The bright blue shade of the beautiful morning sky helps the rich green hues of the grass and palm trees deepen against the Taitague family's white clay house as several children ranging in ages seven to seventeen skip down the cement steps outside the building's side door.
Rosa, nine years old with her long black hair in a braid down her back, merrily approaches her father Vicente as he finishes securing the cart to their carabao once more after a night's rest. "Can we ride on the cart to school, Dad?"
"I have to go to Agana, nen," he answers.
Vicente's response causes Rosa's enthusiasm to abandon her.
"It's on the way," Alejo insists. "We won't slow you down."
Rosa looks to her father once again and Vicente returns the gaze of his wilted rose. Giving in, he hoists her onto the driver's seat bench of the cart where her brother Tomas snored hours before. She squeals with delight.
"Come on, Rosie," Alejo tells her. "Sit on my lap so there’s enough room."
With Tomas and Roman chatting idly in the back of the cart about the previous night's crabbing expedition and Rosa preoccupied with everything and everyone they see along their journey, Alejo and Vicente are able to talk.
"Why do you have to go to Agana today?" he asks his father.
"McMillin called all the commissioners to a meeting," Vicente explains. "I can hardly say 'no'."
"I thought that with most of the troops and their families gone, they wouldn't need you all as much." Aside from the barebones fleet that remained, the bulk of the United States service members and their families previously stationed on Guam had left on a ship headed east in October with their ranks and their homes remaining unreplenished after their departure. With a decreased American presence, there seemed to Alejo to be little reason for the increased frequency of meetings Vicente and the other commissioners were called to.
"Me, too, but he must have some reason," Vicente tells him as he readjusts the reins in his hands. "I think we are too close to Japan for the Americans to feel entirely comfortable."
"That doesn't make sense," Alejo thinks aloud. "If we are too close to Japan for the white Americans to feel comfortable, why would they call their troops back. It almost gives an invitation, doesn't it?"
"A sacrificial offering to the gods," Vicente says thinking on the conversation he had with Roman. "We are at their mercy now. Let's hope they're benevolent."
When they approach the school, the children are quick to hurry off the cart and up the wooden steps to meet their friends. Vicente holds his son back, "Alejo."
"Don't speak of this to your brothers and sisters. I wouldn't want them to worry. Or your mother."
"War is difficult for little ones to understand," Vicente continues. "Maybe even too difficult for you." For all his outward maturity, as the son of a village official, Vicente knows his son has a great deal of growth to attain before he can call himself a man. Alejo is simply too young to have experiences or borne witness to the trauma and devastation the Great War brought upon the world and Guam herself did not go untouched. Vicente was a boy at the time, only fourteen, but that was a sufficient enough age to remember the first shot of World War I fired over Apra Harbor and the subsequent sinking of the German ship, the SMS Cormoran II. The bodies washed up on shore for days after the fighting had stopped, void of color - some with their eyes still open. Vicente shakes the image from his mind and brings his attention back to the reins in hand.
On his ride and at the animal's pace, Vicente allows his mind to wander back to the days when war bonds were purchased to the sum of tens of thousands of dollars by Chamorros eager to prove their patriotism as he passes bunches of residential homes and villages lining the white coral road, past sprawling farms, and comes upon the capital with its concrete, multi-story buildings with automobiles driving up and down its streets providing physical evidence of how much has changed since his childhood and what hasn't as his leisurely paced beast slows traffic behind it. To the honking of car horns, Vicente pulls off to the side of the road in front of a general store.
Catalina, Maria's childhood friend, joins Vicente on the street as he disembarks from the cart. "Good morning, Vicente."
"Good morning, Catalina."
"We weren't expecting you today."
"Well, I had to come into town so I thought I'd bring you some of our catch from yesterday," Vicente informs her. “We caught plenty. Be careful. They’re still fiesty.” Vicente pulls a woven basket from the back of the carabao cart and hands it to Catalina. She gratefully accepts.
"That's very kind of you, Vicente. Thank you. Would you like to come in out of the sun?"
"No, no," Vicente refuses. "I have to meet with the Governor but please, remind your boy we'll be out with the nets on Sunday. We'd love to have him."
"I will," Catalina agrees, waving him off.
At the village center, Vicente approaches a gated property guarded by two young United States Navy service members as well as members of the local police force. Vicente produces a packet of papers from his shirt pocket and hands it to one of the guards. "Commissioner Taitague here to see Governor McMillin."
The guard examines the documents and waves him through.
Vicente pulls up to the grand, two-story white building with floor to ceiling windows practically covering the second floor. He leaves his cart and accompanying carabao to be tended to by a member of the grounds staff. He removes his hat before entering through the dark wood double doors while upstairs, the United States Naval Governor, Captain George J. McMillin stands in his office looking out the window watching the world outside his hallowed halls go about its business.
McMillin has been Naval Governor of Guam for just over a year and a half and during his tenure, the island has been a test of his metal. Only a few months after he arrived, the beautiful island suffered a typhoon which left many of the Navy and Marine Corps military structures severely damaged and without greater funding from Washington, he was forced to ask the American Red Cross for monetary assistance. Since then, he had overseen the evacuation of non-essential personnel although he would never refer to it as such out loud to his native supporters given that his greatest test appeared to be forthcoming if intelligence from the mainland and his own gut feelings are to be believed.
McMillin's right-hand man, Commander Donald T. Giles, enters the room unacknowledged before he opens his mouth to speak, "Captain, the Commissioners have all arrived."
"Has there been any further communication from Washington?" McMillin asks.
"No, Captain. No word on the location of the Japanese vessels."
McMillin turns to face Giles, shaking his head in disappointment. "Ships carrying thousands of men mysteriously vanish and here we are sitting ducks."
"We have remained neutral in the Pacific Theater, haven't we, sir? Played by the rules. 'No further fortification this close to Imperial waters'."
McMillin approaches the desk that stands between them, gathering the papers atop it in a neat pile, securing them in a thick paper folder.
"It's all just precaution," Giles assures McMillin as much as he attempts to assure himself. Of course, Giles had heard whispers around the island through the grapevine and even among the household staff he employed that not all was well but he would rather remain optimistic given that others seemed worried enough as it is.
Downstairs, Vicente waits in the white entry hall with vaulted ceiling alongside the commissioners of several other village districts gathered together.
McMillin and Giles come down the gorgeously stained, dark steps of the winding staircase dressed in their crisp, white uniforms and carrying their pristine white caps tightly at their sides. When McMillin reaches the ground floor, he holds out his right hand for Vicente, “Commissioner Taitague. Thank you for coming."
"Good morning, Governor. Always a pleasure."
“If only that were true."
McMillin's response makes Vicente hesitate. But McMillin himself doesn't notice. "How is your nephew?" he asks taking back his hand.
"Done with training and at his station in Hawaii. My sister heard from him just this week," Vicente answers.
"He's posted at Pearl, is he? Congratulations. I'm happy to have put in a word for his enlistment. I'm certain he'll do very well."
"Thank you, Governor." Vicente's gratitude toward McMillin is two-fold: one, he is thankful for his well-wishes for his nephew, and two, that his assistance provided the circumstances for the well-wishes to be conveyed in the first place. John, his sister's eldest son, had dreamed of being a sailor from the time he could articulate his dreams at all. He taught himself naval terminology with a book Vicente bought for him, mapped out all the naval stations he included on his bucket list, and could tell anyone anything about the history of America on the seas. But when he came of age, he was refused by the recruiting officers for being oriental despite being a native of Guam. It was only with McMillin's help at Vicente's request that he was able to overcome the obstacle of his categorization and sign on his enlistment papers. It was a secret Vicente kept from his sister and her son because he felt John should have been admitted by merit anyway.
"We're ready now, sir," Giles announces.
McMillin gestures to another room just down the hall, "Shall we?"
The jalouses of the meeting room of the Governor's Palace have all been closed and instead of by glorious daylight, the room is lit by yellow fluorescent lamps with the sound of wooden ceiling fans above them cutting through the silence.
McMillin has taken his seat at the head of the large mahogany table in the center of the room, at the place of honor, surrounded by the district commissioners of the island including Vicente and select naval officers.
“As you know, gentlemen," McMillin opens, "we are to abide by the plans of Operation Rainbow in the event of hostilities between the United States and the Empire of Japan." Several of the commissioners nod their recollection as he continues. "Tensions have been high but our first inkling came when Special Envoy Kurusu declined our invitation to dine at the Palace earlier this year." McMillin pauses momentarily, reflecting on the message from the Japanese official en route to Washington D.C. sent in his stead refusing, albeit politely, to join him and Giles for dinner as was customary for all visiting dignitaries. At first, McMillin felt something akin to relief not having to stand on ceremony sharing a meal with a man he did not personally care to keep company with but this feeling was short lived as he quickly came to realize the political implications of Kurusu's declination. "Talks in Washington do not seem to be going well," McMillin resumes. "We have begun destroying classified documents and we will continue to prepare for the worst."
"Let us review our strategy," Giles says producing a wooden pointer while Chief Petty Officer Lane produces a map of Guam poised on an easel. "Marine and naval patrols will continue in the following villages: Dededo, Tumon, Agana, Sumay, Agat, Umatac, Merizo, Talafofo, and Pago." He identifies each individual village listed with the pointer. "Our patrol boats and the Penguin will continue their routes around the island and all others will be recalled to the capital or Sumay to supplement our centralized forces."
"How many do we have?" a commissioner asks.
The short answer is: not enough. They have only two other vessels not mentioned, one being the USS Gold Star freighter which is currently on a mission with a maximum speed of twelve knots and the USS R.L. Barnes, an oil barge outfitted for nothing else. The number of personnel couldn't fill the Cathedral of Agana by half.
"Combined naval and marine forces including medical personnel," Giles answers, "just over three hundred."
"And another one hundred from our Insular Guard militia," Lane adds with his words though adding few to the final count.
Vicente shakes his head. "Is this all just a precaution, Governor?"
McMillin averts his eyes from Vicente. "Not exactly. Several Japanese ships have vanished and we have had no word regarding their locations." The commander can see this is not information his audience is prepared to receive as he watches Vicente's shoulders rise and fall quickly in-time with his breathing. He turns to his right-hand man to continue, "Giles."
Miles away, young Japanese seamen carry on playing card games, reading books, and scribbling letters home onto sheets of paper and the backs of postcards. One such young man holds in his hand a pair of photographs: one of a beautiful young lady dressed modestly in a skirt and cotton blouse holding a book close to her chest as she stands before a school building, and underneath her portrait, a picture of a family. In the white edge frame, two young boys and their parents looking somberly at the viewer as he and his shipmates travel south by southeast across the Pacific, their battleship flanked by two smaller vessels headed in the same direction.