LIBERATION Guam Remembers
A Golden Salute for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation of Guam
A man of courage and conviction
By TONY PALOMO
If ever a man stood proudly for his people, the Chamorros, for his
church, the Catholic Church, and for his adopted country, America,
during the trying days of World War II, he was Jesus Baza Duenas.
A young Catholic priest who challenged the might of
the Japanese imperial forces throughout the occupation
period, Father Duenas was unceremoniously executed during the
darkness of night 50 years ago on July 12.
Great men die young is an ancient proverb. It applies
perfectly to Father Duenas, who was only 30 when Japanese forces seized
Guam on that fateful day, Dec. 10, 1941. The good padre, scion of a
deeply religious family, was still adjusting to his calling when the
bombs fell, creating havoc and pandemonium throughout this tiny
Almost instinctively, Father Duenas gathered some of
his young followers - no doubt, acolytes at St. Joseph's Church in
Inarajan - grabbed whatever weapons they could find - rifles and
sidearms primarily - commandeered a small truck, and waited for the
enemy. Fortunately, sober minds prevailed and Father Duenas and his
small ragtag militia accepted the inevitability of a Japanese
Father Duenas, shown above, and Father
Oscar Calvo were the only two Chamorro priests allowed to stay on island
after the Japanese invasion in 1941.
Father Duenas was the ranking Catholic prelate in
Guam at the time; the only other being Father Oscar L. Calvo, who had
been ordained a priest just a few months before the war. Father Duenas
could have chosen to stay in Agana, the seat of the vicariate, but
instead chose to remain in the southern village of Inarajan as far away
from the Japanese as possible.
Early during the pacification period, the Japanese
government dispatched two Catholic priests - Monsignor Fukahori and
Father Peter Komatzu - to Guam to proclaim from the pulpit the greatness
of the Japanese government and people. Though the monsignor presented
Father Duenas with a letter from Bishop Olano - he had been sent to a
prisoner-of-war camp in Kobe, Japan - naming the Chamorro priest the
head of the Catholic church in Guam, Father Duenas angrily told them
that they were not true men of the cloth but spies.
He told them that he would have nothing to do with
them, or with any other Japanese official except on matters where the
welfare of his people was concerned. In a biting letter to the two
Japanese priests, Father Duenas asserted: "According to a letter of Pope
Benedict XV to the bishops and priests all over the world, he said
'never preach the honor and glory of your country but only the word of
God.'" Duenas told them, if he should survive the war, he would have them
removed from the Catholic church as clergy.
Father Duenas was adamant in his refusal to cooperate
with Japanese officials. During one confrontation, the
fighting padre was heard to say. "I answer only to God, and the Japanese
are not God."
When questioned about the whereabouts of six American
sailors who fled into the jungles of Guam rather than surrender, Father
Duenas was quoted as saying, "It is for me to know, and for you to find
Father Duenas was part of network of men and women
who knew the movements of the American fugitives, the identities of the
daring men and women who assisted and harbored them, and even the plans
of Japanese search teams. He also made it a point to visit certain
friends who clandestinely operated radio receivers and were well
informed of the progress of war up until mid-1943, when the
eventual outcome of the brutal conflict was no longer
Although Father Duenas was responsible for ministering
to the needs of the people residing in the southern half of the island
- Father Calvo taking care of the flock in the rest of the island - Father
Duenas traveled as far north as Tamuning from time to time, thanks to
"Flashy," a stallion that served him well during the occupation
Perhaps a more important reason for the good padre to
visit the north was the fact that during a six-month period in 1942, two
of the six American fugitives - Al Tyson and C.B. Johnston - were hiding
out in Oka, Tamuning, and Father Duenas was giving them religious
instructions in anticipation of converting them to Catholicism.
Father Duenas' consistent refusal to make peace with
the Japanese forced the authorities to consider exiling the recalcitrant
padre to the island of Rota, but Japanese authorities had to cancel such
a move. They lacked evidence against Father Duenas to justify such a
drastic action, and his transfer may have created more problems with the
populace since the priest enjoyed high esteem throughout the island.
At village meetings called by the Japanese,
propagandists often emphasized that the new rulers were in Guam to
save the Chamorros from the white race, and that they meant to
stay for at least a hundred years. Father Duenas belittled their
interpretations of events, and even at one point began humming "God
"God will look after me. I have done no wrong."|
Father Jesus Baza Duenas
The Japanese authorities, when it appeared that U.S.
forces were soon to invade Guam, would exact their revenge on Duenas.
The following is a story of the last hours of Father Duenas as told by
Joaquin Limtiaco, among the few men who last saw him alive:
Three days before Father Duenas and his nephew, Eddie
Duenas, were beheaded, I was ordered by a Japanese official to report to
Mrs. (Engracia) Butler's ranch house in Agana Heights. I had no idea why
I was summoned. The Butler residence had been taken over by the Japanese
who had built fortifications around the premises by this time.
When I arrived - I and my family were then staying
near Sinajana - I found Father Duenas, Eddie, Juan (Apu) Flores (of
Inarajan), and Juan (Eto) Leon Guerrero. Father Duenas, Eddie and Eto
had their hands tied behind their backs. Father Duenas and Eto were tied
to the posts of a chicken shack near the residence and Eddie to a
camachili tree nearby.
Father Duenas was wearing a yellowish polo shirt and black trousers.
Eddie also had a white polo shirt and khaki trousers. There was a nasty
cut on his head and I could see blood clots around the wound.
Eto, who was then 19, had been apprehended and
brought to Agana Heights for building a fire while it was still dark
that same morning. The boy told me later that he was cooking bread-fruit
to take along with him to a Japanese work camp.
I was asked by a Japanese official, through an
interpreter, whether I knew Father Duenas. I said I did. He asked me
whether I knew anything about a rumor that the priest was aiding
American holdouts. I replied that I did not.
Father Duenas was suspected of harboring Americans,
either at Inarajan where he was parish priest, or some place else. He
and Eddie had been taken to Agana Heights from Inarajan a few hours
before my arrival. Flores was brought to the same place from Inarajan on
a subsequent trip.
While it was still daylight, Flores and I were
ordered to gather rocks and pile them against a cave in which the
Japanese planned to hide in the event of an American invasion which was
just a matter of days then.
At the Butler residence at the same time were two
Saipanese, one was an interpreter, the other a cook.
Late that night - at about midnight or 1 a.m. - the
cook made some coffee, poured it into a large can, then went to sleep in
the house. The few Japanese who were there had gone to sleep inside the
cave. The interpreter was still in the building and I asked him whether
I could offer some coffee to Father Duenas and the other two men. I told
him they must be thirsty and must have smelled the boiling coffee. He
said it was all right and he (the interpreter) then left for the cave to
I took the can of coffee, and Flores and I went to
Father Duenas, who like the others, was sitting on the ground tied to
the chicken shack post. We offered him the coffee and he said: "Thank
you, I appreciate it." I then suggested in a whisper that we all flee
from the place.
I felt it was a great opportunity since none of the
Japanese was awake and neither was the Saipanese interpreter and the
cook. I said: "Father, Flores and I are willing, if you are, to
escape from here. We can easily untie you, Eddie and Eto, and we can all
flee. You know that the American bombardment has begun and it won't be
long now before the invasion starts."
Father replied: "No, I would rather not. The Japanese
know they can't prove their charges against me. I appreciate your offer
but we must also think of our families. You must know what would happen
to them if we escape. I'm positive the Japanese will retaliate against
them. Go and look after your own families. God will look after me. I
have done no wrong.
Flores and I then went to Eddie and also suggested
that we escape. He replied: "I'm here with Father and I'll do whatever
he wants to do. If he says we'll escape, I'm for it. If he says no, then
we won't. I'm with him all the way. It's up to him."
We then went back to Father Duenas and begged him
again to consider our plan. He still refused.
Eddie, I learned later, had been beaten up - probably
in Inarajan - and his head was splattered with blood. He appeared to be
in very serious condition. I believe he was clubbed before he and Father
were taken to Agana Heights in a truck.
Early the next morning, the three captives were still
tied when Flores and I were ordered to go to Toqua (now NCS) and to
bring back Antonio Artero, who was suspected of harboring (George)
Tweed. If we couldn't find Antonio, we were to bring back any member of
the Artero family. That was the order.
Before we left, we were made to take an oath that our
allegiance was to the Japanese government. We went through the
formalities, of course. Father Duenas and Eddie were still tied to their
respective places when Flores and I left the place.
We reached Togua - we walked all the way - and found
Don Pascual Artero, his son, Jose, and other members of the family, but
Antonio was not around. We told them we wanted to talk to Antonio. They
said he would return soon. The family had been preparing to leave their
ranch and were loading a truck with things they needed for the journey.
They said they expected to be summoned to Tai.
When Antonio showed up, Flores and I told him we
would like to talk to him alone. We moved some distance away and then we
revealed our mission. I said: "Ton, you probably know why we are here.
It's about Tweed. The Japanese have been informed that you are harboring
him and they sent us here to take you to Agana Heights. I don't know
what you plan to do. Whether they'd kill you, I don't know. But I know
that the moment the Japanese see you,
they'd start beating you up unmercifully. I suggest
that you and your family find a good hiding place here in the jungle and
wait for the Americans. The bombardment is being intensified. It won't
be long now.
23 December/Christmas 1941
On 23 December, after repulsing an initial Japanese landing on 11
December, U.S. sailors, Marines and others surrender Wake Island.
Forty-five Guam men participate in the island's defense; 10 of those die
in the 12-day siege. Initial Japanese force receives support by some
ships and aircraft involved in the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor.
On Christmas Day, the Japanese capture Hong Kong.
Mrs. Artero was so grateful that she cooked us one of
the best meals we had in a long time. She cried when I told her what we
had discussed with her husband.
After the meal, Flores and I started on our way back
to Agana Heights. We decided to tell the Japanese that we looked
everywhere at the Artero ranch, from Togua to Upi, but failed to find a
trace of the Arteros. The only thing we found, we decided to tell them,
was a dog in one of the Artero chicken ranches.
On the way down, we were given a ride by a Japanese
navy truck. We had special passes which permitted us to move freely. The
passes informed Japanese officials we may encounter on the way to
cooperate with us.
When we reached the Butler residence, we told the
Japanese we could not find Artero. We made believe we were very hungry
and they gave us supper - some rice and corned beef - some of the
foodstuff seized from the Butlers.
We looked about and noticed that Father Duenas and
Eddie were not around. Eto was released and worked about the
In this photo taken after the
Liberation, Father Oscar Calvo poses with members of his
A Japanese kempetai officer later told us to leave
that night for Tai and that we - Flores, Eto and I - must be there by
midnight. He said Father Duenas and Eddie were taken to Tai earlier and
we were to work with them in the field the following morning. Tai then
was an agricultural area where local residents were made to toil in the
fields. It also was the place where several local people were executed,
including Juan (Mali) Pangelinan, who had hidden and fed Tweed before
the Navy man went to the Arteros.
On the way to Tai, we came across many Japanese
civilians rushing and shouting enroute to Agana. It appeared that they
were ordered to the city to battle the invading American troops. The
only weapons they carried were spears and sticks. Each time we saw a
group coming, we jumped into the roadside bushes.
We spent the night at a ranch owned by Juan (Lala)
Cruz in Chalan Pago. At about seven o'clock the next morning,
we left the Cruz ranch, arriving at Tai about a half-hour later.
We went to Jose Lazaro's ranch, which had been commandeered by the
Japanese. There was no one around except one Japanese, a
civilian who spoke Chamorro well. He was sort of a supervisor in the
fields. Father Duenas and Eddie were nowhere.
I asked the Japanese where the other workers were and
he told me he had been in the area since 2 o'clock and that he had not
seen any. The only other people there were Mr. Pedro Martinez and his
late brother, Vicente, and their families. They told us they had seen no
one since they arrived.
It suddenly occurred to Flores and me that Father
Duenas and Eddie may have already been killed, probably sometime between
midnight - the time we were supposed to report there - and 2 a.m.
Flores and I then proceeded to check the area, from
place to place. We searched as far south as Sinajana where we entered a
ranchhouse owned by Ismael Calvo. The place had been ransacked, no doubt
by the Japanese. Everything was smashed.
We learned later that on the night we were to report
to Tai, two Guamanian men were ordered by the Japanese to dig a grave in
the area where Father's and Eddie's remains were later recovered. The
two diggers did not know then what the Japanese were up to. It was not
until much later that the two pointed out the spot where they were told
Our suspicion was confirmed when we came to Manengon
later in the day. Through Juan (Ba) Duenas, we learned that Father
Duenas and Eddie had been executed. Ila got the shocking news from a
Saipanese relative, Joaquin Duenas, who was at Tai with the Japanese and
had witnessed the killing."
In early 1945, the body of the beloved priest was
exhumed from a crude grave. In a later ceremony attended by hundreds of
people and the island's highest officials, the body of Father Duenas was
laid to rest under the altar of San Jose Church in Inarajan, the church
where he had served his island flock during the occupation.