Killeen resident Maria Cruz Aguon, 77, was just 6 years old when Japanese forces invaded Guam in 1941 during World War II.
Guam is a U.S. territory about 4,000 miles west of the Hawaiian Islands.
Aguon was climbing the branches of a breadfruit tree when the invasion occurred.
“I heard planes flying over,” she said. “When I got down from the tree, the bullets started flying. It was so bad.”
The island’s people were forced into slavery, she said. But chores were just a small part of Aguon’s troubles. Separated from her mother for years, she had to hide in the jungle to avoid severe punishment.
“They made us pick up firewood and only gave us three pieces of candy to eat,” she said. “They nearly cut my neck with a machete, but I was saved after I fainted.”
To this day, memories of the invasion still haunt Aguon, who has lived in Killeen for three years.
“I’m still hurt for what they did,” she said. “But I’m glad I reached this age and they didn’t kill me.”
Killeen resident Juan Manibusan, 82, also has horrific memories of the Japanese invasion of Guam.
“It was the 8th of December and we were getting ready to go to church when it happened early in the morning,” he said. “We didn’t know who they were until they started bombing the place.”
Just 10 at the time, Manibusan was separated from his father for weeks after the initial attack and was nearly killed.
“There was an awful lot of suffering, torture and atrocity,” he said. “When word came around that the Americans were making a move into the Pacific, the Japanese gathered us up.”
Manibusan and others were taken to a concentration camp and surrounded by Japanese soldiers holding automatic weapons. “But then the American soldiers came in and saved us,” he said.
After he grew older, he realized he had been on the edge of a massacre, but luck was on his side. The island was liberated on July 21, 1944.
While he has forgiven those who were responsible for the invasion of Guam, Manibusan said he and other survivors continue to wait for war reparations promised by the U.S. government. Of the more than 22,000 people who lived in Guam through World War II, fewer than 1,000 are still alive, according to www.petition2congress.com.
Robert Quichocho, 53, of Killeen, wasn’t yet born when the invasion occurred, but he grew up hearing his mother’s and grandmother’s devastating stories about life during the Japanese occupation of Guam.
“The majority of us came here after retiring from the military,” Quichocho said. “Even though we miss the island so much, everyone here is still like family.”
On Saturday, more than 1,500 people from Guam who live in the Killeen area today will celebrate Guam Liberation Day with a community event starting at 11 a.m. at Copperas Cove Civic Center.
“Liberation Day is when we honor our military and the people that survived during the war,” said Frederick Blaz, 65, president of the Chamorro Association of Central Texas. “We don’t want to forget that and that’s why we celebrate every year.”
Blaz said the celebration is free and open to the public and features “great food and entertainment.”
For more information, call Blaz at (254) 526-9774.