For 73 years now, those who survived internment at the remote camp along the Manenggon River, have gathered to ensure that younger generations—among them, their own children—never forget what happened there. It took many of them decades to even be able to talk about what occurred at Manenggon and many other locations on Guam as the Japanese occupiers realized the unfolding American invasion was going to end their temporary reign.
Massacres, never explained disappearances of family members and ghastly scenes of corpses lining roads as families, babies in arms fled, are all part of these nightmare memories.
Ron Guzman of Agat, now 83, shares these and other recollections of life endured at Manenggon. And like many of his peers, Guzman wonders if the current generation of youth could even handle such stress. “Nothing food. We survived by going into the jungle, eating banana, whatever was available. Papaya, but mostly coconut.”
Ron Guzman meets the press
Guzman said that for all the negatives about the remote camp, it was safer than places closer to the combat action. “What I remember is all the people who were left behind.”
Guzman said that one of his uncles who did not go to Manenggon, was killed in the Tinta massacre of July 15, 1944.
He wonders about the lack of self-sufficiency by the younger generation, should they be faced with such trauma. “They have to learn from the older people like me.” Guzman says he raised pigs, cows and goats to get by after the war, before doing a hitch in the Navy, later becoming an electrician on Guam.
Now increasingly infirm, many of the survivors could not make the traditional commemorative march from the Ylig River Bridge, arriving instead by bus. But their children, grandchildren and a wide range of supporters from the U.S. military, Guam Police and Firefighters and other government agencies made the trek in their stead.
Guam Senator Regine Biscoe Lee:
“But we must never forget what happened here. Our people were forced to march across the island, some from as far away as Yigo, with their children in their arms and what few possessions they had and with some perishing along the way. They were held here indefinitely and under very harsh conditions. Here in Manenggon, as many as 20,000 Chamorros were imprisoned, starved, beaten and exposed to the unforgiving elements. They lived under constant threat of massacre. And after the war, it became clear how close they came to suffering that fate… My generation has never known this kind of hardship and I pray that we never will.”
Some of later generations have taken on the duty of their grandparents who were in the camp. Orianna Villasoto Sevilla spoke for her Grandmother, Dee Villasoto.
Orianna Villasoto Sevilla
“After marching through the southern hills of Guam [my grandmother] came to Manenggon. She was seven years old by then. They stayed by the river in a pala pala and out of the way of the Japanese soldiers. They did what they could to survive with the rations they brought from Fena.”
Pale Eric Forbes said that there was a lesson to be learned from the events of this horrific period. We must all abide by our conscience.
“We know from stories during the war that some people were pressured by their family members to do something against their conscience, just in order to stay out of trouble with the Japanese. But these people disagreed and were faithful to their conscience, rather than give their teenage daughters up for the pleasure of some soldiers or to provide the Japanese with information that would get innocent people in trouble and possibly cause them to lose their lives.”
Hisatsugu Shimizu, Consul General to Guam lays wreath Lt Governor Ray Tenorio looks on