The vote was unanimous, but island man'amko who survived World War II are entitled to wonder, after all these years, how much it will matter to them.
The just passed resolution expresses "the Guam Legislature's unwavering support for the payment of war claims to our man'amko and the support of Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas's H.R. 1141 as well as well as Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero in finding an administrative solution to authorizing the U.S. Department of the Treasury to begin issuing war claim payments.
There were only a handful of man'amko in the legislature's public hearing room when the public hearing on the resolution was held, but they've been telling their stories and making claims for the brutality they suffered since 1946.
It was clear that they've lost patience with being forced to plead for compensation and hope that, somehow, something long overdue, will get done.
So as those with childhood and adult memories of the war watched, but chose not to testify to the lawmakers, Joe Garrido filled in for them before Sen. Amanda L. Shelton's committee. He was a toddler at the time of the occupation, but he has memories of the end of it with the American invasion and the immediate post-war times on Guam. He shed some tears while recalling this.
"Every time I talk about this, I remember the hardship. I remember my young sister. We built a casket for her. I'm just glad she didn't die. But it is those stories that really hurts. Maybe by crying a little this morning, the people I represent in speaking today . At least they have someone to speak for them."
Garrido said he wasn't "completely satisfied" with the settlement reached, or with payment out of Section 30 funds due to Guam--in effect paying for war compensation out of its own funds, but he believes it's the best that can be done, given the huge loss to date of those who suffered during the war to date and the imminent demise of the rest. His entire family, for example, had died before the settlement was released.
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Vicky Gayer, a Guam resident for decades, was not born until 1951, when the United States, by treaty, absolved Japan from further war compensation due to Guam for actions during its occupation of the island. Her father fought and war injured on Guam and other Pacific points during the war. He told her about the end of the war on Guam.
"It was a dangerous time. The people, the survivors who parents who have passed already suffered because of the post-traumatic stress their parents went through. And I know this to be true. When I came 46 years ago, they were traumatized people. I was born in 1951, but I know that the kids that were born suffered. They didn't survive, because they starved. And the ones that did survive suffered, because their parents, their mothers that were raped. These children, many of them children of soldiers, they had to do what they had to do to survive. Those people deserve some of this money."
It was a short hearing, with seemingly little more to say about an issue that on Guam is no longer controversial, if it ever was. What did those with truly first-hand memories and experiences think?
Sisters Rose Duenas Diaz, 83 and Agnes Perez Unpingco, 89, whose family ranch was in what is now Mongmong-Toto-Maite Village have vivid memories of the Mangengon concentration camp, attempting to sleep without shelter in the rain along the river with little food. Both thought the younger generation did a good job of backing them up at the hearing.
“What they did was very good representing to honor us older war survivors, that we should be recognized and be paid for what they deserve. All our survivors are dying now and because of our age now,” Diaz said.
“I’m 89. You know, could be tomorrow [laughs]. I’ll be gone,” Unpingo said.
But Rosa Quitano, 80, isn’t particularly forgiving about how the war claims have been handled over the years by the U.S. “These atrocities were caused by the Japanese and the United States excused them for what they have done," she said.
"I was a small three or four year old and I stayed in Sumay because my father worked there. And all this time when we heard the bombing we ran. My mother distribute her 13 children to different people. I was crying. I was sick, crying and hungry all the way to Agat and then Mannengon. So I suffered and I remember vividly. When they start this thing of assessing how they’re going to pay people, they had to work through the level of difficulty and what people experienced before they even distributed any compensation. Not everyone suffered like we do…”
“You know, when we rest a little bit, the Japanese have long sticks and they hit you. You know, ‘get up, go.’ You have to keep walking, walking,” Unpingco said.
And so the long and arduous march toward some sort of just and equitable settlement of the war reparation claims by the oldest war survivors continues. In the end, once again, decisions in Washington, D.C., thousands of miles from the reality suffered on the island so long ago will decide the outcome.
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