The late Regina Manibusan Reyes told of being raped when she was six months pregnant after she had snuck back down from her in-laws’ ranch in Agana Heights to her home in Hagåtna to get clothes for her children in the wake of the Japanese invasion. She yelled, “NO!” but the soldier pointed his rifle at her and shoved her up against the wall.
The late former Senator John Lujan Anderson and Jose Mansapit were beaten and narrowly escaped being beheaded. They escaped, and together with Jose Quinene, slipped Anderson’s badly wounded father into a canoe and paddled out a mile from the Malesso shore, where they were picked up by the U.S.S. Hudson.
The late Jose Torres was among a group of men that clubbed a group of Japanese soldiers to death and then paddled out to a sea of U.S. ships in the dead of night to tell the Americans that the Japanese were massacring the CHamoru people. They were picked up by the U.S.S. Wadsworth.
The late Jesus Baza told of being held prisoner by a group of Japanese soldiers in Agat. Waiting until the soldiers were drunk on sake, Baza and some others attacked and killed them - with rocks, sticks, and one even commandeered a gun from a soldier. “It was us or them,” Baza told me.
Although these survivors of the occupation of Guam during World War II are no longer with us, their stories reveal the strength of Guam’s greatest generation.
These accounts remind us to look beyond the wrinkles that etch the faces of remaining survivors. To look beyond toothless grins, bodies bent and wracked by arthritis and other ailments. To see and honor the memories of steely, strong-willed men, women and children who, often starving and injured, fought back. Endured. Lived on to grow up, raise families and contribute to what Guam is today.
How often do we look into the eyes of our manamko’ who are 75 years old or older and see the mettle that it took to endure beatings, rape, forced labor, and hunger to the brink of starvation?
Probably not often enough.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of what this precious generation lived through during the occupation. Every day, their number dwindles. They shrug at the decades-old talk of reparations and how close we are to getting them compensation for what they went through. Yet we still have a duty to honor them. Not only with a huge parade and fireworks on July 21st, but every day that they live and even after that. Because although age has erased their physical strength and many have passed on, their stories allow that fortitude to inspire future generations of CHamorus.
The 75th Liberation organizing committee is compiling a 100-page booklet of survivor stories. Honor your family’s survivor by making sure his or her story is in it. Send the story and a photo to either firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember. Honor. Cherish Guam’s greatest generation.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.