Taken in by relatives

Asuncion Camacho Lazaro Cruz (1937 – ) was born to Ignacia Camacho and Juan Untalan Lazaro. Before her third birthday, Asuncion and her older sister Josefa were orphaned and taken in by their mother’s brother, Vicente Cruz Pablo Camacho. 

“I guess that’s my blessing, that we are in the hands of those relatives and not some strangers, right? In those days nei, it’s hard to see another person raising up somebody’s kids, because the family really are close knit. They take care of each other.”

Asuncion Lazaro Cruz

Grew up in Piti

Married into the Jai family, Vicente Camacho lived in Piti and brought the girls to his house in a karabao cart. 

“I still remember the area where we live. You know where Polaris Point is? Okay, right across the other side of the street on the other side of the hill is where some people live there, way up in the jungle. I remember also that we are a prayerful family. That’s practically all we do is pray. In that household, we will wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning, just so we can say the rosary, and in the evening they would gather us so we can say our evening prayer. Then at 8 o’clock at night, when that clock struck that first dong, we would all stand up, no matter what you’re doing and we say the prayer for the souls.” 

When the war broke out, they added a prayer every time a plane passed overhead. When bombs fell, they ran under the house. Later, Camacho dug a shelter, covering it with tangan tangan branches and a mattress, and used coconut leaves for camouflage. 

The only children in the household, the two girls spent their days sweeping and mopping the house’s ifit floors, washing clothes, chasing chickens away from crops, and plucking and cleaning individual kernels or corn for cooking.  

The family collected rainwater in large drums around the house, and sent the girls with one-gallon jugs to retrieve water from their neighbor’s tap. On the way, they passed a Japanese sentry, before which they were taught to bow and say, “konbanwa” or good evening.

“I remember a few times that he [the guard] will stop us and give us some kind of canned fruit, like a pineapple can. Later on, I was thinking that maybe this guy is a father. He has a family, has children, and that when he sees us he thinks of them, because you know he was really kind to us.”

Most of the soldiers, however, were not like her friendly guard, but would take whatever they wanted.

“When the Japanese, they go around and visit the people’s homes, and when they see something they like, like a chicken that you have tied up or in a cage, they see something they like and they just take it. And you know, the family, that’s their food source and it’s very hard to have enough food at the time, because they rely on what’s growing around, and at the time, farming is disrupted.”

Because this was the only life they knew, they assumed this was just the way people lived. They didn’t always understand what was happening, but listened to what they were told – and that saved their life more than once. One day, Cruz remembered singing out loudly.

“I was jumping on this canvas chair, jumping up and down, you know, and singing with all my might ‘Uncle Sam.’ I don’t know how I learned it. And then my auntie came out and said ‘Cion,’ you know because they called me Cion for short instead of Asuncion. ‘Cion, don’t you ever sing that again! Don’t sing that song!’ And I don’t understand why, but they told me not to sing it anymore, until later I found out that kind of song in the Japanese atmosphere, if they heard me, maybe that would be the end of us.”

After the war, Camacho painted and carved religious icons for the church. For the household statuette of Our Lady of Lourdes, he built a miniature chapel.

“The sides are like glass, you can see all the areas, and he had a place to put a big battery and he lined flashlight bulbs to give light to the thing and he had the switch there, you turn on and off. Very artistic. Then for the decorations, he make it really nice. This is already after the war and we have an abundance of tin cans, so he uses tin cans to decorate all of the place and make curly things to decorate the steeple.” 

Moved to Barrigada in 1948

When Camacho passed away in 1948, the young teenagers were sent to live with their father’s brother, Ernesto, in Barrigada, and remained there until they were married. 

While attending George Washington High School, Cruz worked part-time at Tun Mariano Store, where she met her husband, Jose Cruz.

“When I was working there, he was in the Air Force, and you know, they stop by for a drink and then finding out that there’s three of us, three young girls working there, so many of these servicemen would come by, and oh my goodness! That’s one of them that comes by, that’s how I met him.”

Teacher and mother of 12

Married in 1957, the Cruz’s have 12 children: Madeline Therese, Louise, Sabrina Marie, Stephanie Joan, Jose Jr., Anthony John, Naomi Carlene, Brian Rodrigue, Fabrienne Asuncion, Jacob Bernard, Angelo Duane, and Benedict Nicholas.

“I taught my kids to be responsible. I taught them how to do housework, even the boys are pretty good. My oldest one, when she started going to school, when she comes home from school, I just give her this feather-like broom and tell her to take that and sweep out the room, just to give her that feeling like she has that kind of responsibility.”

The Cruz family lived in Asan from 1957 to 1972, when they relocated to Liguan Terrace in Dededo. While raising the children, Cruz completed teacher’s training at the Territorial College of Guam. She taught at Carbullido, Asan, and Barrigada Elementary Schools, while Jose worked for the Navy. 

Reprinted and adapted, with permission, from Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation by Amanda Pampuro.