By Frank Whitman
About 450 people attended a reactivation and renaming ceremony for Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Asan Beach Unit of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park.
Attendees included the commandant of the Marines Corps, the governor of Guam, Guam’s delegate to the U.S. Congress, Japanese government officials other local dignitaries and military officials as well as veterans, survivors of the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II, relatives of the late Brig. Gen. Vicente Tomas “Ben” Garrido Blaz after whom the base is named, and members of the public. About 100 guests traveled from off-island for the ceremony.
The base is the result of a 2005 agreement between the U.S. and Japan that included the transfer of U.S. Marine units assigned to Okinawa to Guam. The Japanese government agreed to contribute about $3 billion to help fund construction of facilities to support the move. Though it has been delayed and undergone some minor changes, completion of the Defense Policy Realignment Initiative, as it is known, is in sight.
The first sizeable contingent of Marines is expected to arrive at Camp Blaz in 2024 and the population of the 4,000-acre base is to grow incrementally until 2030 when it is to have its full complement of approximately 5,000 Marines. There are currently less than 50 Marines assigned to Guam.
As regional security concerns have heightened in recent years, the base has grown in importance and scope.
Blaz was born and raised in Guam and was 13 years old at the time of the Japanese invasion. After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Note Dame and joined the Marines and was commissioned a second lieutenant. During his time as a Marine he served overseas in Japan and in Vietnam. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and rose through the ranks to become the first CHamoru general officer.
Blaz retired from the Marine Corps in 1981 and returned to Guam. In 1984 he was elected to become Guam’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served four terms.
Camp Blaz was administratively activated in 2020, but the Covid pandemic delayed the larger ceremony until Thursday.
During the reactivation ceremony, Marines from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines drilled and rendered honors. The Marine Forces Pacific Band played and marched in formation. A U.S. flag was unfurled followed by the unfurling of the Camp Blaz flag.
Speakers during the ceremony spoke of Blaz’s resilience and perseverance, his service to the U.S., and his commitment to Guam. They also spoke about the significance of the Marine base that bears his name.
“Those who were fortunate to know Gen. Blaz remember that he was a man of vision who after his military career worked tirelessly on behalf of Guam to insure that our island was treated with respect by those in power in Washington,” said Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero.
She also repeated a well-known Blaz quote which, she said, “best reflects the current situation of Guam and the other U.S. territories: ‘We are equal in war, but not in peace.’”
“(We are) still not equal but we have made progress,” she said. “I believe that on the horizon lies the opportunity that Ben wished for our people.”
The governor was followed by Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps who also reflected on Blaz as a person and his accomplishments as a leader.
Berger recounted how Blaz had watched from the hills overlooking the ocean as Marines prepared to land on Guam to retake the island from occupying Japanese forces. He eventually came to command that same unit – 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines. “It’s an amazing story,” he said.
“Ben Blaz did not just build bridges,” Berger said. “He was happy to walk across them and I think the lessons he taught us during and after his service in uniform echo so loudly here today.”
“Together we have built this bridge - Camp Blaz - and together we will ensure a secure, a free, and open Pacific,” Berger said.
Also speaking were Meredith Berger, assistant secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment; Jiro Kimura, parliamentary vice minister of defense for Japan; Yuumi Yoshikawa, parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs for Japan, and Vince Blaz, grandson of Ben Blaz.
Yoshikawa spoke of Guam’s importance in the region.
“The Japan and U.S. alliance is the cornerstone of the people, the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the linchpin of Japan’s foreign policy,” she said. “Our goal is to prevent unnecessary conflict in the Indo-Pacific and utilizing the region’s potential for stability and prosperity for the wider world. And Guam is located at the forefront of such effort.”
Vince Blaz spoke of his grandfather’s life and his long career of service in uniform and in Congress. “My grandfather always believed that his people of Guam deserved a special place in the American family,” he said.