Guam honors war dead
By Brett Kelman
Pacific Daily News
May 27, 2008
Yesterday, several hundred people gathered at the Piti Veterans Cemetery for a Memorial Day ceremony held to honor American servicemen who have fallen in the many military conflicts since World War I.
Military personnel, veterans and community leaders laid wreaths on bone-white graves to mourn the men and women who have died for their country. Tears, song and prayers marked the occasion.
"We acknowledge today the debt and incredible sacrifices made by many who have served throughout our nation's history," said Maj. Gen. Donald Goldhorn, Guam National Guard adjutant general. "Throughout America and in many parts of the world, the debt of our wars will be honored with recollections of heroes' valor and sacrifices. ... Many that we honor here today rest their souls on Guam."
Twenty-five sons of Micronesia have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa since the War on Terror began in 2001. Many more were killed in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the first Persian Gulf War.
A large factor is the high level of patriotism in Guam and the region, which is reflected in high enlistment rates, which in turn have led to a high per-capita rate of combat deaths in every U.S. conflict. In the War on Terror, the death toll per capita for Guam and Micronesia is among the highest in the United States, according to the Washington Post.
Goldhorn said none of those killed were lost in vain.
"They believed that what we have, the freedoms that we enjoy, are worth fighting for -- and yes -- they believed the freedoms that we have were worth dying for," he said.
According to Pacific Daily News files, 13 servicemen from Guam were killed in Korea, 70 were killed in Vietnam and two were killed in the first Persian Gulf War.
At yesterday's ceremony, Agnes San Nicolas Rillera, mother of Army Maj. Henry Ofeciar, said she found solace in the knowledge that her family didn't mourn alone. Ofeciar was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 27, 2007, by enemy fire.
"It is not only comforting, but it is a remembrance and it is a very nice turnout," she said. Rillera thanked those who came to the ceremony and those who kept soldiers in their thoughts and prayers.
Ofeciar's sister, Orlene Ofeciar Arriola, said yesterday's ceremony would have pleased her brother.
"He really took these kind of things seriously," she said. "He would have been here. And I think he would have liked it."
Joe Moore, president of the Guam Veterans Motorcycle Group, said he found himself surrounded by his fellow soldiers -- both the living and the dead. The cemetery was filled with mourning servicemen and civilians, who withstood a daunting rain to honor those who had died.
"This rain doesn't compare to what these guys gave," he said, pointing to the surrounding graves. "I know a lot of these people that are in here. Over there sits all the Vietnam guys. Some of my friends are down there. Up there sits my son-in-law. Over here sits my pari's son."
Moore said the ceremony was overwhelming, but he expected nothing less from his fellow Chamorros.
"This is tremendous. I mean this hits the heart," he said. "Guam is very patriotic island. ... If you join the service, regardless of what service, and you tell these people you're from Guam and you're a Chamorro, they expect 110 percent more than what everyone else is giving. That's just the way it is."
Yesterday, local veteran Joe Taitano remembered a particular fallen soldier. Taitano and his friend spent a month on military leave on Guam before being deployed to Vietnam. Only Taitano came back.
In April, Taitano ventured all the way to England to visit the grave of his fallen comrade on the 40th anniversary of his death. He found the grave in a small haven outside of Liverpool.
Taitano said he mourns on Memorial Day and Veterans Day for every fallen friend. Yesterday was no exception.
"Every year I do this and it's just to remember. It's not much comfort because you always wonder why it wasn't you," he said. "Why did they make the ultimate sacrifice and why did I come back? ... As I grew older, I thought maybe this was my purpose -- to ensure that everyone remembers them."