D-Day: Island of Saipan, June 16, 1944
By Rodney Williams
D-Day: Island of Saipan
June 16, 1944
Just ten days ago on June 6, 2004 the "free world" celebrated the 60th anniversary of D-Day which occurred on the beaches of Normandy. within the country of France. This was the greatest invasion the world has known. What happened to all the other World War Two invasions? Seemingly, they are all forgotten!
As you view my first photo of a real steel G.I. helmet on a cross, I wonder if it is still there today, 60 years later? The plaque says the invasion started on June 16, 1944 and ended on July 9, 1944, with a loss of 195 officers, and 2,949 American soldiers. I saw nothing on Saipan as to how many of the enemy died, nor how many civilians lost their lives.
I was also on the island of Tinian. The runway was still there where "Enola Gay," and the "Boxcar" B-29 bombers left for Japan in August of 1945. The feeling was awesome, to say the least!
Shortly before World War II was over, a family friend by the name of Lamar Bragg, who was in the 4th Marine division, was wounded on Iwo Jima. Lamar was unconscious, with blood all over him. The coreman thought he was dead, so they put him in a body bag and tossed him onto a waiting landing craft. He moaned inside the bag, and heard the medic say: "This one is alive, open the bag before he suffocates!" A very lucky Marine was Lamar. I recall his Marine tattoo, and the names below it. Tarawa; Kwajalein, Saipan, and Iwo Jima. Lamar and Jay Phillips, (his high school buddy) were in the first wave of Marines to hit the beach at Tarawa! I recall them saying that the machine gun fire was tremendous. They survived in the water, by hiding behind other dead Marines, and floating palm tree logs. I never got to Tarawa, but I had a quick stop over on Majuro, and Kwajalein Islands. I recalled what Lamar and Jay mentioned, as I strolled down the invasion beach, on "Kwaj" as they called Kwajalein. I was digging in the sand, and came up with dozens of empty .030"/.050" shells, which I still have.
Lamar said the Saipan invasion was a total mess. He related that the Navy ships dropped them off near the reef's edges, some 200/300 yards away from the beach during low tide. Seeing all of this first hand, was terrifying. They were "sitting ducks!" There were several large "thick walled" concrete bunkers next to the beaches. The big guns on the Navy ships punched large holes in the concrete bunkers about 3 feet in diameter, and 2-5 foot deep into the concrete. Most of the concrete was more than 10 foot thick, with maybe 2 inch steel reinforcing rods in it. Once the shelling was over, the Japs came up out of the bottom of the bunkers, manned their machine guns and went to work, shooting the ducks! I snorkeled out to a Sherman tank, which was in about 5 feet of water, and about 150 yards from the beach. During the invasion, dozens of tanks got hit from the big shore guns, or just quit running, as they dropped into sink holes in the reef. Low tide meant that the average depth of the water above the reef was about one to two feet. However due to coral growth, and bombing, there were large areas on the reef that had more the 5 feet of water. Tanks went into these depressions, the engines got wet, and quit working. Many soldiers fell into such holes, and with a very heave back pack they drowned, due to extreme fear, etc.
Little did I know listening to Lamar and Jay's stories in 1945, that I would be visiting two of those islands that they fought on, some thirty years later. I went on a film assignment to the little know island in the North West Pacific named "SAIPAN." There was a great deal of war machines left on the island and on the beaches.
I met an ex-American serviceman while visiting Saipan. I have forgotten his name, but he too was in the 4th Marine Division. He stayed on the island until the end of the war. During his tour of duty he fell in love with a local lady. After being shipped back to the states, he somehow got back to Saipan and married the gal, and never came back to America. Saipan was colonized by Japan sometime in the 1920's and/or in the 1930's. The Japs, melted into the local island population, and they all became related to Japan by the time the war started. This Marine showed me his Saipan photo "scrapbook." Some photos showed the civilians jumping over "suicide" cliff, and the Jap solders jumping over "Banzai" cliff. He said they estimated that as many as 10,000 civilians jumped to their death, just for Hirohito, and maybe that many or more soldiers did the same thing. Dozens of Marines were shooting down at the live Japs, which had piled up like a pyramid on the rocks some 100/150 feet below. The sharks feasted for days on the live/dead Japs. I was a 13 year old kid in 1944, and I recall seeing the people jump over the cliffs in our home town movie theater. Every week we went to see the war news at the theaters. Being there in person, at "Suicide and Banzai Cliffs," and looking down some 800 feet to the jungle, and 150 to the water, I said to myself: "I would never jump over any cliff for my president." Unfortunately, the Japanese civilians and solders had been "brain washed," and felt it was a great honor to die for their leader, Hirohito. The G. I's never went into the jungle to see if there were live people, nor did they bury any of the dead, so said that Marine. Even in 1974, families from Japan were still coming to Saipan, digging through the bones to see if they could find relatives.
You will see a photo showing a local prison. This Marine introduced me to an elder lady, who relates the story of Amelia Earhart being a prisoner on said island. She related that she was killed by the "JAP" soldiers just before the invasion. The local people showed us an area was she was buried. Several years ago, I saw a documentary film about Amelia, and they were on the island of Saipan. Recently, there was another story concerning her, but it did not mention Saipan. Some think she was lost in the ocean near Holland Island, (?) while others lean towards Saipan.
To say the least, Saipan was an everlasting experience! Just snorkeling out to the Sherman tank, wondering about the men that were in it. Then going down inside of it! Crawling into one of the many mountain side bunkers! Manning one of the many machine guns mowing down the American soldiers! Let alone the funny feeling one gets when looking over a railing, and seeing the jungle some 800 feet below. Then, just get up the nerve and JUMP!!!!! Our president in 1974 was Richard Nixon. Would you jump for him, or would you have jumped for Ford, who pardoned Nixon? Not me, never?
In closing, I'll bet we never see anything on TV and/or in the newspaper concerning the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Saipan!
© Rodney Williams 2004
This article was published on Wednesday, July 20 2011; Last modified on Saturday, May 14 2016