War Survivor: Monsignor David Ignacio Arceo Quitugua
A frightened five year old
Becoming a priest was always what David I.A. Quitugua (1936 -2020 ) envisioned for himself, especially after receiving First Holy Communion at age 10.
“It’s like my life was directed. It was not long before the yearning for more education in religion became an obsession for me. From the very beginning – it’s like planting a tree, knowing what it’s going to be. This, to be a priest, is what I thank God for – for letting me know that it was what was to be. It was like an early assignment.”Monsignor David Quitugua
Quitugua is the third of the nine sons of Ignacio Perez Quitugua and Rosa Santos Arceo. A week after his birth, Quitugua was baptized by Pale’ Roman de Vera at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral in Hagåtña. His father was a teacher and served as principal of Talofofo Elementary School when World War II began on Guam. The family lived in a large house – the principal’s house, he calls it – in Talofofo.
On 8 December 1941, a holiday, Quitugua says he was playing outside in the yard when he heard the unfamiliar sound of an airplane, which appeared overhead and began shooting down at him. He was only five years old but says that something so frightening is not easily forgotten.
“I remember my mind opening up so vividly at that moment – maybe that is why I so clearly recall most of the things that happened to me and my family during the war.”
He also remembered a bomb falling to the ground. It created a large crater, but did not explode. Panicked, the family fled for their lives, grabbing and carrying whatever they could, not really knowing what to take. They fled the house and hid in the shadow of a tree about two or three hundred yards away from their house and watched in fear as bullets from attack planes rained from the sky. When it seemed safe, the family headed to their lancho, which was located in the area now occupied by the Talofofo Elementary School.
A day after the attack, Quitugua’s father and his brother Franklin returned to the house for food and supplies. They found it occupied by Japanese soldiers. While Ignacio was detained, Franklin ran away. Ignacio was not held for long. He later caught up with Franklin and the two returned to the safety of the ranch. The Quitugua family spent most of the occupation years there.
About three or four months after the invasion, the Japanese started up schools for the children with teachers imported from Japan. But the schools did not operate for long. The curriculum consisted of propaganda and language lessons. Quitugua mainly remembered the songs, which were patriotic, fast paced, with catchy tunes. Some songs were sentimental and beautiful.
“I can remember the melody, but I don’t remember the words. There may be survivors my age who remember the words.”
The English meaning of one of the sentimental Japanese songs, he says, had to do with longing – of hoping that something as small as a pebble would grow into a large rock, possibly referring to the Japanese desire to expand their empire.
For the most part, life in Talofofo during the occupation was relatively peaceful, said the soft-spoken monsignor. Although enemy soldiers regularly patrolled the village, the people were left alone. But as the war turned against the Japanese, they turned against the CHamorus, demanding more labor and food production from them, and becoming less tolerant and more brutal. Before the war, families looked after each other, but during the occupation, caring for one another expanded beyond simply one’s immediate and extended relatives.
“We all shared the same experience, the same suffering. I think people who experienced the war tend to spoil their children. They don’t want them to suffer the same experience.”
One of the little known incidents that took place in the days leading up to the American recapture was an uprising, a riot, Monsignor called it, by the people in Malesso.
“We (the people in Talofofo) were supposed to be taken to Manenggon, but we had to wait for the Japanese general. He never came because of the riot. American battleships were already out there (in the surrounding ocean) and that’s why we were safe. The Americans were the ones who brought us to Manenggon.”
They were brought there to be reunited with other CHamorus and kept safe from the continuing battles to recapture the island.
After liberation, the Quituguas did whatever they could to provide for the family. Like most of the people of Guam, the family was left homeless and in need of ways to rebuild their homes and lives. While Quitugua’s father returned to teaching, his mother made and sold bread.
“Oh, I can still smell it. I’m not really big on bread, but oh, my God. She made bread in a stone oven. Up to now, I still can’t figure out how she did it.”
Quitugua returned to school at Talofofo Elementary. His parents later transferred him to Sinajana Elementary School because, he explained, as his grades were less than stellar. It was at this time that he received First Holy Communion.
“My First Holy Communion, and subsequent communions, nourished my desire to be a priest.”
Father Alvin LeFier, pastor of St. Francis Church in Yona and St. Michael in Talofofo, learned of the boy’s piety and arranged for Quitugua to attend the newly established St. Francis School in Yona, tuition free. Quitugua completed eighth grade at St. Francis in 1951. He went on to the also newly established Father Duenas Memorial School, as well as the minor seminary and college preparatory school established in 1948 there by the Stigmatine Fathers of Boston, Mass.
After four years of high school and three years of junior college, Quitugua was awarded a full, six-year scholarship to St. John’s Major Seminary in Boston.
On 11 February 1964, David I.A. Quitugua became Father David, the 15th CHamoru to be ordained. With his parents, brothers, relatives, and a throng of well-wishers in attendance, he was ordained as a diocesan priest by Bishop Apolinaris Baumgartner in the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral.
Quitugua celebrated his First Solemn Mass at the cathedral in 1964.
“I was very nervous and, thinking back now, I am most thankful that there were no video cameras back then, because I was so nervous and jittery. I come from a family of boys. I went to an all-boys school. All the students at the seminary were boys. And my first assignment is to teach at the Academy of Our Lady of Guam, an all-girls school.”
Ever true to his calling, Father David became Monsignor David Quitugua on 10 May 2006. He was a longtime pastor of San Juan Bautista Church in Ordot.
“It was really the war that opened up my mind to experience something beyond normal childhood.”
Though many years have passed, he vividly remembered being the five-year-old boy playing in his yard when an enemy warplane fired upon him. God protected him, because he had other plans for the boy.
Was a priest for 56 years
He served the Church for 56 years. According to the Archdiocese, Quitugua was one of the main founders of Guam’s Catholic Social Services, a longtime faith-based non-profit organization devoted to helping the island’s needy.
In May of 1975, Archbishop Felixberto C. Flores assigned Quitugua to supervise the resettlement program for thousands of Vietnamese refugees on Guam who were homeless and jobless. He received a “Distinguished Humanitarian Award” from the United States Catholic Conference for his work.
In an effort to respond to the social needs of Guam, then Quitugua founded Catholic Social Services in 1977 and served as its first Director.
He died 15 September 2020 of the Corona Virus, the 28th person on Guam to succumb to the pandemic.
Reprinted and adapted, with permission, from Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation by Cathy Sablan Gault.