The Guam I know: Americans living on the bull's-eye

In 2014 in Guam, Stu Bykofsky’s girlfriend, “Half-Pint,” looks at a newspaper in a museum display picturing her grandfather as a member of the Guam Insular Force Guard who survived World War II.

My girlfriend, whom I call Half-Pint, is from Guam, 7,939 miles away from our Philadelphia home, and she is worried about her family and friends on the tiny island that has become a hot zone.

Her brother Scott, who lives there, is worried, too.

They worry because a North Korean dictator with a bad haircut has painted a bull’s-eye on the distant American territory, while an American president with a bad hairdo is playing chicken on a street with no lights.

Located across the International Date Line, Guam proclaims itself to be “where America’s day begins,” and its people are U.S. citizens. Their island is America’s westernmost arsenal and that’s why Kim Jong Un fixates on it.

Military bases occupy almost one-third of the island, which is about 30 miles long and nine wide. The population is 160,000, with an additional 6,000 military personnel.

In 2014, I tagged along with Half-Pint when she visited family there.

Guam is hot. Laid-back people greet each other with a cheery “Hafa Adai” (their version of “Aloha”). Many roads don’t have street signs. When I asked why, I was told, “We know what street it is.”

At least they don’t park in the middle of the street, a Philly custom Half-Pint had to learn. She has traded Spam for scrapple and barbecue for cheesesteaks. She’s learned to bundle up for winters she curses, and has learned that dogs are kept indoors. Some are even allowed in bed! Ahem.

During that visit to Guam, I got onto Andersen Air Force Base courtesy of Scott, who as ex-military could sign me in. A decommissioned B-52 guards the front gate. The B-1 bombers were out of sight.

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B-52 bomber at the gates of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam

There are also a Coast Guard base and a Navy base, home port to several nuclear submarines, one or two of which are believed to be stationed off Korea right now. “The military doesn’t tell us where they are,” says Scott.

I spoke to him by phone Thursday night, which was already Friday morning where he lives, near a naval hospital.

“They tested the sirens the other night,” he says. “They haven’t done that in quite some time.” He suspects it was a readiness drill.

When I ask if people on the island are scared, he says it depends on whom you ask, but “a lot of people have faith in the U.S. military. We have the THAAD [defensive] missile system.”

It’s not the first time Kim has threatened Guam. He did it in 2013 and nothing happened, “but the difference is he wasn’t testing ICBMs then,” Scott says.

With Kim threatening to fire four missiles near Guam, Scott says, a few residents are preparing to leave for Saipan, 120 miles away.

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View of the North Pacific from Agat Heights on Guam

During World War II, thousands of occupying Japanese committed suicide in Saipan rather than surrender to American troops. Japanese also occupied Guam and were harassed by the Guam Insular Force Guard.

During our visit, I talked Half-Pint into visiting the War in the Pacific Museum. One display case held the front page of an old newspaper picturing seven members of the Guam Insular Force Guard who had survived the war.

Half-Pint gasped when she recognized one of them as her grandfather.

Because of that visit and because of Half-Pint, I connect with Guam. I go online to read the Guam newspaper, the Pacific Daily News. I worry, too, but not so much. I can’t believe Kim would dare attack. It would be the end of him, in a white-hot flash.

Mental health professionals are urging islanders to find ways to stay calm, the Pacific Daily News reported Friday.

That’s not so easy when you live on the bull’s-eye.