Terrifyingly clear: 66 years later Lucia McDonald vividly remembers the war
By Janice Miller • Pacific Sunday News • September 5, 2010
Her hands are not as nimble as they were 69 years ago. Her hair, once jet-black, is now peppered with gray. At 83 years old, her memory isn’t the best at times, but she still recalls the tiniest details of the most traumatic period in her life — the occupation.
“It was morning. … Everyone was running around and screaming,” says Lucia McDonald, recalling the day the Japanese invaded Guam on Dec. 8, 1941. Nearly 70 years later on a cool, quiet afternoon, McDonald sat down in the comfort of her Agana Heights kitchen to share her story — one she never told her children.
Her tired eyes darted back and forth as she reflected on that day. Looking from the empty dishes on the counter to the room’s simple, brown cupboards, it’s as if she still sees the people of her village running around in terror. She stares down toward the red cloth covering the table where she’s sitting, perhaps seeing the blood she saw spilling from people’s bodies that day. That calm, bright morning in Agana Heights was cut short by the loud, whirring engines of Japanese bombers flying over Guam.
McDonald, 15 at the time, was at the Naval hospital giving one of her brothers, who was sick and in the Navy, his pajamas. “We were standing outside the hospital with the military people that were sick, looking at the sky,” she says, glancing up at her kitchen ceiling. “The planes — we didn’t know if they were Japanese or not — and people (were) saying, ‘What’s going on?’ … I heard somebody said, ‘Maybe it’s not (an) American plane.’” Suddenly, McDonald was running through the streets of town to her home. Dodging the screaming people around her, she raced to what was then Agana in the chaos. She was terrified and confused. “I don’t like the feeling, what I’m feeling. I’m scared,” she recalls, speaking about the bombing as if it had just happened. And then, when I pass by the church, the people were running outside crying — I said, ‘Oh my goodness, something is wrong.’”
“I passed to the church and I ran into the plaza — the palace where the governor was staying — my house was very close,” McDonald says. Pointing toward the white walls of her kitchen, she remembers the smoke that engulfed Agana as the Japanese continued to bomb the city from their planes. Her eyes squint, as if she is still trying to see through the fog that lay over the island when the bombing stopped.
“My mother was crying and she was saying, ‘Hurry up, hurry up, Lucia!’” McDonald says. In the rush, she tried to grab everything she could, but it wouldn’t be enough to last the nearly three years the Japanese empire occupied Guam. “Whatever you can carry,” McDonald says. “It’s very hard. You cannot go and get your shoes, get your clothes, get your panty. Nothing. You just grab and run.”
Running out of her home with everything she could carry, McDonald went to her uncle’s house where her family was waiting. Everyone piled into her uncle’s bread van for the bumpy drive to the family’s ranch in Yona. “People, a lot of them, were dying on the way,” McDonald says. “Oh, I cried and I’m (feeling) scared. You see old people dying on the road. Some are just walking and then they’ll fall down. … The old ladies, they fell on their knees — scratched all over, blood spilling. Oh, my goodness. It was awful.”
Once the family reached the ranch, McDonald’s uncle built a ladder up to the home’s attic. Each day, McDonald was told to hide in the attic with her two sisters until night so the Japanese soldiers wouldn’t rape them, she says. With a large can to urinate in and another one for water, the girls stayed silent in the stifling, cramped quarters quietly listening to each breath they took and the sounds of life passing them by in the house below. “During the day (my uncle would) hide the ladder,” McDonald says. “We were not captured, but the neighbors around, they were abused … beaten or raped (when they argued with the Japanese).”
This wasn’t the only time McDonald narrowly avoided rape by Japanese soldiers. After working in the fields one day, she was told to go with her sister and her cousin to the quarters of one of the Japanese leaders. McDonald remembers praying to make it home safely that night. “The three of us were placed in front of the quarters for the head Japanese (soldier),” McDonald says her voice barely audible as her shoulders slumped and her gaze dropped to the floor.
“They took only one.” They liked her cousin — the girl with the white complexion and Japanese eyes. “She was pretty. … After two days, they released her.” Although McDonald is grateful she was overlooked that day, she still carries guilt of her cousin’s rape with her. Blankly staring down at the red tablecloth in front of her, she was silent. “I feel bad.”
Early during the occupation McDonald was questioned about her father’s whereabouts. She remembers the hard slap she received across her face after every answer she gave. “They asked me, ‘Where is your father?’ I said, ‘He’s not here, he’s in America.’ … ‘He’s American?’ (they asked). I said, ‘Please, I cannot deny it, he’s Mexican-American.’”
McDonald was later questioned about her brother’s involvement with a fugitive the Japanese were hunting. Even though she didn’t know anything, all three of her brothers were taken into custody after her interrogation. They were beaten and starved. “They came to question us about my brother hiding a fugitive,” she says. “Us two girls were forced to go to the jungle… so they could question us… and they kept on slapping us. I said, ‘Sorry, you can do anything (you want to us) but we don’t know anything’ — because we didn’t.”
Memories of these terrifying moments haunt McDonald as she continues to look up from the red tablecloth in front of her. She recalls the terror she felt when she was forced to watch the deaths of three Chamorro men she knew, just after the men were ordered to dig their own graves.
“The Japanese came forward and he told us to look and don’t turn around, ‘don’t make a cry because you gonna be next,’” she says. “All I heard is the ssshhht (of the bayonet). I was looking at them (the Chamorro men) but all of a sudden my eyes were blind — but I saw the blood spurting up and his head was hanging. He didn’t fall, so they pushed him down. The other (two) were shot.”
Now, 66 years after Guam’s liberation, McDonald has found forgiveness in her heart. It was a time of war, she says. Believing that the soldiers were under orders, she feels they are not to be hated for their actions. Now, McDonald says she is lucky because her immediate family survived the occupation. Since then, she has moved on with life. She married a fellow war survivor, her boyfriend during the occupation. They had 12 children, eventually becoming the proud grandparents of more than 40 grandchildren. This November, the octogenarian is anxiously anticipating the celebration of her 84th birthday.
Looking up from the tablecloth, she smiles, proud as her story comes to an end. “I won’t forget,” she says. “Lucky, I’m still alive to tell (my story). … It’s been a long time.”