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Guam victims of Japan atrocities may see payments

November 28, 2005

By Maureen Maratita

HAGATNA, Guam (Reuters) – Can wartime suffering have a
price? According to a bill making its way through the U.S.
Congress, losing a spouse or a parent is worth $25,000.

The figure is part of an act intended to compensate the
Chamorro people of the Pacific island of Guam for atrocities
during the Japanese occupation from December 1941 to July 1945.
The island is now a U.S. territory and first came under U.S.
control in the 19th century.

About $85 million has been earmarked for survivors and
remaining family members through the Guam World War Two Loyalty
Recognition Act introduced in Congress earlier this year.

The list of reparations is stark: For rape, paralysis or
loss of a limb, $15,000; for forced labor, scarring or
disfigurement, $12,000; for internment or forced march,

$10,000.

Marian Johnston Taitano is 86, the daughter of a Chamorro
mother and an American father from Tennessee who was working on
Guam in the civil service in 1941.

When the Japanese invaded, Taitano was 21 and engaged to a
U.S. Navy ensign, a gunnery officer. His ship, the USS Penguin,
was returning from patrol when the Japanese attacked.

“He happened to be the first American that shed his blood,”
Taitano said. “When the Japanese came, the fire (from the
planes) cut him across the chest.”

His shipmates put the body on a raft and pushed it to
shore.

DISPLACED AND IMPRISONED

Taitano’s father, William Johnston, was taken prisoner and
then shifted to Japan in 1942 with about 500 American military
personnel and civilians. She never saw him again.

“Can you imagine what it was like to watch your father on
one of those trucks?” she said.

Taitano has kept everything of her family’s documents from
the war years.

“My father was the second one who died in the concentration
camp in Japan,” she said. “I have a portion of my father’s
diary, from the day Guam was bombed until the day he died. I
haven’t been able to read it through completely.”

Taitano’s family was displaced throughout the occupation
and she was part of a group of Chamorros forced to march to a
prison camp in Manenggon in June 1945, a journey many did not
complete.

“I saw them fall by the wayside,” said Taitano, who was at
the camp for about a month before the war ended. “It seemed
like eternity. Whatever food we had we held off from eating it
to give it to the babies.”

Taitano remembers seeing the liberating U.S. troops arrive.

“When I looked up toward the mountain, they looked like
Greek gods,” she said. “They didn’t look like GIs to me.”

One of Taitano’s brothers developed tuberculosis during
confinement and later died.

The act is not the first attempt to compensate indigenous
islanders for wartime suffering or recognize the territory’s
long-standing loyalty to the United States.

In 1945, the Guam Meritorious Claims Act offered
compensation to surviving Chamorros but many were unaware of
its existence.

In 1946, Guam’s Chamorro population was 22,628. A year
later, only 711 death and injury claims were submitted to the
U.S. Congress.

The U.S. Navy Department, which governed the island after
the war, set a limit of $4,000 on death claims, making only one
such award. Some other claims paid upwards of $3,000 and

$1,000.

TIME RUNNING OUT

Since then, a variety of bills and commissions have
maintained the issue of reparations for Guam, culminating in
2002 with an act signed by President George W. Bush to create
the Guam War Claims Review Commission.

On December 8 and 9, 2003 — 62 years after the Japanese
occupation began — a five-member commission heard testimony in
Guam from survivors, including Taitano.

“I remember a lot of things. I just started to speak out
recently. It took a long time,” she said. “Coming close to home
again, it hurts.”

The 2005 act measure gathered the support of 98 co-sponsors
from both sides of the U.S. House of Representatives and has
one more committee to clear before debate starts on the floor.

Support from the Senate is expected to be equally firm.

Though the Bush administration has offered no overt backing
for the act, Guam’s Democratic delegate to Congress, Madeleine
Bordallo, remains optimistic it will become law.

But time is marching. Most of the Chamorro survivors are
elderly and infirm.

In 1979, 11,370 people testified before a government of
Guam reparations committee. In 2003, fewer than 200 testified.

“I can probably do without it but there are other people
that have been waiting and waiting,” Taitano said. “Poor Guam.
After 60 years, I think we should be recognized.”


Source: reuters



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