our commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of
Guam, some of the significant events that have transpired over the
recent years that stand out in my memory.
To this day, whenever we speak of the period before the "war" and after
the "war" we invariably mean World War II. We do this almost
subconsciously despite that sons and daughters of Guam have been
involved in other wars since World War II: in Korea, Vietnam and the
Persian Gulf. The invasion, occupation and eventual liberation of Guam
made such an indelible impact on our people
that it is likely to serve as the benchmark, the road junction, and the
springboard for what we do for many, many years to come.
In a rare photo of Manengon in 1944,
people are shown milling about the camp. The hardships of war and the
occupation only served to intensify Guamanians' desire for a better
future and for control of their own destiny.
While this difficult period deprived those of my
generation most of our tender teen years, it taught us more about life,
family and ourselves than I, for one, had ever learned before or since
in all the schools I have attended. The Chamorro spirit was not an
abstraction; rather, it was demonstrably real during those years and I
have drawn inspiration and sustenance from that reality my entire
Our World War II experience was harsh by any
standard. Severe deprivation, indignities, and punishment were common
place. There was always that pervasive sense of personal insecurity.
Most members of my generation as well as the older generation prefer not
to dwell on the scars of those difficult years.
But those of us who survived the trial of the war
years bear witness to a side of the occupation that I will call the
"inner Guam," one that the enemy was never privileged to enter. It was
the purest product of that cauldron of war, the brightest star in the
dark sky of those traumatic times.
They would recall, as I do, the manifestation and
magnificence of the Chamorro spirit. Though only a legend to some, it is
a living, breathing reality to us; a source of strength that saw us
through the worst of times and guides us in the challenging times
My generation was caught between childhood and
adulthood. The unexpected and violent interruption of our lives and the
common adversity that we shared gave our parents and elders an unusual
opportunity to inculcate in us much more vital learning than we could
have received in calmer times.
Challenged by the threatening experience of war and
pressed to our limits, we learned things about human nature and
ourselves that we might never have been able to grasp in peaceful, less
We learned: to be tolerant when conditions were
intolerable; to be generous when there was so little to give; to be
patient when our deepest desire was to end our bondage; to be ourselves,
preserving our language and culture while the enemy was trying
to impose his on us.
Life seemed more endangered, more tentative, and
therefore, more precious then. We learned through toil the sweetness of
the saltiness of the sweat that trickled down our faces at the peak of a
hard day's work.
We clearly saw and keenly appreciated the basic
choices of life, between freedom and bondage; justice and oppression;
hope and despair; surviving and perishing. Through the heat and dust and
smoke, we saw ourselves and what we stood for.
There were many painful experiences in that dark
period in our history. But there were also many pleasant memories:
The long hours on a log with our parents sharing
their thoughts and experiences with us much like the generations before
them had done; but with greater urgency as the winds of war swirled
around the island;
The groups of neighboring farmers who pooled their
strength to push back the jungle so we could plant; The women caring for
the sick, working the gardens preparing food over open
The men echoing each other's folksong at twilight as
they cut tuba;
The labor camps where we realized how we had to
protect each other, how we had to care for one another as an island
The devout men and women who emerged as our
natural leaders and who would always lead us in prayer during our most
trying and fearful moments as we labored to finish our forced labor
projects under incredible duress;
There was the young Japanese officer who taught
me elementary Japanese in exchange for my father teaching him English
and who, after getting to know us, innocently asked by father why we
were at war;
There was this same officer who came to say good-bye
and as he left to defend against the invasion, I felt an indescribably
mixed emotion of seeing a new friend leaving to fight those coming to
There were the U.S. Marines, the soldiers, the
sailors and the Coast Guardsmen who, after hopping from island to
island, liberated one of their own and seemed as glad as we were
that they had come back to Guam;
And there were the joyous faces of my fellow
Chamorros, 23,000 strong, who had endured 31 months of harsh enemy
occupation, including internment in concentration camps, in a war they
had no part in starting.
As excruciating and as harrowing as the occupation
was, our people did not surrender without a fight and did not stop
fighting after the surrender. In the face of an overwhelmingly larger
enemy force, a handful of U.S. sailors and Marines stood their ground.
Standing beside them, with equal valor and courage but even with greater
pride and determination, were the members of the Navy Insular Force
For these men, Chamorros all, the defense of Guam
meant the defense of home, family and honor. Although they wore the same
U.S. Navy uniforms, their pay was exactly one-half that of the stateside
comrades. Although they fought under the same U.S. flag, they were
considered only half-brothers in the patronizing, colonial society on
Guam at that time.
Yet, when it came time to shed blood against foreign
invaders, the Chamorros of the Navy Insular Force demonstrated their
loyalty to the United States in the same way they demonstrated their
love for the U.S. principles of freedom and democracy: not
halfheartedly, but totally and wholeheartedly.
It is that commitment to home, family and honor that
has sustained us over the years as a people. In the years since Magellan
landed on Guam, our people have been colonized, proselytized,
Catholicized, and subsidized. Guam has fallen under Spanish, American,
Japanese and again American rule.
But never have we been asked what we as a
people wanted. Progress, whatever there was of it, moved at a pace of
the administering authority. It was his choice to uncover or cover at
his will what he wished to know about us, and it was our lot to remain
mute to the process. The attitude developed that the foreigners' right
to dominate the land was established by their finding it, and the
people - like the flora and fauna - had no alternative but to acquiesce
The Spaniards made Guam their own, but never did they
ask the Chamorro people, the Old People, what relationship should be
forged with them. Nor, centuries later, when the United States took
control of the island did it ask the descendants of those Chamorros and
those Spaniards what association should be formed.
We must wonder why the colonizing forces never asked
this most fundamental question. Perhaps they felt that the new order
they were bringing was so progressive that the people could not help but
be overjoyed to embrace it. Or perhaps the ugly hand of racism was at
work, and they believed the people could not tell the difference between
freedom and subjugation.
Whatever the case, with the close of the war and with
increased education opportunities becoming available to the people of
Guam, those of my generation realized the disparities we had accepted
without question for so long did not have to be the case. It was as if
we had been born blind and then miraculously had been given sight.
It came as a shock to realize that darkness was not
inevitable nor the natural state of the world. And so it was we who
realized that we were not a second class people. Invisible barriers were
just that invisible and without reason. New horizons
revealing incredible vistas began to open before us. We had been told
for generations, for example, that should we join the Navy, we were
worthy to serve as servants, as stewarts. My generation began to ask:
And why not officers? There was no reply.
And so slowly at first, and then with accelerating
force, we set out on a quest to achieve our self-determination as a
people economically, culturally, and politically.
A child peers out of a makeshift shelter
in another rare photo of the Manengon camp where Japanese forced
Guamanians to stay prior to the Liberation.
Genuine self-determination, if the word is to have
any meaning, is a self-help program. If you truly want it, if it truly
means anything to you, you must reach out for it and grasp it as your
own. That we have done.
During the 25th anniversary celebration in 1969, one
of the most distinguished officers in the Marine Corps, Gen. Lemuel C.
Shepherd, was our guest of honor. Having commanded one of the major
units that liberated Guam, Gen. Shepherd had a very special place in his
heart for the people of Guam and, in particular for those under his
command who were killed in action during the fighting. I remember still
his closing remarks before a full house at the Guam Legislature: "When I
get to heaven," he said, "my men who died here during the war will be at
the gate waiting for me with this question: 'Lem, was dying for Guam
worth it?' My answer to them will be that having just visited Guam
recently, the answer is, you damn right it was."
In closing my recollections of this very auspicious
occasion, I cannot resist the urge to share an exchange I had with my
own father as I was about to leave Guam after spending a week's leave
following my graduation from Notre Dame and my being commissioned a
second lieutenant in the U.S. Marines.
Departing with me that day was a group of young
Guamanians who had just been recruited in the Army and on their way to
basic training. As with me, most of them would eventually find
themselves serving in Korea. Unlike me, however, some of them would die
there and others would return home with lives and limbs shattered
It made for a large group, the recruits and their
mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and
me and my family. We made our way to the tarmac for our final good-byes,
and as I gathered my things for boarding, my father grabbed my arm.
A group of Guam men show their joy at
hearing the news of Japan's surrender. Guam emerged from World War II
optimistic about its future. However, despite 50 years of progress, Guam
has yet to realize true self-determination.
In his eyes was the old fierceness, and despite his
failing health, he was the robust and feisty man who had been a boxer
and a fighter for equality. To my utter amazement, he said to me, "Since
you are now an officer of the United States, Lieutenant, answer me this.
Why is it that we are treated as equals only in war but not in peace?"
Still holding my arm, he pulled me to him and said,
"You don't have to answer now. Just remember that the quest must
My chest was tight as I said, "Yes, Sir."
"... we must remember that the work begun by the
Liberators in 1944 is not yet complete. The people of Guam picked up the
torch of freedom passed to them on July 21, 1944. All who call Guam home
have worked so hard and so determinedly that the entire world can see
the island and its people have come so far from that terrible time of
long ago. But true self-determination and equality still evade our
people. Thus, the quest endures."
As I finished kissing him good-bye, he whispered, "By
the way, you never did return the salute I gave you when you first
arrived." I stepped back from him, and standing ramrod straight, I
brought my hand to my forehead in a crisp salute but my arm was
trembling from the unexpected and affectionate admonition from my
To this day, my father's question continues to haunt
all of us, but at least we now have that question formalized and on the
Congressional table - the Commonwealth of Guam.
On this, the 50th anniversary of our liberation, we
will be shedding a few tears of gratitude to our liberators; of
remembrance of our brothers and sisters who suffered with us but are
unable to join us; and of thanksgiving as we thank Almighty God for all
the blessings that have come our way during these golden years.
But after those tears have stopped and have become a
precious memory for us all, we must remember that the work
begun by the Liberators in 1944 is not yet complete. The people of Guam
picked up the torch of freedom passed to them on July 21, 1944. All who
call Guam home have worked so hard and so determinedly that the entire
world can see the island and its people have come so far from that
terrible time of long ago.
But true self-determination and equality still evade
our people. Thus, the quest endures.
Manuel Perez, USN, receives a warm
homecoming from his family as he returns to Guam for the first time in
five years, but as part of the liberating U.S. forces. Welcoming Perez,
left to right, are his sister, 24-year-old Mariquita; his 71-year-old
gramdmother; his 23-year-old sister, Conchita; kneeling is Perez's
brother, Jose, Jr., and in his
arms is the sailor's nephew, 2-year-old Jose III.
Agana is left in ruins after the
invasion. Though the city never regained its pre-war status as the
island's main residential center, the people of Guam were able to
rebuild their lives. They did so by first joining in the war effort as
part of the military economy supplying and supporting U.S. forces
fighting their way to Japan, then rebuilding and reshaping Guam in the
postwar era (top).|
Soon after the Liberation, two boys hold handmade American flags. The
scene is reminiscent of when U.S. forces first came upon groups of
Chamorros and were greeted by people waving aloft the Stars and Stripes
- the flags in various shapes and sizes but nevertheless still the Stars
and Stripes (bottom, left).
16-year-old Juan Cabrera and 15-year-old Beatrice Perez (Emsley) are
treated for their wounds. In the days just before the July 21 invasion,
the two youths were among people found in Agana and arrested by Japanese
soldiers. After being held in a cave for two days and given no food and
water, the 11 people were told to kneel before a bomb crater. An order
was given and they were struck down by soldiers' swords and bayonets and
left to die. Juan, who suffered five deep bayonet wounds, and Beatrice,
all of her neck muscles severed, were the only ones to survive the
execution. Beatrice, now 65, has several times testified before federal
officials and Congress regarding war reparations to the Guamanian
people. Her plea for justice and those of others has been,
unfortunately, ignored (bottom, right).