Faith in spite of fear

Patricia Taitano Guerrero (1936 – ) was only five-and-a-half years old when Japanese forces bombarded the island and occupied Guam. She would turn eight years old by the time American troops retook the island. Guerrero recalls the presence of fear in her life, coloring nearly every experience, nearly every moment.

Guerrero was born to Liberato Guerrero Taitano and Felicidad Santos Taitano. She was the fourth of six children, alongside her identical twin, Cecilia. Prior to the war, Guerrero and her family were living in Hagåtña but fled to their ranch in Barrigada once the Japanese bombardment began. In fact, in their haste to find shelter, the Taitano family fled to the ranch without her, while young Patricia had gone to the restroom with her cousin.

With her cousin and her Auntie Tita, who would later become Sister Mary Peter, Guerrero walked from Hagåtña to Tå’i and eventually to Barrigada to reunite with her family. Recalling this time, Guerrero said:

All I remembered was my aunt and her neighbors were hugging each other, crying because of the war. I didn’t know what was happening, just that I walked from Hagåtña to Tå’i and I didn’t even remember if I was tired or what!

Patricia Taitano Guerrero

Later during the war, Guerrero and her family relocated to Adacao where her father, Liberato, was better able to fish and hunt to provide sustenance for their family. Fortuitously, their shelter in Adacao was located near a natural cave, where their family and up to six other families would come to seek refuge during air raids and bombings.

Throughout the duration of the war, Guerrero could not remember her parents showing fear — even though most of the time, Guerrero was very much afraid. She would overhear stories of people being harmed and even killed by the Japanese, and she soon became terribly afraid whenever Japanese soldiers would come by their homestead demanding food.

Her mother would have to plead with Patricia to come out whenever soldiers would arrive, since Japanese soldiers would threaten to find and shoot anyone found hiding. Not surprisingly, the girl’s fear of the Japanese attached itself to the song “Sam, Sam, My Dear Uncle Sam,” which was not sung, not whispered, not even mentioned, as the penalty was severe.

Storytime and games

While her family was living in Barrigada, children attended Japanese school. Once they moved to Adacao, however, they stayed home and assisted their parents with cooking and cleaning. Guerrero remembers some of these times fondly, especially times when friends and relatives gathered to tell stories and sing songs. She recalls one such time when the children told stories to pass the time while picking kernels of corn off corn stalks to assist with cooking.

One of the events that we usually do with our neighbors, family and neighbors, during the war, is that we’d get together during harvest time, and we’d sit around and we’d loosen the kernels from the corn cobs. During that time, we’d be telling stories, make-believe stories of princesses and kings and queens, or monster stories about the Lenten pigs that would come around when you are a bad boy or bad girl. And we’d all take turns telling one story each. Whether you want to or not, you’re supposed to pull out a story, even if it’s a repetition!

From this time, Guerrero also remembers jokes told and games played with her cousins and neighbors, including games such as “kick the can,” although playing for playing’s sake was less important than contributing to the family’s daily efforts to survive. Guerrero pulled from these moments later in her life when she had her own family.

As her family grew, Guerrero and her husband Danny engaged their children in conversation around the dinner table. Every one of her six children was given the opportunity to contribute to the dinner conversation – even her youngest child who was much younger than the other five. The Guerreros shared stories with their children about growing up during the war. Not quite dinner-table conversation, but the stories were mostly lighthearted, detailing what life was like when they had to be creative in their day-to-day living.

The more serious stories were reserved for opportunities to teach a lesson. Mostly the lessons focused on being considerate with one another, not wasting food or time, being respectful to elders and, ultimately, faith and the belief that God and Mary, the Blessed Mother, will always provide protection.

Baptists and Catholics

Perhaps what kept her parents going in the face of threats to life and harsh living in the jungle was their faith. Guerrero warmly remembers hearing her father singing and humming songs of faith from Liberato’s Baptist religious upbringing, songs such as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

For Guerrero and her siblings, religion was not really “practiced” as her father was Baptist and her mother was Catholic. Because of this difference in religious affiliation, Guerrero remembers her parents did not practice any religion openly. Only when her father would go fishing would Guerrero’s mother take out her rosary and pray the rosary with her children in attendance.

We didn’t know how to pray the rosary, but my mother would make us kneel with her and just listen to her pray. Afterward my mother would always tell us not to say anything to our father about the prayers.

And when Christmas time rolled around and Liberato went on hunting expeditions, Felicidad gathered the children to go to various Nobenan Niño, where Guerrero would come to learn the joyful melody of “Fanmåtto.” (O Come All Ye Faithful).

The full power of her parents’ faith, however, was revealed in the shelter of the dark cave in Adacao while bullets and bombs rained above. Guerrero recalls these times with vivid detail.

During the war, when the Japanese were attacking us, we would be saying, ‘Asaina Bithen del Carmen’ calling on Our Lady of Mount Carmel to protect us — even when my father’s around. We would be shouting, praying and shouting, ‘Asaina Bithen del Carmen! Ma’åse!’

This loosely translates to, “Our Lady of Mount Carmel, protect us and have mercy.” I don’t remember ever hearing my father pray. It was mostly my mother. After the war, after my father died, is when my mother began to take us to church and let us practice the Catholic faith.

It is this faith that has carried her throughout her life.

Guerrero’s youngest sister, Carmelita, died during the war which left just Guerrero and her twin, Chilang, as the only girls in her family. As they grew up they also became involved in their high-school choir and enjoyed singing in church. Guerrero recalls that although she was shy, her sister was braver and could sing by herself.

Guerrero became strong in her Catholic faith and raised her children in the faith as well, attending church daily in her parish of Our Lady of Purification in Maina. Despite being shy, Guerrero and her husband Danny loved to sing in their home and found ways to incorporate church songs into their daily lives, teaching their kids CHamoru church hymns and singing together as a family during the holidays or as part of their novena devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Guerrero’s love for her faith and singing made quite an impact on her children. The Guerrero children are part of the parish church choir and Guerrero’s grandchildren serve as lecturers. Guerrero’s son is also active in his church, often delivering sermons and being an active member of the choir as well.

A strong sense of community was also instilled in Guerrero during the war. While her father would go out and sometimes take her brothers to hunt, her mother would stay home and tend to their shelter, cook meals, and try to make their life bearable by making coffee from breadfruit seeds and making coconut candy with leftover tuba syrup for the kids.

Production of Agueyente brought income

After the war, Guerrero was surprised to discover that another way her family had ingeniously supported themselves during the war was through making coconut moonshine or aguayente. People often visited Guerrero’s family from different villages looking to buy some moonshine to help take the edge off the stress of war. Guerrero even remembers American soldiers coming by her home asking for “Charlie.”

The American soldiers couldn’t pronounce my dad’s name so they just called him ‘Charlie’ when they came by my house to buy moonshine. My family home was built with the money my parents made from the aguayente.

The resourcefulness of her parents did not just benefit Guerrero and her siblings — whatever her family could trade or share with others was happily and willingly given. Sharing was always a community event for Guerrero and her family.

It was very important to be generous. No matter how little we had, we always shared.

Guerrero and her twin sister have passed on this lesson of generosity to their children. Every year, for the past four years, the children of Patricia Guerrero and Cecilia Yanger organize a team they call Team Dinga’ to help in the cause of fighting cancer through fundraising and other activities. It is a lesson that is now being passed to their children’s’ children.

Editor’s note: Reprinted and adapted, with permission, from Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation by Therese Taitano Guerreo and Camarin Guerrero Meno.