2011-06-30 / Opinions

Guam’s Liberation Day celebration gives heartfelt thanks to U.S. forces

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I n a certain part of the United States, a tiny, distant part, the Fourth of July isn’t the biggest patriotic holiday in July.

On the island of Guam, Liberation Day on July 21 is the bigger celebration. Liberation Day marks the day that American forces freed Guam and the Chamorro people from a brutal Japanese occupation in 1944. When my family and I were stationed on Guam in the 1980s, memories were still strong of the hundreds of Guamanians executed, raped or tortured by the occupying Imperial Japanese Army, and deep were their feelings of appreciation for the American Marines, sailors and soldiers who liberated them.

For those of you who couldn’t find Guam on a globe with both hands, it’s a beautiful tropical Pacific island 3,500 miles beyond Hawaii. The island, only 30 miles long and 4 to 8 miles wide, has been a valuable communications, fuel and provision stop for ships for more than a century, and has been territory of the United States since 1898. Guam hosted a small Navy base and a Marine Corps barracks all through the early 1900 – until December, 1941.

The day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked Guam en mass, killing or capturing the entire Navy and Marine garrison except for a few men who escaped into the hills, surviving with the help of a few brave Guamanians. For their loyalty to America, the Japanese brutally persecuted Guamanian men, women and children for 31 long months, executing many by beheading.

The Territory of Guam was the only part of the United States ever captured by the Japanese.

When the 3rd Marine Division hit the beach on July 21, 1944, it only took the Marines, Army – with the Navy bombarding from offshore – three weeks to defeat the Japanese.

Some 1,700 Americans, mostly Marines, died liberating Guam, and thousands more injured, and the people of Guam hold that memory dear in their hearts. Guam Liberation Day is a big state holiday there, with schools and offices closed so everyone can enjoy their town’s Liberation Day fiesta, then come to the big parade marching down Marine Drive, the main drag in downtown Hagatna.

The parade route actually passes some of the beaches where the U.S. assault landed, and through a city totally destroyed in the battle for Guam.

I’ll never forget the Liberation Day parade I saw. Crowds of Guamanians, now U.S. citizens, were lined up six deep to give heartfelt cheers to the veterans and activeduty Marines and sailors marching. Most of those Guamanians who were old enough to remember the horrors of the occupation wept openly at the sight of modern-day U.S. Marines, so strong were the memories of those days. Every man and woman over 50 had a story of their struggle during the war, and of their gratitude to the U.S. forces who set them free.

I’ve seen, and participated in, many a parade honoring veterans and remembering the freedoms hard-won by their sacrifices, but I’ve never seen a parade like the Guam Liberation Day parade. In the only part of America ever captured and held in that war, I was humbled by the peoples’ living memories of freedom stolen and regained.

There can be no greater monument to American fighting forces than the gratitude of a freed people.

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