Only two days before the U.S. Senate passed and sent to President Obama a Guam war reparations bill — a decades old dream of the island’s political leaders—retired Marine Major Ralph Stoney Bates was speaking to many island survivors of that war in a University of Guam lecture hall.
Bates and his researcher wife Lyn, spent many months on Guam interviewing survivors with first-hand recollections of the war and reviewing the broader history of how the “shame” — the abandonment of the local population in the face of the expected Japanese invasion — came to be.
The book is a mixture of both known fact and fictional recreation of known historical events during the Japanese occupation that began with the 1941 Japanese invasion and ended with the 1944 arrival of American forces.
Major Bates said that a 1920s military plan that would have defended Guam was scrapped without knowledge of the civilian population or many of the military personnel stationed on the island. War Plan Dog took a much different approach:
“Guam was written off. There were no plans to defend Guam. Guam was abandoned. And they were rushing Marines to Wake Island and the Hawaiian Islands and elsewhere. And nothing was going to Guam. They evacuated the American dependents in October, evacuated most of the construction workers a week later and they left Guam totally defenseless. That’s the shame. If they were capable of evacuating 25,000 people, a few more ships could have probably taken 25,000 that wanted to go. That was a potential possibility, but that did not even occur to them. It was not even discussed. It all goes back to the insular cases of 1899, when the people of the United States (Supreme Court) determined that citizenship does not follow the flag. Once that decision was made, you could not be a citizen, just because you were in a territory of the United States. You were second class and it was just a cold, hard reality. And the people [of the United States] did not want to expend their resources to protect second class people… Let me be clear. The soldiers, sailors and marines [who were here] would have fought to defend this island to the very death, but were prevented from doing so by higher authorities. That’s the American shame. That’s the abandonment of an entire American population.”
The occupation of Guam by a foreign power is unique in American history, though largely unknown in the mainland United States. But the names of those whose story is told in the book will be familiar to those acquainted with the island and the Japanese occupation; among them, Sgambelluri, Ignacio Bordallo Butler, Agueda Iglesias Johnston, Joaquin Aflague Limtiaco, Tomas ‘Tommy’ Tanaka, Juan Unpingco Pangelinan and Antonio Cruz Artero.
Bates said of the war survivors and their children, “We have been honored and humbled by the men and women who opened their lives, unveiled their emotions and in some cases, recalled long-suppressed memories of times past. Often dark times. They also spoke of the future as we sat down with them. Their hopes, their dreams, their ambitions. And their perplexities of unrecognized loyalty from their country they believed in and fought for during the occupation. Some shed blood for it. Some died for it. The country they loved.”
“My hat is off to those brave, audacious, cunning men and women of World War II Guam. Think about it. They were surrounded by thousands of armed, Imperial Japanese soldiers. Crack troops. Especially later on, those who came from Manchuria. They were severely punished for even the mere suspicion of disloyalty. Murdered on some occasions for serious or imagined crimes against the Empire of Japan. And for all that, they defied and confused their captors almost on a daily basis. Listened to clandestine radio broadcasts. Protector the elusive American Sailors, protected each other, spread the word of the advancing naval military armada toward Guam and they eventually became aggressors themselves as the pre-invasion American bombing rained down on Guam. They began to take back their villages, they began to protect their own people and at the end of the declaration that ‘the island is now secure,’ they became scouts, searching for remnants of the Japanese army, assisting and guiding marines and soldiers and liberating [themselves] from a captive society. These are the remarkable people of Guam.”