On the 75th anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Guam in World War II, the Senate passed a bill that would recognize the island’s war survivors and give them reparations.
Mary Taitano San Agustin Lujan, 80, was in tears when she heard about the bill’s passage.
Lujan was 5 years old when the Japanese invaded in 1941. She recalled how she had to march to Manengon in the dark with her parents and seven brothers, wearing only one shoe.
“By the time we come to Yona, my foot was all bruised and ripped because I would step on rocks, maybe bleeding, but who knows when it’s in the mud,” she said. “You can’t tell between the mud and the blood.”
Lujan said she's grateful for the recognition.
"We’re true Americans, in essence, … but yet we don’t vote for the president,” she said. “But in time, maybe eventually they’ll get to that full recognition, but I’m grateful enough as it is for the American Marines to come in, liberate us, and now we’re coming to a closure where the American Congress is recognizing Guam, that we had suffered.”
Francisco Perez Sablan, 76, wasn't so enthusiastic about the reparations. Sablan was just a year old at the beginning of the occupation.
After the Japanese soldiers raided his home and took his family’s food and clothing, his father tried to take back some of their badly needed provisions. Sablan said the soldiers caught his father and treated him as a thief and spy.
“They used the tangan-tangan tree, … and hit every part of his body. They broke every bone in his body,” he said.
Two weeks later, his father died, and soldiers came to his house. Sablan was too young to remember the experiences, but his grandmother told him a Japanese soldier threw him into a cooking fire as a baby.
“The Japanese took me from my grandmother’s hands, and lucky the fire’s not that big, they threw me in the fire,” he said. “It happened that a Japanese sergeant, … he picked me up and handed me to my grandmother.”
Sablan said he applied for reparations with his brother, before the bill was passed, and heard he will be awarded $15,000 for the burns he sustained in the fire. He said his brother, now 78, expects to receive money for being forced to march to Manengon from Hagåtña as a toddler.
“To me, I don’t think it’s really fair, … but what can you do when that’s the only amount that they’re (going to) give,” he said. “It’s better than nothing. I have to appreciate, but to me anything isn’t enough for the damage that we have and the suffering.”
Sablan said he thinks the amount of time survivors have had to wait is unfair, especially for what they had to endure.
“So many of the war survivors passed away already waiting for this, … to have something at least, he said. “Who knows, I might die next month or next week.”
Sablan said he doesn’t know if he or his brother will be alive long enough to receive their reparations.
“It’s getting late already,” he said.