My interest in history, especially of our people and our culture, is partly based on an old saying that goes along this vein: to appreciate where you are going, you should know where you have been.
For the 25th Anniversary of the Liberation of Guam, Gen. Lemuel C. Shepherd, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, was recalled to active duty to serve as guest of honor. I had the good fortune to receive a coveted assignment -- aide-de-camp to the general, one of the most distinguished officers in the Corps' history. Among many of his attributes was his belief that the relationship between senior and junior officers, and officers and enlisted men, should parallel the teacher-student relationship in education.
So it was that I had the opportunity to be tutored by an officer of his stature. The burning question in every young officer's heart is how to inspire his troops on the eve of battle. In one of those informal moments during our travel, I asked specifically what he told his troops before he led them ashore on Guam.
"That was easy," he said. "I did not have to say much. As Guam appeared on the horizon, I reminded them that Guam had belonged to us since 1898 and it was taken from us in 1941. I told them that fellow Americans were in captivity on the island and we were going in the next morning and take it back."
In the quarter of a century that elapsed between his visits, he said that he often wondered about Guam and the people he met in the villages. This a universal sentiment shared by American warriors -- to return to the scene of battle earlier in their lives.
When we arrived on Guam, we visited every landing site and every village; he was warmly received by the commissioners (now mayors) and villagers. I could sense a change in him with every passing day and warm reception by our people.
On the final day of his visit, he was invited to speak before a special session of the Guam Legislature. Everyone in the crowded hall was moved as they listened to the sincerity and humility with which he expressed his profound appreciation for the reception given him on his return visit. He described, touchingly, how some of the villagers greeted the liberators with flowers and food and heartfelt welcome.
"By your expressions of gratitude, you saluted us. Today, on behalf of my Marines, I return your salute," he said, as he rendered a hand salute to punctuate his remarks.
It was a riveting moment. He then nodded to me to join him at the podium. Standing at attention, he closed his remarks with these words: "When I get to Heaven, those Marines who died on Guam will surely ask: 'General, was dying for Guam worth it?' My response will be a resounding, 'You are damn right it was.'"
Marine Drive was named for those warriors. As one who bore witness to the events that precipitated the naming of Guam's main artery, formalizing it to Marine Corps Drive is a meaningful and magnanimous certification of the original intention.
It is the most we could do; it is the
least they deserve.