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Pacific News Minute: US Starts Process to Pay World War II Reparations to Guamanians

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73 years after the liberation of Guam, the US government has started to process claims for reparations. A bill signed by President Obama last December resolved decades of disputes over payments to those who suffered under Japanese occupation but we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, the arguments aren’t over yet.

In December 1941, Nine-year-old Forrest Mendiola Harris fled when bombs started dropping on his village. Now 85, he told the Pacific Daily News “I just want to say that I’m lucky that I lived through the war.”

About ten percent of Guam’s population did not survive the brutalities of the Japanese occupation and the battle to retake the island in 1944. A law passed in 1945 gave residents of the still devastated island only about six months to apply for reparations. But few did and decades of reports, review commissions, and bitterness followed. 

Finally, last year, Guam’s non-voting delegate, Madeleine Bordallo, inserted a war claims amendment to the 2017 defense budget for the island, which hosts important American military bases. For now, at least, 70 million dollars to provide compensation will come from Guam’s Section 30 allotment; that’s income tax money paid by federal workers on Guam. It accounts for a major source of income to the local government. Last December, Guam independence advocate Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero protested in an op-ed that after all this time, Guam will be paying its own reparations. 

As for Forest Mendiola Harris, he told the Pacific Daily News that, after almost 80 years, he had given up on reparations. “I’m a little disappointed if you want my true feelings, but if they manage to end up with some kind of compensation, then hooray for Chamorros.”

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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