DAY 6: Tinian

img_6576The sixth day was just about as exciting as it can get. Our hosts in Saipan knew of my love for military history and Chief Justice Alexandro Castro said that he would be happy to take my to Tinian on his fishing boat. With Ninth Circuit Judge Paul Watford and his wife joined us, it became quite an adventure after he hit unpredictably rough seas in the small boat. It only added to the exciting day, however, as we visited one of the truly most unique places on Earth.

I reluctantly left Saipan after arranging to stay longer because I absolutely fell in love with this island and its people. It has everything that I adore: hiking, history, and wonderful food. However, the thing that I will remember the most is the people of Saipan and Tinian. They, like those of Guam, are quite simply the most generous and warm people I have ever met. They live a perfectly balanced life of work and recreation – enjoying everything that the ocean water and jungle has to offer. It made me think how easy it is to lose the simply ability for joy in our crowded cities and pressured lifestyles. There is much we could learn from the island culture.

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The trip began with the Chief Judge picking us up from the hotel and taking us to his boat where is son and grandson helped us aboard.

Once out in the open water, we hit the chop and the waves got bigger. It was not for those prone to sea sickness. The little boat rose and fell with the waves like a 50 minute rollercoaster. As we hit the bottom of the waves, we had to hold on to stay in the boat. As we approached the island, Judge Castro throw a huge hook and bait over the side. Soon thereafter he caught a beautiful and huge mahi mahi as a gift to the mayor of Tinian.

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uss_indianapolis_at_mare_islandWe docked right near where the USS Indianapolis docked to deliver the bombs. It then left here for its own nightmare of being sunk by a Japanese submarine and (due to the secrecy of its mission) the survivors were left in the open water for days as a massive number of sharks feasted on the struggling sailors.

Tinian Mayor Joey P. San Nicolas was awaiting on the pier and Judge Castro gave him the Mahi Mahi. Joey is a former prosecutor and a wonderful person who deeply loves the island and its history. He studied law in the states and discussed how no one knew where Tinian was. There are only a few thousand people on the island and Joey knows them all. He plays a critical role in protecting the island, particularly given the move by the U.S. military to resume military practices on the island including bombing runs. Joey and others are trying desperately to protect this gem of an island.

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My hosts had arranged for us to be joined the well-known author and Tinian expert Don Farrell. At first, I groaned when Don showed up in a Green Bay Packers hat – there is no escaping cheeseheads even in the South Pacific. Despite his questionable taste in football teams, Farrell is a wonder – a wealth of information and stories. He married a Chamorro girl and fell in love with Tinian. He has been researching and writing about the history of the island ever since.

enola_gay_crew_3We then went to the runaway where the Enola Gay took off from Tinian. We drove on the roads built by the CB (SeaBee) units for the sole purpose of transporting the atomic bomb parts. The roads are still there and used by locals. We went to Runway Able at North Field where on August 5, 1945, Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets took off. The flight was almost a scrub. Due to the overloaded weight of Little Boy, Tibbetts had to get up to around 155 miles per hour by a certain point. When he failed to reach that speed, his co-pilot told him to abort but Tibbetts kept going to almost the very end of the runaway before finally lifting close to the waters edge. You can still image the rush of the engines on that morning. We also visited the loading bomb pits – now protected by glass covers. Don shared the logistics of the assembling and loading of the bombs, which was a mix of cutting edge science and sheer muscle power (and a gasoline hydraulic lift bought out of Detroit).

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After visiting the airfield we stopped at a famous spot of the massive home of legendary Chamorro King Taga. The site is the location of the largest latte stones in the world – stones upon which the home was built. Taga seems a bit of an acquired test in fighting with his father and killing his son. When his daughter died, she was placed in a carved latte stone that supported the elevated home — a rather creepy notion for some of us. At the site, which holds special meaning to Chamorros, were offerings of fruits and other food. Our hosts brought fresh coconuts to drink from during the tour.

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We were then driven to the beach where the Mayor and his family and other locals had laid out an elaborate feast of Chamorro delicacies, including the Mahi Mahi we just caught – now prepared as Sashimi. It was awesome with sea snails roasted on the beach to Beef Tinaktak to Chamorro Bistek to Kimchi to chicken kelaquen to grill pork bellies to fried bananas and other dishes. We ate feet away from the massive surf crashing on the rocks. The Chamorros love food and spending time with friends – and making new friends. To put it bluntly, if you cannot make a friend out of a Chamorro, the problem is you. Trust me on that.

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We then had to head back to the boat to get to Saipan to catch our flight first to Guam and then Palau. After saying a fond farewell to our new friends at the pier, we set off. We hoped for an easier return, but storm came up. We found ourselves amidst huge waves that were so high that the pounding knocked out one of the two pumps on the boat. We had to turn around and limp back into Tinian after a truly exciting voyage. Judge Castro was a master in struggling with the huge waves and avoiding being swamped. It took everything at points not to be thrown from the boat.

Our hosts quickly arranged to fly us out. The Tinian airport and air carriers are uniquely local, including what appeared a handmade sign with peeling letters for Star Marianna Air. However, everyone at the airline were very kind and the pilots were experienced. Unfortunately, all flights were grounded. These very small planes operate by line of sight. If they cannot see Saipan, they do not take off. We eventually took off and made our flight. It took a blink of time to make the jump to Saipan.

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I know that these islands are hard to get to but take my word for it: this is a life-changing experience. These beautiful islands and unique Chamorro people are something that everyone should experience. I feel incredibly honored and fortunate to have met these locals and to have been shown their culture and cuisine. It will remain one of the great highlights of my travels.

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My next day will be speaking to the Palau bar and judges. Palau is almost a two-hour flight from Guam. WiFi is very unreliable at the remote location but I will try to post as soon as a signal can be found.

20 thoughts on “DAY 6: Tinian

  1. (music- to the tune of Hilary The 8th)

    I’m Tinian the Eighth I am.
    Tinian the Eighth I am I am!
    I got married to the widow next door.
    She’s been married seven times before.
    And ..everyone was a Tinian.
    Tinian!
    Wouldn’t be a Willy or a Fred.
    No Fred!
    Cause, there ain’t no name like Tinian!
    Tinain the 8th I am!

  2. If you thought Guam, Saipan and Tinian were wonders, wait for Palau. I’ve never seen a more beautiful and tranquil set of islands. (Many movies have used that territory for romantic settings.) The mushroom shaped small islands are not to be missed. Go to one with a hole at the tidal line in a skiff and venture in, being careful with the colorful water flora and fauna near your feet.

    Be sure to visit Pelilue (a site of a major WWII battle), but while there are artifacts of the war, snorkel (even better–scuba) the Blue Wall.

    The group of associated islands and surrounding waters are part of the National Park’s War of the Pacific and the sunken ships are often surveyed by its Underwater Cultural Resources unit.

  3. In 1984 when I stood on the runway where the Enola Gay took off from Tinian, the feeling was overwhelming and the runway was still in pretty good shape. The magnitude of what that runway was all about creeps into the soul and made me wonder if we would ever learn to get along. It also made me pray that such a thing would never again be necessary. Still praying. I have enjoyed these articles immensely because I have been to each place and experienced similar feelings and it was good to see them again. Surfing the breakers on a Hobie Cat at Saipan is about as much fun as one can have on the ocean. Glad you had such a good trip.

    • “… made me wonder if we would ever learn to get along.”

      ************************

      Wonder no more:

      “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time or war where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

      (…)

      To this war of every man against every man this also is consequent, that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition that there be no propriety, no dominion, no ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ distinct, but only that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition which man by mere nature is actually placed in, though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the passions, partly in his reason.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. XIII)

      There is no longer a common power in international affairs hence no law and therefore no justice. We’ve taken ourselves out of the game. It is the incessant state of war or pre-war. Rule Britannia and Pax Romana are merely distant memories.

      • I believe the outlook is somewhat more positive. Historically, when ‘the people’ get fed up, change occurs, with or without violence, and when the change is complete, humankind has advanced. It is a game of inches, rather than feet, and sometimes the ball is on this side of the 50 yard line, and sometimes on the other. But with all it’s fits and starts, human evolution has marginally increased it’s capacity for harmony, and some small societies have actually achieved it. When cooperation rather than competition is taught from birth, the outcome is far different from that of those who approach it oppositely. If our collective intelligence and humanity can advance just a bit further than our collective technology and greed, we may stand a chance. Not to believe so would be far too morbid and depressing for me. But, then, not all are interested in avoiding morbidity and depression.

        • That happens sometimes and mostly when Western values are applied but not always . However, what we typically see ins what’s going on the Middle East where a state of nature would be an anthropological step up.

          • Some societies surely appear to be going the other way, and probably are. The tribal system so prevalent in the Mid East is not renowned for its love of humanity, and Sharia Law seems a conscious attempt to return to the stone age. Overall, however, I hope for the best, although at my age it hardly affects me anymore. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to be at peace. I remember short times when we were, and those were better times for us all. Interesting conversation. Requires deep thought and the ability to live with unknowing and uncertainty.

  4. Sounds like a grand time. And casually catching a Mahi Mahi to present to the mayor after an hour of rough seas sounds like it’s straight out of The Most Interesting Man In The World commercial. What an adventure your life has been!

  5. Glad you didn’t have problems broaching with the boat, when it goes too fast down a wave and plows into the back of the next wave, turning around where it can get hit on the side and capsize. Nothing like having a sailor calmly explain matching the speed of the boat to the speed of the waves so you don’t all die in a storm.

  6. I hope you will share some photos of Tinian? God willing I would love to visit some of the sites you’ve been to. I have some great photos of the Enola Gay, she sits up in Chantilly VA but I’m unable to post them here.

  7. Exciting to read JT . My Father & his identical twin brother were on Tinian when the Enola Gay took off. During the prior months to 8/1945 ; soldiers were told to avoid that side of the island which was top secret as the runway was being built.

  8. “We docked right near where the USS Indianapolis docked to deliver the bombs. It then left here for its own nightmare of being sunk by a Japanese submarine and (due to the secrecy of its mission) the survivors were left in the open water for days as a massive number of sharks feasted on the struggling sailors.”

    Here is a blurb about the travesty done to Capt McVay, who was made the scapegoat in the USS Indianapolis’s sinking. Although he was denied an escort, and 3 of his SOS’s were ignored, he was courtmartialed for failing to zigzag, even though American submarine officers testified that such a maneuver doesn’t work. He is the only captain in history to be courtmartialed for his ship getting sunk by an act of war. Although President Clinton exonerated him many years later, it came too late for Capt McVay, who took his own life. I hope they revised protocol after this tragedy to better keep track of any vessels traveling in the dark on a top secret mission.

    And, of course, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis was forever immortalized in the words of Quint in Jaws, made ever more terrifying because it was truth amid the movie.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_B._McVay_III

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