I am a big fan of history, especially World War II history in the Pacific. Due to my interest in the war, I decided to take a trip recently to Saipan to learn more about its World War II history. The best place to begin any World War II tour of Guam is to stop by the American Memorial Park:
Since Saipan is a US commonwealth the park is administered by the National Park Service. Saipan was for centuries a Spanish territory and then was controlled by the Germans after the Spanish-American War that destroyed the Spanish Empire in the Pacific. After World War I the Japanese were then given control of Saipan. Imperial Japan incorporated Saipan into its empire until losing the island to the US after the Battle of Saipan. It is this battle that the park commemorates. The visitor center for the park is conveniently located across the street from the main tourist city of Garapan:
Here is a closer look at the flag pole in front of the visitor center which flies both the American flag and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CMNI) flag:
From the flagpole here is the view looking towards the entrance of the visitor center:
It just so happened that when I visited the park a busload of Japanese Buddhist monks showed up. Many of them were quiet elderly which made me wonder if any of them were young men during World War II? Anyway once inside the visitor center I found the NPS personnel to be quite helpful in helping me make an itinerary of things to see on Saipan. They also took me over to their theater to watch a short film about the Battle of Saipan. After watching the film I then walked through the visitor center to look at the displays. One of the displays was a large tabletop map that depicted the Battle of Saipan:
The Battle of Saipan included beach landings on the west side of the island by the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and the US Army 27th Infantry Division. In all 71,000 American personnel took part in the Battle of Saipan against 32,000 entrenched Japanese defenders. Over the course of three weeks these US Marines and Soldiers would systematically clear the island of its Japanese defenders from south to north. 24,000 Japanese would die during the battle and 5,000 more would commit suicide. The US lost 3,426 men during the battle. This is a huge loss of life on such a small island measuring 12 miles long by 5 miles wide.
After checking out the maps I then began checking out the various displays inside the visitor center. Here is a display that depicts what life was like during the Japanese colonial period on Saipan:
Since the Imperial Japanese controlled Saipan for many decades there was no brutal occupation like what the Chamorros on the neighboring island of Guam experienced during World War II. Since Guam was a US territory occupied by the Japanese they treated the Chamorros there brutally compared to the good treatment those on Saipan received.
There was also a display that showed how strategically important Saipan was for the war effort:
Saipan was arguably the most important battle in the Pacific theater during World War II. This is because taking Saipan was first a psychological blow to the Japanese since they would be losing actual Japanese territory for the first time. Secondly Saipan just happened to be just the right distance from the main Japanese islands to support B-29 bombing raids. This meant that the US could launch regular bombing raids on the main islands and bring the war home to Japan. The Imperial Japanese government understood the importance of Saipan and send most of their naval might to defend the island which led to the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. During the naval engagement the Japanese lost over 550 aircraft and three carriers. The Japanese defeat at Saipan ultimately led to the airfield on neighboring Tinian Island to be the site where the Enola Gay took off to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima which ultimately helped lead to the end of the war.
The next displays showed artifacts from the Battle of Guam to include rifles and swords:
Here is a display that shows items recovered from the Japanese war dead:
Sprinkled throughout the displays were laminated books for visitors to read that provided eyewitness accounts from the combatants during the Battle of Saipan:
In total I spent about an hour and a half in the visitor center watching the movie and going through all the displays. Afterwards I headed outside to checkout the various memorials around the visitor center. Before heading over to the memorials I took this picture of the 1,554 foot Mt. Tapochau that had made an appearance after being covered in clouds most of the day:
Mt. Tapochau is where the Japanese command post for the Battle of Saipan was located. From the summit the entire island can be seen and thus an effective location for commanding troops. Many Marines and Soldiers were lost during the battle climbing its steep slopes to secure its summit from the Japanese.
The first memorial I walked over to was the Marianas Memorial:
This memorial listed the names of the native islanders who lost their lives during the Battle of Saipan:
I next walked over to a memorial to the US Marines and Soldiers that died during the battle:
Here is the marker in front of the memorial that was erected in 1994:
Around the flagpole are markers that list the names of all the US personnel that died during the battle:
Here is one of the markers for the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division:
Here is one of the markers for the 2nd Marine Division:
After finishing my walk around the grounds of the American Memorial Park I then decided to walk down the road past the Hyatt Regency Resort and explore the beach section of the park:
This part of the park still has some damage from the August 2015 Typhoon Soudelor that has yet to be repaired, but people can still walk in and check out the beach:
From the beach I could see out in the distance Managaha Island which is a popular snorkeling location for tourists:
Overall I found the visitor center to be quite well done with beautiful grounds, various memorials and a scenic beach. I definitely had a great visit to the park and recommend anyone visiting Saipan to stop by and learn more about the island’s tragic World War II past.