Day 4: Saipan


My fourth day in the Northern Mariana Islands was spent on Saipan. As a military history buff, Saipan has been a dream of mine to visit for many years.  The battle for Saipan remains one of the most important and brutal battles in U.S. history.  The island itself is a jewel of crystal blue waters and lush jungle.  Like Guam, the Saipanese are incredibly generous and warm with visitors.  While I was distressed to see a massive, gaudy casino being built for Chinese tourist (a monstrosity that dominates part of the island), the rest of the island remains wonderfully understated and tranquil.

I arrived on an early flight from Guam (which is only 40 minutes away).  I then went on a wonderful hike through the jungle with Chief Judge Ramona Villagomez Manglona, Magistrate Judge Heather L. Kennedy and Jim Benedetto, Assistant U.S. Attorney. Behind Jim’s house in Saipan is jungle that he routinely explored with machete in hand.  Years ago he discovered the remains of a B-29 that crashed after a return from a bombing raid on Japan in World War II.  It took three weeks for Jim and his friend to cut a path into the jungle but he took us to see the wreckage in the dense jungle.  It was an amazing hike and Jim could easily find a calling in the outback should he abandon the whole legal gig.


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After the hike, I was then taken on a great tour of the battlefields by Bill Bezzant, Chief Deputy Clerk. Bill is an amazing resource.  My favorite part was when we went to the beach landing area where tanks are still visible in the surf.  I could not resist and swam out to one Sherman tank and climbed on board. You can go inside of the tank through its open turret.  It was amazing.

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I finished the day with a wonderful dinner with judges and lawyers of Saipan.  Again, the degree of hospitality and warmth on the island is incredible.  Saipan has proved to be everything that I hoped it would be and more.




51 thoughts on “Day 4: Saipan”

  1. What? No mention of the 33,000 Japanese men, women and children who jumped to their deaths to avoid dishonoring the emperor by being captured by American troops? Saipan is a beautiful island, particularly when the flame trees are blooming, but it has a dark and sordid war past as do all of the islands of the Northern Marianas and the Federated States of Micronesia. The remains of war are interesting today, but they were hell then.

    1. I was going to mention them, but I didn’t know how. I knew a bunch of Marines who fought for Saipan. Not one liked the spectacle. I knew a bunch of Sailors who didn’t like having to unclog their screws of the bodies. Some of them not long from the duty of doing the same for their shipmates at Peal Harbor.

      Just curious. Have any of you put any thought into what it cost those men who raised those ships at Pearl Harbor? If you’re lucky a corpse comes floating along and taps you on the shoulder. Then after pumping out a space, you have to use high pressure hoses to wash away chunks of what used to be human beings. Then mops. Then diesel because that’s the only thing that cuts the fuel oil.

      There were a few nisei who served on Saipan. They tried to stop the slaughter. Most, all in my experience, Marines are decent men and were horrified, and when they saw what was going on they did what they could. The mission of the Nisei was to get the Japanese to give up rather than kill themselves. The Marines were skeptical. They weren’t much help. At first. Then, Saipan. That brought tears to the eyes of men who wouldn’t cry for themselves.

  2. I’m glad you’re having a good time, but what about me??
    I’m going crazy without your daily input about the travel ban legislation.
    Please hurry back.

  3. What an incredibly beautiful island.

    I can’t help but wonder what happened to the B-29 pilot. Did he get out in time or die in the crash? Such artifacts are grim reminders of all the bloodshed that happened. At some point, that paradise was hell for a lot of people.

    1. The odds were not good for B-29 pilots. One in three bombers would not survive the 25 mission requirement. Many more airmen were lost in training on this difficult to fly bomber. The introduction of the P51 Mustang in large numbers great luck enhanced survivability since its long flying range meant it could fly all the way with the bomber to protect it but it was never a walk in the park.

      1. Was the B-29 that bomber where the tail gunner was so crammed back there that it was really hard to get out in case they got shot down? I think it was the B-17 where the ball turret gunner could not wear his parachute and had to rely on a crew member unlocking his hatch and helping him out. I think there wasn’t room. Was it the same for the B-29?

        1. B17 or B24. Here’s the poem:

          From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
          And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
          Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
          I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
          When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

      2. The USAAF actually had a potentially good long range fighter escort in the P-38 Lightning. With drop tanks the USAAF was able to avoid the U-boat menace by flying from the US to Britain via Iceland. With drop tanks it could also make it all the way to Berlin and back to England. It had problems early on, some of which were unique to the European theater, some not. The Army had decided to use exhaust driven turbochargers, which wasn’t actually the wrong decision as turbos are more efficient and capable of producing more power then mechanically driven superchargers such as the two stage version that equipped the Mustang’s Merlin engine (because the Army was placing all it’s bets on turbos, the US aviation industry lagged behind the Europeans in supercharger development; early versions of the Mustang had a single stage supercharger on the Allison engine, and was disappointing above 15,000 feet). But they required tighter tolerances and required tougher alloys. Given the state of 1940s technology that slowed production and also meant it had a lot of teething pains. The early models had a problem with overheating. for instance. The Rolls Royce Merlin engine wasn’t actually a better engine than the Allison, but it’s power adder was a known and proven commodity and offered fewer technical challenges. Basically the turbo was a better answer to an obsolete question, as by the time the Army had sorted out all the problems we had already entered the jet age.

        One other reason why the P-38 got a bad rep in Europe is that with no engine in front of the pilot the cockpit was freezing.

        The plane really came into its own in the Pacific where cold weather wasn’t a problem where most of the fighting took place. In fact, the cockpit was usually too warm at low altitude as opening a window created turbulence that caused buffeting of the tail plane. The plane proved itself as a long range fighter, in the right environment and once the engine problems had been sorted out, by flying up from Guadalcanal and shooting down the Mitsubishi G4M Betty bomber ferrying Admiral Yamamoto around the northern Solomon Islands. One advantage that served the P-38 well on long overwater missions in the Pacific theater was the fact it had two engines. I recall a P-38 driver talking about his confusion when he overheard a mayday call from a fellow USAAF aviator reporting engine problems. He thought, “What’s the big deal, just shut down the engine.” In fact, another P-38 pilot responded to the mayday and said exactly that to the pilot declaring the emergency.

        The pilot responded, “I can’t shut down the engine, I’m flying a Mustang.”

  4. If the Japanese are now mistaking the Bernese Mountain dogs for the Hello Kitties Bunnies Mountain Dogs I’m all for it. Yeah, no excrement.

  5. I lost a great uncle at Saipan. He was in the 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine regiment, 4th Marine Division under command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. MacFarlane Here’s their heroic from Wiki:

    “On 12 May 1944, all of 14th Marines, including 3d Battalion, embarked on board USS Leonard Wood and stopped at Pearl Harbor before setting sail towards Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands in order to participate in Operation Forager. On 15 June, infantry units of the 4th Marine Division began landing on the southwestern coast of Saipan. As the assault on the beaches stalled, 14th Marines was ordered at approximately 1:15pm to land. Third Battalion loaded onto DUKWs and was the first artillery unit to arrive on the shore. [One DUKW sunk attempting the landing, taking its 105mm howitzer and my great uncle with it]. By 2:45pm, 3d Battalion had pushed 50 yards inland of Yellow Beach 2 and began firing in support of the 25th Marine Regiment. At approximately 3:30am on 16 June, 3d Battalion was critical in stopping Japanese counterattack against Company C, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines. The 4th Marine Division then made a drive towards Mt. Tapochau and Magicienne (now Laolao) Bay; all 14th Marines artillery was directed to support these assaults. The island was declared secure and the battle over on 9 July.”

      1. Likewise, I am so sorry for that loss so many years ago. One of my great-uncles landed at Salerno, or maybe Sicily. Wherever it was, it was in Italy somewhere that started with an “S.” Anyway, he won a medal for killing a bunch of Krauts who were trying to sneak behind the American lines. He brought back all kinds of Nazi coins.

        Another great-uncle-in-law landed in Japan as part of the Occupation forces. Then another ancestor was somewhere in the Australian battle area, where he had to fight in the jungles. Til the day he died, he would never buy anything made in Japan, as he hated them with a passion for the things he saw.

        Luckily, they all came back alive, and only the one in the jungle had problems from it. Because after that he became a very gentle person, and would not go hunting any more, or do any physical harm to any person.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

        1. Salerno makes sense since Operation Avalanche was directed there when they invaded the mainland near the “toe.” The invasion of Sicily was in the Gulf of Gela.

        2. I understand how you could come back and not want to hunt.

          I grew up with Sailors and Marines who didn’t feel the same way.

    1. In 66 I shipped to Vietnam via boat 30 days USS Gaffey troupe ship. We finally stopped at Okinawa but I remember going through the channel certain beaches were barbed wire and the rusted pieces of the war machine in the wired area. I wanted very much to explore the landing areas but we were lucky they let us off for the night, then back to sea to Nam. Got drunk and landed on the beach of Qui Nhon. Did visit Normandy and that is a site to behold, man those Americans of the 30’s and 40’s were the best. I wish our kids and grand kids could study more about those Americans I think they would appreciate this nation more. Funny I have never had any desire to return to Vietnam, I guess because I was 20 years old and she has never left me!

      1. Thanks for the great personal story. It’s what makes the commentary to the blog. And, more importantly, thanks for your service to us all.

      2. One of my grandfathers was in Vietnam, and was in the Korean War, too. He was in the Army in Korea, and then switched to the Air Force. He was at some place called Ton Sa Noot (?). He said the South Vietnamese were nothing like the Koreans, who fought like the dickens to stay free. He really respected them. He said the S. Viets were pretty much the opposite, and seemed largely ambivalent about the whole thing.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

        1. Squeeky: here is my experience fighting with the South Vietnamese that sums it up in my mind.
          One night my unit was attacked by the Vietnam Cong. The South Vietnamese were 50 feet away and did not lift a finger to help us…of course they weren’t attacked either.
          It almost appeared as if there was an unwritten word that they wouldn’t fight each other.

          1. I agree I think the Vietnamese could care less about the war, but the ones I came across in uniform in my area did fight and die. Lets not judge them to harshly, remember our politicians left them.
            I wanted to THANK all of you who have taken the time to honorably mention your family members who served the U.S. in different capacities war and peace. I have a long list of family members as well Vietnam, Korea, WWll and WWl. Please never forget them and always view them in the best of light. They were young men once, naive, goofy and just kids when they entered service. When they returned they were the same people outwardly but inside very old men, trust me on that. This is what the kids who protect us today are right now and are the best of our youth.

            Squeeky As I remember Ton So Nhut was and airbase outside Siagon which the Vietnamese now call Ho Chi Min city and use the airfield extensively. Never got that far south, came in to Que Nhon on landing craft to Dong Ha and the DMZ.

  6. Envy. My father, Charles Turley (note the last name) was in the 27th Infantry. A sniper wounded him somewhere north of Aslito field. I’ve always wanted to go see where he served.

    1. I’ve been there. My great grand uncle was Marine at Belleau Wood. What do you hope to see. Maybe I can save you some time.

  7. JT, if you got the mojo & want a thrill. Next stop Ecuador Amazon. Why settle for less?

    Huaorani Tribe runs a business. Tours & hunting expeditions. I’m leaning towards the hunting expedition package. Get trained with blow dart guns. Then go with the best hunters. Watch out for the pit vipers,
    tarantulas & jaguar. Video shows the action.

  8. Wow what a trip and to be able to step back in time. I thought the military had teams that investigated new pieces of equipment when located. I’m sure your friends notified the military of the crash site and/or gave them some identifiers to determine if the crew bailed out and located.
    Fantastic trip, good stuff.

  9. “My favorite part was when we went to the beach landing area where tanks are still visible in the surf. ” I don’t think I need to suggest to Professor Turley that the reason those tanks remain in the surf zone is they didn’t make it all the way to the beach

    1. It’s a graveyard, even if nature has reclaimed any remains. And the B-29 might be a grave as well. It’s important to remember that these are artifacts of tragedy and heartbreak.


  11. Trump has a terrorist in custody who came in after the ban was banned. Watch the news. It is all fit to print.

    1. If true I hope they were headed to the state those judges reside. If true did anyone really think this was not going to happen, lets hope they don’t carry out their plans. Europe seems to be a hot bed they just made an arrest of a group of bomb makers.

  12. Wonderful trip and historical experience. I am unable to enjoy these types of adventures any more… but really appreciate it when you describe old WWII sites… especially in the Pacific theatre. Thanks for posting all the pix. I am assuming that the remains of the crew {if any} were recovered years ago? I hope they all bailed out successfully.

  13. any information whether the crew’s remains are in that wreckage you are prowling all over?

      1. his silence suggests he didn’t even consider he was desecrating brave soldiers’ final resting place, both the B29 and the tanks.

        Prof, you know you can’t dive on or photograph the USS Arizona don’t you? Its the same principle. Explain yourself or apologize for your actions.

        1. It’s not quite the same thing. The USS Arizona is a protected as a national monument. I understand the sentiment. Should the rest of the Pacific be? I felt I was disturbing a grave the entire time I operated in the theater. “Sorry, brother, I didn’t mean to disturb you.” But you can’t live in the past forever.

          I may still leave my bones in that graveyard. Feel free to snorkel.

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