By Army Sgt. Nicholas Holmes, Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region
FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, D.C. -- Irene Perez Ploke Sgambelluri was 10 years old in 1942 when her father, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class John Ploke, a pharmacist’s mate, was taken into custody by Japanese forces in Guam during the early days of America's war with Japan.
Sgambelluri and her family spent the next three years living under Japanese occupation. On July 16, she participated in a full-honors Army wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The ceremony, featuring soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment and the U.S. Army Band commemorated the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Guam, the Battle for the Northern Mariana Islands and the war in the Pacific.
Sgambelluri’s father was captured in December 1942.
‘I Will Never Forget That Day’
“He said he had to surrender or we would all be killed,” she recalled during an interview with Guam’s KUAM News. “He took off his shirt and tied it to a branch, and we walked out holding my hand. I will never forget that day, never. The Japanese soldiers took him, stripped him naked, dragged him and took him to the prison in Hagatna.”
A few days later, Sgambelluri and her family discovered that all the imprisoned men, including her father, were transferred to the Zentsuji prisoner of war camp in Osaka, Japan.
“The place was empty,” she said. “We asked the interpreter where the prisoners were, he said, ‘They were all shipped out to Japan.’”
It was more than three years before she would see her father again.
Following the ceremony, Sgambelluri expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to honor the memories of the brave men and women of the military who lost their lives.