LIBERATION 2019: A Legacy of Peace and Friendship

I’d consider liberation of Guam a rebirth for all its people, and all those who showed delinquencies should be forgiven and given another chance to really live again.

Agueda Iglesias Johnston, 1944

A year after World War II ended in Guam in 1945, community leader Agueda Iglesias Johnston convinced US military leaders to support an official commemoration of Guam’s liberation. Johnston, whose American husband had died as a prisoner of war in Japan, envisioned this as a day to highlight Guam’s loyalty to America and as a new beginning for the CHamoru people.

Liberation Day, as it was called, was initially commemorated as a religious holiday, with Catholic Mass to pray for the dead and processions with the iconic Santa Marian Kamalen.

By the 1950s, Liberation Day became more of a civic holiday, complete with carnivals, parades and a Liberation Day Queen contest. The first contest was held in 1948. Beatrice Blas Calvo Perez (1926 – 2017) was the first Liberation Day Queen.

The overwhelming emotions in a time of war and the dramatic arrival of the Americans after numerous deaths and suffering at Japanese hands largely compelled the CHamoru people into feeling a deep sense of obligation and loyalty to the United States. Remembering with nostalgia the time of peace under the US naval administration, before “I tiempon gera,”the CHamoru people, once again, felt connected to the American nation.

Liberation Day and its commemorations present an important arena for understanding CHamoru experiences and memories of the war. Through storytelling, songs, art and other expressions, CHamorus have attempted to reclaim the narrative of liberation in ways that promote CHamoru perspectives and reveal the complexities of Guam’s World War II history.

Indeed, stories from the perspective of Guam’s survivors bring a certain power to the larger narrative of the history of World War II in the Marianas. Caught up in a war not of their making, we hear the painful stories of hardship, violence and tragedy at the hands of the Japanese, and the destruction of land, homes and lives during Liberation. But in survivors’ stories are also moments of ingenuity, resilience and strength — of neighbors helping each other, of friendly relations with enemy soldiers, of strong religious faith, of sharing songs and music. There is no one story of the war, no single interpretation that captures the entire range of experiences and memory in this shared past.

There are contradictions, too, in many of the memories of Guam’s survivors — a sense of loyalty and gratitude to the US, tempered by the tension of continued loss of political sovereignty, uncompensated land takings, and unfulfilled war claims. There are survivors who enjoy the Liberation Day holiday and commemorations, and others wanting so much to forget they cannot bring themselves to share their stories with their children.

The common thread, though, that runs through most memories of Guam’s survivors are the fear and uncertainty prevalent during the last three weeks when the island was bombed, the long march to the concentration camps, and the sense of relief that prayers had been answered with the return of American forces. 

Over the years, Liberation Day has come to mean different things to different people. For many, it is a time to remember.

Our generation has been using the freedom handed to us by the sacrifices of others to express our concerns regarding the many grievances we have with the federal government. We demonstrate, we argue, we confront and we decry the vestiges of colonialism, which continue to survive to the present. Some argue that these expressions run counter to our commemoration of the liberation of Guam. It does not. Quite to the contrary, the desire to be free and to confront injustice whatever its origins exemplifies the very spirit of liberation and freedom which was planted on our shores by the blood of so many in the years 1941-1944.

Robert A. Underwood, 1994
The Liberation of Guam, Across the Generations

By Dominica Tolentino
Guam Museum Director

Survivors stories

Oral Histories of the CHamoru People
Agnes Duenas Unpingco
Agueda Iglesias Johnston
Amanda Guzman Shelton
Ana Atoigue Muna
Ana Sablan Palomo
Ana San Nicolas Gogue
Antonio Adriano Arriola
Asuncion Lazaro Cruz
Beatrice Flores Emsley
Cecilia Cruz Bamba
Cecilia Taitano Yanger
Cleotilde Mendiola Bamba
Concepcion Castro Camacho
Congressman Vicente “Ben” Garrido Blaz
Cynthia Tenorio Terlaje
Dr. Ramon Manalisay Sablan
Fidel Toves Blas
Forrest Mendiola Harris
Francisca Quintanilla Franquez
George Tweed
Grace Sablan Viegas
Helena Aflague Crisostomo
Ignacia Bordallo Butler
Ignacio Mendiola Reyes
Irene Ploke Sgambelluri
Jesus Camacho Babauta
Joaquin Flores Lujan
Jose Rosario Alvarez
Jose Santos Torres
Josefa Cruz Baza
Juan Quintanilla Guzman
Justo Leon Guerrero
Lillian Tenorio Dimla
Maria Meno Barcinas
Maria Taitague Escalera
Marie Rapolla Matanane
Mary San Agustin Lujan
Msgr. David Arceo Quitugua
Msgr. Oscar Lujan Calvo
Patricia Taitano Guerrero
Rev. Joaquin Flores Sablan
Robert O’Brien: US Prisoner of War
Rosa Champaco Quintano
Rosa Payne Murer
Rosanna Santos Ada
Rosario Flores Leon Guerrero
Rosita Duenas Diaz
Sgt. Shoichi Yokoi, Last Straggler on Guam
Slyvia San Nicolas Punzalan
Sr. Bernard Unpingco
Vicente and Jesusa Arceo

Overviews of WWII

Invasion stories

Occupation stories

American retaking stories

Post war stories

Multimedia stories