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WWII vet visits AAFB, recounts events that led to island liberation on anniversary

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Melissa B. White
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
A World War II veteran visited the base July 17 as part of a trip to the island for a celebration of the historic event he was part of 69 years ago.

Former Marine Pfc. William Mays, an amphibious tractor crewman during the war, helped storm the beaches of Guam July 21, 1944, to liberate the island from Japanese control, and now he's back to honor the day during the island-wide Liberation Day events.

Japanese forces invaded the lightly defended island shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941 and occupied Guam until 36,000 U.S. service members officially took back the U.S. territory Aug. 10, 1944, after a 21-day battle.

Mays took some time out of his busy schedule of attending village memorial events to come by Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and visit with some Airmen and Marines during his weeklong visit to the island.

"I learned a lot about what they did to take back the island during the war," said Capt. Mike Sydney, 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-52 Stratofortress copilot. "It's a humbling experience to bring him out here and show him what he has fought for, what we do and how we continue to defend this land he fought for during the liberation of the island."

Mays visited the 36th Operations Support Squadron, the three Marine units temporarily assigned here from Japan and South Carolina with their F/A-18 Hornets, and a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 23rd EBS, which is a unit deployed here from Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

"It's overwhelming to look at all of this," Mays said of current military operations on Guam. "These are the people out here protecting our country right now and it's just amazing."

While visiting with the Airmen and Marines, Mays also recounted some of his memories from the fateful day on the shores of Guam and the battle it ensued.

"They were intense things in my life," Mays recalled. "About the fourth day during the shelling, I was about the most scared in my life. We stood up and there was a big hole and the dirt and sand was still raining down on us afterward. So you can see, we thought we were going to die."

This is his second visit to the island since WWII for the anniversary of Liberation Day, and he also said it will probably be his last due to his physical limitations. His first return for the events was in 1994, an experience he said was much different compared to his visit this year where he is the only liberation veteran visiting this year as the guest of honor for Guam's memorials and celebrations.

" ... (My previous visit was) nothing compared to the attention they give me now," Mays said. "It feels good to be a part of that and these people are so appreciative that I just wanted to come down here and see it."

Mays said he feels honored to play an important role in this year's events, but he maintains he was just an average man doing his job who was put in an extraordinary situation. He also said he feels humbled by the experiences and appreciation.

Liberation Day events will conclude with an island-wide parade downtown July 21, the official 69th anniversary of the start of the battle to reclaim Guam as American land.

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