While Guam may definitely be unrecognizably different today, there is one thing Raymond Faulkner, of Scottsdale, AZ., believed may still be recognizable.
"The red beach!" said the purple heart and bronze star recipient, alluding to his landing site as a young marine many years ago.
In fact, Faulkner couldn't forget it because the U.S. forces’ main objective that fateful evening as they landed was to "hit the red beach and run up the hill."
Seated, from left, World War II veteran Gordon Rosengren, Lloyd Glick (wife Judy next to him), and Raymond Faulkner. Back row, Guam Visitors Bureau board members and staff. Photo by Alex Rhowuniong
Faulkner, 97, is on island, with fellow Guam liberator Lloyd Glick, 95, and a WWII veteran, Gordon Rosengren, 94, to join the 75th anniversary of Guam liberation.
Faulkner was a private first class with the U.S. Marine Corps Third Division. Rosengren was a seaman first class on LST 377, while Glick took part in the liberation of Guam "right off the island on battleship USS North Carolina of the 5th Fleet."
The three WWII veterans met with members of the local media over breakfast as they told their liberation stories at the Guam Visitors Bureau conference room Thursday morning.
Pilar Laguana, GVB president & CEO, welcomed the trio — who are joined by their families — and thanked them for their role in freeing Guam from Japanese forces 75 years ago.
Faulkner is accompanied by his son, Chris Faulkner. They arrived on Wednesday night. Glick, who was with the Navy, traveled from California with his wife Judy Glick.
Rosengren came with his daughter, Deborah King, who has been here four times already visiting her daughter living here on Guam for the last eight years.
The liberators, Laguana said, are here to participate in our historic Guam Liberation Day Parade and festivities.
"Starting with a series of ceremonies this week leading up to Liberation Day," she also said, looking at the elderly men sitting at the wooden conference table with families. "You may not realize this, gentlemen, but we all think about you every single year when it comes to liberation. We have tried to stay in contact with all of you. I have a long list."
Raymond Faulkner holds his Honorable Discharge certificate from the U.S. Marine Corps. Photo by Alex Rhowuniong
One of the liberators GVB has kept in touch with over the years was Gene Bell, 93, who has been to Guam 18 times. He is from Montana.
Laguana said Bell wanted to be here this year, Laguana, not just to participate once more in the events, but also to meet his fellow liberators. But Bell's health prevented him from boarding his plane.
Bell was on a cell phone during the meeting ready to, at least, talk to the group. Unfortunately, the audio was very low.
"I'm sorry it wasn't very loud, but his heart is loud and his pride for Guam is very, very loud," Laguana said after the brief call.
Bringing the men up to speed on how Guam has done over the years, Laguana told them the island economy has steadily become vibrant via the tourism since the WWII veterans left Guam as youngsters.
She also said the former soldiers must've had "an amazing experience" seeing the transformation of the island.
"It's unbelievable how they have built this up. They've done terrific!" said Rosengren, of Dawson, MN.
Rosengren was on island immediately after the war as part of the cleanup and reconstruction of Guam and Saipan. He knew first hand of a war-torn Guam we only see in photos today.
"We came here from the states and unloaded our (landing ships, tanks)," Rosengren said, adding that there was so much destruction. Shortly, thereafter, his ship went all the way down to New Caledonia to pick up crane loaders for Saipan cleanup as well.
The elder Faulkner, first time back since the war, recalled arriving in Guam waters and becoming very anxious to come ashore on their landing
crafts. The only thing on his mind then was: "Where are the (Japanese), and why are they hiding in the caves?"
He said as they ran up to the top of the hill after jumping off their boats, and were pinned down by a sniper about half a mile away.
One of his friends put his helmet on a stick and raised it up above the rise.
"Every time he raised it up, (the sniper) hit it," said Faulkner, who was a telephone lineman for the artillery.
It was an intense experience as they waited for the night hours to pass.
The next morning brought them relief as artillery was called in and scored a direct hit on the sniper's position with the first shell.
Next to the sniper was another cave that sustained also a direct hit. It was from there where Japanese started pouring out.
Today, Faulkner may not be able to pinpoint his exact landing site. He may not even recognize where they ran into the first group of local Chamorro people that same day after working their way inland.
But he said he is looking forward to re-discovering everything all over again, even though they may not be the same anymore. "I would like to find out," he said, seeming to look past the walls of GVB, perhaps into another time on Guam.
"I don't know what to expect," Faulkner said, referring to the July 21 Liberation Day Parade.
Raymond Faulkner's son, 69-year old Chris Faulkner, said his father has been very excited for many months about coming back to Guam since receiving the invitation.
The younger Faulkner, a financial manager with the Eagle's Group, said he has heard so much about Guam from his father. But now that he is here, he finds it very interesting. He is itching to find out more.
Rosengren's daughter, King, was very impressed with the welcoming gestures given her dad and his comrades already.
"I think already they've been given such a welcome. Appreciation has been shown and I think it’s great for them," she said.
The icing of the story though has to be Raymond Faulkner's pies. He has been sending pies to GVB during Liberation festivities every year.
This year, Faulkner himself hand-delivered two pies to GVB office, just before the conference kicked off.