July 21 is the anniversary of the liberation of Guam, a local holiday marking the day, back in 1944, that U.S. forces landed on the island to retake the island from the Japanese.
Most people in America know almost nothing of Guam's role in World War II. They know all about D-Day and other aspects of the "war to end all wars" in Europe, and they know about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, Iwo Jima and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It's always been puzzling to me why the liberation of Guam is so overlooked and underknown.
Guam was the ONLY civilian-populated territory to be invaded and occupied by the Japanese. Yes, I know all about the Aleutian Islands. But those were mostly Navy and Army Air Corps bases and weather stations. The few Inuits that were there were, first, few in number, and, second, didn't have prosperous towns set up. There was some fishing and stuff, but that's about it.
Guam was very different. We had been an American territory since the ceding of the island to the United States by Spain following the Spanish-American War in 1898. We had a naval governor, who was the top-ranking officer of the Naval detachment. We had a bucolic but busting island, with a population in the tens of thousands.
We were bombed on Dec. 8, 1941, just hours later on the same day that Pearl Harbor was bombed (International Dateline, remember?). The Japanese held on in a brutal occupation for more than 2-1/2 years, raping, starving, beating, beheading and killing of the populace. There was forced labor to build airfields and other infrastructure. There were forced marches to concentration camps.
Several families helped hide a holdout U.S. Navy radioman, George Tweed, for years, giving up their limited food and suffering torture to keep him hidden. They kept U.S. flags of all sizes hidden, facing certain death if they were found.
The people of Guam never gave up hope that the U.S. would come back. And they did.
But we have never really been acknowledged for our courage, our sacrifices, our suffering.
When the U.S. signed off on the treaty to end the war with Japan, it obsolved the enemy of any war reparations. Now, it's 62 years later, and most of the people who survived the brutal occupation still haven't received any real compensation, from the United States or otherwise. Every new congressional term, we try to get a bill through Congress for war reparations. It never gets through. There's one there now and the people have hope, but it's a kind of hopeless hope. We're not asking for hundreds of millions. But we still, in the back of our minds, don't think the U.S. government will come through. All they have to do is continue to postpone it, and wait for more and more people to die off.
And yet the people of Guam love our country. Men and women have gratefully and dutily served in the U.S. Armed Forces since before World War II. In Vietnam, Korea, the Persian Gulf War, we have the highest per capita number of citizens killed in action. Our military recruiters never have a problem meeting quota, not even in the middle of wars. Recruiters often win awards for the number of people who annually sign up for military service.
All we ask for is just a little bit of justice.