'We love Liberation Day'
The rain gods apparently rained themselves out the day before, as not a drop fell on Guam’s 69th Liberation Day parade July 21.
Thousands of spectators lined the island’s Marine Corps Drive parade route, some camping out in tents, to watch more than 60 entries including floats, military and civilian marching units, military heavy vehicles, classic cars and three local motorcycle clubs.
Kicking off with the Liberation Mile foot race, and followed by a mini-parade of many of the islands Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts, Guam's biggest annual event underscored again the American territory's history and relationship with the United States.
Getting an early start preparing food for family, friends and guests, a group of soon-to-be Marines worked a trio of grills just off the parade route.
Marine recruiter Sgt. Estrada Edeyaoch of the Republic of Palau, an independent Pacific island nation 800 miles west of Guam that saw fierce fighting in World War II, said he and fellow Marine Sgt. Donald Mendiola, of Saipan, brought together about 20 Marine recruits on Guam for Liberation Day.
The group included four Palauans, six Saipanese, three U.S. military dependants from Japan, and six Guam residents. Mendiola said almost 30 percent of high school graduates in the region enlist in the military.
"Oh, they are ready, sir. They just want to get on the plane tomorrow and go to boot camp,” Edeyaoch said with a smile. “We have to tell them to wait.”
After 28 years in the Army, Mary Babauta recently came back to Guam from Arizona to care for her father, Tomas, a disabled veteran who had been diagnosed as terminally ill, but has stabilized since his daughter returned home.
“He's doing really well in my care," Babauta said.
The retired sergeant first class said her family was no stranger to war. Her parents saw their parents killed by Japanese forces after they invaded Guam in 1941, and two of her brothers are Marines.
“I joined because I wanted to leave Guam, but it was the right decision, because it molded me into a responsible person,” she said. “If not for the Army, I wouldn't be where I am now.”
Carrying signs and banners with pictures and names of deployed loved ones, members of the First Battalion, 294 Infantry Regiment Family Readiness Group marched down the one-mile route to show solidarity with their Guam Army National Guard members.
Ashley Leon Guerrero, 20, said she was marching for her dad, Sgt. Noel Leon Guerrero, and hoped to follow in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, grandfather and father by joining the military.
Charlene Perez was there for her husband, Master Sgt. Dwayne Perez. “We love Liberation Day,” Perez said.
Phil Coppa, who served in the Marines, pulled his twin two-year-olds, Victoria and Nicholas, in a wagon along the parade route. His wife was busy working at the Guam Naval Hospital.
"One thing I would say about coming to Guam compared to the majority of my other duty stations, is that the island of Guam has been the most welcoming,” Coppa said. “They actually revere and respect and are proud to be part of the American system, to be a territory, proud to be in our services… They love their veterans, you don't see that everywhere, man. Coming here is like a breath of fresh air, the way they receive military members."
Joe Artero-Cameron, director of Guam's Department of Chamorro Affairs, was just one of many attendees decked out in red, white, and blue. Cameron said that despite hiccups in the relationship between Guam and the federal government, most people are happy with the way things are.
"We are the generation that's been talking about independence, free association, statehood. That is not a resounding voice anymore. I really don’t see a big push in any way to have any other political status, besides the status quo,” Cameron said.
Manny Ignacio walked along the parade route in a cap and shirt identifying him as a Vietnam veteran.
"I don't know about Liberation Day," he said in answer to how the holiday made him feel. "I'm only liberating myself. I'm just trying to be free from society. That's what I'm trying to do. I served my time in a killing zone. I've been treated for (PTSD). I'm taking it day by day. It can kick in anytime, anyplace, anywhere. You know what I mean?”
Wearing a festive pink floral print shirt, and shielding his head from the sweltering heat with a Marine Corps pith helmet, Mike Meno, 52, watched as floats from various Guam municipalities rumbled by.
Meno said the value of Liberation Day, like other commemorative holidays, is it helps people remember how they got to where they’re at.
"I just hope we all remember what our elders went through, and not forget, because I think we’re losing track of it," Meno said. “I hope the younger ones remember, but only time will tell."
Antoinette Cruz, looking very patriotic in red, white and blue attire and twin tri-colored pinwheels extending from her hair, sat with her family under a canopy.
"I wear this every Liberation Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, because we are free. We, the people, everybody, not just the Chamorro," Cruz said.