The musician and soldier from Fena

At George Washington High School, Jose Santos Torres (1934 – ) learned to play half a dozen different instruments, including the saxophone, trumpet, keyboard, piano, and harmonica.

We played all over the island. At that time, I’m the first one that bought an electric guitar on Guam back in the 1950s. I don’t remember what it was, but it was an electric with an amplifier. At that time, we don’t even know what rock and roll is, but we played the jazz. We played the jitterbug. Most of the time, that’s the kind of fast music we played, and then you know mellow music.

Music. It creates environmental serenity in the family. Also I read, and I believe, if you take music somehow your intellect develops. I believe that very much, because you have a lot of intellectual people who are musicians.

Jose Santos Torres

Both of Torres’s parents were musically inclined, as are most of his children. Torres was born to Juana Cruz Santos and Vicente Palomo Torres. 

My father was a carpenter, building churches here on Guam, before he went off to the military. He built the one in Hagåtña. He built the one in Inalåhan, Toto, Malesso‘, and  Humåtak. He built all those churches. My mother always said just be nice to your family, take care of them, and pray to the Lord that you’re here.

When the war first started, all I knew is we were at church, and some people hollered out that we’re being bombed. You know, at that time, I didn’t know anyone was out to kill anybody.

Lived in Fena until the war ended

Because the Navy had already relocated his father, Torres stayed with his mother and uncles. Several of Torres’s uncles spent the duration of the war hiding near Fena, far deeper into the jungle than most of the Japanese dared to venture. Torres left only to go to school with his siblings, where they learned Japanese.

My brother got killed, I think, because he was whistling the National Anthem. I remember my brother when he was getting beaten up by the Japanese with a stick, you know, like a heavy cane. He was getting beat up on the head, and the following day he died—brain hemorrhage.

At the time, Fred Santos Torres was only 10 years old. 

You can’t do anything, but try to help out with the family. You cannot have anything to do with being against the Japanese. I watched two of my uncles get their neck cut. They make them dig their grave, tie their hands, and kneel in front of the grave and they just chopped (their heads) off. There was one incident with one of my friend’s father, they put him in the cart, with the karabao pulling the cart. They tied his hands with dynamite and they blow it, right in front of the school. All the kids were watching this.

What can you do? You get angry, you’re mad at what they do, but there’s really nothing you can do, because you are going to end up as they are. The war is brutal.

Toward the end of World War II, Torres and his family were found and sent to the Manenggon Concentration Camp. Here, he thought the Japanese were rounding them up to finish them off and was relieved at the sight of American Marines. 

Torres’s father returned to Guam with the first wave of soldiers.

 When they tried to recover Guam, they were out there shooting in, and he was wondering if he was shooting at his family, because we were over there, and he was out there shooting. I know that he was out there, because when he came in here, he said I’ll have to get out of the Navy, because he can’t stand the idea of shooting at the family. That’s the way my father was. When he first came in, he was collecting all the military personal that he knows will go with him, and some of the CHamorus that know the jungle, and they went in looking for the Japanese. Whatever they did, I don’t want to find out.

Before the war, Torres’s grandfather owned a large ranch in Fena, where they grew taro, coconut, corn and coffee, and raised more than 300 pigs. After the war, the US military took his family land for military use.

That’s where we get the water. They took it for the island, so it’s their water. I don’t know if they paid for it, I don’t think they paid for it, but you can’t fight it. They have to use it, we have to use it, I have to use it. So as far as pay is concerned, I think that a lot of lives are lost, and they paid for it.

Joined the army

At 17-years-old, Vicente gave his eldest son permission to enlist in the army. After basic training, Torres said, 

I was assigned to the Hawai’ian chapter, but I said no this is not what I want – I want to go to Korea, so I went to Korea. I already volunteered. That same night that I got over there, I was on the patrol, and we go out at night and observe what is going on. We were over the 30th parallel, way beyond the 30th parallel. We were in the jungle that we don’t really like. It’s a sandy place, it’s cold, and then we had to do a march. When it was over. I decided that was it for me, so I went to school instead.

Found his CHamorita in San Jose

Torres attended college and graduated from the University of Santa Clara. In the 1970s, he was working at the San Jose post office when he met the CHamorita that would become Mrs. Mary Guzman Santos Torres. Mary plays the maracas and sings, and together they perform at senior centers and St. Jude Church in Sinajana. 

How do I think I’m blessed? I think I’m blessed pretty well. I come here to St. Jude. I used to be here every Sunday. And then I come on Mondays for the St. Jude blessing.

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