The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.