Monday, February 22, 2021



What was supposed to be a two or three day journey, five hours each way, from Ulithi to Fais, only fifty miles away, ended up being a frightful 53-day lost at sea ordeal, 37 days of them without food.

And Guam served as the hub for the rescue efforts to get the lost sailors back home.

On April 11, 1963, six sailors set sail in a 36-foot traditional outrigger canoe from Fassarai, one of the atolls in Ulithi in Yap State. Their destination was Fais, another atoll some fifty miles to the east. People grew tobacco in Fais and the six sailors leaving Fassarai wanted to trade for tobacco.

The group was lead by Pedro Yamalmai, 34 years old. Three others were from Fassarai : Luis Yoloreg, 45; Pablo Hasgur, 60 and, the oldest in the group, Marcher Yayulfar, 65. There was also Joseph Yormar, aged 62, from another Ulithi atoll called Mogmog. Finally there was Johanes Yguy, aged 42, from Satawal which is not part of Ulithi but it is in Yap State and the two languages and cultures of Ulithi and Satawal have similarities

After ten days at sea and not sighting Fais, they realized they had miss the small atoll and turned back. After some time retracing their route, they saw Fais in the distance, but strong currents overpowered them and pushed the canoe past Fais and towards the west. They tried to sail for Palau, or some other island within the Trust Territory, but when they didn't see any land for days, and with their food and water running low, they decided to head west for the Philippines.

It took them over a month to find the Philippines, some 850 miles from Ulithi, and by day 16 they had no food or water left. They had brought on a lot, but they didn't expect to need two months' worth of supplies for what should have been several days at sea. They still had 37 days to go before finding land. They must have been able to collect some rain water, and eaten some fish straight from the ocean.

Finally, their canoe arrived at Samar, one of the large Philippine islands. They were all in decent shape. No one's life was in peril.

It was not the first time, by the way, that people from western Micronesia ended up on Samar's coast. Mother Nature plays a role, with the trade winds and ocean currents naturally guiding vessels westward from Micronesia. Leyte and Mindanao can also be landing spots for Micronesian canoes lost at sea. This has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. 


Guam entered the rescue scene right away.

Given our geographic location and availability of government and military resources, search planes from Guam went out for 10 days looking for the lost canoe, but with no luck.

When the Ulithi sailors made landfall in Samar, the US Embassy in Manila was contacted. The American officials knew the next step : send them first to Guam.

Imagine these six island sailors who began their voyage in a traditional canoe ended it by flying on a Pan Am jet plane from Manila to Guam. But that's what they did, landing on Guam on June 7, 1963.

Joseph Yormar was the only one who needed medical attention, having injured a foot. He went straight to Naval Hospital. The others went back to Ulithi after a few days on Guam.



Although the six sailors made it to Guam, their canoe didn't.

That canoe weighed a ton. That's 2000 pounds.

So it wasn't something that could just go on the next flight.

It took a while, perhaps longer than the Ulithians wanted, but the Trust Territory Government and the Commander of Naval Forces Marianas put their heads together and got the canoe to Guam by March of 1964, on board a US Coast Guard cutter. From Guam the canoe was sent to Ulithi.

The canoe was vital to the livelihood of the Ulithian sailors. Without it, they could not go from place to place to trade goods.

Monday, February 15, 2021




Just as there is no one way to be Chamorro today, Chamorros had differences among themselves 200 years ago.

These differences can be seen among the Chamorro young men who left the island, most of them permanently, starting in the 1820s, to join the whaling ships that stopped at Apra Harbor. Others also joined merchant ships. 

There's a difference right there. There were many young Chamorro men who would never be interested in leaving island; and there were many others who couldn't wait to leave.

When these Chamorro seamen eventually settled permanently in their chosen lands, they all followed different paths. Some were unable to read or write, and so they could only hold low-paying jobs, while others were more prosperous, a few becoming property owners, businessmen or clerks. Some got married, some never did. Some even ended up in prison.

Today I want to look at one Chamorro seaman whose story is not typical. He wasn't the only one of his kind, but his path in life was not the usual one for the Chamorro settler abroad in that era. He got into retail business, and did some business on the side it seems. Officially he identified himself as a "salesman." But the little we know about him, from newspapers and government documents, shows us a glimpse of a man who was frequently in court for financial and legal issues.  When he couldn't pay back loans, he  lost some assets to pay them back.


I can't say more, because we don't have the documents to tell us the full story. But RAMÓN REYES, better known as RAYMOND REYES in Hawaii, where he settled in 1870, was not the usual Chamorro immigrant who did manual labor or farming as many of them did in Hawaii, or California or wherever else they settled.

REYES made some money. He lost some, too. But he certainly was, as we say, "in the game." He was known in the Honolulu community, and appeared quite a lot in the newspaper and in court.

Take a look at this piece of evidence. Imagine you're a young Chamorro man and you left Guam around 1870, and just thirteen years later you have made enough money and acquired a home to throw a luau party in Honolulu interesting enough to make it in a local newspaper.


This was not a simple meal. Even the road, and not just the house, was decorated and illuminated. There was not just food, but also dancing and musicians. This meant money. Reyes was very unlike most of his Chamorro countrymen in Hawaii and elsewhere; hidden and unnoticed.

How did Reyes make his money? As he called himself in many records, he was a salesman, and it's clear that he was a salesman for the JT Waterhouse Store in Honolulu as early as 1880, just ten years after coming to Hawaii. Waterhouse was an importer and merchant. By 1895, a newspaper called Reyes the "head salesman." 

The fact that Reyes was a salesman for a commercial business in Hawaii in the 1880s tells us a few things. First, that he had command of enough English to be a salesman, dealing with customers and suppliers in that melting pot of Hawaii. In later censuses, Reyes states he can read, write and speak English, and that he could also speak Hawaiian.  And from what you can see from the language of the newspaper notices he posted, his level of English qualified him to be a salesman or clerk, and to do his own business dealings on the side. 

All of this puts Reyes in a category different from many of his fellow Chamorro immigrants. The fact that Reyes was a salesman for Waterhouse just ten years after coming to Hawaii makes me wonder if he had picked up enough English on Guam (as some did), speaking to British and American whalers or learning from the English-speaking settlers on Guam, or if he was just a fast learner once he left Guam.

People were casual about spelling and names in those days

Here's a newspaper notice from 1889 showing that Reyes owned a house and lot which he put up for sale. Knowing his future financial difficulties, I wonder if he had to sell these to cover debts. Maybe not. But the fact that Reyes owned a house and lot, and wasn't just renting, again puts him at a different level from many of his fellow Chamorro immigrants who were living in rented bachelor pads and boarding houses.


At some point, Reyes married a Hawaiian woman named Kapeka. The marriage ended in 1884 when Reyes filed for divorce on the grounds of his wife's adultery. The divorce was granted. There was certainly a daughter born of this marriage named Esther, born in 1882. There seems to have also been a son, but I can't track him down.


And then, in 1888, Reyes' life became intertwined with the lives of five fatherless minors, the children of the deceased Andre Machado, a Portuguese settler in Hawaii. Machado had married a woman named Kulea from the Marshall Islands, according to the 1900 Census. Kulea was still living when Machado died, but the case was brought to court which determined that an administrator of the deceased father's estate be appointed. Reyes was not the first administrator appointed but he was given the position in 1888. He was now responsible for managing the Machado's assets in the interest of the minor children who would, upon reaching adulthood, inherit their share.

The oldest of the five children, Maria, also known as Mary, was not a minor when Reyes became administrator. She turned 18 that same year Reyes became administrator. It was also the same year Reyes married the same Maria Machado. Perhaps that's why Reyes became administrator of the Machado estate. Reyes' children from his first wife Kapeka, did not live with him.

Many Chamorros in Hawaii married Portuguese women, and Chamorros in California married Mexican women, because of the Marianas' Spanish heritage of 200 years.

Maria stuck by Reyes through the ups and downs of their life together till he died in 1909.  They had several children. The oldest, a daughter named Annie, married Fred Owen. The youngest, another daughter name Rosalie (in some documents Rosaline), married Thomas Beckley and then Joseph Keanu. So their descendants all have the Chamorro blood of Ramón Reyes.

daughter of the Chamorro Ramón Reyes

The one son, Valentine Reyes, seems to never have married or have children. He seems to have spent quite a bit of time as a seaman and we lose all trace of him in the end.

Financial Troubles up to the End


The story of Reyes reading his own death notice in 1895 in a Honolulu newspaper is not only humorous; it also shows how well he was known in the community because the newspaper that erroneously reported his death wrote not only that he had died, but also included the circumstances of his death, all of it mistaken. The newspaper said Reyes was "Spanish" and well-liked by the kama'aina (people of the land). In reality, Reyes hadn't died and lived for another fourteen years.


Doubtless Reyes heard that his native island of Guam had been taken by the US in 1898. But was he now, by virtue of being a Guam native, a US citizen? It seemed so to the Hawaii judge, but to be safe Reyes went through the normal naturalization process and was made a naturalized US citizen in 1900.

His people on Guam wouldn't acquire that till 1950.

What a life Reyes had! He was born in 1839. He came to Hawaii around 1870 but before that he could have been on a whaling ship or living elsewhere, for all we know.

He made good for himself as a salesman for a store in Honolulu, but had his share of life's troubles.

He laid down his earthly burdens and passed away in 1909 according to the death certificate. He was buried at the King Street Catholic Cemetery. Rest in peace.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021



We don't hear it too often nowadays, but in the past an expression used now and then was TELEFON HALAIHAI.

It meant "word of mouth," news that spreads from person to person, not what can be read in the newspaper or heard on radio or TV. And today, by phone or internet.

Since people use telephones to communicate one-on-one, the word TELEFON was used.

HALAIHAI refers to the vines that grow especially on beaches. In English, they're known as Morning Glories.

Just as the halaihai is connected by these vines and just as they spread all over, news that is spread all over by people communicating with each when they connect is called the telefon halaihai.

and the

The English counterpart to the halaihai is the GRAPEVINE.

There is the famous song "I Heard it through the Grapevine" sung by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye and others.

The expression "grapevine," like telefon halaihai, means news that is spread by word of mouth.

The origin of the expression comes from the observation that telephone wires reminded people of grapevines.


There's an area of Saipan called Halaihai. If you go to the famous Lourdes shrine in As Teo, just keep heading east.


Monday, February 1, 2021



For some Chamorros, the heart-breaking brutality of war hit them right in the face in the first two hours of Japanese rule on Guam.

Six members of the Limtiaco family by blood lost their lives all at the same time, killed by the Japanese on the very first day of Japanese rule, and all they were doing was fleeing to the relative safety of the ranch lands of Yigo. Many families lost one member in wartime, but imagine six.

Three more people connected to the Limtiacos by marriage perished in the very same incident.

It's a wonder the Limtiaco clan doesn't talk much about this tragedy. Perhaps it's best not to bring up this painful memory.

Five other people, not related or connected to the Limtiacos but who were from the same village, were murdered in the very same massacre. Seventeen civilians were attacked, fourteen died, two were wounded but survived and one escaped without injury.


From the moment the Japanese began the aerial bombardment of Guam on December 8, continuing on the 9th, the people living in municipal communities fled to the rural parts of the island. They believed they would be safer from bullets and bombs that way. Half the island lived in Hagåtña and most of them fled to their ranch lands in central and northern Guam. People in the south generally fled for their ranch lands or mountain valleys. 

Hagåtña's streets were congested with every sort of vehicle transporting people out of the city. Even the priests used their cars to load people up all day and night on the 8th and 9th to get them to safety. People with cars didn't help just their own families, many transported whoever they found in need.

A branch of the Limtiaco family had been in the auto business for many years already. Santiago Aflague Limtiaco of Asan was one of the earliest civilians to buy a car on Guam, purchasing one in 1916 from Atkins Kroll. He turned it into a business, hiring himself out to whoever needed transportation. His brothers followed suit, many of them being identified in censuses as chauffeurs or garage owners. The Limtiacos began in Asan, but in time some of them moved to Piti, besides the few in the family who moved to Hagåtña and Sumay.

So the Limtiacos were also occupied those first two days of the war shuttling people from Piti and Asan to the ranch lands of the north, using the family and family business cars. Time was critical, so they drove all hours of the day and night.


Sadly, the last group of Limtiacos in Piti and Asan began their ill-fated trip north right at the same time the Japanese were landing their troops at Apotguan Beach, better known nowadays as Dungca's Beach. Seventeen people from Piti and Asan, two-thirds of them Limtiacos by blood or connected by marriage to the Limtiacos, piled into a jitney owned by the Limtiacos and headed for Hagåtña with Yigo as their final destination. The other third of the passengers were from two other families in Piti.

There are conflicting stories about who was the driver. Tony Palomo wrote in a newspaper story that Juan Limtiaco Blas was the driver. But Gregorio Aflague San Nicolas' daughter Daidai, who was 8 years old at the time, says her father, who was married to a Limtiaco, was the driver. Daidai also says that the jitney belonged to her grandfather, Santiago Aflague Limtiaco.

Once past Hagåtña, the plan was to take the road that followed the shore into Trinchera, now known as East Agaña. The next place would be Apotguan, and from there the road went north to Yigo.  The problem was the Japanese were going to be on the exact, same road at the exact, same time! And the Japanese were not going to bother to check IDs before shooting. They were in attack mode. Shoot anything that moves.

of the Limtiacos on December 10

Couldn't the Limtiacos have known they were heading towards danger? No, they couldn't.

The Japanese landing around 4AM that morning was done without bombs or artillery. There was no one to shoot at. The American Marines and Navy men were not there, and neither were any local defense force. The Japanese had zero opposition when they landed at Apotguan. Only the light of flares shot into the sky to provide some illumination for the Japanese wading ashore alerted the Americans that something was going on in Apotguan. But this information was not made public; it was sent to the Governor. It was all happening "in the moment." There was no way to tell the people, most of whom had deserted the city by that time anyway. There was no radio station on Guam, broadcasting the latest local news.

So when the Limtiaco jitney made it past Hagåtña and were in Trinchera on the quiet road heading north, they had no idea that 400 trigger-happy Japanese soldiers were moving in their direction. As we all know from driving through East Agaña, Marine Corps Drive is hemmed in on one side by the bay and on the other side by steep cliffs. There is not much of an escape route.


Out of the blue, the Japanese opened fire when they heard or faintly saw an approaching vehicle. Juan Limtiaco Blas, yelled, "I've been hit!" The tires of the car were punctured with bullets, making a hasty U turn impossible, with the driver hit and eventually dead.

Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás, around 32 years old, was able to jump out as soon as he heard the gun fire. Without getting hit at all, he dashed for the cliffs and, with the adrenalin running, scaled the steep walls of the cliff till he reached the top, around the place where Jerry Calvo's home is at the Calvo Compound in Maite. He was the only one to escape without harm. He hid in the Maite area for two days before learning it was safe to come out, eating corn he found growing in the location. According to his daughter, who was 8 years old at the time, the family began saying the rosary for the dead when he didn't turn up in those 2 days or so.

Everyone else were either shot or stabbed by bayonet or both. The oldest was Nicolasa Camacho Santos Sablan, aged 51 or so. She was from the Tibutsio clan of Piti and married a Sablan. She was holding a statue of San Vicente Ferrer on her lap as she rode on the jitney. The youngest to die were around 14 years old; Joaquín Limtiaco San Nicolás and Rosa Barcinas Yamanaka.

The massacre was tinged with a note of bitter irony. The only victims who were not Limtiacos by blood or connected to the Limtiacos by marriage were half-Japanese, half-Chamorro residents of Piti brought along by the Limtiacos; the Matsumiya siblings and Rosa Yamanaka. The Japanese had killed their own; individuals who would have been treated a cut above the others during Japanese Rule by the very Japanese who killed them.


Vicente Aflague Limtiaco, the leader of the group, was bayoneted but didn't die. The same for Joaquín Santos Sablan, who was seriously injured but not dead. Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás, Vicente's sister, was stabbed eight times by Japanese bayonets, from her head to her torso. She played dead, restraining her breathing, when Japanese soldiers inspected the bodies.

The three survivors were perhaps helped by the fact that the Japanese didn't have the freedom to linger. Their mission was to take over Hagåtña, the capital city, so off they went, leaving the three wounded wherever they were lying.

By 6AM, only two hours after landing ashore, the Japanese were in control of Hagåtña, as Governor McMillin signed the letter of surrender. Local Japanese residents were quickly identified to help with interpreting and telling various people what the Japanese wanted done. Some of the half-Japanese, half-Chamorro sons of these Japanese residents were also called to lend a hand with Japanese organizing efforts.

As the victims in Trinchera lay on one of the main roads in and out of Hagåtña, it was only a matter of time when automobiles would pass once the fighting was over. A half-Japanese Chamorro, Joaquín Torres Shimizu, sent on an errand by the Japanese that he couldn't get out of, drove by and promised Magdalena to alert people to come help her and the survivors. 

Then a truck passed by. In it was a Japanese soldier who, according to Magdalena's daughter, was ready to kill the three survivors, but the driver, a half-Japanese, half-Chamorro named Félix Flores Sakai, convinced the soldier not to do it. This truck took the three survivors to the hospital where they were treated. Unfortunately, Joaquín Santos Sablan did not last long, dying some days later as a result of his injuries sustained in the attack. His death was merely postponed for a period after the massacre and he truly died at the hands of the Japanese.

Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás, who escaped with his life in the massacre, eventually did die during the Japanese Occupation, in 1943, according to some.  His daughter told me that he was already sick from exposure to the sun and rain, and the Japanese came to their ranch in Yigo looking for him and beat him up so that he died as a result. So, in the end, only two people in the group attacked by the Japanese in Trinchera lived beyond the war to tell the story, Vicente Aflague Limtiaco and his sister Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás, except that, like most who went through the war, bitter memories were best left unspoken rather than retold. No book was written by them nor interviews published. Stories were told only at select times to select people.

Vicente would have to deal with some physical effects for the rest of his life, on account of the multiple stabs he suffered from the bayonet. That didn't stop him from serving the Piti community as Commissioner (today's Mayor) for sixteen years (1957-1973). The public cemetery at Tiguac is named after him. Magdalena passed away in 1976; Vicente in 1984.

I wonder what Vicente and Magdalena felt, and what images flashed in their minds, when they would journey on Marine Corps Drive in Trinchera (East Agaña) where, in an instant, bullets and bayonets tried to take away their lives, and did take away the lives of loved ones. Physical scars heal, but the emotional ones may have hurt all the way till their deaths.

Brother and sister Vicente Aflague Limtiaco and Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás


Had it been feasible to identify the actual Japanese soldiers who shot or bayoneted the Chamorros at Trinchera, it's possible they could have been tried for war crimes. But many Japanese soldiers who committed atrocities could never have been brought to justice, not only because many could not be identified, but also because many never lived long enough to face trial. Few Japanese surrendered at the end of war; most died in battle, even committing suicide rather than be captured.

The Japanese soldiers at Trinchera killed unarmed, non-combatant civilians, among them teenagers and a woman in her fifties. Those Japanese soldiers were not responding to enemy shooting. They were the first and the only ones to shoot. Even if they argued that they could not know, in the darkness of the early morning hours, that the approaching jitney was filled with harmless civilians, they cannot argue that once they started bayoneting their victims they didn't know.

Burying the Chamorro war dead was not high on the list of priorities for the Japanese. Local people, including the priests, had to take the initiative to get clearance from the Japanese to bury the dead, including the victims at Trinchera. Digging graves for the rapidly decaying bodies was exhausting work. Father Calvo, soaked with perspiration, told Bishop Olano he had to leave the burying to some other priests already helping. I cannot find any reliable source telling us where the bodies were buried, but my sense is that they were buried right in that area. Normal burial customs (at the cemetery) were disrupted in those destabilizing first days of war. Even Gregorio's daughter Daidai thinks her relatives were buried just in that area.

One source, probably relying on Dorothea SN Furukawa, Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás' daughter, says the massacre happened in the general area of the Mobil Station in East Agaña (Trinchera). Daidai Taitano, daughter of Gregorio San Nicolás, says her father climbed the cliff below Jerry Calvo's Maite home. So these two bits of information help us get closer to pinpointing the area of the massacre and the probable burial spot.


For many years we have been honoring, and rightly so, the memory of innocent victims in the massacres at Tinta and Faha in Malesso', and more recently at Chagui'an and Fena. Perhaps a memorial can be erected at Trinchera Beach to honor the memory of the seventeen unarmed civilians attacked by the Japanese on the first day of Japanese Rule.

Even the Japanese themselves, with the encouragement of Father Oscar Luján Calvo, built a memorial to the Chamorros who died in the Japanese bombardment and invasion of Guam. The monument disappeared during the destruction that accompanied the American invasion of 1944. Gregorio's daughter Daidai says there was some marker put in Trinchera after the war to commemorate the massacre but that, over time, the marker was worn down, probably from the natural elements, and disappeared.


I will give the names of the seventeen in two different ways, depending on what information is desired. First, just a list of names in alphabetical order, with their ages :


Blas, Ana Limtiaco (19)
Blas, Juan Limtiaco (22) - the driver
Limtiaco, Rosa Aflague (35)
Matsumiya, Jesús Mendiola (25)
Matsumiya, José Mendiola (23)
Matsumiya, Josefina Mendiola (24)
Matsumiya, Tomás Mendiola (19)
Sablan, Joaquín Santos (15) - died some time after the massacre but due to his wounds
Sablan, Nicolasa Camacho Santos (51)
Sablan, Vicente Santos (23)
San Nicolás, Joaquín Limtiaco (14)
San Nicolás, José Limtiaco (15)
San Nicolás, María Limtiaco (19)
Yamanaka, Rosa Barcinas (14)


Limtiaco, Vicente Aflague (27) - head of the group
San Nicolás, Magdalena Aflague Limtiaco (29)


San Nicolás, Gregorio Aflague (32) 


Half of the seventeen people in the Trinchera Massacre were Limtiacos by blood and another four were connected to the Limtiacos through marriage.


Three were siblings :

Vicente Aflague Limtiaco, the coordinator of the trip to Yigo that ended in massacre.
Magdalena Aflague Limtiaco, married to Antonio Flores San Nicolás.
Rosa Aflague Limtiaco, who never married.


Magdalena's two children :

María Limtiaco San Nicolás
Joaquín Limtiaco San Nicolás

Then there were nieces and nephews, children of Limtiaco siblings who were not traveling with the group that morning :

The children of Joaquina Aflague Limtiaco, married to José Blas :

Juan Limtiaco Blas
Ana Limtiaco Blas

The son of María Aflague Limtiaco, married to Vicente Flores San Nicolás :

José Limtiaco San Nicolás


The Sablans were the in-laws of Vicente Limtiaco, who had married Martina Santos Sablan. Nicolasa was Martina's mother, so Vicente's mother-in-law, and Vicente and Joaquín Sablan were Martina's brothers, and thus Vicente's brothers-in-law.

Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás was married to the Limtiacos' niece, Matilde, daughter of their brother Santiago Aflague Limtiaco and his wife Ana Flores San Nicolás. Gregorio was thus, Chamorro-style, their nephew-in-law.


The Limtiacos, as I mentioned, started in Asan but some family members moved elsewhere, including Piti just a mile away. The two villages being neighbors, there was some fluidity in movement between relatives in both places. For example, there are some Limtiacos who lived in Piti who are included in the memorial to the war dead from Asan. But, according to the 1940 Guam Census, just a year before the war, here are the residences of the seventeen people involved in the Trinchera Massacre :

PITI (14 people)

Vicente Aflague Limtiaco, Magdalena Limtiaco San Nicolás, José Limtiaco San Nicolás, María Limtiaco San Nicolás, Joaquín Limtiaco San Nicolás, Gregorio Aflague San Nicolás, Nicolasa Santos Sablan, Joaquín Santos Sablan, Vicente Santos Sablan, José Mendiola Matsumiya, Jesús Mendiola Matsumiya, Tomás Mendiola Matsumiya, Josefina Mendiola Matsumiya and Rosa Barcinas Yamanaka.

ASAN (3 people)

Rosa Aflague Limtiaco, Juan Limtiaco Blas, Ana Limtiaco Blas