At the Mañenggon Freedom Run yesterday, I got a chance to ride the bus with the survivors; people who, though just children and teens at the time, remember life under the Japanese.
Naturally I tried to get as much information as I could from them.
Not everyone was ordered to go to Mañenggon; there were other camps.
But the order to march to Mañenggon was put into effect on July 10. The people started trickling in after a day or two, depending on their point of origin. They brought with them what they could, but some were hampered by having to carry their elderly and sickly.
Once in the valley, they cut down what they could to build ramshackle huts. The earth was the floor for most. People would sleep on top of each other in many cases, or sit side by side and lean against their flimsy walls. People answered the call of nature wherever they could do so with some privacy.
People weren't starving, but they made do with what they had brought and what they could find. They were forbidden from making fires, to prevent being detected by the Americans from the smoke during the day or the glow of fire by night.
It wasn't always one family per hut; some people too packed in their own huts wandered off to see if they could spend the night in a hut less crowded.
The camp wasn't guarded by hundreds of Japanese. Those men were needed at the scene of battle; not guarding harmless civilians. A "skeleton crew," as one man said, was all there was; enough to man three machine guns which were meant to shoot down all the Chamorros in the camp. A trench was dug (by the Chamorros themselves under Japanese supervision) to easily dump in the bodies and cover them with dirt.
Some people were physically injured, many were slapped, punched or kicked; but most of the suffering was emotional and psychological. Women, in particular, were a vulnerable target. Some were raped, but others were forced to strip naked while some Japanese inspected their privates to mock the woman, to the laughter of other Japanese looking on.
The taicho, or Japanese commander at Mañenggon, was of the worst sort. A man who enjoyed playing on the fears of the women, especially, and dishonoring their modesty.
Guards would take out their daggers or swords and pretend to thrust or swing them, and then have a laugh at the frightened Chamorros. Guns weren't used. As one man said, "The Japanese never wasted a bullet on us. It was always the sword."
One never knew if this was the day they'd die or not. Those machine guns were a constant reminder of that possibility in the three weeks they stayed there.
Then one day, according to one woman, the Japanese started to demand that people turn in to them all their knives, machetes and other such objects. "Ramenta," the lady said, "metal tools." They said they needed them for their upcoming battle against the Americans. Then, one morning, the Chamorros woke up and the Japanese skeleton crew was gone. They assumed they went north to fight in the battle.
"Man må'pos ha'." "They just up and left." And that was that.
Then, on July 28, according to one lady, they heard the drums of the Americans. Others say they saw American soldiers ("Greek gods," according to another lady) coming over the hill. Chamorro soldiers, who had joined the military before the war and were out of Guam when the Japanese invaded in 1941, were part of the landing force in 1944 and were needed to help identify who were Chamorros and get information from them. Two names I heard were George "Boy" Cristobal and Manuel "Nai" Perez.
The man åmko' had many other stories to tell me, as we killed time waiting for the formal event to commence.
Not all Japanese were bad
One man said he was sent to Japanese school in Mangilao. But, then, after about six or seven months of that, he was told to stop and to start work being a servant of the military in the area. He would be the one to serve the soldiers food and drink. This was how he met one Captain Homma.
This Chamorro boy (at the time, around 12 years old), served Homma a drink and Homma said, in perfectly clear English, "Thank you very much," That struck up a conversation between the two - in English! Homma had been born in the U.S. and actually had a sister still in the U.S during the war. Being of pure Japanese blood, he went back to Japan to live or study for a while and the war broke out. He was drafted. Privately, he told this Chamorro boy that he was against the war himself and that the Americans would win. He told the boy, "The Americans will invade Guam on August 14, 1944."
The boy wondered, "Why is he telling me all this!" Later, he reflected that if the Americans had truly waited till August to invade Guam, the Chamorros may have all been killed by then.
Homma was a smoker and gave the boy Japanese cigarettes to smoke. The Chamorro man's been a lifelong smoker ever since, and he's now in his 80s.
She was one bad Japanese, according to the Chamorros. She had a business on Guam before the war and just as soon as the Japanese entered Guam in 1941, she was flexing her muscles. She seemed to enjoy getting Chamorros in trouble with the Japanese.
She had a saying that, if the Americans did succeed in coming back to Guam, the Japanese would destroy everything and everyone, so that the Americans wouldn't even find any råro'. What she meant was lålo', or "fly" in Chamorro. But she couldn't pronounce the L so she said råro'.
The curious thing, some have said, is that she was never found after the war. They assume she followed the Japanese up north to the last battle sites, and either committed suicide or was a war casualty. Her body has never been identified. But some Chamorros say that maybe her dead body rotted in the hot sun, covered with råro'.
Not a nice story, but one must keep in mind how many Chamorros felt about her, given her behavior during the Japanese occupation.
"I will not accept money from the U.S."
One of the older Chamorro men made his opinion quite clear to me about war reparations.
He won't say this publicly, "Or else they'll skin me alive," he says.
But he says, "The Americans liberated us. Many of them died to free us. That's good enough for me. We lost everything, but the U.S. came back and liberated us. If they send me a check for war reparations, I will put it in an envelope and send it back."
Well, that's his opinion and we're free to have them.