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Amata’s Journal: D.C. Pacific War Observances

As my East Coast journey transitions from the southeast to the northeast, I found myself in Washington on July 15, in time for this year’s annual joint observance of two very important World War II milestones: the Liberation of Guam and the Battle for the Northern Mariana Islands.  


For many years now, to remember both the native peoples who suffered during the Pacific War and the American military forces that liberated the islands in July of 1944, the Member of Congress for Guam, currently Madeline Z. Bordallo, and in recent years first Northern Marianas Resident Representative Pedro A. Tenorio and now Congressman Gregorio Camacho “Kilili” Sablan have cosponsored the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, followed immediately by a brunch on Capitol Hill and a reception the next evening.


This annual observance has grown to the point that is a “must do” event on the city’s Pacific calendar.  Various Members of Congress, senior congressional staff, administration officials, high ranking military officers and members of the Pacific diplomatic corps are always in attendance at the wreath laying ceremony.


It now has come to be looked upon by many as a ceremony to commemorate all aspects of the Pacific War between Pearl Harbor Day and V-J Day, and people from all parts of the Pacific attend the observance, which is out-of-doors and open to the public.  The reception is a celebration for all but it is the solemn Arlington proceedings that serve as the focal point for the dignitaries.


To show solidarity with our fellow islanders from the Western Pacific, I attended the ceremony and was humbled and honored to be invited to join the official representatives in the VIP holding room after the ceremony and to join them thereafter at a brunch hosted by delegates Sablan and Bordallo on Capitol Hill.


I have attended these events whenever I have been in Washington over the years and the wreath laying in particular has grown.  Not only has it attracted a substantially larger group of dignitaries (including, this year, Guam First Lady Christine Calvo — who flew in for the occasion — and Air Force Chief of Staff GEN Mark A. Welsh III) but it has grown in scope as well.  What started out with a simple wreath laying in the presence of the Tomb’s honor guard, a color guard and a bugler to play taps now has grown to include a contingent of Marines in observance and the Army Band, which marches onto the Tomb grounds to play the National Anthem.


Not only is this an important day for the peoples of all the Mariana Islands but the ceremony and attendant social occasions are unparalleled opportunities for both island groups to raise their profile in Washington.  Needless to say, it also provides other Pacific officials the chance to network with federal officials, too.  In a town where every government in the world is seeking to grab the attention of the U.S. Government, this is a masterstroke for our Pacific territorial neighbors.  I am glad I could be part of it.


Coming up next: Reports on my visits to Fort Jackson, Camp Lejeune and Fort Lee.