By David V. Crisostomo

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 5) - Ignacio "Buck" Cruz and other Chamorro survivors of World War II, whose numbers have dwindled in the more than half century that has passed since the Japanese occupation of the island, will finally be able to tell their story.

It is a story not known to most Americans who remain unaware of Guam's unique place in history. A story about loyal Chamorros subjugated on the only U.S. soil occupied during World War II. A story about Chamorros tortured by occupiers and, for so many, slain by enemy soldiers using bayonets, grenades and other tools of execution. A story about Chamorro wives left without their husbands, Chamorro children left without their fathers and mothers.

It was on Dec. 8, 1941, when enemy planes dropped bombs on the island, beginning the four-year Japanese occupation of Guam. Now, 62 years later, Cruz and others who survived the war will be able to tell their story to a national commission that will look at hundreds of cases involving Chamorros who were never recognized or compensated properly for their suffering -- a suffering known nowhere else in America.

Members of the recently created Guam War Claims Review Commission yesterday decided to hold public hearings on Guam on Dec. 8 and 9. The public hearings will allow war survivors to speak about their experiences. The commission met for the first time in Washington, D.C., yesterday.

"I never thought it would happen," said Cruz, 76, about the hearings. Cruz was 17 when Japanese soldiers in 1944 executed his father and other Chamorros at Tinta Cave a week before U.S. forces liberated the island.

"The hearings mean a lot to so many of us. We have been looking forward to this for the longest time. Some have already died. So there are not that many survivors left. But there are still some of us alive who will go," said Cruz, former mayor of Merizo.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo called yesterday's first commission meeting a "historic day" for Guam.

"My predecessors, Ben Blaz and Robert Underwood, worked very hard to get us to this point. The day has now arrived for the people of Guam's story to be heard and examined by those entrusted with the responsibility to address and identify those errors, misconceptions, oversights, and shortcomings in law that may have been previously made and experienced."

Commission member Benjamin J. Cruz, a retired Guam Supreme Court justice, yesterday said he and fellow commission member and former legislative Speaker Tony Unpingco, who are both in Washington, D.C., will soon return to the island to set up a commission office on Guam. Then preparations will be made for the hearings, which will last at least two days.

Commissioners elected Maurico Tamargo as commission chairman during its first meeting, Benjamin Cruz said. Then commissioners decided to hold the hearings on Guam to coincide with the Dec. 8 anniversary of the bombing of Guam. Guam was bombed as residents were celebrating the annual procession of Our Lady of Camarin, or Santa Marian Kamalen, in Hagåtña.

"I think it's very important work, and we need as a community to get closure on this issue even if it is belated after 60 years," the retired justice said. "There aren't very many people around that suffered during the war left. It's important we address this issue while they are still here."

The venue has yet to be decided.

Benjamin Cruz stressed that the commission's mission is not to award claims, but to determine if there was a disparity with compensation. After the war, the Guam Meritorious Claims Act allowed residents to receive compensation for war atrocities. But Guam government officials, including the island's congressional delegates over the years, have said that many residents were unaware of the offer and the one-year time limit was impractical for residents of the war-torn island.

Benjamin Cruz said commission members are receiving thousands of pages of reports and other material to review how Chamorros were treated at the time. He said the hearings will help commissioners with firsthand accounts by war survivors.

"I hope that one of the byproducts of our work on the commission will be that Americans and the world will become more sensitive to Guam's unique place in history," he said.

Benajamin Cruz said the commission must have its final report with its recommendations finished by June.

Buck Cruz said he not only hopes that the hearings and the work of the commission will result in compensation, but will more importantly allow him and other survivors to finally share Guam's story with the rest of the country and the world.

"Everyone should know what happened to us," he said.

October 6, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com


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