July 21, 1944 – the United States moves on its continuing Pacific campaign by securing the recapture of it’s territory of Guam from the Imperial forces of Japan. Many brave men lost their lives on those island shores , most of them barely out of their youth. Courage that will define that generation. They literally saved a people, a nation, my parents and grandparents, future Americans. Those men are my first group of heroes. I honor them this day for their ultimate sacrifice.
There is a second group of heroes that are less known by the world and less remembered in ceremonies except this time of year in Guam. They are always remembered in my heart as well as those of my family, and my relatives and my fellow Chamorro people . These heroes are my parents, grandparents and all the Chamorro survivors of that war.
Since Spain took over Guam in the 1500’s , the Chamorro people and their homeland have been occupied forcefully or by foreign decree. Then disease and wars against their foreign invaders, reduced the population. Soon the bloodlines became mixed into a largely mestizo population. So the cultural westernization at every level affected those who identified themselves as Chamorro. However, their identity as a people never changed despite the integration of other cultures and bloodlines.
Always seen as second class citizens by both Spain and then by the United States , the people survived by being adaptable. There was no revolution. They only showed compliance and even embraced the dominant nation that held them.
That is why when Japan attacked Guam and took over the island, the intensity of the violence and cruelty that was heaped upon the peaceful Chamorros were especially poignant. The ethnocentric Japanese felt justified in their god emperor beliefs to treat the Chamorros like subhumans. There were many that were executed on the mere suspicion of anything deemed disloyal. Starvation became the norm because all food had to serve the Japanese military. Hard labor was enforced. Eventually, the local population was herded to concentration camps whose deplorable conditions only meant death and malnutrition. My parents found themselves in such places.
The Japanese had plans to kill off the native population once they heard the Americans were on the attack. There was one group of Chamorros that were massacred. Fortunately , the United States attacked soon enough to thwart further massacres.
The Chamorros emerged from this war to an island devastated. All they had was their faith and culture. Eventually, you will see them gain U.S. Citizenship in 1950. There is a high proportion of the population that serves in the United States military. Most serve remembering their parents and grandparents’ stories of WWII. Patriotism remains high because of these traditions despite Guam’s political status and often the average ignorance of most Americans about the history and courage of these fellow citizens in the Pacific.
There were so many acts of bravery during and soon after the war. My grandfather, John Blas Leddy, was used as a scout by the military to ferret our Japanese soldiers who were hiding in the jungle. He was so good at the job that he was responsible for the recapture of about 230+ enemy soldiers. He was a determined and aggressive military scout. His nicknamed was “Fighting Bull.”
I think of my mother and father as young children. Most children would have been traumatized by such a dark , awful experience as war. It was especially hard with such cruel captors. They both were able to move beyond the war and they forgave their captors.
There is a memorial on Guam which lists all the names of those Chamorros who lived on occupied Guam during the war. I see the names of family and relatives on that Memorial. These are my heroes. I honor them more than any heroes I know. They represent a people who not only survived that awful occupation, but all the generations before them who have been occupied and still made it as a people with pride and dignity.
That is my legacy as a Chamorro. It is a story of survival no matter what the odds. Liberation Day is truly a celebration.
- USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: Chamorro Women and the Spanish (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Micronesian, Puerto Rican (hapavoice.com)
- Photos from Guam: Days Four & Five (orthographies.wordpress.com)
- This One is Special… (pacificislandparks.com)
- Some Independence Day Humor from Lipstick Liberal (politicususa.com)
- Hinanao ham para Guam – Ontario, CA (travelpod.com)
- Teen killed in accident was known as ‘Hugz’ (heraldnet.com)
- USC Dornsife Scientific Diving: The Coconut Crab in Guam (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- U.S. think tank urges faster work to move Okinawa marines to Guam (japantimes.co.jp)
- Pacific Island culture take center stage at City Auditorium (gazette.com)