Tuesday, August 05, 2008

We Love Saipan Testimonial, 1949 Edition

Every once in a while the We Love Saipan Network receives an email from someone who, well, loves Saipan. We try to post most of them.

This week we received an email from an American woman who lived on Saipan in 1949. She shares with us her memories of the island in the following email (emphasis mine):
In 1949, my husband received orders for Saipan. All we knew about this small island in the Marianas was that there was a huge battle on the island that expedited the end of the war.

As was common with the military in those days, George, who was an Army Captain, left for his tour of duty in January 1949, and I arrived in August of the same year. At that time our son, G.A. was 3 ½ and our daughter, Roz, was 11 months old. I will spare you the harrowing details of my trip from Omaha to San Francisco, our 19 days at sea with a brief stop in Hawaii, on to Guam, and then a small plane to Saipan.

The United States Navy was a big presence on the Island. As such, they had really nice bachelor quarters, family homes, plus a beautiful Officer's Club on the beach. They threw wonderful parties. I remember the Saturday night dances where everyone dressed in their best clothes. They also had wonderful bingo games with really nice prizes. In those days we pretty much made our own entertainment - [there was] not even commercial radio reception.

The Army, on the other hand, had the top of Mount Tapochau. I remember it was a beautiful, breathtaking ride up the mountain. The poinsettia trees were in full bloom and gorgeous. Our son made the trip sitting on the wheel well guard on the jeep and hanging on to a canopy post, while I hung on to both my daughter and the side of the jeep for dear life!

Our first home was a Quonset hut on top of the mountain. The entire area was overrun with rats. Our daughter had to sleep in a crib covered by mesh screening to protect her. To my horror one night a rat slipped off a beam and landed on our bed. Fortunately, these were only temporary quarters as the military had almost finished [building] nicer and better accommodations.

There were teams of military going through the jungle identifying skeletal remains to determine whether they were Americans or Japanese. The American remains were taken to Guam and then on to the States for identification. The Japanese bones were left. It was not uncommon for us, while looking for avocado trees and pineapple patches, to stumble across bones and skulls.

Our living was pretty primitive. We did have indoor plumbing and a nice screened-in porch for ventilation. We had to keep sugar and flour and other cooking supplies in a "hot box." Bananas and pineapple were abundant, and we needed the fresh fruit. All our supplies had to be shipped in.

When we learned [that] a shipment of food and other of life's necessities were to arrive, down the mountain all of us jeeped, trying to get there before the Navy people. I was almost knocked down once trying to grab a head of lettuce! I lost! When I say everything was shipped in, this included Santa Claus - to the children's delight.

We all had maids. They were almost a necessity. Americans were novices in cooking, cleaning (without vacuums), keeping children safe from dog packs, yellow jacket nests, etc. The reason I mention dog packs is that when the Japanese civilians committed suicide by leaping off the cliff, their pets were abandoned.

The fittest ones survived and formed packs. Our maid was named Kata, and the children loved her. She was 17 and a beautiful Chamorro girl. Her English was as non-existent as my Chamorro so we did a lot of arm waving. She spoke a little Spanish and with my 1-year of high school Spanish we managed. I have always wondered what happened to her and hope she had a happy life.

The Saipan you and others describe now with restaurants, hotels, manufacturing and tourists is certainly not the one I remember.

I would love to see it again! Even war-torn it was a beautiful place. It was a sad day when we got ordered to Guam. From there it was 2 years in Japan, so there was no opportunity to return. As this was 60 years ago, my memory is vague, but if I can answer any questions please don't hesitate to email me.

Arian Redding
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Arian.

I find it interesting that she mentions poinsettia trees. Does she mean flame trees? There were flame trees back in 1949? Who knew? I also find it interesting that their was a lot of pineapple. Not to much pineapple is grown here these days.

I think it is funny that they even had packs of dogs back then. Why didn't someone in the Navy or the Army think to shoot them? Don't military people have guns?

Finally does anybody know Kata? She would be 17 years older than my father. That would make her about 76 years old. Anybody have any ideas who she might be?


bigsoxfan said...

About the dog packs, the military counts bullets and doesn't particularly enjoy having people tote loaded weapons through a pacified area. However, every island or ship spawns some outrageous rumors. What a fascinating story, though. Funny to think the army, marines, and Navy took such casualities and their families didn't exactly live in the land of the big PX as a result. Course, they probably did a little better than the ones down in the camp. I'm looking forward to chapter to of this story.

Deece said...

Wow, what a great email! I could imagine what it might have been like. The old Army Officer's Club was up here on my uncle's property.

I was surprised to read about the pineapples too. Thanks to Missy I have one pineapple growing in my yard right now.

Thank you both for sharing.

Saipan Writer said...

When I arrived in 1984, there were huge poinsettias in Chalan Kanoa, sort of by the then Tropical Color. And we had pineapple growing in bunches at the place where I stayed in Kagman, but it was hard to harvest them before the rats got them.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

There is a patch of poinsiettas on the Banadero Trail, but they aren't "huge."

In Florida people plant their poinsiettas after Christmas and they get "huge," so I know how big they can get.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on why we have so many rats here. Could it be all the dumped garbage?

Melissa said...

Boy 19 days at sea with TWO kids makes my upcoming 24 hour flight with just ONE kid seem easy...

Zoonya said...

Pineapples are still in abundance on the hills of Chalan Laulau. We would hike up there and gather as many as we can before the rats do.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

"I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on why we have so many rats here."

Ans: Democ'rats'