Surviving Our Fallen: Chamorros, Militarism, Religiosity, and 9/11 (Part 3)

You can read Part 1 of this essay here and Part 2 here.

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Surviving Our Fallen: Chamorros, Militarism, Religiosity, and 9/11 (Part 3)

 

“hu hongge

i lina’la’ tataotao

ta’lo åmen”

 

~

 

My passport filled with stamps during those two weeks of backpacking. In 2001, I had been living in the continental U.S. for six years, after my family decided to move to California from Guam. Yet being in Europe was the furthest from my homeland I had ever been.

 

~

 

Before 9/11, U.S. citizens didn’t need a passport to enter Guam since it was American territory; after 9/11, passports were required.

After 9/11, the Guam international airport needed to separate un-inspected arrival passengers from departing passengers. So the airport installed retractable belts, moving sidewalks, a system of chairs, and more security to make sure arriving passengers went from the gate to the immigration hall. The airport also used semi-permanent movable walls.

 

After 9/11, hotel occupancy rates on Guam fell below 50 percent. In 2000, around one million visitors arrived. By the end of 2003, that number fell to around 650,000. A “catastrophic drop.”

 

~

 

“hu hongge

i lina’la’ tataotao

ta’lo åmen”

 

~

 

The U.S. invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003: Operation Iraqi Freedom. The first Chamorro soldier died in Iraq on December 8, 2003. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. His name was Christopher Rivera Wesley. He was 26 years old.

~

 

“Island Mourns Fallen Soldier”

 

~

 

In “The Exceptional Life and Death of a Chamorro Soldier: Tracing the Militarization of Desire in Guam, USA” (2010), Chamorro historian and writer Michael Lujan Bevacqua traces the long history of Chamorro enlistment in the U.S. armed forces:

 

At one point in 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated that 5 percent of Guam was in the military, which according to one editorial writer was twelve times the national average. Chamorros have also made regular appearances in major U.S. conflicts over the past century, their starring role coming during the Vietnam War where they and Guam held the distinction of possibly having the highest killed-in-action rate per capita. With the current war in Iraq still being waged, most of America’s military recruitment offices are having problems meeting their quotas; Guam’s recruiting centers, on the other hand, are doing just fine and regularly recognized for their superb work. In fact, at present, four of the U.S. Army’s twelve highest recruitment “producers” can be found in Guam. (35)

 

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Another headline that caught my eye a few years ago from the Salt Lake Tribune: “US Territories: A Recruiters Paradise: Army Goes Where Fish Are Biting” (8/05/07).

~

I started thinking about my grandfather and the throw net. I started to see Chamorros as tropical fish, biting at the hook of U.S. militarism, trading in our scent of the ocean for the (commissary) privileges of a military uniform. I started thinking about the idea of paradise: Guam as a tourist paradise, Guam as a recruiter’s paradise. I started to imagine recruitment centers as throw nets cast throughout the island.

 

~

 

After the three years of brutal Japanese occupation, the U.S. military bombed Guam, invaded, and overtook the island. The first landing of U.S. Marines occurred on July 21, 1944. Since then, Guam has been a territory of the United States. Residents of Guam can’t vote for the U.S. president, have no voting representation in Congress, and the U.S. Congress has plenary power over our homeland.

 

Since then, July 21 is celebrated as “Liberation Day.” Since then, Chamorros have entered the military in record numbers.

 

~

Why do so many Chamorros enlist despite our colonial situation?

 

Bevacqua suggests that the perceived benevolent gesture of “liberation” explains “the high levels of public and phatic patriotism, military and civilian loyalty and devotion” (36). To many Chamorros, military service is payment towards our debt for being liberated: “The Chamorro soldier is thus the one who willingly and loyally shoulders the indigenous sacrifice” (48).

 

Lisa Natividad and Gwen Kirk, in their essay “Fortress Guam: Resistance to U.S. Military Mega-Buildup,” point to various economic reasons as well. They note how Guam’s economy is geared towards militarism, and how poverty is a key reason for enlistment:

 

The military is by far the major employer, with most families connected to someone serving in the military or employed to support military operations. There are three JROTC programs in the island’s public high schools, as well as an ROTC program at the University of Guam…Poverty rates on Guam are high, with 25% of the population defined as poor. Between 38% and 41% of the island’s population qualifies for Food Stamps. Wage rates are low; schools are underfunded; and there are few opportunities for technical training on the island… Many young people yearn to leave “the rock” to continue their education, to find work, and to experience a wider world.

 

Many Chamorros enlist because of our colonial situation.

 

~

 

[2004]

 

[U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Aguon Vega, 42, a Guam native, died March 20, after he sustained injuries from a roadside blast in Iraq]

 

[U.S. Army Sgt. Yihjyh “Eddie” Lang Chen, 31, of Saipan was killed in Iraq, April 4, when his unit was attacked]

 

[U.S. Marine Cpl. JayGee Meluat, 24, a native of Palau, was killed by enemy fire in Al-Anbar province, Iraq, Sept. 13]

 

[U.S. Army Sgt. Skipper Soram, 23, from Kolonia, in the FSM state of Pohnpei, died after an explosion occurred near his security post in Iraq on Sept. 22]

 

[Ferdinand Ibabao, an employee of DynCorp security company, was killed in an explosion in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, on Oct. 14. Ibabao had been a Guam police officer. He was 36]

 

[U.S. Army Spc. Jonathan Pangelinan Santos, a former Santa Rita resident, was killed in Karabilah, Iraq, on Oct. 15, when his vehicle hit a land mine. He was 22]

~

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4 thoughts on “Surviving Our Fallen: Chamorros, Militarism, Religiosity, and 9/11 (Part 3)

  1. Pingback: Craig Santos Perez

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