NEW arrivals to Guam are often somewhat confused to find that July here offers two different holidays that are variations on the theme of liberation. Newbies will require some thought and history to understand.
There’s of course the American national holiday, Independence Day just past, marking the liberation of the colonies from the British after a hard-fought revolution. And then the biggie, major event which brings out the serious fireworks, the July 21, 1944 return to Guam by American forces which freed the island from its cruel occupation by the Japanese imperial forces.
Both holidays have similarities, but you might say the first requires more use of your mind. Recall General Washington and his troops, the American founding fathers and times long past and understandably remote if you grew up in Guam. The second is much more a matter of the heart and the gut. Many still living here remember relatives who were beheaded and treated brutally by the occupiers. They recall personally or from accounts by grandparents, being herded into concentration camps and the massacres of civilians that are marked every year.
Even as World War II was raging, the troops who were sent to the far away (to most Americans) Pacific Theatre complained bitterly that their struggles, sacrifices and victories were overshadowed by the media focus on the war in Europe.
When I was a student at the University of the Philippines, I learned that many of my Filipino counterparts had a limited sense of the worldwide nature of the war. As with Guam, the direct involvement and trauma of the war in the Philippines distracted them from the “big picture.”
If we are to learn from and truly appreciate these annual observances, we will have to engage our brains as well as the heartstrings of our memories, as must others. It has taken many decades, but the history of that terrible war has finally been written, though it clearly has yet to engage lawmakers in Washington who continue to deny final reparations to this once occupied piece of America while righting wrongs to other Americans dating from that time.
We have to get our history straight, crediting everyone who served from the beginning of the American enterprise, back to Washington’s troops and carrying forward to the tens of thousands of American fighters who carried out the 1944 invasion with the help of Guam Scouts and many other forces. Let’s not forget that the future will call for more of the same. Today, we have some 1,800 Guard members, as well as current reservists, and many thousands of our people have served the U.S. military with distinction in the many conflicts since World War II.
We still have a number of challenges to work out with the United States. There are Guam’s political status arrangements, the war reparations and Compact-Impact issues that threaten our government’s finances, not to mention the specifics of the military buildup among others. But all of these tasks can be accomplished because of what binds Guam and our nation: our history.
At some unknown time in the future, we will vote on Guam’s final political status. From the beginning, I’ve been a member of the Statehood Task Force of the Decolonization Commission and statehood is the choice that I believe will be made by that vote.
Happy Independence and Liberation Day!
Sen. Judith Paulette Guthertz, DPA, chairs the 31st Guam Legislature’s Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security. Send feedback to senatorjudiguthertz[at]gmail.com.