Congressman Vicente “Ben” Garrido Blaz
First CHamoru general
Ben Blaz (1928 – 2014) was a distinguished public elected official and military officer. He lived his life in service to his country and carrying the banner of his home island wherever his service took him. Born in 1928 as Vicente Tomas Garrido Blaz, to Vicente “Dero” Cruz Blaz and Rita Pangelinan Garrido Blaz, he was only 13 years old when the Japanese occupation began in Guam. Tall for his age, he was pressed into service with various labor battalions while he helped his family survive the war as the eldest son. His experiences shaped his sense of obligation and strengthened his resolve to be of service.
Recognized for his intelligence and leadership qualities, Blaz was one of the first CHamoru teenagers coming out of the war experience to win a scholarship to Notre Dame. He began his studies in 1947 and with the onset of the Korean War, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve, attended Officer Candidate School and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1951 upon graduation.
He began a military career that eventually led him to become the first General Officer (flag officer) in any branch of the Armed Services who was from Guam. He served three overseas tours that included Osaka, Okinawa and Vietnam. Blaz notes that his most satisfying tour was as Commanding Officer of the 9th Marines. In a life full of twists and turns, it was units of the 9th Marines that apprehended him and a friend in July 1944 during the battle for Guam. During his military service, he was twice awarded the Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, Bronze Star and Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
In recognition of his distinguished service both in peace and in combat, Blaz was promoted to Brigadier General, USMC in 1977. This represented significant personal progress as well as a significant event for his homeland of Guam. He became a role model for many young service men and women as he continued to display his leadership skill and plan for the next stage of his life.
He retired from active service in 1980 and returned to Guam where he took up farming, taught at the University of Guam and thought about elected office. During his military service, he was able to earn a Masters Degree from George Washington University and became a Distinguished Graduate of the Naval War College. He was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Guam in 1974.
He ran for Congress in 1982 and came up short against political legend Antonio Won Pat. Under the slogan “Right Man, Right Now,” Blaz defeated Won Pat in a rematch in 1984. He went to Congress as a Republican freshman and he was elected President of his class. He joined the Armed Services, Resources and Foreign Affairs Committees where he quickly established a reputation for a strong national defense and a strong commitment to the political development of Guam and the surrounding region. He established strong relationships and demonstrated a rhetorical style that resonated for years.
In hearings on the status of Micronesia, he admonished the Bush Administration representatives that “we are guardians, not guards of Micronesia.” In response to a New York Times editorial supporting statehood for the District of Columbia, Blaz took the opportunity to explain Guam’s situation. He ended his plea for dignity and recognition for Guam by stating “We are equal in war, but not in peace.”
These words have been used by subsequent Delegates from Guam as well as the other territories whenever matters of political development are raised. In spite of misgivings and his effort to point out the realities of Washington politics, Blaz faithfully introduced the Guam Commonwealth bill twice and advanced the cause of the return of excess lands and war reparations. His successors built upon these efforts.
After Congress, Blaz continued to use his knowledge by writing and producing television programs as well as an extensive website outlining the history of Guam (www.bisitaguam.com) He produced the Nihi Ta Hasso and Nihi Ta Bisita television series that was widely viewed by visitor and resident alike. He also wrote extensively including Bisita Guam: A Special Place in the Sun.
He was awarded Alumnus of the Year from Notre Dame in 1988 and Outstanding Asian American in Public Service in 1992 and is listed in numerous Who’s Who publications, Who’s Who in Marine Corps History.
He died at his home in Virginia on 9 January 2014.
For further reading
Blaz, Ben. Bisita Guam: A Special Place in the Sun. Fairfax: Evers Press, 1998.