Restoring Wake Island’s Guam Memorial: 'Honoring those who came before us'
WAKE ISLAND ATOLL -- Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center and Wake Island’s Detachment 1 leadership paid honor to 45 Chamorros with a rededication ceremony of the Guam Memorial June 8.
In 1941, 45 Chamorro men from Guam lived on Wake Island working for Pan American Airlines, said Col. Frank Flores, PRSC commander. They weren’t looking to become memorialized, they left the comforts of home, ventured to Wake Island in order to provide for their families and make a little better life for themselves.
On Dec. 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces attacked Wake Island and 10 Chamorro men were killed during the Battle of Wake Island. The 35 remaining men joined in the fight to defend it until Japanese forces took the island weeks later. The 35 men were sent to prison camps in Japan and China and two died in captivity.
“These men, with no military training, decided to take up arms and defend the island,” Flores said. “Their story was echoed by the feats of bravery and perseverance by the people of Guam, who on the island after the Japanese attack and invasion, continued to remain patriotic to our country, protect American servicemen on the island, and fought valiantly for their freedom.”
In 1991, workers at Wake Island erected the Guam Memorial to honor the sacrifices of the 45 Chamorros. A few of the survivors from the Battle of Wake Island were present for the dedication ceremony of the Guam Memorial, said Capt. Allen Jaime, Det. 1 (Wake Island Atoll) commander, PRSC. Over the past few decades, the memorial has been deteriorating from the heat, sun and corrosive environment.
“It was degraded so bad[ly] that you couldn’t read the names of those who [had] paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Jaime said. “We had to fix this because I think it’s only fair that we honor and acknowledge their bravery and sacrifice.”
Flores, being a native of Guam, said the memorial is very personal to him and when he saw its condition, he had to take action.
“In 2015, during my first trip to Wake Island as the PRSC commander, I realized we needed to refurbish the memorial,” Flores said. “This year, we decided to refinish and restore the Guam Memorial back to its original glory.”
“This dedication is very special to me as a native of Guam,” Flores continued. “I am so proud of my heritage and proud to see what the people who went before me have done. My father served in the Army, my grandparents told me stories about the sacrifices they made during the Japanese occupation. Seeing this memorial and being the commander, I’m honored to be a part of it.”
“It’s always important that we remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, those who forged the path to freedom,” Flores said. “They help us understand where we came from and the sacrifices we may be called to make in the future.”
Flores concluded the ceremony by thanking the men and women of the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center, Chugach Federal Services Incorporated and everyone who made the rededication possible.
“This is not just a memorial to the 45 men from Guam, it’s also a memorial to those families left behind, to those who lost their loved ones,” Flores said.
Attendees pose for a group photo during Wake Island’s Guam Memorial rededication ceremony June 8, 2017. The Guam Memorial on Wake Island was erected in 1991 to honor 45 Chamorros from Guam who worked for Pan American airlines. On Dec. 8, 1941, just a few hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese forces attacked Wake Island and 10 of the 45 Chamorros were killed in the attack. The remaining 35 men were sent to prison camps in Japan and China where two died in captivity. Due to decades of corrosion, heat and sun, the memorial was degraded to the point where it became unreadable. During many months in 2017, the Guam Memorial was renovated to its original glory.
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