The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Guam from Japanese occupation has come and gone. The celebrations, the memorials, and the parade are over. Next year, fewer living war survivors will remain to tell their stories. Soon, we will have to rely on videos and written accounts to honor their strength and resilience in the face of unimaginable circumstances.
Some years ago, when I attended the annual Manenggon memorial, I spoke with a war survivor who told me that his three-year-old sister had died along the way during the original march to Manenggon. He relayed how his distraught mother had begged her brother and father to mark her baby’s grave well so that they could find her after the war. They never did.
I thought about that story on July 7th, as I joined several hundred people who retraced the infamous steps forced on thousands of CHamorus by Japanese solders 75 years ago. One of this year’s participants was Tun Juan Guzman, who today is 85 years old, but who was a boy of 10 during that first march. The first three years of the Manenggon Memorial, he walked here from Agat. Every year since then, he has walked from Ylig Bridge, carrying the Manenggon Foundation flag along the way. Originally from the village of Sumay, Mr. Guzman says he will keep honoring his fellow survivors “while I’m still alive.”
Willy Flores, chairman of the Manenggon Memorial Foundation, spoke in CHamoru at this year’s ceremony about the importance of reminding our children and grandchildren about their elders’ war experiences. “All of you are heroes,” he said to the dwindling number of survivors present.
Those of us who walked with Mr. Guzman were drenched in sweat by the time we got to the memorial site. I couldn’t help thinking that 75 years ago, the road was not paved, there weren’t people driving by in utility vehicles handing out plastic bottles of ice-cold water, and when the people arrived in Manenggon, there was no lunch awaiting them. It was raining and muddy, most of the people had no shoes, and there was no food. Anywhere.
“We were so hungry,” my mother-in-law remembers.
At Tinta and Faha in Malesso, the Japanese massacred nearly 50 people with grenades, bayonets, and machine guns.
This year – my first time at Tinta – the woman who led the rosary, Jackie Hale, thanked me for coming. She told me she always recognizes new faces, and appreciates when people take the time to remember the sacrifice of her grandfather, Ramon Garrido Garrido, and the other Malesso residents killed when Japanese soldiers herded them into the cave at Tinta and threw grenades at them and then bayonetted them.
Unless you are a veteran who has served in combat, it is hard to imagine these scenarios. Would we, with our air conditioning, our propensity for fast food, and our ubiquitous cell phones, be able to survive under such conditions? Would we have the strength, the courage, or the resilience that a generation of now-withered faces and bodies once did? Hopefully, we never have to find out.
But remembering what our manamko’ suffered through and lived through during the war is vital to CHamoru history. Their stories can serve to inspire a generation of young people, some of whom seem to be turning to increasingly self-destructive behaviors when they perceive that life is not going their way. Telling them that their ancestors’ strong blood runs through their veins may help some of our youth to better handle increasingly complicated 21st century troubles.
Tell the stories of your family’s manamko’. Pass these stories down to your children and grandchildren. To remember is to honor them. Doing so can help to inspire a whole new generation.
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Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.