COPPERAS COVE — Chai Meno was 3 years old on Dec. 8, 1941. She doesn’t remember much of the Japanese invasion of her native island of Guam, but she does remember being hungry and always trying to find a new place to hide.
“We lived in Agana but moved to Yigo, then to Mangiloo until we found a safe cave in Yona,” said Meno, now 73. “We didn’t have vehicles so we had to walk everywhere.”
Meno remembers her father leaving the protection of the caves and hideouts in order to retrieve rationed food. The food was hardly enough to sustain her family. She recalls how worried her mother was when the then-toddler was, as Meno put it, way too skinny.
For almost four years, the Chamorro people had to scratch and claw out a living while the Japanese occupied their beloved home. It wasn’t until after U.S. Marines stepped onto Guam’s shore on July 21, 1944, that the people were free.
On Saturday afternoon more than 1,200 people, of all cultures and nationalities, converged on Ogletree Gap in Cove to celebrate the 70th Guam Liberation Day.
Frank Tyquiengo, vice president of the Chamorro Association of Central Texas, arrived at the park before 6 a.m. to start setting up for the celebration that was set to kick off at 11 a.m.
Carloads of excited residents began arriving about 9 a.m. to search out a place to set up camp, so to speak.
“Today is such an important day for all the Chamorro people and everyone else that was affected by the war,” he said. “We get to come together and celebrate as a people. Most of the main food was donated and people brought the side dishes just because they wanted to help out.”
Benny Perez, the master of ceremonies for the event, and for most of the previous years as well, sees the celebration as a chance for the Chamorro people to get together and let loose — like a family.
“Every year it gets bigger and better, which is great because we always have high expectations,” he said. “It’s always amazing how many people come out — it’s like a family reunion.”
Tyquiengo was adamant that all area residents were invited and Frank Seffrood, Cove’s mayor pro tem, accepted the invitation — but then again, according to him, he usually does.
“This is my sixth time coming to this celebration. I truly enjoy the celebration because they do such a good job of putting it together,” he said. “Some of my really good friends are from Guam and the Philippines, so I have ties to it as well.”
Most of all, for Seffrood, Tyquiengo and many others, the day was really about the opportunity for the outpouring of positive emotion and reflection — and outstanding cuisine.
But they all took a moment to remember the lives lost and the families who were broken during those trying times.