A year or so ago, a very sweet woman named Lolita approached me at the IRA conference and asked if I would consider coming to Guam. Though I had promised my long suffering husband that I would cut back on travel, I knew it was not coincidence that Lolita had approached me on behalf of the IRA-Guam Council: it was fate.
Lolita didn’t know it at the time, but my book, DUKE (released in September 2014) included scenes from Guam during WWII. In fact, the story had been inspired in part by the moving memoir, Always Faithful, written by Captain William Putney, veterinarian for the Marine’s War Dog unit. [check back soon for my interview with Sims Sears, daughter of Marvin Corff, whose name I gave to Duke’s handler in my novel. You don’t want to miss that!] Long story short, I couldn’t say no and so on January 8, 2014, I flew to Guam, via Tokyo, to spend 11 intense days on that beautiful island.
Here I am, bleary-eyed upon arrival. In fact, so bleary-eyed, I did not even notice this [hard-to-miss] welcome sign. I was whisked to my hotel for a quick night’s sleep before my 9 am interview with local-boy-made-good, Ray Gibson, on Newstalk K-57. I can say quite honestly that Ray is the BEST interviewer I’ve ever encountered. That might be because he’s a closet novelist himself.
|At the real Duke’s memorial
We left the radio station and headed straight for the Navy Base, where we were met by the well-prepared Shaina Santos, Public Affairs Specialist who escorted us onto the base and to my own personal Mecca: the War Dog Memorial. Though I had read about it and seen photos, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact being there in person had on me. My companions — Debbie Duenas, IRA-Guam President and Cyndy Pruski, Author Visit coordinator — didn’t bat an eye at my tears but they did orchestrate many a photograph, including one of my presenting a copy of DUKE for Capt. Mike Ward, commander of the base.
After our tour, we visited the T. Stell Newman Visitor Center which houses the War in Pacific museum, then drove up Nimitz Hill for a tour of Asan beach, which housed the original War Dog cemetery.
|Hard to believe this peaceful place was the site of terrible battles in WWII
After the tour, we enjoyed a tasty lunch until I fell asleep in my Pad Thai and my hosts returned me to my hotel. I only hope my snores did not keep the other guests awake that night.
|With Rosario Quinata
|The stunning lei I’m wearing was made by Cyndi Pruski, to my right; Mary Livingston and Debbie Duenas
|Lolita is on the far left
Saturday morning was spent chatting with the dedicated members of the Guam council of the IRA. I had such a lovely time! And they were very gracious about the fact that my Keynote slides were all messed up.
Another lunch [note: if you are invited to Guam, go on a diet beforehand!] and then back to my hotel.
I think I napped for a bit and then I hopped on one of the red “shopping” trolleys — not to shop, but to get to Underwater World.
After a pleasant visit there, I decided to walk back to Gov. Flores park; even with a stop for gelato, I was tuckered out.
|Stunning flame tree at Gov. Flores park
And I clocked in 5 miles on my fitbit! I finally made it to the park, dipped my toes in the water, enjoyed the families having fun and caught the trolley back to my hotel where I fell into a coma.
Sunday morning: breakfast at the island icon: Shirley’s. I had an egg white omelette with island grown eggplant and absolutely delicious coffee. After working on some copyedits, it was time to don my swimsuit and my courage for a boat trip with Vickie McLoughran and her darling New Yorker husband, Rich. Vickie was certain she would be able to get this water baby snorkeling; it happened but only momentarily and while I was hanging on for dear life to the boat’s ladder.
No matter. It was a marvelous outing during which I got to meet a young man named Kind and see the western most point of the United States: Udall Point.
|Vickie and Rich
Vickie, Rich and I shared pizza and stories at sunset to the soundtrack of a young GI singing country western songs at a beachside restaurant. The perfect ending to the day!
|Some friends we met along the way. The beast of burden is a caraboa
Monday morning, I was driven by the darling Anita (who insisted on buying me a latte) to Carbullido Elementary and thus began the whirlwind of school visits: 15 schools in 5 days.
I wish I could share every moment with you. Let’s just say that the kids were ADORABLE and the teachers so supportive and welcoming.
I was incredibly spoiled by the presents, leis, attention, and fiesta food. Tears are welling up in my eyes as I write this, remembering the kindness bestowed upon me.
|A selfie with some of the leis I was given
Some additional highlights: a taping at PBS Guam where I only muffed my lines 99 times; a teacher workshop after school on Tuesday; a visit to the Chamorro Village; a looong walk on the beach on Thursday; dinner with new friends at the Outrigger, music provided by Jesse and Ruby.
|View from Fort Soledad
Aside from the school visits, 2 favorite memories include a Friday afternoon drive with Rosario Quinata who showed me the village where she grew up and showed me the stunning southern part of the island; and the world’s quickest tour of Dos Amantes (Two Lovers Point). Special thanks to Donovan for humoring the three old ladies he got stuck with on Saturday afternoon!
|view from Two Lover’s Point
In several weeks, lots of us will be gathering at the IRA conference in New Orleans. I’ll be there and so will a hardy contingent from Guam, armed with letters of invitation for attending authors/illustrators. If you are lucky enough to receive one of said invitations, say yes.
|Guam: Where America’s day begins