The annual Liberation Day commemoration does not just come with celebration, but solemn deliberation and reflection about the suffering experienced by Guam’s people during the island’s occupation by Japanese forces during World War II.
In Barrigada, village mayor June Blas recounts how her father and grandfather were among countless Chamorus forced by the Japanese to build the airstrip in Tiyan. They spent their days hungry and tired as they worked every day from dawn until dusk.
“My dad was one of them that had to move rocks with my grandpa to make this runway for the airfield. He also said he had to help him lift. Some of his friends, when they would fall, he had to lift them and he got beaten. Because he was helping someone,” Blas said.
In that same area, 76-year-old Joseph Mafnas was kept hidden in the caves as an infant as his parents labored for the Japanese.
“To this day, I can’t believe that I survived all the days I was down there without food or getting fed maybe once a day or every other day. To me, to remember this place, I will always cherish it that this is where I grew up and where I survived. It brings back memories of me staying alive,” Mafnas said.
Surrounded by fruit trees and bamboo, a large Latte stone stands at the memorial in Tiyan to recognize the lives affected by the occupation.