Today Maryann, Lou (from WHOI) and I spend most of day exploring the island with Jen McKinnon from Flinders University. With her extensive knowledge of the Battle of Saipan and the logistics of the Island, she was the ultimate tour guide. The goal was to experience a bit of the geography of the island and see some of the sites – something we RARELY get to do on these underwater assignments. Usually its hotel to dock, to dive site, back to dock, and back to hotel day after day after day. We also were going to film the sites in 3D for the production we were working on.
|Maripi Point (aka Suicide Cliff)|
We began at the north end of the island, pretty much opposite of the US Invasion forces in 1945. Marpi point is the location where nearly 1000 men, women and children committed suicide in fear of the advancing US forces. Despite both US forces and civilian’s pleading with the hysterical masses, so many chose to take there own life. The stories were horrific. The fear must have been unbearable. Families choosing death over the thought of being separated and possibly tortured despite the US’s desire to simply liberate them from the oppressive Japanese occupation and provide them with food, clothing and shelter.
Next we explored some of the other historical highlights of theisland. The Last Command, which was an arranged, make-shift road side tourist site complete with staged anti-aircraft guns, tanks and other WWII remains. Apparently this site was not truly the last command of the Japanese forces but it was the closest to the main road and thus history is re-written for the sake of the tourist trade.
The most interesting sites were those off the beaten path. The areas without the tour busses and masses of Japanese tourists. Jen arranged for us to meet up a member of the Historic Preservation Office to take us to the very southern tip of the island to a seldom visited Japanese gun emplacement and other remnants of the coastal defenses. After the most amazing 4x4 trek through the jungle we arrived at the bunker. Standing proud was the Japanese cannon pointing out over the water ready to defend the island. From there we progressed to the airport area to shoot the remains of anti-aircraft guns, tanks and bomb storage facilities. The extent of the WWII remnants was quite impressive.
It hard to imagine these pristine tropical location as ground zero for the some to the bloodiest battles in WWII. These little known islands with their content civilizations and traditions thrown into the mania of a world war. Events which forever changed the course of the islands and its people. A story that is repeated over and over again on these small coral islands in a sea of blue.