Surviving Our Fallen: Chamorros, Militarism, Religiosity, and 9/11 (Part 4)
i lina’la’ tataotao
My family migrated to California from Guam in 1995. I was a sophomore in high school. Not all of my freshman credits transferred, so I had to catch up on courses to be eligible for college. During junior year, many college recruiters came to campus, as well as many other recruiters from trade schools and the military. While I was very excited about the possibility of going to college (and something I know my parents hoped for me when they sacrificed for our family to move to California), I had no idea how we could afford college.
Because of this worry, I decided to attend the army recruiter’s presentation. He was a very nice man who wore his uniform with pride and spoke very passionately. He was inspiring. At that point in my life, I had no reason to dislike the military because I had many military veterans and active duty in my own immediate and extended family. I didn’t understand the negative effects that militarization caused on my culture and island.
When the recruiter told us about how the army would pay for our college after we served, it felt like he had answered my prayers. So I kept his card and information pamphlet, and a week later I visited him for more information at the Army recruiting center in Fremont, CA. I would be a man and pay for my own college.
About a week later, the recruiter surprisingly came to the house that my family was renting.
Today (June 1, 2011), as I finish writing this essay, I called my parents to ask them what they remember from the night the recruiter came.
My mom’s memory of that evening is vague. At first, she seems hesitant to talk about it. And then I hear nervousness in her voice:
“I don’t even think we let him in the house. I don’t remember us letting anybody in. I just think we talked to him through the screen door.”
“I didn’t want you joining the service because I don’t believe in fighting wars or having to go off to fight wars when you were so young. You didn’t even have a chance to live yet. I don’t think it’s fair that they recruit at such a young age. I don’t even think they should be allowed on the high school campus. I want to see those young kids have a chance to grow and live.”
“I know a lot of kids were joining the service because a lot of people can’t afford to go to college. But I wanted us to find a different way. We listened to the guy and we took the information. But that wasn’t our plan for you.”
“Craig, Thank god you never joined.”
My father was drafted, like many other Chamorro men on Guam, to fight in the Vietnam War. He said:
“I don’t like that he came to our house to recruit. He even came in his uniform. And when he found out I was a veteran and I was in the army, he thought that was good. But I don’t want anyone in the family going to the military.”
“He was trying to tell me that when you graduate you can get money to go to college. I just felt to me it wasn’t a way to get college money—I always thought what if you don’t live. You went and you die and you don’t get any college then.”
“I could see a guy like that is just trying to make his quota as a recruiter. They think parents will be naïve, and they say that you don’t have to worry about college and that you can travel all around the world, get free clothes, free food and housing.”
“You have to look beyond. You don’t have to go to the military. For what? Don’t worry because we can find other ways for college.”
I think about this fact often: I was 21 years old when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and I was 23 when the U.S. invaded Iraq.
If my parents didn’t stop me from joining the Army, if my counselors and high school teachers didn’t help me with my college essays, scholarship and FAFSA forms, I would’ve enlisted and deployed. I would’ve made the same sacrifice that many Chamorros made before me. I would’ve been devoured by the endless debt to our liberator.
Instead, I became a poet—not sure if my immigrant parents were happy about that fact, But I know, from talking to them, that they are happy I am still alive. I rise, like other Chamorros who are choosing alternatives to joining the military, against the tide of U.S. militarism. I tear their nets with my words.
[U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Steven Bayow, 42, a Yap native, was one of two soldiers killed Feb. 2, in Bayji, Iraq, when a bomb hit their vehicle]
[U.S. Army Spc. Derence Jack, 31, of Saipan was killed Oct. 30, in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq]
[U.S. Army Sgt. Wilgene Lieto, 28, of Saipan was killed Oct. 30, in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq]
[U.S. Army Spc. Richard DeGracia Naputi Jr., 24, of Talofofo was killed Dec. 21, in Iraq, when a homemade bomb detonated during combat operations]