Sunday, July 20, 2014

Island of Massacres

Every July Guam becomes transformed into an "island of massacres." As the collection memory of the island becomes focused around recalling and recounting the tragic final weeks of I Tiempon Chapones on Guam, the month seems to move from one horrific story to another. July 1944 was filled with more atrocities and more suffering than the 31 months of Japanese occupation that preceded it. Pale' Jesus Baza Duenas is killed. Chamorros are forced into concentration camps. Massacres take place in Hagat, Yigu, Merizo and Hagatna. War stories from war survivors build towards a brutal climax at this point. This brutal period however is the prologue to the happy end to Japanese rule. Within days or weeks of these atrocities taking place, Japanese guards have disappeared from concentration camps and stories of American troops being spotted are traveling around with lightning speed.

War narratives at this point jump from opposite sides of the spectrum. They go from being colored in blood and gore and the grim of muddied and bleary eyed marches, to being filled with canned goods, cigarettes, powdered milk and US Marines are painted in reds, whites and blues. Chamorros were at one point wallowing and suffering, but now are being lifted from their squalor and led to refugee camps where they start to gather what they can to rebuild the island and their lives.

So much is lost in this transition. I've written about what is lost in so many different forums. From dissertations, to thesises, to blog posts, to my Variety column, to my lectures in my classes. What is lost in this cauldron of tragedy and triumphant liberation is the Chamorro itself. The Chamorro as a sovereign subject, as something that exists on its own and conceives of itself in its own way is lost. It is replaced with a Chamorro who will forever forward struggle with their relationship to the United States more than anything. They will see everything through a lens of American patriotism, including their own past, present and future. The Chamorro who believes in self-sustainability, who has the ability to not accept every ridiculous colonial lie that worms its way into the island, who doesn't just give up their language, culture or identity because someone else says to, this Chamorro disappears. You could argue it dies in Mannegon, in Mokfok, in Fena, in the wreckage of Hagatna or anywhere else. It is killed in the crossfires as empires of steel clash.

I have been working for six months now on a project to tell a story that will hopefully give life to that Chamorro once thought lost. The patriotic Chamorro is born out of the suffering of World War II and it is sustained through the continuing narratives of victimization. But I am working on helping tell the story of one incidence when Chamorros were not simply victims, where Chamorros when faced with annihilation and death, chose to fight back and in the village of Malesso they killed their Japanese captors. This is the story of the Mighty Men of Merizo who rose up against the Japanese at Atate in July 1944.

For the next seven weeks the PDN will be publishing sections of the memoirs of Jose M. Torres, who was a participant in the uprising against the Japanese at Atate. In the month of September I am hoping that his book will be ready so we can release it to the public.


Chagui'an Victims Remembered
Jerick Sablan
July 15, 2014

Ramon Baza Quitaro, 15, was the youngest person to be killed by the Japanese during World War II when he and 44 other men and boys were beheaded in Chagui'an in Yigo.

And although no one from that massacre survived, their memories live on through the annual memorial that was held yesterday at the Chagui'an site.

"Just imagine, he was small. Fifteen years old. Why? Fifteen years old. He didn't even enjoy his childhood," Lourdes Quitaro Pangelinan Taitingfong, his niece, said.

Quitaro was the youngest sibling of Taitingfong's mother. The family was in the concentration camp in Yona when Quitaro was asked to help the Japanese carry something, Taitingfong said. That was the last time they ever saw him.

No one knows what exactly happened since there were no survivors, Toni Ramirez, a local historian said yesterday.

Taitingfong said to this day, no one in her family knows what happened to her uncle. Her dad's brother, Jose Quichocho Pangelinan, also died in the massacre.

Yesterday was the first time she attended the memorial.

On Aug. 8, 1944, Marine patrols from the 21st Regiment discovered 45 bodies of young Chamorro men in Chagui'an, beheaded and with their hands tied behind their backs.

They were young men forced by the Japanese into a treacherous march as they carried supplies and ammunition to the Japanese command posts at Mount Mataguac, almost a mile and a half south of the massacre site, Yigo Mayor Rudy Matanane said yesterday.

A white cross symbolizes the 45 men who were found at the site, while signs list their names and a short story about the site in English, Chamorro and Japanese.

For Quitaro's friend, Gregorio Concepcion, 85, yesterday was a time to remember his old friend. The two were the same age and were neighbors in Yona, he said.

They would go out to the farm and work, he said.

The last time he saw Quitaro was when the Japanese invasion of Guam happened and he moved back to Piti to be with his family.

"He was too young. It's sad," he said.

Gov. Eddie Calvo said it was hard to believe that 70 years ago, such a horror occurred.

"Now what once were enemies now are friends. And what was once a battlefield and site of a massacre is a location of paradise," Calvo said.

Ramirez told a tale from the first-person perspective of Quitaro, inspired by his research on the massacre. He was one of the 17 men who were below the age of 18, he said.

He detailed what happened and how Quitaro came to be a part of the massacre by weaving together the narrative and his research.

Ramirez said the war wasn't something many Chamorros understood.

"It was not their war. They got caught in the war," he said.

He offered praise for Jakson Umlauf, 14, who helped get materials for the memorial site, like signs, benches and flower beds.

"Jakson is the same age as Ramon 70 years ago. He came here to die. Jakson came here to preserve the memory of what happened in the war," Ramirez said.

Umlauf, from Boy Scouts of Guam Troop 1420, said his family and his troop asked people to donate and they were glad to do so.

He came to the memorial last year and only saw a white cross that memorialized the 45 men.

"I thought we need to respect our fallen heroes a little more," he said.


Families Remember Tinta, Faha Victims
Dance Aoki
July 16, 2014

The last time Juan Q. Guzman saw his uncle and namesake, he was 10 years old.

He remembered his uncle, Juan C. Guzman, broke away from the families who were marching from Santa Rita to a concentration camp in Manenggon during the Japanese occupation of the island in World War II.

The elder Juan Guzman headed toward Merizo to be with a woman he'd fallen in love with and her son who he wanted to take care of.

"I remember my grandmother, a small, feisty old lady," Guzman, now 80 years old, recalled. "I heard my grandmother say, 'Juan, don't go.'"

He didn't find out until after U.S. Marines liberated the island that his uncle was one of the victims of the Faha massacre in Merizo.

"If he just should have listened to my grandmother..." Guzman said, trailing off.

Guzman attended a solemn memorial ceremony for the victims of the Faha massacre yesterday as a breeze cooled a group of about 30 people who hiked to the site.

The memorial ceremony at Faha followed a separate memorial at Tinta, the site of another massacre during World War II.

Younger generation

Merizo Mayor Ernest Chargualaf asked those present to keep coming back to the memorials.
"Those who were born during the liberation and the invasion, they're diminishing," Chargualaf said. "We need to engage the younger generation, ... so that they can come to understand and appreciate what we're perpetuating every year so that their deaths are not in vain. These people suffered at the hands of the enemy, and they were innocent."

Honoring history

Plaques placed at each site tell the story of the massacres.

On July 15, 1944, Japanese soldiers gathered 30 influential Chamorro residents of Merizo village, guided them to Tinta, and instructed the group to assemble in a cave.

The soldiers then threw grenades into the opening of the cavern, and when the dust was cleared, stabbed anyone moving with bayonets.

A handful of survivors who pretended to be among the dead managed to escape.

The next day, Japanese soldiers marched another group of the strongest Chamorro men to a separate location at Faha.

They were once again told to gather in a cave, and all were killed after the soldiers shot them with machine guns.
Guzman said the younger generation doesn't understand everything that happened during the war.
"The younger generation don't know anything," he said.
Darlene Leon Guerrero said her father was a young boy when the massacres occurred.


When the residents of Merizo heard of the killings, they were outraged and rebelled against the Japanese soldiers in response to the massacres.

On July 20, a furious group of Merizo men charged the Japanese headquarters, killing 10 Japanese soldiers. One soldier escaped, fleeing toward the village of Inarajan.

Leon Guerrero said her father would share stories with her about the rebellion.
"The young are interested," she said.

But there aren't very many people who are willing to share their memories from the war years, she added.


Rick Camacho was 4 years old when his father, Juan Babauta, died at Tinta.

Camacho's wife, Cecelia Camacho, said the events that occurred at Tinta need to be memorialized, but it's not easy.

"We're getting older and pretty soon we won't make the trek," she said.
"We're trying to bring my kids, but they're still sleeping," she said.

Ann Perez, Camacho's niece, said she wanted to remember that her grandfather's spirit was still here, and that's why it's so important for her to come to the site of the Tinta massacre.
"It would make me feel good, that it didn't die down, that people are still visiting (years from now)," Perez said.

Costs for families

The Merizo mayor said there are efforts being made to make the Tinta site easier to get to.
The pathway cuts through private land belonging to different families, so the mayor must ensure the visitors to Tinta have permission to enter the property to pay their respects.

The families of the victims and of the survivors have paid some of the cost of hosting these ceremonies every year, the mayor said.

"It shouldn't be the families that have to bear the burden, and the governor must ensure these things are commemorated and perpetuated every year as a grim reminder that no nation or people should ever again be subjected to the atrocities that we had then," Chargualaf said.


Many Reflect on War at Fena Memorial
 Malorie Paine
July 20, 2014

Somber, sobering moments are what many experienced walking up to the entrance of the Fena Caves during the Fena memorial service in Agat yesterday.

Some were looking into the very place their family members were killed by Japanese soldiers during World War II; others were merely paying respect to the history of Fena and those who lost their lives.
The caves, because they are located within the Naval Base of Guam, are open to the public only during select times of the year. Capt. Andy Anderson, commanding officer at the Naval Base of Guam, said it's important that the public be allowed to return to the caves out of respect to their histories.

"The importance is respect. These people gave their lives. They defended freedom unarmed, essentially. We owe it to them, to the families and to their deaths. We owe it from a respect point of view," Anderson said.

Ivan Babuta, of Agat, says his uncle was one of the men herded into the cave and killed. He said being able to return to the location meant so much to him.

"The trip was very sentimental for me. My mother's brother was one of those who got beheaded by the Japanese. It means a lot to the family, but we forgive the Japanese," Babuta said.

Babuta said his uncle was only 14 or 15 at the time of the Fena Massacre. He also said that while the experience was a difficult one for the family, they have learned forgiveness is the most important thing now.

"It was a sad time, but we forgive, and we have to move on. It's sad for me, but those days are gone already. Now, we have to move forward and live in peace. With the Lord's grace and help, I find peace now," Babuta said,
He said it's difficult to forgive as a human being, but "through the grace of God," he is able to. Babuta said forgiveness is a lesson many in the world need to learn.

"Forgiveness is letting go. I find forgiving helps me find peace in myself. If we look at the world today, the ones who can't forgive are the ones who are still suffering," Babuta said.

Several World War II veterans also attended yesterday's Fena memorial service. Men who served on Agat beach 70 years ago returned to celebrate the years of freedom that have followed their service on Guam.

Tom Spry, of Mission Viejo, California, served on Agat beach when he was 18 years old. He says it was his first mission while serving in the Marines, and he was honored to return to see that freedom still stands.

"It's remarkable to see what has been done from 1944 to now. There's so much. I hardly know how to describe it," Spry said.

Spry, now 88 years old, returned to Guam with his son for the Liberation celebration and to visit with old friends.

Yesterday's memorial service was not a time of sadness, but one of remembering how far the people of Guam have come in 70 years.

Agat Mayor Carol Tayama said the people of Guam have persevered throughout the years and they will continue to do so.

"Seventy years later, we are a stronger people, but more importantly, we are a forgiving people," Tayama said.

Toni Ramirez, a Guam historian, said the Chamorro people were victims of war.

"Each Chamorro who lived in July 1944 was a victim of war, but it wasn't their war," he said. "Every Chamorro living in July 1944 was a solider. They fought to live."

He said that while war is a part of the Chamorro history, the people must look forward and realize everyone is together.

"We are one under the sun, and we are one under humanity," Ramirez said.

Ramirez told those in attendance that no other place remembers or celebrates the history of World War II like the people of Guam. He encouraged the audience to never forget, but to always be forward thinking.

"We are a grateful island," Ramirez said. "Live in peace. Live in harmony. Let's move forward."

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