In June, the U.S. Mint, as part of the Beautiful Quarters Program, will issue the War in the Pacific National Historical Park quarter. The reverse, or tails side, of the coin portrays American troops landing at Asan Bay on July 21, 1944. The depiction gave me pause.
With the approach of the 75th anniversary of liberation, I agree it's proper to recognize the American forces who bled and died in retaking Guam. I know from my family that Chamorros, who had been brutally subjugated by Imperial Japanese forces for more than 31 months, overwhelmingly welcomed the American troops. but I asked myself, why weren’t Chamorros similarly honored with the coin?
To begin with, the war was not of the Chamorros' making; it was the islanders who were victims of the Japanese conquerors and who, along with the Japanese, experienced the horrific bombing U.S. forces inflicted on the island for weeks before the invasion.
It bears remembering too that liberation of the Chamorros was not the primary objective of the U.S. invasion. The taking of Guam — like that of Saipan, Palau, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, the Solomons and New Guinea — was part of America’s island-hopping strategy designed to isolate the Japanese on islands that were bypassed while America took other important island bases from which to launch attacks to capture the Philippines, Okinawa and ultimately Japan.
So while I am proud to be an American, I think it would have been appropriate to design a coin that honored the Chamorro victims of the war as well as the U.S. armed forces. It must not be forgotten that the Chamorros remained steadfastly loyal to the U.S. throughout the war.
American Memorial Park Quarter
Contrast the War in the Pacific quarter with the American Memorial Park quarter issued earlier this year. The Mint notes on its webpage that that quarter "honors the thousands of American and indigenous Chamorros and Carolinians of the Northern Marianas who gave their lives during the Marianas Campaign of World War II."
The reverse of that coin depicts a young woman in traditional dress at the front of the Flag Circle and Court of Honor in Saipan. Her hand rests on a plaque that honors the sacrifice of those who died, islanders and military alike, in the taking of the islands of the Northern Marianas.
Another point to recall as we approach the 75th Liberation Day is that Guam's dwindling number of survivors of the Japanese occupation have still not received reparations for their suffering. The people of the Northern Marianas got their reparations from Japan in the 1970s but the U.S. absolved the Japanese from having to pay reparations to Guam’s people. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided reparations of $20,000 per person to the approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans who were interred in the mainland during World War II. While those people doubtless experienced hardship, theirs pales in comparison to what Chamorros experienced. Beheadings, indiscriminate mass executions of men, women and children, rape, forced labor and deprivation of food and medical care was the lot of the Chamorros.
Accordingly, I understand the frustration Irene Sgambelluri, now 89, recently expressed. In a letter to President Trump she wrote, “I and other Guamanian war survivors have patiently waited for just compensation. With every passing year more of us pass away. And for those of us who remain,” she said, “we become progressively frail.”
Mrs. Sgambelluri may have gained a sympathetic ear with the Trump administration. She’s already heard from Douglas Domenech, Assistant Secretary of Interior, who has promised to work in the administration and with Guam Del. Mike San Nicolas to get reparations paid.
It’s time America addresses reparations for our WWII survivors and the money should not come from Guam’s Section 30 money, the source identified in the flawed Guam Loyalty Recognition Act passed in 2016. The money should come from the U.S. Treasury and it needs to come now. Our few remaining survivors deserve payment. Far too many, like my mother and stepmother, died without ever being compensated or properly honored by the nation for their sacrifices.