Monday, December 06, 2010

WWII survivors share stories at Dec. 8 Mass


On the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Guam during World War II, four local war survivors will speak during a storytelling session at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica Museum in Hagåtña.

The session will begin Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. after Mass at the Cathedral-Basilica. Three of the four survivors spoke with the Pacific Daily News yesterday about their own unique experiences of life before, during and after the Japanese occupations.

Seventy-four-year-old Rita Cruz was five years old and in church when she first heard the bombings from Japanese naval ships off the coast of Guam on Dec. 8, 1941. At first, she thought it was thunder, but it wasn't until she was hit by a rock launched from a nearby blast that she knew it wasn't. As blasts shook the ground around her, Cruz's mother covered her and her sister closely, and told them to hang in there and keep very still.

Cruz recounts when she heard about the Japanese forces landing in Talofofo Bay and seeing the ships floating in the distance.

"My mother packed whatever stuff we had, first of all the food, and then we went into hiding," she said.

The family met up with several other families and lived by a river deep in the southern jungle, away from the Japanese forces who were settling in near the coast. Inevitably, they were found and made to work in the fields to support the Japanese military.

Once the Japanese forces were settled on the island Cruz began attending school taught by Saipanese teachers, who, at the time, were Japanese citizens. She recalls a time when she and classmates were forced outside to watch her mother be beaten by Saipanese men for refusing to bow her head to Japanese soldiers.

At five years old, Gloria Nelson, now 75, lived next to the Cathedral-Basilica and remembers the first notion of the war as the Cathedral bells warned of a impending attack.

"As a five-year-old, how much can you comprehend really?" she asked. "Other than what came from the elders."

As the bombings began in the southern part of the island, Nelson's family and many others gathered their belongings and trekked to Mongmong.

It was a different experience for Nelson who had ample time to evacuate into the jungle with what they could carry. But, soon enough, the food began to dwindle and she began to hear of the tribulations of war.

"When I started feeling something was wrong, as a young girl, was when a message came to us that my uncle was sent to prison in Japan," she said.

For Joaquin Flores Lujan, now 90, there wasn't much talk about the possibility of war, instead just warnings to stay alert. Lujan, 21 years old at the time, was a blacksmith who worked as a welder in a Navy machine shop. He remembers the first time he heard the Japanese airplanes soaring over the island and news of the bombings in the south.

During the Japanese occupation, Lujan's family befriended a Japanese general. The general often came to visit the family. Throughout the war, Lujan's family was allowed to continue working in their trade.

As the American forces made their attempts to retake the island, the Japanese general was killed and the protection ceased.

"I remember I was arrested by a Saipan man," he said. "I was brought out to a house where my uncle lived and they started to beat me with a baseball bat and used bamboo on my legs. Of course, back then, I was a young man and strong, so at that time, I carried the burden."

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