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Tinian: A difficult journey, and not just literally.

Hinode American Memorial

The Hinode American Memorial is in the middle of a traffic circle along Broadway.

I spent today – Easter Monday – popping over to Tinian Island – the immediate neighbor to Saipan, which is, for the record, where I am right now. Visiting Saipan, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, gets me one step closer to having visited all the major, populated, political subdivisions of the United States.

Given that I flew to Saipan, it seemed that it would be foolish to not go the extra 11 miles to reach Tinian. The only reasonable way to get there is by air, flying Star Marianas Air – my first ever cash only airline: US$49.50 at the counter, please.

From the air, Tinian is a beautifully green island – and it is easy to forget that during World War II, a huge battle was fought over it, then, after it fell back into the hands of the Americans, the worlds largest airport was built on its lands – along with two extra special bomb pits.

Tinian: North Field

I overflew my destinations when flying from Saipan International Airport to Tinian Airport

Tinian is where the Enola Gay took off with Little Boy stashed safely in her belly until she was over Hiroshima.

Atomic Bomb Assembly Site

This is where Little Boy was assembled, before being transported to the Atomic Bomb pit.

Looking at photos of Tinian during the war and looking at Tinian today, it’s hard to believe that they are one and the same. Photos of the island during the war show it denuded of trees – a vast airport complex, with four parallel runways, at the north end, and facilities everywhere – a vast street network (with naming contrived to resemble Manhattan) and facilities to house all the soldiers.

Atomic Bomb Loading Pit

Atomic Bomb Pit Number 1 — where the Enola Gay was loaded with Little Boy.

You really cannot see it easily today and with a population of around 3100, maintaining the road network of the island’s northern reaches is clearly not a priority. I was grateful that the man at the car rental agency had talked me into a RAV4 instead of a Corolla – some of the potholes didn’t look that bad until you hit them.

US Landing Craft

A US Landing Craf, in a traffic circle along 8th Avenue — rusting out.

But this glosses over what I was thinking about – war, death, fighting, and our responsibility to history. The facilities of Tinian were built by the Seabees in short order in 1944/45 – and many are still there. But in dreadful shape – sure the roads and runways that are deteriorating, no problem. But seeing plants growing out of the landing craft that is prominently on display in the middle of a traffic circle?

107th US Naval Construction Monument

The memorial to the men who built out Tinian during the war, making it the world’s busiest airport.

World War II has a huge, overly grandiose, and somewhat embarrassing monument in the middle of The Mall, in Washington DC. Some 7800 miles away, where men died, actual WWII history is being eaten away.

American Memorial Park

American Memorial Park, Saipan.

I flew back to Saipan in the afternoon – and wandered to the American Memorial Park – a national park with a small museum exploring Siapan and Tinian’s WWII experiences, plus some memorials. Some of the memorials seem a bit chincy, others appear to be grand but neglected. But all of it is history that needs to be maintained – and not just in our memories.

American Memorial Park: Names of the Lost

The names of the men whose lives were lost are engraved here — this is one of three banks of names.

American Memorial Park

So… this is one of those times and places where I am proud of my country.

 

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