GUAM WAR CLAIMS GET COOL D.C. RECEPTION

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By Frank Oliveri

PDN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (Pacific Daily News, July 22) - More than a month after the report’s release, a Bush administration official on Wednesday dodged questions about whether the White House supported the findings of the Guam War Claims Review Commission. David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for Insular Affairs, told the House Resources Committee that he didn’t want to be vague, but that he was instructed not to be too specific.

Cohen also happens to be the son of a Pacific Islander.

His unwillingness to provide any insight caused some frustration, especially on the 60th anniversary of Guam’s liberation from enemy Japanese rule.

The commission was trying to determine whether Chamorros were treated the same as other Pacific islanders whose lands were occupied by the Japanese during World War II.

Later, retired Marine Corps Gen. Ben Blaz, standing up and gesturing to the committee, said: "If we are fellow Americans, the time is now. If we are yours, you should take us as your own. The time has come."

The 85-page report recommends setting aside at least $25 million to compensate the survivors of those who died as a result of Japan's occupation of Guam from 1941-44. It also recommended that:

The compensation would be limited only to an estimated 9,000 Chamorros, who were alive in 1990 and survived the occupation, and their direct survivors. Chamorros affected by the occupation, but who died before 1990, are not eligible.

That total does not include those Chamorros who might have left Guam before 1990, according to the commission’s chairman, Mauricio Tamargo.

About 22,000 Chamorros suffered during the Japanese occupation. More than 1,000 Chamorros were killed.

Blaz, his voice booming at times and choked with emotion, compared the United States’ failure to properly recognize and compensate Chamorros for their loyalty and suffering to "unrequited love."

He said that if the White House and Congress continued to drag on the recognition process, the next time someone asks him to share his experiences they might need to seek him out at Arlington Cemetery.

"I’m 76 years old," he said. "I’m becoming an endangered species."

Cohen said that the Interior, Defense and Justice departments would have to review the report together. He warned that it could take some time. He also said that the administration was already well into planning the 2006 budget, implying that time may be running out to include funding for next year.

"There are many worthy programs competing now for limited federal dollars," he said. "Our intention ... is to ensure that we engage in this discussion with realistic expectations within the context of compelling national priorities and budgetary constraints."

Wednesday’s hearing, broadcast on the Internet, helped bring added attention to the people who have become known as "America’s forgotten wartime wards," said Lieutenant Governor Kaleo S. Moylan, who attended the hearing.

"They will forever be haunted by the memories of a war and will always live with the horror they saw."

The Japanese took control of Guam on December 8, 1941, the day after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that drew the United States into the war. During the 32-month occupation, Japanese soldiers tortured and terrorized Chamorros.

"These Chamorro men, women and children -- who were content and peaceful under the authority of the United States -- faced forced labor, torture and other unspeakable acts under the occupying forces until the return of Uncle Sam," Moylan said.

He echoed Blaz’s sentiments, asking lawmakers to act quickly in crafting legislation to address the recommendations of the report.

"I have heard many accounts from our (elders) who wish to move forward and complete the war claims process," he said. "There are many who will never be heard from again.

"Listening to those who remain, I sense the frustration in their voices … because they, too, realize that their hour is near, and even until now the closure of this war claims process remains just beyond their reach."

After World War II, the U.S. government decided Japan did not have to pay reparations to Guamanians but agreed to compensate them from the U.S. Treasury for property, personal injury or death. Residents of other island groups, including the Philippines and the Northern Marianas, were paid reparations by the Japanese.

Although the U.S. government established the Guam Meritorious Claims Act of 1945, Guamanian survivors and their relatives have testified that many compensation payments set up through the program were never made and payments that were made weren’t much.

Survivors have criticized the U.S. government, saying no amount of money will make up for the beatings, forced labor, beheadings, rapes and other atrocities they and their families endured.

"Our burden as an American community was exceptionally heavy," said Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, a member of the Resources Committee. "Our historical injustice in being left out of the key war claims legislation after the war is exceedingly bitter. We have a daunting task to remedy this injustice."

During the hearing, Blaz stressed that recognition was of the greatest importance. He told committee members that he had eight buddies who survived the occupation.

"We talked about" recognition, Blaz said. "But in time, they passed away. I am the only one left."

July 23, 2004

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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