Juanita Cruz was only 8 years old when she saw her mother being raped by Japanese soldiers. At 10, she saw her 5-year-old brother killed.
Cruz is a 70-year-old Chamorro, a native of the Mariana Islands, and one of the few witnesses still alive to tell of the tragedies that occurred in Guam under Japan’s rule from 1941 to 1944 during World War II.
For the first time in her life, Cruz came to Japan to talk about her experiences at a meeting in Tokyo hosted by Asia Forum on Friday.
Although Cruz had planned to tell her story herself, the emotional strain was too much of a burden. Instead, she had Chamorro psychologist Patricia Taimanglo read her testimony aloud.
In the written statement, Cruz vividly depicted the scenes she had witnessed — of how she was unable to help her mother while she was repeatedly raped by the Japanese soldiers on their property, and how she saw her young brother die in front of her eyes as a soldier cut his tongue off.
All around her, people were being beaten, beheaded or gunned down with machineguns, she said.
“I am grateful to be able to come here and to tell the story,” Cruz said, after her testimony was read aloud. “The story is for the younger generation so that we can all have peace.”
As a specialist in community trauma, psychologist Taimanglo spoke of the posttraumatic stress syndrome afflicting many war survivors. Taimanglo stressed that PTSD symptoms are especially severe and long-lasting when caused by atrocities such as torture and rape committed during war.
“The outcome of war is multifaceted and its effects are transmitted to the future generation unless the trauma is resolved,” Taimanglo said. “Sixty years ago, World War II on Guam physically ended. To the survivors, however, the war is not over.”
A former senator in Guam’s legislature and an active nationalist for Chamorro rights, Hope Alvarez Cristobal expressed her concern over women like Cruz, who are still hurting from the brutal memories. She said she hopes these women will be able to find peace and reconcile with the Japanese people before their deaths.
“The atrocities of World War II that happened in Guam are war crimes and have no statute of limitations,” Cristobal said. “We hope that we can continue to work together for immediate remediation, such as creating a foundation to assist those Chamorros who are still suffering today.”