The Memorial Day weekend of 2016 will be remembered by more than a few as the moment in history when the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces delivered his de facto apology to the nation of Japan for the American deployment of Fat Man and Little Boy during the Second World War. Or as Obama characterized the bombing of Hiroshima, “on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky”.
Oddly enough, he never mentioned the numerous warnings the United States gave before the attack, nor was the fact that it was the Japanese themselves (not the evil Americans) who militarized the city’s rail, air and port facilities. Oh… and Obama managed to forget that 43,000 Japanese troops were stationed at Hiroshima.
What was the function in life for those 43,000 Sons of Nippon? To kill every American, British or Commonwealth soldier, sailor, airman and Marine if and when the Allies invaded the Home Islands. But that’s a different discussion for a different day.
Here’s my gripe: When will Emperor Akihito or Prime Minister Abe apologize for the murder of my cousin? But first, allow me to say I’ll at least for the moment put aside the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the Rape of Nanking, and the Manila Massacre. I promise I won’t even bring up the fact that my mother, her entire immediate family, and thousands of other Chamorros were imprisoned at the Manenggon Concentration Camp on Guam (and yes, Americans were put to death at Manenggon for high crimes such as starting a cooking fire without permission.)
But I digress, Japan has yet to apologize for the 1944 murder of Father Jesus Baza Dueñas. For those unfamiliar with this unsung American patriot and hero, here’s at least a brief biography of this truly Homeric example of loyalty, courage and strength.
The American possession of Guam in the South Pacific, also known as “the American pillbox without any guns” was home to Fr. Dueñas and thousands of other Chamorros, the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands. A mere 180 US Marines, a handful of sailors, and the militiamen of the Guam Insular Forces staged a brief but valiant fight against the 5,600 invading Japanese approximately at the same time Hawaii, the Philippines, Hong Kong and the Dutch East Indies were set upon by troops of the Emperor.
One of the first moves the occupying Japanese forces did was to forcibly remove Guam’s Bishop Miguel Olano (a citizen of Spain) from his episcopate, and assigned to an internment camp where he was publicly humiliated by the invaders. Bishop Olano was eventually under house arrest to live with other Spanish priests in Tokyo, Japan under the protection of the technically neutral Spanish government.
But in 1942, Bishop Olano wrote to Fr. Dueñas appointing him as the Pro-Vicar (temporary leader) of the Catholic Church on Guam during the bishop’s forced removal. The bishop ordered him to “defend the Chamorros in their encounters with the Japanese government.” Along with the letter from Japan were two Japanese Catholic priests, Monsignor Dominic Fukahori and Father Petro Komatsu. These two were assigned by the Japanese government to assist in the ‘Japanification’ of the local populace.
Father Dueñas chose not to welcome the two new priests upon their arrival. In all actually, he considered them to be spies of the Japanese due to their liberal sprinkling of pro-Japanese sentiment in their sermons.
For his part, the good Father waged his own quiet form of warfare. Once, the occupying Japanese ordered Fr. Dueñas to a propaganda rally. Much to the anger of his hosts, the Padre quietly sang “God Bless America” during the forced festivities.
That first happenstance ended up becoming a regular habit… and the Japanese didn’t fail to take notice. Especially the hated and ruthless Kempeitai (Japanese secret police).
At one point, Monsignor Fukahori attempted to force the young Chamorro priest to bend to the Japanese will and cease his pro-American rhetoric. Father Dueñas flatly refused to accept the attempted orders of the Japanese Monsignor, despite him technically being senior to him. As Fr. Dueñas reminded the Monsignor, it was he, not the visiting priest from Japan, who was the Pro-Vicar of the entire Marianas Island chain.
Fr. Dueñas also condemned the two foreign clerics for their actions in support of the invading Japanese. “According to a letter of Pope Benedict XV to the bishops and priests all over the world, he said ‘never preach the honor and glory of your country but only the word of God.'” Fr. Dueñas warned them that if he should survive the war, he would do everything in his power to have them removed from the Catholic Church as priests.
Besides his personal patriotic fervor, Fr. Dueñas would also regularly instruct his flock to disobey any order that conflicted with their religious beliefs and obligations. Needless to say, Japanese patience was wearing thin.
In one particularly heated moment, the young priest publicly proclaimed that he was answerable only to God. “And the Japanese are not God,” he made clear on more than one occasion.
As the American military closed in for the eventual liberation of the enslaved Chamorros, the Japanese forced the people, at bayonet point, to fortify the island. In July of 1944, freedom was at hand, but not before a seemingly never-ending nightmare of beatings, slave labor, gang rapes and massacres had run their course.
As the American military was on the verge of landing to free their fellow Americans, the Kempeitai arrested both the Pro-Vicar and his nephew, lawyer Edward Dueñas, when it was revealed that they were instrumental in keeping the lone American Serviceman, Navy Radioman George Tweed, hidden in the jungles since the island first fell two and a half years earlier.
Fr. Dueñas was publicly beaten and tortured for three days at, of all places, the steps of his church in the southern village of Inarajan. Not once did Fr. Dueñas reveal Tweed’s whereabouts or cry out for mercy. Not once.
After being taken to the village of Mangilao to await execution, Fr. Dueñas had the opportunity to escape. His reply to his friends ready to make good his escape, “No, I would rather not. The Japanese know they can’t prove their charges against me. I appreciate your offer but we must also think of our families. You must know what would happen to them if we escape. I’m positive the Japanese will retaliate against them. Go and look after your own families. God will look after me. I have done no wrong.”
Fr. Dueñas was finally beheaded only after further torture. A mere nine days after his martyrdom for his God and country, American forces returned to liberate the Guamanian people. I’m proud to say that Father Dueñas was my kinsman.
Pater Dueñas, ora pro nobis. Nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. (Pray for us. Now and at the hour of our death)
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