A young Malesso’ girl

Josefa Cruz Baza (1930 – 2021) is known as a quiet and gentle soul. But those who know her well knew that there is a lot of truth in the saying that “dynamite comes in small packages.” 

Josefa is the daughter of Martina and Juan Cruz. She is one of seven children – Mariquita, John, Josefa, Ignacio, Antonio, Teresita and Galo. She was not able to finish high school but she was adept at business, running her own cosmetology shop out of her house in Sinajana and a retail store for several years while she raised seven children.

She was married to Jesus Acfalle Baza, an accountant for the Navy, the Guam Department of Education and later with the Superior Court of Guam. They had seven children.

The following is her recollection of World War II and growing up in Malesso’/Merizo:

In her words

When the bombs started to explode in Sumai, there was a young man named Patrick Taijeron who lived there. He came to Malesso‘ in his car and told the villagers that the oil field in Sumai had been bombed. He told everyone that the gas and oil fields were burning badly and smoke was everywhere. He said people should pack their belongings and look for hiding places, because the Japanese had invaded Guam and they will come looking for them and kill them all.

At that time, I was at my godmother’s residence, Severa Torres, in Malesso’, getting ready for a party.  After we were told by Patrick to go find our hiding places and to leave our homes, we hurried back to our house.

My father, Juan Cruz, told our whole family to prepare our things and we would go to the home of our uncle Jose, who had a ranch deep in the jungle in the area of Malesso’ known as Geus (Gay-us). We went there and stayed with him for about four days, because we were so scared of what would happen.  

We were told to stay at my uncle’s ranch. Jesus Barcinas was the commissioner of Malesso’ at the time. We waited until we were given the go-ahead to return to our own homes, but were warned to keep quiet and low key. 

The Japanese had found a home to use as their quarters at the southern end of the village, which was close to the Malesso’ pier. At the time, there were some Americans who were living in Malesso’ as medics and were stationed there, but the Japanese had them removed, and the Japanese eventually used their home as their quarters.

When they came to our house, which was closer to the middle of the village, they liked it because it was one of the more  well-constructed homes, because my father was a carpenter and the roof was made of tin and wood paneling, and there was a concrete base. Most of the other homes around us only had the thatched roof from coconut leaves. We were fortunate at the time because my father was a carpenter and he would be given the leftover materials from church projects, which he used in our own home.

 We were told to find our own home anywhere. Fortunately, our family had some land near the beach near Achang Bay and that’s where we moved. We hurriedly packed our things and moved there, and my Dad built a “sagidani,” a little ranch with the thatched roof of coconut leaves and bamboo. We stayed there until the end of the war, until the Japanese vacated the village.

While we were living there, the Japanese forced us to work even though we were still children. We were expected to pull weeds, clean and to plant vegetables in the designated area near where our house was in the middle of the village. We also had to plant “fai” (rice plants) so we could have rice. 

As a family, we would pray together and we would do what the Japanese told us to — plant the vegetables and the rice. My mother would stay home to watch the baby, but they took the men and the boys to work in the fields. My siblings at the time were in the ages of 15 years old and below. I was 12 years old and my brother Galo was still a baby.

The Japanese would take all the vegetables, including the breadfruit and eggs, and would leave nothing for us. We would hide our provisions and when we killed the pig, we would try as much as possible to avoid having the Japanese smell the meat, because if the Japanese found out that we had food, we would get slapped.

We would take the taro leaves and the bananas and prepare them sometimes in coconut milk and hide them. When we slaughtered a pig, we would do so at night and then my mother would season it with salt and we would dry it near the ocean so the Japanese won’t smell or see it. The same went for the breadfruit. We would pick it at night and cook it and then wrap and hide it. We would eat it with coconut milk, and that’s how we would have our meal.

The Japanese rationed our portion, a very small portion of rice, then we would cook it and we would eat it with just soy sauce. There were no vegetables unless we had them hidden; otherwise we would get punished for having provisions that the Japanese were supposed to have.

Punished if you didn’t obey

I was just a young girl but I had to obey what I was told because there were terrible consequences if we didn’t. Sometimes they’d bind your hands behind your back, slap and kick you and even kill you. My sister, Mariquita, was punished for being late to work. They bound her hands and tied her to the coconut tree.

The Japanese put two coconut trees in front of our house that they stayed in, in the middle of the village. These two coconut trees were supposed to signify that they were occupying it and people that passed the house were supposed to bow to it.  There were two young girls, Emma Charfarous and Guadalupe Garrido, that were taken by the Japanese for the purpose of ‘fanning’ the leaders and acting as slaves. These girls were a little more mature and were favored by the Japanese.

As for our prayer life, we could not go to Mass because there were no priests but we would say the rosary every night because my mother was a techa (prayer leader) in our San Dimas Church. My father was the priests’ cook and handyman. My mother spent a lot of time praying for all of us. My parents would teach us to be devoted to the Church and to pray. My mother always gathered all of us to pray together. We would especially do this at night, because we were not home during the day. 

When we’d come home from working in the fields and attending the Japanese school, we had to go far to get water because we had no water connections and the well was far.

As for music, it was hard to sing or play music, because the Japanese would punish us for every infraction that they did not give us permission to do. The people were suffering so much and there was little thought for singing. As for the song, ‘My Dear Uncle Sam,’ I remember Uncle Kiko Banjo, who had a small band, and they would play at work, including this song. They only played this song when the Japanese were not around.

There was a man named Pedro Cibollas, and he also would sing and had a band. The Malesso’ people also made up their own songs. Uncle John (Kiko) Banjo was in a group called Number Five. We were assigned to different group numbers and Uncle John, who played the music, was the leader of the group at his work and they played music, and sometimes there were as many as 10 people in a group comprised of both men and women.

In school to learn Japanese

Later they opened a Japanese school and we were told to attend the school every day for about two hours to learn Japanese, and we would walk to the end of the village where the school was located near the pier. We would leave at about 10 in the morning and then get done by noon, about two hours, and do this every day. That school is still the same school that’s there now.  All of us would walk from wherever we stayed, and in our case, we would walk all the way from the Achang Bay location down to the school near the pier. There were no vehicles anywhere.

As time progressed and we were getting more proficient in the language, the Japanese sensed that the Americans were coming and then we were told to stop attending the Japanese school. As we got closer to the end of the war, the villagers were told once again to hide in the jungles, because there would be more bombing.

Massacres and rebellion

At one point, we were told that the Japanese would be doing something to our strongest men and to those who may look like Americans or who were related to Americans. Many of us stayed up all night because we knew that many of our villagers would be killed, and this was when the Tinta massacre occurred where they sent men and women into the caves and bombed them. Some of the victims died, but there were those that survived, including Auntie Luisa Baza Santos, who later testified in Congress for war reparations compensation.

We were told again that we would be gathered again and sent to a place called Atåte, which was far into the jungle. We were there for about three days and then the Japanese decided that they were going to have a party. They had made a huge pit, and the Japanese told the villagers that they were going to kill the animals, especially dogs, and put them in the pit, but it was really for the people that they were going to eventually kill and put in the huge pit. They gathered the largest and strongest men and took them to Faha, the place near the cemetery at the end of the village, and killed those men.

When Jose Reyes found out that the Japanese were having a party to kill the CHamorus, especially those waiting in Atåte, he called the strongest CHamoru men to invade the camp where the Japanese were drinking and partying and took their guns and weapons, and instead killed the Japanese force that was partying and prevented what would have been one of the worst massacres.  When this happened, two Japanese soldiers escaped and ran to Inalåhan.

After Jose Reyes and his men killed the Japanese soldiers, he told the villagers to run to Finile, another part of Malesso’, which was very far. We went there and stayed for almost two weeks and maybe more, until we were told the Americans were there and there were camps in Hågat and we walked to Hågat along the beach from Malesso’ and stayed there.

There were so many goods from the Americans, and we were so grateful, because we were so hungry. We ate so much that some of us were stricken with diarrhea. The Americans took very good care of us and told us to stay in Hågat and not to return to Malesso’ yet until they were sure all the Japanese had left.

There were some people who chose to stay in Atåte. Those who decided to stay in Hågat were from Malesso’, Hågat and  Humåtak. There were still some Japanese soldiers, but they were hiding and the Americans would come after them. We stayed in Hågat for about a month and many of us were sick. It was a good thing they had medics and doctors to care for us. Many of us had diarrhea. The outhouses stunk so badly.

Prayers and song

When we were young, my mother would teach us the novena songs, and I had an Uncle Pedro and his brother, who would play the guitar. His son would play for the church.

My mother and I are alike in the sense that I like to pray just as she did with her devotion to the church as a techa. My dad and I are alike in the sense that he was a quiet man. He did not like to talk much. The only time he spoke more than a few words was when he was drinking alcohol.

One of the key things that I learned from my parents was that they passed on the values and lessons that they learned from their own parents. They obeyed and respected what they were taught by their elders. My mother was the youngest sibling in the family and she loved going to church to pray and that’s how she became a techa, just like my Dad like[d] to serve the church by cooking and caring for the priests, and that’s how we were blessed. We were one of the few that had the nicer homes, with the exception of the other family that had a business here in Malesso’.

Obey and respect authority

My thoughts about today’s generation is that there is a big difference in the way children are disciplined. In our days, the children were well behaved because they were strongly disciplined, but nowadays, we can’t spank or use physical punishment, because the parents get arrested or sent to jail for doing so. In the olden days, if a child did something wrong, he was punished or spanked, but now there are laws for preventing parents from doing that.

Children were obedient, because they knew there were serious consequences for misbehavior. In the olden days, there was no such thing as punishment for the parent for disciplining his child. How can the child behave if he does not get disciplined for his wrongdoing? That’s why there are a lot of young people in jail because they’ve been allowed to do as they please.

When I pass away, I want my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to remember that I taught them to obey and respect their parents and authority and to love God and to pray and to ask God for help. I am grateful to God for my blessings with my family; a good husband, who has already left me to be with God; and now my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and a beautiful peaceful home, and a wonderful family.

Josefa Cruz Baza passed away on 2 April 2022.