Wondered why war came to peaceful Guam

Cecilia Taitano Yanger (1936 – ), an identical twin, was just eight years old when the war broke out on Guam. Yanger recalled that Guam was so peaceful before the war. She didn’t understand why the war came to Guam because it was so peaceful and the people were so religious. Before the war, the villages were clean and people roamed the streets selling potu and other CHamoru delicacies.

The morning the war hit, people ran through the streets of Hagåtña and men in big trucks were shouting:

 Run. Run and hide! Because the Japanese just bombed Sumai.

Her mother immediately called her into the house to hide. Later that day, they relocated to their ranch in Barrigada and stopped by their uncle’s store to gather food. None of them knew what was to come. 

Come out with your hands up!

Yanger recalled sitting down to eat with her family a few days later and around sunset, Japanese soldiers came around in their trucks and told everyone to come out with their hands up. Her parents, she and her four siblings obeyed the Japanese commands. Her identical twin did not. She remembers her twin, Patty, running to the house and hiding in a rolled up rug, while she stood there in front of the Japanese being scared and unsure of what was to happen.

A few weeks later, the children were told to go back to school. This was also around the time when Yanger realized that not all Japanese were evil. Some, in fact, became her family’s friends.

One distinct memory she has is of a toy – a tin container. She said at the time they did not have many toys, so she made a toy out of an old throat lozenges container. She liked her toy so much that she brought it with her to school to show it to her friends. By mistake, she dropped her toy and it made a loud noise. Her Japanese teacher walked up to her and slapped her. She was hurt but she knew that she had to keep quiet.

That night, with the help of one of her older brothers, she took revenge on the Japanese by breaking into their garden and stealing all of their vegetables. Yanger was a quiet eight-year-old girl, but she did not appreciate being slapped around by the Japanese.

Shared their harvest with family

During the war, Yanger and her family lived in Barrigada. Later they moved to a ranch where Latte Heights is now. During this time she and her siblings did not attend school and were put to work by her father. They gathered ripe bananas, huto (nuts from the breadfruit), eggs, lima beans, papaya, and breadfruit and placed them in a basket. Her father instructed them to do this because during the weekend, their family in Hagåtña would come to get the food. This taught Yanger the importance of giving. The legacy her father left to her was that of generosity; always give to your neighbor and be good to people.

 Her mother’s legacy that was left with her was advice on becoming a mother. Yanger was told to always mind her own business and to never share someone’s dirty laundry. She said this, because one day that might be her or one of her children being spoken about. Yanger said that she has instilled these values into her own 12 children. Her biggest blessing is that no matter where she goes, people always tell her how her children have helped them and are good to them. 

Along with helping others and being generous, Yanger guided her children and her grandchildren towards the Catholic faith. This faith is the very thing that kept the family going during the war. She remembers her mother telling them to pray to Our Lady of Mount Carmel for protection.

During the war, faith and music were the things that CHamoru people would turn to in order to keep their spirits up. The music that she remembers are the CHamoru love songs; she said that no one dared to sing in English. The only song that anyone would sing in English would be the one that Pete Rosario created, “Sam, my dear Uncle Sam, won’t you please come back to Guam.” 

Wartimes were not all bad

The war was not an easy time but Yanger believes they were fortunate. They weren’t treated well, but they weren’t treated badly either. They were also fortunate to have made friends with some of the Japanese.

The main lesson that Yanger learned from the war is summed up in one word: “forgive.” Although she admits that it was hard to forgive at first, she knew in her heart that she had to. She remembers shortly after the war, her mother sent her to go get water. While on her way to find water, she came upon a group of people throwing rocks into the grave that had a pile of dead Japanese soldiers in it. Yanger, still angry with the Japanese at that time, added to the pile and threw a rock with the rest of the angry people of Guam.  She said that when she got older, she went to confession and asked for forgiveness.

By the age of 80 she said she hoped she has left a legacy of respect and love with her children and grandchildren. She wanted each and every one of them to know that no matter what, don’t mistreat others. She also wanted them to feel that she was fair to all of them and that she never played favorites.

Respect, generosity, and helping those in need are values that were instilled in her children and are now in instilled in us, her grandchildren. In addition, the desire to succeed, be resourceful, and persevere are also things that we credit to the matriarch of our family. One of her biggest impacts upon her children was her guiding some of her sons to the military. They felt that she did this in order for them to make something of themselves. It might also be a coincidence that she guided them to the American military, because those are the men that she remembers saving her.

She remembers being a young girl and seeing hundreds of leaflets fall from the sky. These leaflets let her know that the Americans had finally come and that the war was over for CHamorus.  After a long two-and-a-half years of wartime in Guam, seeing these leaflets was like the answer to all of the people’s prayers. They were finally being saved and protected.  

Editor’s note: Reprinted and adapted, with permission, from Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation by Elianna Yanger.