During a long night of fun in Honolulu, Gregorio San Nicolas Aguon and his best friend, Henry Mesa Cruz, decided to get tattoos.
Cruz, who told the story many years later to a Los Angeles Times reporter, remembered that he got an eagle on his left shoulder, with the name of their Navy battleship, the U.S.S. Arizona, and the date Dec. 7, 1941. He could not remember Mr. Aguon’s tattoo.
They caught a 2 a.m. ride back to their battleship on that Sunday morning, Dec. 7. Just before 0800, Cruz was ready to head back to Honolulu, but Aguon said he was sick and couldn’t make it.
A few minutes later, Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor. Aguon died in the bombing of the Arizona. Cruz was able to climb aboard a rescue boat and survived. He lived to age 91.
Mr. Aguon was born Oct. 10, 1920 at Agana, Guam to Juan Torres Aguon, a gardener, and Joaquina Aguon, a homemaker. He enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 2, 1938, two months before his friend.
At the time of the attack, both Aguon and Cruz were mess attendants first class. As indigenous Chamorro from Guam, mess attendant was the only initial position available to them in the Navy segregated since 1913. They could work up to be petty officers first class as officer’s stewards or officer’s cooks, but no other positions were open. Messmen cooked, cleaned, and performed other services.
Another Guamanian man named Aguon was at Pearl Harbor that day. Pedro Santos Aguon was a mess attendant on the U.S.S. California. In a 2010 article in the Colorado Springs News he said he was transporting goods between the California and the Arizona on the morning of the attack. He suffered burns but survived.
It isn’t clear whether the two Aguon men were related, but they enlisted on the same day, Dec. 2, 1938. Also, the population of Guam at the start of World War II was just 22,000. Thus it seems likely that they had a connection.
A few hundred men from Guam joined the Navy before World War II because an immobilized oil tanker, the U.S.S. Robert L. Barnes, was tied up at Apra Harbor in Guam and served as a school for mess attendants. As a trainee, Gregorio Aguon earned $21 a month.
Hours after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it invaded Guam. The island was not recaptured by the United States until the summer of 1944. The Japanese occupation was brutal, with thousands of people dying in concentration camps and in forced labor.
Sources: The Los Angeles Times; Navy muster rolls; Census; “Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam” by Robert F. Rogers; “War in the Pacific National Historic Park: Environmental Impact Statement”; the Colorado Springs News; Pigo Catholic Cemetery in Agana, Guam. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona