Editor's note: This is the first story in a series about war survivors' recollections as the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Guam approaches.
Three days after Guam celebrates the 75th anniversary of Liberation Day on July 21, Rosita Valentina Lujan Perez will turn 82. She was 4 when the Japanese invaded and, even at such a young age, she knew life had changed.
“I was just holding on to my mom’s skirt. I did not want to be left alone. It was terrible,” she said.
Her first memory of Japanese soldiers was them beating her uncle. “That was very clear in my mind that something bad was happening,” Perez said.
She said her family lived in fear. “We were always hiding. We always have to be quiet not to be outside because we were so scared of what the Japanese will do.”
Food was scarce and she lived on sweet potatoes, bananas and bread fruit. "We had to share everything with the Japanese," she said.
When American forces were poised to invade Guam, Perez and her family, along with most of the island’s population, were forced to march to concentration camps.
Perez’s mother had recently given birth and was sick with pneumonia.
“We cried walking through the dirt and mud. We were just scared we didn’t know where we were going. I don’t know how many days that lasted but we were drinking from dirty water, starving, we did not have anything to eat. The baby had nothing but my mother’s drying milk,” Perez said.
“When the Marines finally showed up and they found us, my mother was so happy,” she said. “They told us we are going to be saved.”
She said her mom was given medical treatment but nearly died. “We were thankful that the Americans came to liberate us,” she said. "They gave us apples and candy."
Perez went on to marry at 19 after spotting her husband, a member of the U.S. Air Force, at the Agana village fiesta.
"I said, 'OK, this is going to be the guy I am going to get married to,'" she recalled.
The couple had four children before her husband died in 1986.
Today, Perez said she holds no grudge toward Japan. “It was wartime,” she said.
"As we have wars now that are going on, it brings me back," she said. "Whether we like it or not, there is always war somewhere."
The upcoming Liberation Day celebrations will be a happy time for Perez, who said she often cries during the parade.
“I was safe when Americans came in. Without them, I would not be here,” she said.