LONG-AWAITED COMPENSATION. Jesus San Nicolas, 86 (top photo),
and Antonina Palomo Cross, 85 (bottom photo), wait at the Guam
war claims office in Tamuning, Guam. The 1941 Japanese invasion
of Guam, which happened on the same December day as the attack
on HawaiĎiís Pearl Harbor, set off years of forced labor,
internment, torture, rape, and beheadings. Now, more than 75
years later, thousands of people on Guam, a U.S. territory, are
expecting to receive long-awaited compensation for their
suffering at the hands of imperial Japan during World War II.
(AP Photos/Anita Hofschneider, File)
Asian Reporter web extra, April 6, 2020
Guam residents compensated for war atrocities
By Anita Hofschneider
The Associated Press
HAGAT—A, Guam ó For Antonina Palomo Cross, Japanís occupation
of Guam started with terror at church. The then-7-year-old was
attending Catholic services with her family when the 1941
invasion began, setting off bomb blasts, sirens, and screams.
It ended with her family surrendering their home and
eventually carrying the dead body of her malnourished baby
sister on a forced march to a concentration camp.
Now 85, Cross is among more than 3,000 native islanders on
Guam who are expecting to get long-awaited compensation from the
U.S. government for their suffering at the hands of imperial
Japan during World War II.
Payments of $10,000 to $25,000 ó federal tax money normally
reserved for Guamís coffers ó will be made to those who
underwent forced labor or internment, suffered severe injury or
rape, or lost loved ones during the U.S. territoryís nearly
three-year occupation. A 1951 peace treaty forgave Japan of the
responsibility to pay Guam reparations.
"Iím happy to get it," Cross said after a recent meeting at
central Guamís newly opened war claims office, where she
verified her payment was approved. The amount hasnít been
determined yet, but "every little bit helps," she said.
Cross is retired from a local government job and relies on
Social Security and her pension to get by. The great-grandmother
said the war claims money will come in handy for manamko
ó "elders" in the language of Guamís indigenous Chamorro people
ó like her.
The United States, which first captured Guam during the
Spanish-American War, had a small contingent of troops on the
island when Japan invaded on the same December day that it
attacked Pearl Harbor. Many were taken prisoner or killed.
But most of those affected by the occupation were Chamorro
people, who suffered internment, torture, rape, and beheadings.
More than 1,100 are estimated to have died during the
For the Cross family, it meant being forced from their house
in HagatŮa, the capital, to their rural farm about 5 miles away
before being sent to a concentration camp in 1944. While living
at the farm, Cross remembers hiding from foreign soldiers as she
walked to her Japanese school, where she was forced to learn the
Japanese language and bow in the direction of Japan with her
Her sister was among an unknown number of Chamorro children
who died of malnutrition during the occupation, which ended when
the U.S. returned and forced the Japanese to surrender in a
Receiving the compensation now is a bittersweet moment that
caps decades of political efforts by Guamís nonvoting U.S. House
delegates to persuade congress that the people of Guam deserve
recognition for their suffering under Japanese occupation.
"At the time the Chamorro people were experiencing this,
there was a sense of abandonment by the U.S., and that sentiment
has not gone away," former Guam congressman Robert Underwood
President Barack Obama signed the Guam war claims measure in
2016. It provides $10,000 to those who underwent forced marches
or internment, or had to escape internment; $12,000 to those who
experienced forced labor or personal injury; $15,000 to people
who were severely injured or raped; and $25,000 to children,
spouses, and some parents of those killed during the occupation.
The amounts reflect similar war claims paid to survivors of
other Japanese-occupied territories. Survivors had one year to
Many say they feel guilty receiving compensation while their
parents and siblings who have died did not.
Judith Perez, 76, was only a baby during the war and said she
was hesitant to apply for a claim. She teared up as she said the
check should be going to her parents, who have long since passed
"Itís great to have money, but the people who are more
deserving of it are the ones who really suffered physically and
mentally, but theyíre gone," she said.
A 1945 law gave Guam residents a brief window to apply for
money for war damages, but the bulk of the $8 million in
payments were for property loss, not death and injury. Guam also
was left out of subsequent legislation that provided
compensation to U.S. citizens and others who were captured by
Japan during the war.
In 2004, a federal Guam War Claims Review Commission found
the U.S. had a moral obligation to compensate Guam for war
damages in part because of its 1951 peace treaty with Japan.
Commission member Benjamin Cruz said the U.S. did not want to
further burden Japan with reparations as it sought to recover
from the war. But the treaty effectively prevented Guam from
suing Japan for damages.
The claims are to be funded with so-called Section 30 money,
federal taxes that are already remitted to Guam and typically
added to its general fund. The program is a compromise after
decades of failed attempts to get more expansive compensation
supported by both congress and the people of Guam.
However, Guam congressman Michael San Nicolas said the law
that created the war claims program was missing language needed
to allow the U.S. Treasury to release the funds. His bill to fix
that error passed the senate in February and was headed to the
Rather than wait and risk more war survivors dying before
receiving their checks, Guam politicians decided to start
issuing payments using local money meant for Medicaid.
Krystal Paco-San Agustin, spokeswoman for Guam governor
Lourdes Leon Guerrero, said the government expects to be
reimbursed with Section 30 funds once San Nicolasí bill passes.
"Itís a small amount, and itís definitely in no way enough to
undo the pain of the past, but itís a token of our respect, our
admiration, and our love for them," Paco said.
Emotions were mixed at the war claims office as dozens lined
up, several with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.
Jesus Meno San Nicolas, 86, recalled his sister hiding in a
tree to escape soldiers looking for women to rape.
He was forced to work six days a week in the rice fields as
an 8-year-old, walking more than 2 miles each way every day. He
also helped grow cabbage, radishes, and other food for the
His brothers had to work on the airfield. Once, a Japanese
soldier told him to leave the house so he could rape a female
relative. Meno San Nicolas still remembers her screaming.
He almost didnít file a claim.
"Itís not worth it for the money, what they do to us in the
family," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.