Parade grand marshal recalls Guam's liberation
Thousands of Guamanians were liberated on July 21, 1944, and one of those individuals is this year's grand marshal, Irene Sgambelluri. She was only ten years old when the Japanese occupation began.
She was the daughter of Navy First Class John Ploke, and said it was days after the invasion when Japanese soldiers came looking for her father. "I went and I looked in the jungle and I found him," Sgambelluri recalled, adding, "and I said daddy, I said there's Japanese soldiers out there, and they said you have to surrender." He surrendered holding her hand, and was eventually taken to a prisoner of war camp in Osaka, Japan. "So that's the last time we saw my dad. We never said goodbye - we never said goodbye," she said.
She spent the remainder of the war working for the Japanese, planting in the fields. "We were starving, I mean for three and a half years, my family ate mostly sweet potatoes," she said. "I would hear my mom and my auntie at night, and they would whisper but I could hear them say, what are we going to eat tomorrow? What are we going to feed our family?"
After three long years of hardship, the bombing began once again, signaling the arrival of the Americans. During the siege, her grandfather was severely injured, and it was then the family received some unexpected help. "From nowhere comes a Navy Japanese corpsman," Sgambelluri explained. "He looked at my grandfather, and you know what he did? He went back to the burning hospital, and he took some medication and bandage, and he went out, and he treated my grandfather, and then he said 'Go, go!'"
It was during the walk to the Mannengon concentration camp that Sgambelluri's family received another blessing, in the form of a Chamorro family. "They said, 'Don't worry, we'll help you', so this family is from Sinajana, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Ooka, so he carried my grandfather," she said.
The Ookas provided the family food and shelter, until American soldiers finally arrived at Mannengon, setting the Chamorros free. "I would like to thank all the soldiers and the military men, thank you ever, ever so much," she told KUAM News.
"War is not kind, and although there were many wrongdoings, there were many kind acts. With time, prayer, family support, and by sharing our stories many survivors like me have moved on, forgiven, and found peace," she said.