HAGATNA, Guam – Family, friends, elected officials and Marines, past and present, gathered Saturday to pay tribute to the first Chamorro, or native of the Marianas Islands, from Guam to achieve the rank of brigadier general.
Retired Marine Brig. Gen. Vincente “Ben” T. Blaz, who died Jan. 8 at the age of 85, is scheduled to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in February, but those who knew him here honored him during a memorial service at the Dulce Nombre De Maria Cathedral Basilica.
“In our Chamorro tradition, we celebrate our deceased love ones with a Catholic Mass to bless their souls and to give us spiritual closure,” said Michael J.B. Borja, Blaz’ nephew and retired Air Force major. “While these ceremonies are touching and tinged with sadness, celebrating together as a family solidifies our clan and keeps the generations connected.”
Borja said they also shared the service with friends and family members all over the world via the internet, including Blaz’ sons, Tom and Mike Blaz, and their families in northern Virginia, which allowed them to honor Blaz as one community.
Blaz’ life was an incredible story of overcoming adversity, striving for goodness and serving others.
He was only 13 years old when Japanese forces attacked and captured Guam in 1941, living through the occupation as a laborer for his captors until Navy and Marine forces liberated the island in July 1944. Borja said Blaz assisted the Marines during the liberation, guiding them through the terrain as they battled Japanese troops.
He later earned a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1951, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He subsequently earned a Master of Arts degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Blaz also attended a number of schools throughout his service to the Corps, to include the Navy’s School of Naval Justice in Newport, R.I.; the Army’s Artillery and Guided Missile School in Fort Sill, Okla.; and the Naval War College in Newport, where he became a Distinguished Graduate.
His numerous assignments in the Corps are highlighted by his assignment in 1972 as the commanding officer of 9th Marine Regiment, one of the main units that liberated Guam during World War II.
Blaz also served as chief, United Nations and Maritime Matters Branch, International Negotiations Division, Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Washington, D.C. In this assignment, he represented the Joint Chiefs of Staff on U.S. Delegations to several international multi-lateral negotiations in Helsinki (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) and Geneva (Law of War) and was an action officer on Law of the Sea matters.
This experience would serve him well in years to come, as he transitioned to his next phase of service.
Blaz retired from the Marine Corps in 1980 and returned to his home on Guam, where he taught at the University of Guam. He then entered politics as a Republican on the predominantly Democratic island and was elected in 1984 as the second Guam delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served four terms.
Blaz became a tremendous voice for the people of Guam and was dedicated to the development of Guam and the surrounding region during his service as the island’s delegate, according to University of Guam president Dr. Robert Underwood. Underwood, who also succeeded Blaz as Guam delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, began as a staunch political opponent in the local Democratic party, but became a very close friend, despite their political differences.
“(Blaz proved his love for the Chamorro people) every day in his service to the country and the island he came from. He was a terrific speaker and thinker,” said Underwood in Blaz’ eulogy.
Guam Governor Eddie Calvo declared a state of mourning for Guam to honor Blaz and wrote, “Congressman Vicente Tomas 'Ben' Garrido Blaz is one of the most important Guamanians of our time. He showed us that Chamorros can accomplish any goal we set for ourselves. His accomplishments show us that bravery and perseverance are all we need to succeed, and for that, the people of Guam will forever be grateful.”
Indeed, Blaz epitomized throughout his life what a good work ethic, selflessness and determination can accomplish. Borja said his uncle broke through social barriers of his time and attained his lauded positions, ranks and titles by always staying faithful and doing his best in every endeavor.
“When met with adversity, he continued his pursuits until he was successful. When met with success, he continued his pursuits to enrich the Corps and his nation,” said Borja.
Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, deputy commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force and commanding general of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Okinawa, Japan, attended the service, along with Marines stationed on Guam with Marine Corps Activity Guam and Recruiting Substation Guam.
“This individual succeeded in everything he did and set an example for all the people of Guam and all Americans. Young people today ought to look at a lifetime of service as worthy, something to aspire to. Ben Blaz ought to be a beacon to them if they want to pattern their life for success,” said Kennedy. “What we found today from (those who knew him) since he was a child is the impact he made here. I think we ought to be proud, as Marines, that we’re so well represented by an individual like Ben Blaz.”
This work, Memorial Honors Marine’s Life of Service, by MSgt Pauline Franklin, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.