Remembering one of Guam's great heroines

Remembering one of Guam's great heroines

by: Kim Suchek
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published: February 26, 2013
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Hello military community,

Reading and listening to the media about whether women should fight in combat, or even be in the war, I can’t help but ponder, “What about the great women in history?” Not only from the U.S., but overseas. Women have always contributed in some form – including the hand-to-hand combat, gun slinging and troop leading that is the stuff of legends and history books. You never hear it said of such women, “She fought well but complained” or, “She was a distraction to the other soldiers.”

In honor Women’s History Month and our female veterans (warriors), I will discuss one or two of such women from a different Asia Pacific location each week in March. I’m not saying these are the most noteworthy, just those that I am familiar with. If you have something to contribute or would like me to honor someone else, please let me know.

This week’s heroine is from Guam:  Ignacia Bordallo Butler was born Nov. 13, 1897 to Baltazar and Rita Bordallo. She was raised with four brothers and sisters and raised with a good education, speaking Chamorro, Spanish and English. She married Chester Butler at age 18 and had six children.  Their lives were prosperous and together created Butler’s Emporium, a dry goods store which was a part of Butler’s Incorporated.

The couple worked hard to grow their business and obtained a franchise for Coca-Cola which was a success and added modern machinery and Guam’s first automated conveyor assembly line to their soda-making plant. In the early 1930s, the couple added Butler’s Merchandise Retail Store in Hagatna, several warehouses, the Hagatna Theatre and later Butler’s Emporium which featuring several major U.S. franchises. They also started Guam’s first commercial radio station, K6LG, which was operated only a few hours a day by their son, Benny.

The Butlers saw World War II coming and knew it would affect Guam. As a precaution, they sent their unmarried daughters to California to live with their married daughter, and sent their money to a bank in San Francisco for safekeeping. When the war broke out, Chester Butler was one of the Americans captured and taken to Japan as a prisoner of war. Ignacia continued to operate the family business with her younger son, James, during the Japanese occupation.

When Japanese soldiers asked her to make Coca-Cola, she told them she had run out of syrup, although in reality she had plenty in stock hidden in her warehouse. Both James and Ignacia were interrogated various times by Japanese soldiers as to where she was keeping the business’ money.

Ignacia helped to support the operators of secret radios, at great risk to herself, so they could follow American news of the war. She was physically abused for her resistance during the war, and forced to sell her goods for Japanese yen which was worthless at the time. In time, however, the Japanese came to respect her strength. Her granddaughter, Donna Champion, noted that the Japanese assigned an identification number to every person on Guam – except Ignacia Butler.

The Butler’s businesses were in ruins from the American bombardment of Hagatna in 1944 and most of their family land in Agat and Yigo was taken by the reestablished U.S. naval government for military bases. Sadly, Chester never regained his health after his internment and died in 1952 of pancreatic cancer.

Ignacia took over the businesses and was known among the religious community as a benefactor for her numerous financial contributions to the church and her quietly helping others with interest-free loans so that they, too, could pick up and start over again after the war. She was known as a loving mother, successful business women and civic leader. She died in California in 1993 at the age of 95.

Ignacia Butler may not have been in the hand to hand combat but I still find this woman an inspiration. I was happy to read this loving couple, two of Guam’s earliest business pioneers, was inducted as laureates into the Guam Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame in 1996.

Blessing from my family to yours,

Kimberly Suchek

If you have any questions or concerns or would like to share a story or situation, contact me at Kim@MilitaryResourceBooks.com and visit my website for updated information and other resources not listed in my book.

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