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A Time of

by Tony Palomo

Manengon, pristine and lush, an oasis hugging the center of Guam, has become a symbol of the beauty and tenacious spirit of the Chamorros — and the Cruelties and tragedies of war.

For hundreds of years, Manengon and its verdant valley was the haven of Chamorro clans who sought communion with the silence of the wilderness, the songs of the birds, and the hum of a coursing river. The valley, hidden between the hamlets of Yona and Talofofo, was untainted by the cultural and political evolution that had crept into the island.

But all these changed in July of 1944. As America's mighty forces prepared to reclaim Guam, desperate Japanese forces ordered virtually the entire civilian population to move to Manengon and other concentration camps, giving no hint as to the purpose for such a drastic move. Thousands of souls, from infants to the elderly, journeyed to the valley, from as far north as Yigo and as far west as Agat. They were herded by bayonet-wielding Japanese soldiers whose passion for cruelty be came the rule rather than the exception.

From the masses of people in Manengon, able-bodied men in the prime of life were recruited to assist Japanese troops transport ammunition and supplies to their defensive outposts. Many of them never returned—victims of blatant executions. Many young women were recruited to labor at agricultural plantations. Some were violated. Some were killed.

A thousand stories can be told about the Japanese occupation period, culminating in the long trek to Manengon, the massacres at Tinta and Faha in Merizo, Fena, Yigo, Tai, Agana, Barrigada and other locations, followed by the liberation by American forces.

women washing clothes
Women tend to their chores of washing family clothes in Manengon. Photo was taken a few days after thousands were evacuated from the concentration camp. (Note: All photos in this article, courtesy of the Sanchez family).

To Joaquin V. E. Manibusan, now a respected judge, the 31 months of occupation was a nightmare. He witnessed the execution of three Chamorro men at Tai late in June of 1944.

"Although I forced myself to mentally block this memory from my mind, the scars on my legs and on my back are constant reminders every waking moment of my life," said the judge in recalling the wartime period. "And now as I remember, the pain grows stronger and the memories more vivid and I find myself reliving the fear and torture in tears."

Manibusan and the late Enrique White were ordered to dig a four-foot deep hole into which the body of Juan (Dondo) Perez was buried after the man was beheaded by a Japanese taicho (officer). Two other holes were dug by other men into which the bodies of Jesus Salas and Miguel Terlaje were buried.

"It was an agonizing and traumatic experience," Judge Manibusan recalled."

Other surviving witnesses to the executions were Lourdes Crisostomo English and Dolores Untalan Pangelinan. Both remembered the Japanese warning the workers that should anyone shout or make any noise, they, too, will be killed.

As a kucho (assistant leader), Manibusan was the designated leader of a dozen workers, but despite his exalted position, he was not immune from beatings meted out by the Japanese.

"There was a time when I was slapped by a Japanese soldier, and I, in turn, was ordered to slap the Chamorro worker next to me, and he, in turn, slapped the next man down the line," Manibusan recalled.

The Judge said three of his men were later taken to Yigo by Japanese troops and were killed. They were Vicente (Eka) Bias, Victorino (Chele) Camacho, and Candido San Nicolas.

While still in Tai, American aircraft strafed the area and a young man and a woman sustained injuries. The youngster was Vicente T. Martinez, who later joined the priesthood, and Simplicia (Sally) Salas, a nurse. Martinez was struck on the leg by shrapnel, and Simplicia on the hip. They were treated by Connie Tenorio Slotnick and Mariquita Perez Howard, wife of an American prisoner of war in Japan, Eddie Howard. Mariquita subsequently was seized by Japanese soldiers, and vanished.

Judge Manibusan said he helped carry the injured to Manengon where a Japanese admiral later conceded to him that Japan had lost the war.

To Rosario Santos, the occupation period meant the loss of loved ones. Her brother, Jose Acosta, was killed by the Japanese for daring to sing the popular ditty, "Uncle Sam, Please Come Back to Guam." She also lost a sister, Antonia, shortly after giving birth.

"I can forgive but I cannot forget," said Mrs. Santos.

Irene Diaz lost her father, Jose Flores Diaz, who was beaten unmercifully by the Japanese and subsequently died from injuries he sustained.

Mandatory quotas were the general rule, and failure to meet Japanese demands could result in beatings.

Carmen Blas Camacho Cruz recalled that although her family gave a 50-gallon drum full of corn, the Japanese demanded more, and for such failure, she and her two elder sisters were tied to the trunks of coconut trees and were hit with tangantangan sticks. Her sisters were lashed 50 times each. Carmen fainted after 34 lashes.

Rosa Leon Guerrero Sablan recalled that her family was chased from their home and Japanese soldiers helped themselves with whatever they found. Mother of three children then, during the long trek to Manengon from Mangilao, her youngest son, Ralph, suffered from pneumonia, and could have died if not for the presence of her brother-in-law, Dr. Ramon Sablan, the only local physician. Ralph later on became a physician himself.

The family of Esther Mesa was required to produce one gallon of coconut oil every week.

A sense of fear was pervasive throughout most of the occupation period.

Rosa T. Castro, who was only nine, said she spent three days and three nights in the jungle, without food. She was kicked and cursed by Japanese soldiers and was in mortal fear. During the latter part of the war, her mother lost her sanity because of constant anguish.

Virginia Lujan Unpingco, who was also nine, remembered her mother, Cleotilde Lujan, being among a group of women who were struck with bamboo poles because someone had started a fire in Manengon.

Two smiling youngsters appear after the liberation of the island by American forces.

"My mom saw stars when she was hit and collapsed to the ground," said Virginia in recalling those tragic days.

To Joseph (Macaca) Aguon, it was a bad time for rambunctious youngsters such as he, who then was 12.

"I was kicked by a Japanese soldier when I refused to bow to the emperor," said Aguon. Among his jobs during the tail-end of the war were to help the Japanese dig caves and help at the Alaguac airfield.

Some people even lost faith in God after all the killings and bombings.

"I threw away my rosary," said Carmen Artero Kasperbauer, who was only nine, when she learned that Juan (Mali) Pangelinan, a neighbor, was seized and executed by the Japanese. Pangelinan, a retired navyman, harbored American fugitive George Tweed for several months before Tweed moved on to the Artero property at Urunao. "God must have forsaken us," Mrs. Kasperbauer said.

Yet, befriending a Japanese officer meant personal survival to some.

Leonilla L.G. Herrero told the story of her elder brother, Juan, who provided farm produce to a Japanese officer and his men from the Leon Guerrero's sizeable farm at Finaguagoc. Juan also was a good hunter and furnished meat products to the Japanese officer. For these favors, Juan's life was spared.

"Sometime in early July (1944), a crippled American fighter plane crash-landed at a nearby cornfield," recalled Leonilla. "My brother, Juan, and Jose (Papa) Cruz rushed to the downed aircraft and pulled the injured pilot out of the cockpit and brought him down to the ground.

"I could see from a distance that there was blood on his face and around his ear and eye. His head was scraped and you can see part of the skull," said Mrs. Herrero.

Within a matter of minutes, however, a group of Japanese soldiers arrived at the scene.

"They immediately tied up the three men—the pilot, Jose Papa and Juan—and when a black sedan came, the three men were taken to Apugan (Agana Heights)," Leonilla recalled.

The three men were beaten and subsequently the pilot (whose dogtag gave his name as "Hamilton") and Cruz were executed.

"My brother also was to be killed, but one of the Japanese officers present turned out to be the same officer who was befriended by Juan at Finaguagoc," Mrs. Herrero recalled. "When the Japanese officer recognized Juan, he ordered that he be untied and told Juan to go to the black sedan and was drove back to the farm.

Fathers Duenas, Calvo, Manibusan; Bishop Olano
Father Jesus Baza Duenas, left, and Father Oscar Lujan Calvo, right, were the only local Catholic priests in the islands during the Japanese occupation period. Others in photo are Spanish Bishop Olano, seated, and Father Jose Manibusan. Bishop Olano was taken to Japan by the Japanese as a prisoner of war, and Father Manibusan was in the Philippines during World War II.

The family who lived constantly in fear throughout the occupation period was that of Agueda Iglesias Johnston, whose husband, William, was taken to Japan as a prisoner of war, and died before the war ended.

Mrs. Johnston's daughter, Cynthia Torres, recalled the arrest of the entire family for assisting Tweed. Her mother "was taken to the torture room where she was questioned about Tweed's hiding place. She denied all accusations so she was badly beaten. Her entire back was torn bleeding flesh, her face was cut and black and blue from constant slapping. We were released after she was made to promise to report Tweed's whereabouts. This never happened. She knew all along that Tweed was under the care of Mr. Artero."

Cynthia and her late husband Joe Torres, were beaten by the Japanese for helping Tweed.

"We were tied to a coconut tree and whipped," recalled Mrs. Torres. "Tweed visited us for canned food and whiskey. We didn't know how he got to our ranch, but when he knocked in the middle of the night, we gave him what he asked then he left walking to the main road." Cynthia received six lashes from the Japanese; Joe 12.

Recalling the latter days of the war, Mrs. Torres said "early American bombings incited these (Japanese) men to commit gross atrocities, such as beheadings, mass raping and eventually forced marching to concentration camps. The two largest camps were the Asina and Manengon sites. Our group was ordered to go to the Manengon valley behind Yona and near the Ylig River. We heard from Saipan interpreters that a massacre was planned as some machine guns were to be placed on the hill around the camp."

"The long march of women and children, the sick and the aged was extreme hardship and some fell along the way," continued Mrs. Torres. "We, at gunpoint, were prohibited from helping. You can imagine the pain and tears when someone you loved and knew were left behind. Old Mrs. Rowley, a dear friend of the family, was left on the side of the road and was later found dead. My sister-in-law left the line to get water from a tank near a shack. She was badly beaten. We held her up and after the guards moved away, men carried her to Manengon where she died and was buried."

To Edith Rosario Blankenfeld, she and her family never stopped praying throughout the war period. During the latter part of June, 1944, the Rosario family stayed in a man-made hole in Agana Spring to avoid the bombings and air attacks.

"We stayed there hiding during the bombings of Agana by planes during the daytime and by ship during the evenings," recalled Edith, who was then 12. "One bombshell fell right next to our bokogo (cave) and it landed without exploding. Agana Spring is swampy land and apparently landed on soft soil which deterred its explosion. Our continual prayers also helped, as that was all we did during the war."

After leaving the Japanese concentration camp, Islanders were given a ride to a refugee camp.

Youngsters matured quickly during the occupation period. For example, Frank (Tagasi) Flores was only nine but be came the main supporter of his family since his father, an Insular Guardsman, became a paralytic as a result of beatings by the Japanese.

"We were encamped at Manengon when one day two of my friends, Victor, 11, and Roman, 9, and I went into the jungle to scrounge for food for our families," Frank recalled. "The jungles were full of land mines and we had to be careful to avoid them. Somewhere between Manengon and Yona, we met a Japanese soldier who was armed only with a sword. We did not know Japanese, and the Japanese knew neither Chamorro nor English. So, we communicated through sign language. He indicated to us to watch out for mines. He then signaled us to follow him, and he led us to a cave which turned out to be a Japanese storage. The soldier gave us about thirty pounds of rice and some canned goods. We could not carry the rice, however, because we were so weak from hunger. So, the Japanese gave us some rice pudding be fore we left the cave. Then we divided the rice and each carried about three pounds. When we reached our camp in Manengon, about a mile-and-a-half away, small portions of the rice were distributed to each family in our group. Everyone made porridge, a way to conserve rice so that it'll last longer," Frank recalled.

He remembered also that at the center of the Manengon camp, the Japanese posted five machine guns, each pointing at different directions.

"The weapons could easily wipe out the 10,000 Chamorros living in makeshift shelters encircling the machine guns," Flores said.

Joaquin Lujan Palomo, on the other hand, sustained injuries on his right hand and right thigh when he was struck by shrapnel from an American plane.

"I was hiding behind a camachili tree when I was hit," Joaquin recalled. "My friend, Emeterio Pangelinan, was killed at the same time. He was cut in half."

Palomo went on to say that Rosa (Chai) Farfan, a nurse, "helped me by cleaning my wounds daily with boiling water. She heated a wire and used iodine and unguentine and applied them to the lacerated areas."

"My cousin, Bill Lujan, and Carlos Lujan Tydingco brought me to Manengon," said Joaquin. "The Japanese guard (at Manengon) was going to kill me but Bill begged him not to do it."

To young Ann Borja, the arrival of the Americans came at the nick of time. The 18-year-old girl was among a group of young women at the Manengon en campment who were to be transported to Tai, for reasons unknown.

"A few days after American troops landed at Asan and Agat, a Japanese truck full of young Chamorro women reached Manengon and the women were allowed to disembark," Ann recalled. "We noticed that all the girls were shaking, apparently with fear, and we asked them what had happened. But no one would talk. We wanted to find out because we were to take their places."

"Luckily for us, before we boarded the truck, a few of our women spotted an American soldier hiding behind a nearby bush. He was with eleven other GIs."

"The American told us they were on patrol and advised us not to follow them. But nobody bothered to listen. There must have been about 300 ragged people who dropped everything and followed the Americans," Ann continued. "I learned later that the girls whom we were to replace were raped by Japanese officers at Tai. Most of them, I understand."

But despite the harshness and uncertainties of the times, life went on as nature willed. Mrs. Carmen Matias gave birth to a baby girl, Julie, while the family was encamped in Manengon. But her blissfulness lasted only momentarily since her husband, Leonardo, was beaten by a Japanese soldier for building a fire.

And Marian Johnston Taitano, who admits to being a flirt, brought to Manengon items which would be considered the least of priorities—a beautiful set of Max Factor cosmetics, presumably to enhance her natural beauty and two bottles of whiskey — to cure or minimize stomach pains. In the end, the booze was sipped by some 200 American soldiers when they reached Manengon.

The silent heroines throughout the occupation period were the local nurses, particularly during the bombardment of the island from mid-June to late July, when hundreds of people sustained injuries from shrapnel. When the Japanese seized Guam in December, 1941, the Chamorro nurses were required by Japanese authorities to continue working at the hospital in Agana, preventing them from joining their families at outlying villages. According to Florencia Lizama Garrido, one of the rules imposed by Japanese medical officers was that Japanese personnel must at all times be given priority over the local people. Because of this edict, some nurses, including herself, would swipe medicine from the hospital to take care of local persons in need of help.

Islanders walking on road
Shown are some of the thousands of Chamorros who came out of hiding shortly after the arrival of American troops.

Among these heroines, according to Mrs. Garrido, were Amanda Guzman, Joaquina Siguenza, Connie Tenorio Slotnick, Grace Leon Guerrero, Trinidad Tenorio, Socoro Manalisay Rivera, Maria Aguon Garcia, Mary Jane Flores, Beatrice Santos, Ana S.N. Sanford, Ana Mendiola Rosario, Frances Borja Reyes, Rosario Quichocho Perez, Joaquina Siguenza L.G. Davis, Ana Siguenza, Grace Lujan, Simplicia Salas and Rose Taitano.

There were many heroes, of course, and high on the roster were the three Christian prelates—Fathers Jesus Baza Duenas and Oscar Lujan Calvo, Chamorro Catholic priests, and Rev. Joaquin Flores Sablan, pastor of the local Baptist congregation. In the absence of other clergymen, all others having been taken to Japan as prisoners of war, these three men of God tended to their flocks as best they could.

Father Duenas, an outspoken defender of his faith and people, was brutalized and then executed by the Japanese only nine days before the return of American forces. He stood tall throughout the occupation period, refusing to compromise his faith in God, his people and his country.

Father Calvo tried to be more reasonable with Japanese authorities but even he was under house arrest by the time the massive American armada was approaching the island.

Despite the hardships, Reverend Joaquin Flores Sablan continued his ministry not withstanding Japanese threats of reprisals against those who practiced "American religion."

Although their paths rarely met during the occupation period, Reverend Sablan had this to say about Father Duenas: "Witnessing Father Duenas in his courageous and firm stand for his faith, he represented religion at its best and spoke for his people without any concern for his own safety."

Within less than a year after the liberation of Guam by American forces 50 years ago, Manengon reverted to its pristine and lush character, but despite, this retransformation, Manengon remains a haunting memory to those who lived through this dark period half a century ago.

Last Updated: 04-Apr-2004