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Governor of Guam 1963-1969

Governor Manuel Flores “Carson” Leon Guerrero (1914 – 1985) was Guam’s second Chamorro governor, the sixth civilian appointed governor, and the first appointed governor to serve more than four years in office. He had an extensive political career and was noted for helping to reconstruct Guam after the devastation of Typhoon Karen in November 1962, as well as reorganizing the Government of Guam (GovGuam) and facilitating the development of the island’s tourist economy.

Early years

Manuel F. Leon Guerrero was born to Jose LG Leon Guerrero and Maria Lujan Flores of Hagåtña on 25 October 1914, and was the oldest of three children. His father, who passed away in 1926, was in the Navy and a musician in the Navy band. Many sources–even the governor himself–drop the “Leon” and refer to him simply as Manuel FL Guerrero. The rest of his family, however, use “Leon Guerrero” as their surname. The governor explained that he had shortened his name when he began working in government because it was easier for signing papers.

As a youth, Guerrero was a good student; he thrived on studying and was a voracious reader. He was only 17 in 1931 when he became a messenger for the Naval government, delivering power bills and tax notices. He graduated from high school in 1934, ranking in the upper 20 percent of his class. That year he also married Delfina Tuncap of Hagåtña.

Guerrero became interested in learning accounting and so he took a La Salle Extension correspondence course. He became a bookkeeper for the government, earning $93 a month making up lists of vital statistics and as a collector of customs duties. He remained with the Department of Records and Accounts until December 1941, when World War II began. Guerrero’s role in the pre-war US Naval government, however, made him a target during the Japanese occupation of the island.

During the initial bombing and invasion of the island, Guerrero and his family escaped capture by the Japanese by hiding in the jungles of Guam. However, he was eventually interned by the Japanese military. Although he had burned his sensitive records, he was arrested and interrogated for two weeks about them. Because of his government experience, he was employed for several months as a labor statistician to work on a manpower study by the Japanese Military Government. Not wishing to be thought of as a collaborator with the Japanese, he convinced the government to release him from office duties. Until the end of World War II, Guerrero supported his family through farming on his land in Maina. For a time he was forced into labor camps with fellow Chamorros, carrying coral for the construction of airfields and offloading coal and cement from Japanese cargo ships.

After the Liberation of Guam in July 1944, the re-established US military government was looking for experienced administrators to go back into government service. Guerrero was employed as a clerk in the G-4 section (supply and evacuation) for the military government. With his security clearance, Guerrero was able to handle military pouches, classified materials and other top-secret documents. He was re-employed at Records and Accounts in 1945, and then transferred to the Supply and Finance Division where he was the head administrative assistant until 1948. He resigned from the government and began working in the private sector, even becoming elected as vice-president of the newly formed Guam Chamber of Commerce.

In 1948, he left for San Francisco, California, to work as a purchasing agent for the Guam Commercial Corporation, a wholesale/retail department store. While there, he took evening classes in accounting, management and the humanities, as well as Navy courses in logistics, writing, composition and law. Guerrero returned to government service in 1949 as an administrative “trouble shooter,” and held various positions with the Commercial Port, the Department of Agriculture, and even served as executive administrator at the Guam Memorial Hospital, and as a base development and military liaison on property condemnation.

Political career

In addition to his dealings in the private sector, from 1948 to 1950, Guerrero served as a member of the Guam Congress as Chairman of the Finance Committee. In 1950 after the Organic Act was passed, he was elected to the First Guam Legislature, where he became Chairman of the Rules Committee. He was a member of the Popular Party, which later became the Democratic Party of Guam. Although a controversial figure in his first term, Guerrero was re-elected to a second term. However, he declined his seat, leaving the Second Legislature with only 20 members, instead of 21.

Guerrero’s other early public offices included Chairman of the Guam Land Transfer Board (1950), Special Assistant to the Governor of Guam (1951), and Acting Governor and Assistant Secretary of Guam from 1950-1956. Guerrero’s appointment as assistant secretary by then – Governor Richard Barrett Lowe in December 1956 was a major step towards including native Chamorros in higher level government positions. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy appointed him as Alternate Commissioner to the South Pacific Commission (now Secretariat of the Pacific Community) – the first Pacific Islander to be appointed to that body.

On 5 May 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Guerrero as Secretary of Guam for a four-year term, succeeding A.M. “Moku” Edwards, an Eisenhower appointee from the previous year. Guerrero, who was 47 at the time, was the staff director for the Guam Legislature. The salary for secretary was about $13,000. He worked under Governor William P. Daniel (1961-1963) and was the first Chamorro to serve in the position.

In 1962, Daniel was off-island when Typhoon Karen hit Guam, causing nine deaths and millions of dollars in damage. Guerrero dealt with the aftermath and helped to reconstruct the island. Although Governor Daniel had wanted to return to Guam, he was discouraged from doing so, as Guerrero was effectively handling the situation. The US Congress and the President made $75 million of Rehabilitation Act funds available for the island’s recovery. It was through this demonstration of leadership that President Kennedy appointed Guerrero to be the governor of Guam in March 1963. In all, Guerrero had three politically appointed positions by President Kennedy.

Governor of Guam

Guerrero was the governor of Guam from 1 March 1963 to July 1969. He had been already serving as Acting Governor when Governor Daniel resigned in September 1962. Daniel’s resignation, however, did not go into effect until January 1963. He was traveling around the world as a “goodwill ambassador” while still drawing his governor’s salary when Typhoon Karen hit Guam. The official reason for Daniel’s resignation was to make way for a Chamorro to replace him, and to further legislation that eventually would provide for an elected governor for the island.

Guerrero was inaugurated as governor on 9 March 1963 before a crowd of about 3,000 at the Plaza de España in Hagåtña. In his address he declared:

I hope to mould together a common cause, all departments of the government, our civilian community, and, most certainly, our friends of the military and civilian Federal agencies who indeed are an integral part of Guam. I might say here that this policy already has borne fruit, because our people are informed partners in what we are trying to do, and I believe we have among us a unity which will produce major dividends as we move along the rough path of rehabilitation and development of an outstanding American community.

Guerrero’s time in office as governor represented a significant phase of growth and change for Guam and its people. He was respected as a stern leader but also for his open-mindedness and quiet “Chamorro-style” humor. According to historian Pedro C. Sanchez, “Guerrero’s attitude toward the legislature was a model of moderation, understanding and cooperation…He preferred to pursue his legislative goals through consultation rather than confrontation, persuasion rather than argumentation.”

Guerrero streamlined government functions, consolidated services and formed the Department of Administration to handle personnel matters. With federal relief funds he rebuilt the island’s infrastructure and initiated other capital improvements. He set in motion programs for modernizing Guam’s economy based on tourism and changed the face of the island through urban renewal programs that addressed housing shortages by building modern residential subdivisions in Sinajana, Tamuning, Piti, Dededo and other areas. Although the urban renewal programs proposed by Guerrero were initially met with opposition by Territorial Party members of the Legislature who were concerned that the program would force low income families into debt, by the mid-1960s, Guerrero secured funds and support to begin construction.

Guerrero’s term also saw changes in the College of Guam which became the University of Guam, a land grant institution, with a four-year baccalaureate program. Eventually degrees at the master’s level were added and full accreditation for the institution was obtained. In addition, the university’s physical facilities and other academic programs were upgraded.

In addition to dealing with the effect of Typhoon Karen, during his first term as governor, Guerrero created the Guam Tourist Commission in the fall of 1963, and hired Rex Willis, a tourism industry expert as a full-time consultant. The Commission was created in order to move Guam’s economy away from military dependence to one based on tourism. The lifting of the military security clearance for entry into Guam in 1963 helped facilitate Guam’s transition into a tourist destination and regional business center.

In March 1967, the Commission’s goals materialized when the new air terminal was completed and with the inauguration of Pan American World Airway’s service between Guam and Japan. The first plane arrived in Guam from Japan with 109 tourists. By the end of the fiscal year, the $1.6 million air terminal was handling 10 international flights a week and 14 flights with the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (US TTPI). There were more than 6,000 tourists that visited Guam that year, and more than 18,000 the following year. Investors began to take interest in potential hotel construction projects to capitalize on the predicted growing number of tourists.

In April 1967, Guerrero was reappointed for a second term as governor by President Lyndon B. Johnson. A White House reception was held in his honor, and he received a personal invitation by Johnson to accompany him on Air Force One from Washington, DC, to Guam. The President felt, however, that Guerrero should be the last appointed governor for Guam, and that the island’s population, now at about 77,000, was ready for their own elected leader.

Through his second term, Guerrero continued to make important changes to develop the island’s tourist industry. He initiated the separation of the Commercial Port from the Department of Commerce. A $10 million improvement program was set up at the Port and soon P&O Orient Lines increased its cruise arrival from one to two a year. Subsequently, the 1,300-passenger liner Himalaya made Guam a one day port-of-call.

Guerrero’s term also saw major investments in Guam as confidence grew in the island’s economic opportunities. Guam entered the bond market, and acquired much of the funding for the Guam Power Authority. It was also during Guerrero’s administration that the Guam Economic Development Authority or GEDA came into existence, as well as the Guam Telephone Authority and the Port Authority of Guam.

Guerrero’s administration also improved the island’s housing situation, addressing the shortage of homes by building 250 low-cost rental apartments by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and 120-medium income rental units by the Guam Housing Corporation.

In 1967, Guerrero’s administration saw the opening of area public health centers in different island villages, beginning with the construction of Hospit Haya in Inalåhan. The same year, the Guam Memorial Hospital was accredited.

In 1968, a Republican administration was elected in Washington. Although Guerrero had wanted to stay in office and complete his second term, he followed the precedent set by the previous governors who vacated their positions for new presidential appointees. To accommodate the new administration, Guerrero resigned his position in 1969, and the last appointed governor, Carlos G. Camacho, replaced him.

In 1969, the Elected Governor Act was passed, amending the Organic Act of 1950 and allowing for the election of the first governor of Guam. In 1970, Guerrero entered the gubernatorial race under the Democratic ticket with running mate Dr. Antonio “Tony” Yamashita. In the beginning of the year the Guerrero-Yamashita ticket was thought by most people to have the best chance of winning, particularly because of Guerrero’s experience as a long-term governor, Dr. Yamashita’s draw to younger voters as president of the University of Guam, and the expressed support by village commissioners. The Guerrero-Yamashita campaign proposed to make further improvements to Guam’s economy, education and health services, as well as to explore other political status relationships with the United States government and other regional governments in Micronesia. They were closely defeated, however, in the contentious primary by Ricardo Bordallo and Richard Taitano. It was the Republican Carlos Camacho that won the general election and became Guam’s first freely elected governor. Kurt Moylan was Camacho’s running mate.

Guerrero unsuccessfully ran in the primaries for the Governor’s race again in 1974, losing to Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo. He was subsequently appointed as Executive Manager of the Guam Airport Authority in 1979 until his retirement in February 1982. Up to his death, he had the distinction of being Guam’s longest serving government employee under the American administration.

Although he had never pursued higher education, in 1968 Guerrero received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the West Virginia Institute of Technology, and an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 1969 from Colorado State College. He received accolades for promoting the Pacific islands through his years of service, as well as being awarded “Honorary Seabee” for his “Can Do spirit” and his support of military programs on Guam.

Guerrero and his first wife, the former Delfina Tuncap, had seven children. The two divorced in the 1970s. Guerrero later married the former Antonia Rabon, and together, they had four children. The former governor died on 9 October 1985. The current Department of Administration building in the heart of Hagåtña bears his name.

By Jesi Lujan Bennett and Dominica Tolentino

For further reading

I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 1. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, 1995.

National Governors Association. “Manuel Flores Guerrero.”

Sanchez, Pedro C. Guahan Guam: The History of Our Island. Hagåtña: Sanchez Publishing House, 1987.

US Department of Interior Office of Territories. Remarks by Assistant Secretary of the Interior John A. Carver, Jr., at Agana, Guam March 9, 1963 (March 8 in the United States) at the Inauguration of the Hon. Manuel F.L. Guerrero as Governor of the Territory of Guam.

USS GUAM LPH 9 ASSOCIATION. “Biography on the Governor of Guam, Manuel F.L. Guerrero.” Commissioning of the USS Guam, last modified 30 August 2012.