Thursday, October 20, 2011

Couple married 72 years die holding hands

Couple married 72 years die holding hands DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa couple married for 72 years died holding hands in a Des Moines hospital within 70 minutes of each other last week after a car accident that also injured another couple.

"They're very old-fashioned. They believed in marriage 'til death do you part," Dennis Yeager, the son of Gordon and Norma Yeager, told

The accident that claimed Gordon, 94, and Norma Yeager, 90, happened Oct. 12, when the couple left their State Center home for a drive shortly after 8 a.m.

At the intersection of Highway 30 and Jessup Avenue, just west of Marshalltown, Gordon pulled "away from the stop sign and failed to yield to a westbound vehicle," according to Sgt. Joel Ehler of the Iowa State Patrol.

The driver of the other car, Charles Clapsaddle, 64, of Marshalltown, was unable to stop to avoid a collision, Ehler said. Clapsaddle was treated and released from Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center, but his wife, Barbara, was reportedly transferred to Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.

A man who identified himself as their son, John, said in a comment published on a story on the Times-Republican website that his mother suffered internal bleeding and a broken neck.

“She is currently stable but remains in the critical care unit,” he wrote. “There will be a long road ahead for her recovery. Ehler said Yeager was facing pending action by the Iowa Department of Transportation to have his license removed, but citing privacy concerns, said he could release no additional details on what prompted that action.

The Yeagers' children told that their parents never liked being apart ever since Norma Stock married Gordon Yeager on May 26, 1939, in State Center. And they were relieved that the couple was able to spend their last moments together at the intensive care unit of the Marshalltown hospital.

"They brought them in the same room in intensive care and put them together — and they were holding hands in ICU. They were not really responsive," Dennis Yeager told Gordon died at 3:38 p.m. surrounded by their family and holding hands with Norma.

"It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn't figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going," said Dennis Yeager.

"But we were like, he isn't breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said that's because they were holding hands and it's going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up."

Norma died at 4:48 p.m., according to "Neither one of them would've wanted to be without each other. I couldn't figure out how it was going to work," the Yeagers' daughter Donna Sheets told

"We were very blessed, honestly, that they went this way." The Yeager’s children said the couple complemented each other.

"Anybody come over — she was the hostess with the mostess. ... The more she did, the more she smiled," Dennis Yeager told

"Dad would be the center of attention, like, 'Wheee look at me,' and mom was like 'get him away from me!' You know we even got a picture like that." And even though they argued every now and them, "They just loved being together," he said.

"He said 'I have to stick around. I can't go until she does because I have to stay here for her and she would say the same thing,'" he said.

The couple reportedly were holding hands Tuesday at their funeral in their casket. Their family said the plan was to cremate them together and mix their ashes. (

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Couple married 72 years die holding hands

Couple married 72 years die holding hands

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Female barber may be NMI’s oldest | local-news

Female barber may be NMI’s oldest | local-news

Sister Antonieta Ada, MMB: ‘love’-II | spice

Sister Antonieta Ada, MMB: ‘love’-II | spice

Sister Antonieta Ada, MMB: ‘love’ | spice

Sister Antonieta Ada, MMB: ‘love’ | spice

Hideo Honda: Fork in the road | spice

Hideo Honda: Fork in the road | spice
ROSE CHAILANG PALACIOS: COMPASSION by alexie villegas zotomayor

A LONE silver dollar coin is all she needs to make the trip to Nang Iyang store in Chalan Kanoa where her favorite snack of “potu” and a bowl of crashed ice with “azuki” are.

Chailang Palacios narrates how she would get a silver dollar coin that she spends at Nang Iyang store. She knows her father has a stash of coins right at the top of the door. She pulls a stool, stands on it, reaches for a coin, then tightly wraps it in her hand as she hurriedly descends the stool.

For seven-year-old Chailang, a silver dollar coin is all she needs for two days to buy snacks including a bowl of crashed ice with “azuki” or sweet black beans. Rosa Tudela Palacios remembers how she would enjoy her snacks at the mom-and-pop store of Nang Iyang (Corazon Villagomez Tenorio). Her silver dollar coin would last for two days and she could still afford to buy a piece of gum for a cent.

She says, “Because we are so poor we could not manage to buy a whole stack of gum.” With a smile, Auntie Chailang says her father knew she had discovered his coins. Born on Aug. 1, 1941, Auntie Chailang says she barely remembers what happened during the war. She was only three years old when the Americans invaded Saipan.

Although her innocence shielded her from the horrible experiences of the war, her sister Carmen shared how the family and the rest of the islanders suffered during the war. What she knows of the war, she says, all came from her sister Carmen who was already seven years old by then.

Carmen, she says, told her that prior to invasion, they all lived in fear especially when they would hear the siren blaring and everyone would run away. When war was imminent, she was told her father dug a foxhole in their backyard big enough for the entire family. But they would find themselves using a different foxhole, not in San Roque but in Dandan.

She recalls her sister telling her that they were attending a wedding of a relative in Dandan. She says she and her older sister were standing right in front of the long banquet table laded with food and covered with banana leaves. Just as when the banana leaves were to be taken off, they saw balls of fire coming down from the sky — it was a rain of fire. Her uncle, she said, grabbed them and took them to a foxhole they dug in preparation for war.

Seeing balls of fire in the sky, everybody scuttled to safety. In that small hole, they were like sardines and barely sitting, says Auntie Chailang. It was a painful memory for them, she was told as not only were they extremely hungry, they endured an excruciating thirst. But to slake their thirst, someone had to sneak out of the hole. But she was told it was too risky.

Auntie Chailang says her sister told her how thirsty she was and she was crying. But her father, she says, told her sister they had two options: if he left the hole and fetched water he could die or she could endure her thirst. Her sister Carmen told her father, “No, I don’t want you to die.”

Auntie Chailang says she was told there were some men who crawled out of their foxholes to get water only to be shot unknowingly by the Americans who mistook them for Japanese.

It was a horrible, painful memory, she says for sons who saw their fathers’ guts spilling out right before their very eyes.

All the time she thought she was the youngest, she says, there was another baby who was with them, a brother who died of starvation and heat inside the hole.

“Three babies died and my auntie — the mother of Karl Reyes — died there,” she narrates. Her sister told her while the rest were “half-squatting,” the men were digging to bury their dead.

“The men would dig right there to bury the four dead people,” she says. Asked how come she could barely remember events during the war, Auntie Chailang says, “It could be malnutrition.” She says she was so skinny then.

After the war, she says, she was wondering why her father, mother, and siblings would often compliment her for her long hair. Then her sister Carmen, again, helped her with another realization: she lost her hair while they were in that hole in Dandan, that everyone was surprised how much hair she had lost when they all emerged from the hole in the ground.

Right after the war, families began receiving rations of food from the American soldiers. She remembers how they would line up to get their ration of Carnation milk, crackers, canned goods, among other basic necessities. As they begin to rebuild their lives, Auntie Chailang says, her parents, Juan and Juana, knew only one thing — work and work hard they did.

Her father, she says, tilled the soil and whatever extra produce they had they exchanged for items they didn’t have. It was a period of sharing and helping others, she says. “My father is taking care of the animals, cows, goats, chickens, and pigs,” she says.

As her father worked in the farm, her mother worked on handicrafts. She says they would gather pandanus leaves that they would make into purse and hats. She remembers they sold the purse at $4 while the hat fetched $3. As for “guafak” or mat, she says, it cost $40. She says her mother worked hard to earn a living so they could have enough cash to buy milk, rice, sardines, among other basic needs of the family. She tells this reporter they could not afford to buy Spam which at that time was expensive.

Moreover, Auntie Chailang remembers how her mother showed her spirituality in several occasions.

One time, she says, she saw her mother moving her lips while washing the dishes. The inquisitive young Chailang asked, “Mom, what happened? Why are you moving your lips?” She says her mother replied, “You know my daughter, no matter what you are doing, always think of God.”

There was a time too when they were forbidden to swim in the beach due to a great number of metal scraps. Despite this, they could only play on the beach side. One time, while playing, she saw her mother staring at the great expanse of water and when she approached her and asked what she was staring at, she was told, “I am just thanking God for the peacefulness.”

Another interesting childhood memory that never slipped her mind is how they would gather the best farm produce twice in a week. With all her siblings at school, she says, she was left with the task to carry the basket of produce to the convent of the Mercedarian sisters whose yard served as their playground back then. Her mother, she says, would tell her, “Give this to the sisters. They don’t have husbands and they teach about God.”

But going to the convent was never a chore for her. She enjoyed every visit. At the convent, she fondly recalls how she would put down her basket to pull down the string of the bell at the door. Then out would come a Spanish nun with a pointed nose that she longed to have. She remembers how the nun would call her “Rosita” and thank her for the basket of goods she brought them. When she heads back home, the sisters would fill her basket with eight cookies. There were times, she says, she would run errands for the sisters. Through these visits to the convent that Auntie Chailang says she developed the fondness for the nun’s work and how she wanted to be like them. And from the nuns she learned about compassion and service.

Soon, the skinny girl who would bring food to the convent would decide to enter as a nun in 1954 along with Agnes McPhetres, Antonia Sablan, and Regina Aguon with whom she would develop not just lasting friendship but sisterhood.

Later on, the sprightly nun that the convent had come to know would soon find herself pursuing a different vocation—married life — with a Maryknoll brother. (to be continued)

QUICK FACTS • Seven-year-old Chailang would climb a stool to get a silver dollar coin from a stash of coins that her father was keeping • Her favorite hangout was Nang Iyang’s store where she gets a bowl of crashed ice with azuki (beans) for 10 cents • A piece of gum cost 1 cent in 1948 • Three babies and her aunt died in the foxhole in Dandan where they hid in 1944. • Chailang is the youngest daughter of Juan and Juana Palacios • After the war, Chailang’s father tilled the soil while her mother made purses and hats out of pandanus leaves. • A purse sold $ 4 while a hat was $3 then. Sleeping mats also sold for $40 • The Palacios family lived near the convent of the Mercedarian sisters

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Agnes McPhetres Story

Agnes Manglona McPhetres: Go the distance
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

NOT everyone gets to be born in a cave.

Imagine how a young Agnes Manglona McPhetres fends off bad remarks from playmates and she turns it around.

The youngest of Ana Ada Manglona and Jose Mendiola Manglona’s 10 children, Agnes was born in a cave on Jan. 2, 1942.

“I was born in a cave,” says Agnes who remembers how children her age teased her.

She says she turned that around for a while. She says she told those who were teasing her, “Only famous people are born in a cave.” Indeed it is a matter of perspective.

She tells Variety, “Several of my brothers and sisters were already married before
I was born. Some of my nephews and nieces were older than me.”

On Saipan, Agnes says she grew up with the Carolinian community in Chalan Kanoa and she says she appreciated those years. She also recalls walking from home to school and to her father’s farm near the airport.

School for Agnes was the Chalan Kanoa Elementary School, the only school on Saipan.

She finished grade school there except for one year — during fifth grade — that she stayed on Guam.

She admits that during that time there weren’t a lot of opportunities for women. “I really wanted to do something. The only future that ladies look forward to is to be a nun,” says Agnes.

So at 13, she says, she went to the convent of the Mercedarian Sisters in Chalan Kanoa.

“They called us nuns but we were not really nuns,” says Agnes.

She says she stayed with the sisters until they moved to Maturana Hill which prior to their transfer was once a hospital.

“We were brought up there. We were the ones who rebuilt it. We were renovating all those Quonset huts into livable convent and place for us,” remembers Agnes.

She admits it was a very interesting time to be at the convent and she never regretted any moment she spent there.

“It was a training of your will and character. And of course it helped lay your principles and a lot of other talents,” says Agnes.

The nuns, she says, pushed them to discover their full potential. She says, “They helped build character and nurture talents.”

Staying with the nuns, Agnes says, makes one into a more refined individual.

Of all the nuns she had had the opportunity of knowing and learning from, Agnes says she looked up to Sisters Bertha, Remedios, and Rosario.

“I stayed with them until I was 18,” adds Agnes. Then she says the nuns sent her to the United States to continue her education.

Asked by Variety how it was like to take her first flight to the mainland U.S., she says, “Actually that was a very interesting experience.”

She shares with Variety how her first commercial flight to the mainland almost turned out to be a tragedy. It was her first PanAm flight to the United States.

She clearly remembers that on their way from Hawaii to Los Angeles, the plane had problem in landing. She says since the plane didn’t have enough fuel it had to make an emergency landing and was allowed to land in Ontario.

She recalls they didn’t use the stairs but instead used the emergency exits upon landing with the ambulances ready at the airstrip. “It was an exciting yet scary trip.”

From there, she says, they were transported to the hotel where she first saw an elevator.

She says, “I kept punching all the buttons not knowing what to do.”
“The elevator and the escalator — those were the things that shocked me,” says Agnes who was carrying a Trust Territory passport at that time.

For a year, Agnes says, she stayed at Donnelly Community College in Kansas City, Kansas then she moved to College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska where she earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education major in languages and mathematics.

Looking back on her student years, she says, she lived the entire time in the dormitory.

“I liked it. I didn’t have to go out that much. Winter was fierce and summer was awful. I spent most of my time reading,” tells Agnes.

She admits she had to work while she was in college. She remembers babysitting and cleaning houses at that time.

So after earning her degree and becoming the first woman from the islands to do so, she says she wanted to take back what she learned and share it with the community.

At the time, she says, help was needed in Truuk when a typhoon devastated St. Cecilia School. She remembers working with John Sablan — Mike Sablan’s father — who was then the district administrator.

It was also on Truuk where she met her future husband Sam McPhetres who was working for the Peace Corps. Then after a year, she returned to Saipan to work for the Trust Territory government as executive director for Manpower Development Council under the Trust Territory Department of Education.

When she came back, Agnes started to buckle down to work and focused on doing something for the island.

At that time, it was an interesting time for a woman to be holding a significant position.

As a pioneer, Agnes helped break the glass ceiling.

She had help, she says, from the director of education David Ramarui who encouraged her.

“He wanted me to take over the staff development for the whole trust territory government system. I don’t know maybe he saw that I worked hard,” the educator says.

During that time, Agnes was already blazing the trail for Micronesian women in the field of education.

Determined to prove that women could go so far as the men did, she pursued her goals with full conviction and commitment.

And she was never irresolute in making those big decisions.

She says, “Women need to pursue their full potential.”

And realize her full potential she did as an educator by trusting in herself, believing that a woman could accomplish any goal in equal measure as the men do.
(To be continued)

Agnes Manglona McPhetres’ Story II:
Empowering Women
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

THE women are the future of the islands.

So says Agnes Manglona McPhetres in a conversation with this reporter.

For Agnes, despite some relegating women to minor roles, she fervently believes in what women can do to help the commonwealth extricate itself from the rut.

She has been through a lot as a woman, especially during her time when men dominated the political landscape of her time.

As the first president of the Northern Marianas College, and being a woman in a position that some claimed should have been held by men, Agnes says it was difficult. But she says she had to persevere and prove her worth.

“They are not used to seeing a woman in that position,” says Agnes.

She tells how she experienced discrimination on account of her gender.

During her time in the Trust Territory government days, when they were resolving a problem, Agnes remembers, “I would say certain things.

Somehow the guy next to me heard what I said and repeated what I said verbatim.

Then they would look at him and tell him, ‘That is one of the best ideas we have ever heard.’”

There was a time when she had to visit the outer islands.

“I wouldn’t be permitted in the men’s house. So I told the chiefs, ‘Then we would not have a meeting.’” She says the chiefs then made an exemption for her to join
them at the men’s house to proceed with the meeting.

She also tells this reporter how the men during her time treats women as a sex object and how she confronted this on many occasions.

“You have to be very strong to know how to say ‘no’ without offending people.
That’s an art I learned through so many years of experience,” says Agnes.

Moreover, as president of the college and when she and a male assistant would receive guests, Agnes says she recalls the guests addressing her male assistant thinking that she was the secretary.

If she were not strong, if she didn’t believe in what she is capable of doing, Agnes would not have accomplished the things she did.

It took someone with Agnes’ courage and commitment to push for the establishment of the college.

When she left the Board of Education, the governor asked Agnes what she wanted to do and she said, “I want to become the president of the college.”

At that time, Agnes says, there was a move to have the idea of a college nipped in the bud.

But the governor then issued an executive order establishing the college with Keith Porter as the bilingual coordinator.

“We didn’t have a campus—we didn’t have anything,” remembers Agnes.

So she told the governor she would like to become the president of the college and she says this statement had taken the governor aback.

She tells how the college started with seven people using the Marianas High School classroom in the afternoon.

While doing this, they had to look for a more permanent home and finally they struck a deal with the Commissioner Janet McCoy to allow NMC to take over the buildings to be vacated by the nursing school when it moved to the Marshalls.

The three wings of the Dr. Torres Hospital that belonged to the Trust Territory government became the NMC’s first building.

“We didn’t have any equipment. What I did was I arranged a memorandum of agreement to borrow their equipment until we had the money to purchase our own equipment.

That is how we started refurbishing our campus,” she says.
Agnes, who was in early 40s at the time, married with two children, would be spending most of her time at work.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t see daylight. I would go to the college, sometimes very early in the morning at 4 a.m. and leave around 8 p.m.,” says Agnes.

The college was her life.

But she had to be make the sacrifices in order for the college to get the equipment, the funding, the staff and faculty, and the accreditation that it needed.

“When you don’t have anything—you don’t have money, you don’t have staff, you have to be very creative,” she tells this reporter.

She says her strong point is knowing federal grants —knowing sources of funding.

“That helped a lot in the funding of the college,” she says.

She adds how she searched for staff. She would visit offices and talked to people and found out some who were dissatisfied with their jobs and offered them a place at the college.

She says these people moved to the college bringing with them their FTE status and salary resulting from Agnes requesting the governor to allow them to do so.

She labored hard for the college to earn the accreditation.

“We were working with University of Guam and GCC to bring their credit over here.

So we were like the coordinating agency for higher education at that time. It was just a paper college.”

To gain the accreditation, legislation was needed to separate the Board of Education and Board of Higher Education which were one at the time.

Agnes acknowledges how Felicidad Ogumoro was involved in the first legislation.

Soon, they gained two years candidacy.

Agnes says she was thankful for the windfall of federal grants they received at the college.

She tells Variety how they managed to obtain the land grant status, the struggle over the condemned hospital building with the Director of the Public Health with
Typhoon Kim as a way for divine providence to intervene destroying the roofs of the majority of the buildings with the Health department abandoning them.

Agnes says she struck a deal with the FEMA and worked out an arrangement with the buildings which soon became the NMC’s.

The students of the vocational class helped rebuild the facility with faculty, staff and community members helping repaint the first campus.

“The campus wasn’t yet ours. We worked with MPLC and the governor. In six years, the land was deeded to the campus.”

For 18 years, Agnes cared for the college like it was her own child.

Asked why she had to leave, “Actually I had a goal. My goal was to build the college, to have a very strong accreditation, to have a four-year degree in education, to bring land grant status—I fulfilled every one of them,” she says.

But she says the only thing missing was “I didn’t not stay long enough to see the
four-year degree implemented.”

Despite what she says was dissension at that time, and the negative publicities, “to me that doesn’t matter. What matters was I left a good institution—a really strong institution.”

Asked on what the college needs, she says frankly, “You need a strong leader, qualified leaders. You need qualified people who assist the leader; a qualified CEO and an honest CEO; a person who is not seeking for himself but for the development of the institution.”

For Agnes, credentials are not enough.

“You have to know how to work with the people.” She believes it is always an uphill battle to work with different types of people.

“You have a faculty. The faculty is a different type of people. You have to deal with them with care and attention. They are the true backbone of the college. You have to recognize that they are the brain of the college. Without the faculty, you don’t have a college,” she says.

For Agnes, running a college is a “careful balancing act”—one has to have knowledge about different levels of governance.

For the young women of the CNMI, Agnes advises for them to love themselves and be strong. “They will have to have a very healthy self-esteem. Nobody can put them down.”

She also says for them to pursue their highest dream.

“Every woman here has a place in this commonwealth and has to seek the highest potential. This island is going to be changed, not by men, but by the women,” says Agnes.

For the former NMC president, the women are a silent power in the commonwealth with a lot of leadership potential.

She adds, “They will bring the CNMI out of the crisis.”

Tun Mel's Story

THERE’S joy in a seven-year-old boy’s eyes as he volunteers to his sensei in cleaning his office.

And he makes himself available whenever opportunity presents itself.

But there’s more to cleaning the room than meets the eye.

As he goes about what he volunteered to do, his eyes wander. Curiosity overwhelms him in his scrutiny. Lying on the table is a stick of cigarette.

With the mischief of childhood, he checks if the coast is clear. He hurriedly stows the cigarette in his pocket and returns to cleaning the room. But in his mind a plan has been hatched.

Now 88 years old, Tun Jose I. Torres breaks out a smile to confirm that he’s guilty of lighting that cigarette 81 years ago and that began an 81-year habit.

Tun Jose or “Mel” to his friends is one of the oldest — if not the oldest congregate at the Office on Aging.

Born in Garapan, Saipan on Aug. 20, 1923, Tun Mel is the son of Felix Torres Palacios of Saipan and Carmen Iglesias of Piti, Guam.

He tells Variety, “I have two brothers — Clemente and Vicente and one sister.”
Picking a memory from his past is like putting together big shards of a broken jar.

His memory is still lucid; however, in the passing of so many years, something’s got to give.

As he sips his early morning dose of coffee, he tries to travel back in time — before the war years.

Asked if he also went to the Japanese school, he says, “Yes, I went to the Japanese school over there in Garapan.”

Tun Mel says he is fortunate to have had the opportunity to study during the Japanese period. “I studied for five years. That’s the limit.”

[According to Don Farrell’s “History of the Northern Mariana Islands,” Chamorros and Carolinians could attend school for three years; however, only special students get to enjoy two more years. The top students are sent to Palau for trade school.]

He recalls there are about 20 students in his class, all Chamorro and Carolinian.

He says, “The Japanese [students] are separated from the Chamorros and Carolinians.”
Like his other contemporaries, he too knows how to speak Nihongo.
Tun Mel narrates he worked for the Japanese military. He says, “I worked for the Japanese military before the war. I went to Pagan and I was one of those who helped build a road.”

He says it took only one year to finish the job.

From Pagan, he tells Variety that he went back to Saipan and worked for the Japanese military again. But this time in the former Aslito Airfield that later became the Isley Airfield.

“I worked there for one year and half. Then the war came,” remembers Tun Mel.

The cacophony of the bombing sends everyone scuttling to safer ground.

Tun Mel and his family escaped to Kannat Tabla and hid in a cave.

Asked by Variety how long they stayed in the cave, he says, “Close to one month inside the cave.” He tells Variety that he was with his parents.

Asked if there were others with them, he says, “No. I would ask those who came by to go and look for another place.”

He explains when it gets crowded in the cave, people tend to “talk, talk, and talk.” For him, this will betray their hiding place and make them easy targets.

“Sometimes I cried because I was scared,” admits the 88-year-old.

He also corroborates the stories of the other war survivors.

He says, “We survived on coconuts. There was no food. No rice.”

Not long after, he says, they were found by the American military personnel who took them to the stockade in Susupe.

There, Tun Mel narrates how the Japanese and the indigenous people lived in separate quarters.

“I can move about freely in Camp Susupe.” [Camp Susupe, in Farrell’s book, was called by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “the most amazing shanty town ever administered by the United States Navy.”]

According to Tun Mel, when the gates of Camp Susupe were opened, they were told to wear a read badge which for Tun Mel meant the Americans would easily identify them.

The conversation segues into the post-war years. He says he was employed by a local but later he says his boss asked him to work for the commander.

He also recalls working for an ice factory and not long after relocated to Guam where his mother was originally from.

He says he lived and worked on Guam for 29 years. “I worked on Guam for the big companies, moving from job to job trying to earn ‘big money.’”

During the intervening years, he says he hasn’t found someone to marry and build a family with. “I didn’t want to marry,” says Tun Mel who spent his bachelorhood in Guam.

With a grin, he tells Variety he bade bachelorhood goodbye four years ago.

Despite his age, Tun Mel says he still feels strong. “I eat the same. I eat anything.”

He says he has no secret to long life; however, he prays to God that he be given a long life.

Prodded by Variety to tell if he has other things that he does that’s out of the ordinary and helps him live longer, he says, “It must be coffee.”

Then he lets out a loud laugh before standing up to clear his throat.

Asked if he does exercise, he replies, “No exercise!” Then he laughs again.

The jovial Kannat Tabla resident comes to the Manamko’ Center every day. But in the days that he stays at home, he says he watches TV, eats, and drinks beer.

Then he retracts his statement. “Now I don’t drink anymore.”

Blessed to have lived longer than some of his contemporaries, Tun Mel imparts a message to the young generation.

He says he may not be a good example to the young but he wants them to know that smoking is bad for their health —that it can kill them.

He also says one thing he values and learns from the elders is respect that he would like the young to continue cultivating as a virtue.

With another sip of hot coffee, he stands up and walks to get his breakfast. He comes back to the seat he has staked claim on and waves his hand to bid this reporter, “till then.”

Then he raises his cup of coffee for yet another sip of what he jokingly refers to as the reason he’s still around.

[Tun Mel is probably the oldest man on Saipan. The Office on Aging has yet to update its records.]

[Spice is the newest section of Marinas Variety dedicated to people with interesting stories and events that matter. For comments and suggestions, email]

The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story

The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story: Respetu
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

BEADS of perspiration trickle down his forehead as he labors for a project his uncle promised would generate a share in income for him.

Toiling under the scorching equatorial sun that blessed him with a dark complexion, he feels bad about skipping his classes. Worse, he feels bad that it is not worth skipping his classes after all for he doesn’t get the share he looks forward to getting.

Frank Cepeda, now 68 years old, remembers full well how he strove to earn an education on Guam.

Tun Frank shares with Variety how he ended up studying on Guam. He remembers with gusto how he, along with Pete A. Tenorio and Edward DLG Pangelinan went to Guam to pursue higher education.

Tun Frank says ninth grade was the highest attainable level of education on Saipan at the time.

He says students here on island went to Chalan Kanoa Elementary School from first to sixth grade and Saipan-Chalan Piao Intermediate School for seventh to ninth grade.

After that, Tun Frank says, students had a choice between going to the Pacific Island Central School in Truk or the trade school on Guam.

Having a relative on Guam makes going to school on Guam the more logical choice. But those years he spent with his relatives, he says, gave him some of his most unforgettable experiences.

“I was made to work. I ended up being one of the manpower [that his uncle needed badly and lacked],” says Cepeda.

He says he couldn’t do anything then. Forced by the circumstances, he followed what his uncle wanted him to do.

He says, “I didn’t have time to study after school. Staying there I had to help.”

Although tuition at the Tumon Jr. Sr. High School was free, Tun Frank says he had to work for his allowance.

“My parents over here couldn’t produce anything to give me any money to even buy a shirt or buy lunch,” says Tun Frank.

At a young age, he says he learned hardship. Nevertheless, counting his blessings, he feels good that he was fortunate to have studied on Guam where he met his wife Fe Luz Ada.

Early childhood
The second oldest in a brood of 11, Frank Cepeda is the second son of Gregorio Torres Cepeda and Ana Guerrero Deleon Guerrero.

Tun Frank tells Variety that he was born on the island of Alamagan on June 24, 1942.
He recalls that his parents were probably sent to Alamagan between 1939 and 1940 during the time when the Japanese were fortifying the islands in preparation for war.

The elder Cepeda, a fisherman, and his wife, according to Tun Frank, were sent with the others to work on the roads and the military outposts on Alamagan.

The second oldest until 1968 when his brother died, Tun Frank says he was one of five sons of his parents and now remains the oldest of the siblings.
He his childhood on Alamagan.

At the age of three, “I was in Alamagan, I was only three years old I guess. I still remember my mother and I were out gathering wild tomatoes.”

He tells Variety that he returned to Saipan only in 1946, long after the gates of Camp Susupe had been opened to release the internees.

He says he slept through the long boat ride back to Saipan in 1946.

“The next thing I remember I fell asleep on the boat. I didn’t remember anything else until I woke up here on Saipan. That was a long sleep. I got up to what looked like a cubicle,” narrates Tun Frank.

He describes the quarters in Chalan Kanoa. “I got up to what looked like a cubicle made by the military. The place was divided into five rooms.”

Asked if it were one of the stockades where the war survivors stayed, he says, “No. It wasn’t Camp Susupe. We were still in Alamagan when Camp Susupe was opened to release the civilians.”

He remembers fondly that the quarters were close to the Joeten Store. “I stayed there until 1957 when I left Saipan for Guam to study.”

He says he was fortunate to have had the opportunity to move to Guam and study despite the challenges he had to go through.

During that time in 1957, he said his proficiency in English was weak as the islands had been under the Japanese administration since 1914.

He acknowledges the efforts of his teachers back then who provided the foundation.

He appreciates the efforts they invested in preparing them for higher education.

“They did a good job in helping us.”

On Guam, the young Frank Cepeda was bent on acquiring education so he could improve his lot in life.

Staying with his uncle is just half the battle.

But Tun Frank takes things in stride. He knows he needs to soldier on.

He say he worked for his uncle thinking he would keep his end of the bargain to cough up a share of the earnings from the construction projects.

He narrates, “Life was hard. Sometimes I missed school. I was thinking that if I worked instead of going to class, I would get money which I needed very much. I needed to decide on my own.”

He says being young, he couldn’t go against his uncle’s decisions. He says he had to go along with it.

After spending two years with his uncle’s family, he had the chance to quit staying there and relocated to the Andersen Air Force Base where an American family took care of him.

At Tumon Jr. Sr. High School
The then 17-year-old Frank Cepeda found refuge from his personal battles in the classroom at Tumon Jr. Sr. High School where Tun Frank says he found courage and confidence.

Skin burned from exposure to the sunlight working for construction projects of a kin, Tun Frank says he stayed at the back of the class while the good looking ladies, including Fe, who would become his future wife, were in front.

He says his skin was so dark and his hair was almost blonde due to long exposure to the sun.

When he moved to Andersen Air Force Base, things changed.
He recalls he and another cousin found work cleaning yards and earning $5 a week.

On the base, he found a family that took care of him and treated him well.
Apart from paying him $5 a week for cleaning yards, he says he was given food and shelter for FREE.

He remembers fondly his foster family, the family of then Lt. Col. Harold H. Vague, who later on would retire as a two-star general in the United States Air Force.

Life was hard but Tun Frank says he was motivated enough to want to education. “I suffered to earn my subsistence. I suffered but I found time to study.”

He tells Variety he was elated to graduate from high school.
Tun Frank says there’s this class called Problem of American Democracy, a civics class, where he says they had an aggressive teacher or show-off for a lack of a better adjective.

The teacher, he says, gave them a diagnostic test. So they did take the test and when he received the results, he tells Variety how disappointed and embarrassed he was to have earned a D Minus.

So he says he crumpled the paper out of shame and kept it under his table.
But then, with his eyes glowing in excitement as he narrates, his teacher discussed the results of the test.

He says the teacher aired his frustration that only one of the 30 students barely passed.

Then all of a sudden, Tun Frank says, it dawned on him it was he whom the teacher was referring to.

That incident, Tun Frank says, afforded him the courage and the confidence to face life’s challenges — that he can make it.
(To be continued)

The Frank and Fe Cepeda Story Part II:
Two peas in a pod

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

IT’S a phone call he received at Andersen Air Base one night 50 years ago that changed his life.

“One night, I received a call in Andersen. One of the ladies — Rose Naputi — says,

‘You know Fe is saying she loves you,’” recalls Tun Frank of how he found out about
Fe Luz Ada’s inchoate feelings for him.

He tells Variety that he and Fe had an opportunity to talk about it the day after that revelation.

With joy in his eyes, Tun Frank remembers the day he and Fe sat at the back of Joe Lifoifoi’s car.

He says he broke the silence and had the courage to ask Fe, “Is that true what Rose was telling me?”

And there was a nod that prompted Tun Frank to ask, “Prove it.”

And there goes that first kiss that will remain indelible in Tun Frank’s memory.

Now, 50 years hence, Tun Frank admits he owes it to Joe Lifoifoi if not for his lending him his car he wouldn’t have known Fe’s true feelings for him.

Both are convinced that they are meant for each other.

Tan Fe tells Variety that she knew from the start that she would end up marrying Tun Frank.

She says she and Tun Frank were good friends but deep inside, she knew they are going to end up getting married for some reason.

She remembers hearing discouragements from some people but these did not dissuade her from marrying Tun Frank. She says, “But still, I know in my heart, that I am going to marry him.”

Describing her husband, she says she likes a person who is not foolish. “He has been honest and I like somebody that I can challenge.”

Meanwhile, Tun Frank says he admires Tan Fe’s mother who is a school teacher. He believes that her impressions of him changed the day he finished at the top of his class. He says that gave her an opportunity to see him in a different light.

Tan Fe comes from a well-to-do family. Born on Jan. 2, 1945, Tan Fe is one of six children of Herman Torres Ada, a hospital administrator, and Candelaria Pereira Cruz, a school teacher, of Hagatna, Guam.

She describes her childhood. “It’s a controlled life. I couldn’t play with anybody. I couldn’t just play with Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

She tells Variety that her parents were very strict and she could only play with certain children.

At that time, she says, her dad was also a businessman. She says she and her siblings are among the first on Guam to get the latest toys. “We are the first ones to get them.”

She has no favorite toy but she admits if there’s a toy she doesn’t like she gives it away.

Asked what’s the most important value she learned while growing up, she tells Variety, “You have to respect. You have to respect each other and learn how to work around the house and take care of yourself by helping each other.”

For Tan Fe, she has a comfortable life on Guam.

In spite of these comforts, she says they were taught to do a little bit of everything.

“We also grew up on a farm. We had a farm. We were raising chickens, birds, ducks, pigs, and we had some kind of vegetable farm,” she says.

On weekends, Tan Fe says the siblings were taught to help pick some fruits, take care of the chickens, pick up eggs, among other chores.

She says they own the Herman Ada Store, more like the Joeten Store at the time on Guam, selling washing machines, refrigerators, grocery items, among other things.

Tan Fe says this was the kind of life she left when she decided she would marry Tun Frank and there were no regrets.

In the beginning, Tan Fe says her parents were worried over how she would cope living on her own on Saipan knowing she had everything on Guam.

She tells them frankly, “I am not marrying his family; I am marrying Frank.”
Trusting she made the right decision, her parents consented to her marriage to

Frank and the two exchanged wedding vows on April 8, 1961.

Coming back to Saipan with Frank, she was on her own.

“I don’t even know how to wash. I don’t even know how to cook. And he is there,” says Tan Fe telling Variety that her husband helped her with the household chores.

“When we got married, he joined the military service and we had a wonderful life,” she says.

She also admits that like any other couple, they also have their own ups and downs.

The hard part, she says, was being alone to handle it all with Frank on deployment. But she managed.

During those long months that her husband was away, Tan Fe says she also taught her children to be independent.

She says she remembers how she would prepare their meals in advance.

While working at the military exchange, she says, she would check on her kids every hour on the hour.

Moreover, Tun Frank says the day he exchanged “I do!” with his wife, he vowed to stay committed to her.

When he joined the military, he says, he promised himself he would discharge his duties and know his responsibilities. “If I had to die, so be it. But I have to have something for my family — security.”

And he was fortunate. He rose through the ranks and reached the rank of Sergeant Major after 18 years in service.

He says he also served in the special forces —Green Beret—and he was also deployed to Vietnam jumping behind enemy lines.

While deployed, Tun Frank says he never leaves the family empty handed.

“I never left the family without anything,” says Tun Frank who believes he has been a good provider for his family.

Meanwhile, on the home front while he’s on deployment, Tan Fe has her hands full taking care of the children and working at the military exchange.

Like any other Army wife, she is the center of the family’s gravity — she pulls the family together at the time when her husband is on deployment.

She’s the family’s unsung heroine facing the challenges at home and at work all on her own in the absence of her husband who is out serving his nation.

But while both face their own personal battles, it is the greater good of the family that they both strove to achieve.

They raised three biological and two adopted children.

During the times that she was alone, Tan Fe says she has to be strong for the family. “I didn’t want to depend on my parents. If others could do it, I could do it.”

She worked for the military exchange store for 18 years and is now looking forward to leaving her post as supervisor of the in-patient department of the Commonwealth Health Center after 20 years.

In the vicissitudes of 50 years, Tun Frank and Tan Fe both share the values of respect, honesty, and commitment.

Young though they were when they got married, both tried their best to fill the shoes of responsible adults.

Now, both are looking forward to reading the newspapers and reciting a prayer together and spending quality time together.

Sharing the same values, Tun Frank and Tan Fe are truly two peas in a pod. It’s no wonder they have been enjoying a blissful 50 years of married life that’s founded on mutual “respetu.”

[Spice is the section of Marianas Variety devoted to people with interesting stories and events that matter. For suggestions, email]

Tan Rosa Castro: Ochenta

Tan Rosa Castro: Ochenta
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

IT’S a long walk from a village they used to call Talaabwogh — Tanapag — to Garapan.

Early in the morning she looks for her walking companions and starts the long journey to Garapan — on foot. In between yawns and chats, she longs to reach school the soonest — so she can learn something new.

Rosa Taning Castro, 80, whose mother hailed from Unoun and whose father was originally from Parem in the Chuuk lagoon, remembers full well how they spent two years walking each morning from what they considered THE church in Tanapag to a chapel in Garapan where classes were held for Chamorros and Carolinians like her.

She vividly recalls her routine. She tells Variety, “Every 5 a.m. we wake up. We get ready to go to school. We walk from Tanapag Church all the way down to Garapan where the school was.”

She says she finds joy in everything she does in the classrooms, most specifically, reading. “I was reading in Japanese.”

Reveling at the thought of a new culture opening its doors to her, she says she loves learning Nihongo and the time she spent on reading Japanese text is time well spent.

“I learned a lot,” says Tan Rosa.

During her time, Carolinians and Chamorros are allowed to obtain primary education for three years compared to the Japanese who — in separate classrooms — receive the same eight-year education as their fellow Japanese in Japan.

After her classes, Tan Rosa and the rest of the Carolinians who share the same neighborhood in Tanapag, all walk back to their village. “After school, we walk back home again. There was no car.”

Revealing her mirth at the thought of her younger years, Tan Rosa says she didn’t mind making those walks from home to school and back again as she realized the importance of school.

But that enjoyment soon turned to disappointment as war came to Saipan in 1944. She says it was unfortunate that she didn’t finish school and she reached second grade.

“I was 13 years old.”

She tells Variety they had to flee their village as soon as bombs started coming.

“We ran past Tanapag all the way back. I could see the ocean. We ran up to the mountain. We passed by Tun Guerrero where we hid.”

She recounts that as her family was trying to find a place to hide, they first settled at the back of a mountain where a stream was their source of water to slake their thirst and to wash their clothes with.

While Tan Felisa’s father gathered coconuts and sugarcane to quench their thirst while hiding in Kannat Tabla [see or Variety’s April 1 edition], Tan Rosa’s family was fortunate to find a stream near the place where they found temporary respite from the fear that’s been stoking them since the bombing of the islands. “There was a stream. That was where we did some washing and drinking. That’s where we also cooked and had food to eat,” she said.

She says, “We stayed there because we had water. Besides, my brother didn’t want us to move to another site.”

Tan Rosa tells Variety that the place is now called Tun Guerrero.
She says that place was their refuge for seven days until U.S. soldiers found them and brought them to Chalan Kanoa.

“When the Americans came and found us, they took us to Susupe,” she says.
Tan Rosa, who can speak Nihongo, Carolinian, Chamorro, and English, remembers helping the nurses with washing clothes after the war.

“I washed clothes with my hands and helped the nurses. Maybe they were nurses,” says Tan Rosa who was trying to recall that particular episode in her past.

She continues, “I help them wash clothes. I help them clean their rooms. There were seven rooms.”

In the hiccups of remembrances of her past, she pulls out another memory. “One of the families wanted to take me in. I spent one year and six months working for a Navy commander’s family.”

Then she reverts to another memory of her days working. But this time, corroborating she worked for the Navy nurses.

“After the war, I helped the Navy nurses wash clothes in Lower Base. I take care of washing their uniforms then I hang them up,” she tells this reporter.
She adds, “There were seven rooms. I cleaned them all.”

She says she worked for the high commissioner of the Trust Territory government. “They selected me to work [for them].”

In the daytime, she says, she tried to finish her work for the high commissioner.

Several decades hence, Tan Rosa says she is glad to be around and surrounded by family that loves her.

She also enjoys the company of her fellow manamko’ at the Office on Aging in Chinatown.

She celebrated her birthday last Feb. 17, one week earlier than Tan Felisa’s.

Asked what she did on her birthday, she says, “My daughter invited members of the family and we had lunch in a restaurant near Tanapag.”

Indeed, that’s a big celebration as she marked her 80th birthday.

On that day, she tells Variety, “I prayed in the church and heard mass.”

When asked what she prayed for, Tan Rosa has this to say: “I prayed to God to give me long life.”

She tells Variety that she also asked God to let her see her great grandchildren grow up.

“Then you can take me,” prays Tan Rosa who offered a sheepish laugh.

A conversation with her and Tan Felisa is a rendezvous with culture, a travel back in time.

The young generation surely has so much to learn from them about the indigenous culture and their struggles before and after the war.

As Tan Rosa and Tan Felisa head to the dining hall — holding each other’s hands — at the conclusion of the conversation, an epiphany hit this writer — she has had the privilege to speak with the manamko’ whose recollections of the past are surely worth passing on to the younger generation. Besides, people who are ochenta — 80 years old — and over like Tan Rosa and Felisa are a rare group in the islands.
Being with these matriarchs is indeed a rendezvous with living culture. It’s something the young generation in the CNMI should take advantage of while they still can.

Spice is Variety’s section devoted to people with interesting stories and events that matter on island. For comments and suggestions, email

[This appeared in Marianas Variety Friday, April 08, 2011 ]

Tan Felisa's Story

Tan Felisa’s Story
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - Reporter

THE Manamko’ Center in Chinatown is a goldmine of stories waiting to be written.
Some stories have time constraints as some say they no longer have many years left in them. Some say they live one day at a time and recollections of their past steadily gallop into oblivion.

Felisa Chargualaf Baza, 81, and Rosa Tanin Castro, 80, are two of the octogenarians at the center and both have interesting stories to share. Both are born a decade before World War II — Tan Felisa on Feb. 26, 1930 and Tan Rosa on Feb. 17, 1931.

Both are born on Saipan: Tan Felisa in Garapan and Tan Rosa in Tanapag. Both studied under Japanese teachers and both speak and read Nihongo. Both lived through the war and stayed at Camp Susupe.

Tan Felisa, who lost her mother when she was barely one year old, says her older sister Maria and her father raised her. She recalls how she would tag along with her to sell bibingka and puto early in the morning before school.

She says before the war, “We couldn’t buy anything because we didn’t have money.”

She tells Variety while her older sister worked, she went to school in Garapan.

She fondly remembers how she would wake up early in the morning, around 5:30 a.m. “Early in the morning, we get up about 5:30 a.m. We go to the Japanese chapel in Garapan where we offer prayers before school starts.”

[According to Don Farrel’s “History of the Northern Mariana Islands,” while all Chamorros and Carolinians attended school for three years of primary education with emphasis on Japanese language instruction, the Japanese students were allowed to obtain an eight-year education like they would in Japan.]

Tan Felisa says, “All the classes had Chamorro and Carolinians only. There was no Japanese.”

In school, she finds joy in learning. “Classroom is good.”

She recalls there were probably between 25-30 students.

“Instruction then was all in Japanese. We had Japanese teachers and we studied writing, arithmetic, and reading,” she says.

Of these subjects, arithmetic was her favorite, especially doing addition and using soroban — the abacus.

Tan Felisa, who could speak a little Chinese and Okinawan too, tells Variety that Chamorros and Carolinians were allowed to obtain elementary education but were not allowed to go further as it was the privilege of those with Japanese bloodline.

[In the CNMI history textbook, it was stated that education during the Japanese period was “segregated” and “discriminatory.”]
“Chamorro and Carolinians are not allowed unless they are half-cast Japanese,” says Tan Felisa.

She tells Variety that at the age of 12 she was through with school.
Just as she was about to graduate, she says war came to Saipan’s shores.

World War II
“When the war started, we were just about to graduate,” Felisa recounts.

She says the sugarcane plantations were bombed first before Garapan. “The Japanese informed us to run away.”

And ran away they did to the caves.

“We hid in our caves — in Kannat Tabla.”

She tells Variety the difficulties they had to go through.

She describes how it was like to live in the cave for several days. “It was terrible.

We neither had water nor food. We were thirsty and hungry.”

She says juice from sugarcane and coconuts, that her father fathered, they used to slake their thirst.

For food, she says they would store breadfruit inside the caves until the cave was bombed and they had to relocate.

“When the bombs came, we didn’t need water and food. We had to run for our lives,” she says.

As war was coming to an end, Tan Felisa was in a cave with her sister when an American soldier found them.

Asked by Variety how she felt then, she says, “I was so scared. My sister — Maria — and I were hiding together when an American soldier caught us.”

She says it was a tremulous moment for them. Although they were glad they were still alive, she says they feared both Japanese and American soldiers.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen to us,” says the octogenarian. “We didn’t know if the war was over. They were still shooting each other.”

For Tan Felisa, everything happened like a blur. She could hardly remember faces at Camp Susupe.

She says she was thankful the Americans took care of provisions. “They gave us cookies and water.”

She rejoices at the thought of war’s end saying it was “freedom for everybody.”

With the march of time, Felisa is glad that she’s survived it all.

Now a widow, her Chalan Kanoa home is an empty nest. “I live alone but my son always comes and checks me all the time.”

A grandmother to 19 grandchildren, Felisa says most of them are on the mainland United States.

When not visiting the Manamko’ Center, Tan Felisa says she spends time at home, planting vegetables and flowers. “I even do men’s job,” she says with a chuckle.

Recently, on the occasion of her 81st birthday, she went to Guam and paid her 86-year-old brother a visit.

“I went to Guam and met my brother. We celebrated together. We danced and had cake together.”

Asked by Variety what she wished for on her birthday, she says, “A good life!”

She says, “I thank God I am still alive.”

Asked by Variety the secret to her longevity, she says there’s no secret as she eats anything she likes. She walks, jogs, and runs, but she says her runs have slowed down over the years.

For Tan Felisa, she cannot tell what tomorrow brings and she says it is all up to God.

Asked if she would like to celebrate her birthday with her fellow octogenarian Tan Rosa and this writer next year — with their birthdays coinciding in the same month — she says in both Nihongo and English, “I leave it all to God if we are going to celebrate next year together.”

With that, she gently takes Tan Rosa’s hand — like an elder sister would treat a younger sister — as they head to the hall where lunch awaits them.

[Next week, Spice will share with the readers Tan Rosa’s story.
Spice is Marianas Variety’s section devoted to people with interesting lives and events that matter on island. For suggestions and comments, email]

[This appeared in Marianas Variety — Friday, April 01, 2011]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Hap Halloran Story

"The Hap Halloran Story"
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

Hap Halloran survived an ordeal toward the end of World War II that cannot be adequately described by mere words. He was almost lynched by an irate mob of Japanese civilians, tortured by Japanese soldiers, kept in solitary confinement for long periods, lived through the Tokyo air raids, stripped of all clothing and thrown into a zoo cage for presentation to crowds of Japanese civilians, then was finally interned in the infamous Omori POW Camp. Despite the brutalities inflicted on him and the attempts to crush his will to survive, Hap miraculously overcame the odds and was among those rescued from the jaws of death at the end of World War II in 1945, being taken from Tokyo aboard the USS Benevolence. He survived to tell this story.

Heroes are made, not born. Certainly not everyone can be a hero, as opportunities for real heroism are somewhat rare. But when the opportunity does come, only those who seize the moment can become a hero.

Raymond “Hap” Halloran, now 86, does not consider himself a war hero. For him, war heroes are those who died on the battlefield or incurred great bodily harm while trying to save their buddies. Nevertheless, others consider Hap a hero due to the bravery he showed in times of great adversity and severe brutality. He attributes his triumph over death to the power of prayer and a strong belief in God, as well as his determination to live to tell the story about his captivity.

Enduring the barbarity and the brutality of prison life, Halloran triumphed due to his will to survive despite being courted by death every single night and day during the long seven months of imprisonment in Tokyo.

As the only remaining member of the eleven-man crew of the B-29 Superfortress Rover Boys Express, shot down over Tokyo on January 27, 1945, Halloran is visiting places that matter to him most as he seeks closure to his war-torn past and total healing.

The Pre-War Years

Born on February 4, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Raymond is the second of five sons born to Paul and Gertrude Halloran. Like other men and women of his generation, he belonged to a unique period in world history. The world had just emerged from World War I and another world wide conflict was brewing. Conditions around the world were unstable. As colonial empires disintegrated and waned, a new world order was taking shape as great nations partitioned the globe into their spheres of influence.

Just as Halloran and the American people labored through harsh economic conditions following the Great Depression of 1929, the rest of the world, including the Japan, sought resources to feed an ever-growing population and to respond to the demands of an industrial society. A scarcity of national resources and other economic pressures drove the Japanese to seek solutions overseas.

Meanwhile, Hap was comfortably enjoying his youth. In a conversation with the editor of the Island Locator magazine, Halloran remarked, “We were a very happy family of seven in a small two-and-a-half bedroom home. Lots of love offset the shortage of money. We grew up in the days of the Great Depression.”

Early on, Hap expressed a fondness for flying planes. He told IL magazine, “Growing up in Cincinnati, I had an early love of airplanes. Whenever a small plane flew over, I stopped everything I was doing and screamed ‘Hey Mister, give me a ride.’ I enjoyed making model airplanes—the balsa wood and glue type models. Even today, I can remember how proud I felt when I finished a model and used the rubber-band powered engine to test its flying abilities; it was a wonderful feeling when the flight test was successful. I made many model planes and proudly hung them from the ceiling of the bedroom I shared with my two brothers. Airplanes were the joy of my life.” And what a joy it was for him to take his first ride on a small plane over Washington D.C, at the cost of $1.50. Then he shelled out $3 to take a thirty-minute flight on a DC-3 from Cincinnati to Dayton, Ohio and return. He still has the two tickets from those flights..

Golf is another of Halloran’s recreations. He started caddying at Ridgewood Golf Club when he was in the fifth grade, and won the Southern Ohio High School golf tournament in 1940. Halloran remembers getting paid 50 cents caddying for 18 holes. From his earnings as a caddy, Halloran saved enough money to purchase his first bicycle at the age of 16, for which he paid $5. It was during his golf-playing days that news about the attack on Pearl Harbor reached him. “I decided immediately that I wanted to volunteer for the Army Air Corps.” He wanted to fight to avenge the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Serving His Country

Halloran enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 at Wright Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio and completed training as a navigator in Hondo, Texas in 1943. The following year he finished bombardier training in Roswell, New Mexico. Soon after, he was assigned to B-29 Bomber Training at Smoky Hill Air Force Base in Salina, Kansas, and became a member of the 878th Squadron of the 499th Bomb Group (VH), 73rd Wing, 20th Air Force. Joining 10 other men from different states, Halloran became a member of the Rover Boys Express, an elite crew that would later spend training time in Lincoln, Nebraska and Herington, Kansas before they were assigned their own B-29 Superfortress. Vividly recalling the day he first saw the B-29 on the ramp at Smoky Hill Air Force Base, Halloran remarked, “It was a beautiful sight—overpowering.”

“Every crew selected a name for its plane. We selected Rover Boys Express, which was a common name for four-wheel racers portrayed in comic books and other media. After training, we were sent to Saipan to fly long-range bombing missions against Japanese mainland targets,” recalls Halloran. Upon receipt of orders, the crew flew their B-29 to California and then across the huge expanse of the Pacific, stopping en route in Hawaii and on Kwajalein. From Kwajalein, the Rover Boys Express proceeded to Isely Field on Saipan to join the 73rd Wing.

Looking back, Halloran spoke of his initial thoughts about the island upon landing here in 1944. “I was very impressed with Saipan, which was the operating base in support of the air war against Japanese targets. Here we were, young kids 8,000 miles from home—now in combat flying dangerous 16-hour missions to and from Tokyo as well as other cities such as Kobe and Nagoya. We were brave and courageous young men, always striving to do our very best on those long, high-altitude missions where danger was ever present.”

On those missions, Halloran was joined by 2/Lt. Robert Grace (bombardier), 2/Lt. William Franz, Jr. (flight engineer), SSgt. Robert Holladay (right gunner), SSgt. Anthony Lukasiewicz (CFC gunner), Sgt. Vito Barbieri (left gunner), Sgt. Cecil Laird (tail gunner), Snuffy Smith (aircraft commander), Jimmy Edwards (pilot), Guy Knobel (radio man) and John Nicholson (radar man).

Of the 11 brave crew members of the Rover Boys Express, who risked their lives on bombing operations over Japan, Halloran is the only one still living. He recollects that “six were killed when our B-29 was shot down over Eastern Chiba prefecture (Tokyo) on January 27, 1945. Five survived as POWs and returned to the United States.” On that fateful mission, while flying past Mt. Fuji at 32,000 feet en route to target #357, the Nakajima Aircraft Factory, the Rover Boys Express was shot down by a Japanese Toryu fighter that set three of the four engines ablaze. Inside the bomber, as wind rushed through the jagged openings at a temperature of minus 58 degrees, the crew scrambled to bail out. Halloran was the second to last to jump, and managed to munch on a sandwich as he plummeted toward earth.

To avoid being shot by Toryu fighters as he descended, Halloran free fell from an altitude of 24,000 feet, releasing his parachute only upon reaching an altitude of 3,000 feet. While slowly gliding down to earth, three Japanese planes circled him in a counterclockwise motion. According to Halloran, of the three planes, “one came very close and despite my freezing limbs, I raised my hands in a gesture of surrender and was astonished to receive a salute from the pilot of the third plane.” Puzzled by this, Halloran remarked later on, “I had a friend I didn’t know because he could have shot me. Perhaps the enemy pilot had his own code of ethics.”

As soon as he hit the ground, an angry mob surrounded him and began beating him severely. In one official statement he released concerning his ordeal as a prisoner of war, Halloran described how he was nearly bludgeoned to death. He said they were beating him with boards and rods and large rocks while they jumped on him and kicked him. He faded in and out of consciousness and expected to perish, right there, on enemy soil.

The beatings continued as the Kempei Tai police took him from the irate crowd. Soldiers also beat him with their rifle butts, slashed his parachute and gagged him with it. After tying his hands and feet, he was blindfolded, dragged and hauled off in a truck, writhing in pain. He said he was already tempted to just give it up as he feared death was imminent. Halloran was overwhelmed with constant fear then. “I knew I didn’t have much longer to go. I was in very bad shape.” Then he was taken to the Kempei Tai Torture Prison close to the moat at the north edge of the Imperial Palace, where he was treated like a federal prisoner for bombing and killing civilians. He was even forced to sign documents stating his admission of guilt, as well as a waiver concerning the Geneva Conference rules on prisoners of war. Looking back, Hap said they were not given instructions on how to behave as a prisoner of war. “We did have a late briefing from a Marine: ‘Tell them answers to all questions. Be consistent or you will be killed for certain.’ Obviously, we just didn't want to talk about the possibility of becoming POWs—for good reason. We believed we would safely return from every mission.”

After interrogations, his hands were unbound and the blindfold removed. Then he was shoved into a 4’x 6’ cage guarded by a Japanese soldier armed with a rifle and bayonet. In that prison, silence was the rule and broken only during times of interrogation.

Halloran spent 67 grueling days in solitary confinement. He remembers the constant pain that kept him in deep agony. One time a doctor was called in and tasked to inject suffering and noisy prisoners with a green liquid that Halloran identified as potassium cyanide; however, he recalls that “Something spiritual saved me from that thing.”

He also spoke of others he was with in the prison, those who suffered a fate different from his. There was a tail gunner who would often say, “Mom, I’ll be right down for breakfast.” There was also an officer whom Halloran kept hearing asking for a pencil and paper so he could rewrite his will and testament. All the while, in the cold, pitch-black environment, the prisoners did not receive any medical treatment whatsoever.

Halloran said he almost became blind from not seeing light for 70 days, as well as being blindfolded most of the rest of the time as they continued to receive constant beatings, suffered from starvation and had to lie down on a floor infested with bed bugs, lice, and fleas. In this condition, Halloran said he had to make a conscious decision to want to live—to try to survive—to keep death away from his cell if he expected to leave this hell hole still breathing. “Death came easily to some and seemed a viable option many times.” Halloran added that he would recite short, simple prayers as he muffled his sobs in his cage while seeking God’s divine intervention. Focusing on his family, he wanted to live so he would not let his family down. There were times when he entertained the thought of committing suicide, but he chose to persevere as he held on to his faith like he would a grain of rice at the height of starvation. He said, “I prayed a lot. I prayed every night and during the day.” Deprived of food, Halloran became emaciated, going from a weight of 212 pounds to a mere 115.

Earning the nickname “Hap” from his fellow soldiers, he looked for humor in his gruesome experience. Despite the horrific stay in his cell, he often recalls that his guard greeted him with the word “Ohayo” every morning, which reminded him of his native state of Ohio. But how did the guard know he was from Ohio? Later he learned that the guard was uttering a Japanese expression that meant “Good morning.” There were also times when he imagined he was playing golf in Ridgewood. He would do anything to keep his mind busy to avoid thinking about his predicament and the nearness of death.

From the prison cage, he was dragged through snow and transferred to a horse stable which held five other B-29 prisoners. There he lay on the floor, left to endure the cold and dampness. But he was never able to sleep well.

On March 10, 1945, he and his fellow prisoners heard thunderous blasts. For almost three hours, bombs were being dropped on Tokyo from B-29s. Peering through a small 12-inch window, Halloran could not tell what was happening outside, except that the sky had turned red. There was constant firing, Hap recalled, and from the glare in the red sky one could conclude that it was a horrific onslaught of fire bombing.

“The fire raid of early morning on March 10th was so massive that I never thought I would survive the night. Part of the door and roof of our stable was burned away by the fire. It was difficult for me to relate to B-29s bombing at such a low altitude. Those were brave B-29ers. I prayed for them that night as more than 100,000 Japanese were allegedly killed,” related Halloran about his experience.

In the aftermath of the bombing, an interpreter (whom Halloran refers to as “decent” in almost all his public talks) was sent to his stable to inform him that B-29ers would all be executed that day. However, the details were not clear and the fear of death remained ever present. Eight to ten days later, another interpreter told him that a high official from the palace would be visiting him.

After surviving the air raid mayhem, he was taken to Ueno Zoo, stripped naked, strapped to bars in a tiger’s cage, and humiliated before a large crowd of civilians. For Halloran, it was the Japanese soldiers’ way of shoring up their deflating morale in the face of raids that crippled their defense. On display for a day and a night, his body covered with oozing sores caused by the bugs in his cage, and having had no bath since his capture, this period was the lowest point in his entire life. Halloran remarked, “Being shown publicly to the Japanese, naked and covered with untreated sores, made it pretty tough to maintain your dignity and appear to be a proud member of the Air Force.”

Sometime in April 1945, Halloran was taken to an island in Tokyo Bay where other prisoners of war were kept—the Omori POW Camp. There he was reunited with his command pilot, Snuffy Smith, and he met Pappy Boyington. It was wonderful to be with fellow American flyers again. This was cause for great elation and hope. Halloran said it took him and Smith a while to recognize each other because of their dirty and emaciated condition. During one of his conversations with Pappy Boyington, Pappy remarked about his Medal of Honor award, “Right now, I would trade it for a hamburger sandwich!”

The 32 captives thought about their fellow crew members who were in planes gunned down by enemy fighters. They were racked with hunger and talked incessantly about food because they received only half of the rations given to other allied prisoners. B-29ers like Halloran were treated as “special prisoners”—classified as being guilty of murder for “the indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians.”

Although they suffered atrocities at the hands of the enemies, there were incidents that buoyed their spirits. Halloran recalled his experiences at the food gardens they had made nearby. He was especially appreciative of the good Samaritans—the Japanese ladies—who, at the risk of being killed, would give them beans to stave off hunger.

Rumors surfaced that the Navy and the Marines were about to liberate them from the prison camps, but there was no way to confirm such rumors, which caused them more mental anguish. “It was hard to believe that the war might end or we would be freed. We POWs were on a death list and were told we would be killed by one of six methods—such as being shot, beheaded, poisoned or drowned—if an invasion occurred or the war ended.” On the fateful day of their liberation, Halloran remembered being called back to camp, along with other prisoners, from their work area so they could listen to the emperor, who was making a speech.

“Later the cruel guards left and all records in the camp office were burned, but we were allowed to mix with other prisoners. Food and supplies were dropped into our camp by B-29s on August 27th or 28th. We were finally liberated by Marines and taken onto the hospital ship USS Benevolence in Tokyo Bay on August 28, 1945. Aboard the Benevolence, I could not contain my excitement for a bath, clean pillows and sheets, and food. I consumed 17 Milky Way candy bars in less than a day. Euphoria was written in our eyes. It was the best day of our lives,” said Halloran. “An armistice was signed on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. I was flown home and spent months in a hospital in West Virginia as we learned to cope with civilian life after the POW ordeal.”

Discharged from service in September 1946, Halloran’s return to the mainstream of life was not without considerable effort. “At first, I found it very difficult to ‘return to normal.’ I tried hard but my progress was slow.” He eventually got married and established a career in the transportation business. But spasms caused by his treatment in the hands of the enemy would take its toll on his personal and family life.

He said he had to live with constant and recurring nightmares for forty years, often dreaming about his free fall from the plane, the fire bombing, and the beatings. At some point he reasoned that there had to be a cure from the incessant nightmares. So directly facing those nightmares that haunted him at night, he went to Japan in 1984 and faced the people and places that caused the nightmares. He met interpreter and guard Kaneyuki Kobayashi and WWII Japanese air ace Saburo Sakai, who helped him the following year to locate the Toryu fighter pilot who shot down their B-29. Although he never found the pilot, he finally was able to put the past behind him and the healing began. He continued to visit the places that mattered most to him.

On January 27, 1989, Halloran traveled to Saipan—44 years after his B-29 crew left Saipan on its final high-altitude mission to Tokyo. Over the years, he would continue to travel to Japan and the Northern Marianas to relive the past and gain closure.

Hap concluded our interview with the statement, “I have made 11 or 12 return trips to Japan since 1984 and have made many friends throughout that country. After a period of understanding, forgiveness, and objective judgment, the evil feelings I held against Japan were replaced by a genuine feeling of reconciliation, respect, and friendship.”

Hap Halloran on Tinian --- 2008

Hap Halloran on Saipan, Tinian in 2008

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity
As the editor of Island Locator, I was recently given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and interview the renowned World War II B-29 navigator Hap Halloran, who was based on Isley Field on Saipan, shot down over Japan and spent the rest of the war enduring horrific torment in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. Hap had visited Saipan many times before our encounter, but this time he wanted a special tour of Tinian—particularly the atomic bomb pits, the bomb assembly area and the 509th Composite Bomb Group camp area.

Having known Saipan resident and co-chair of the 60th Commemoration Committee, Hap asked Jerry Facey to make the arrangements for the Tinian visit. Facey in turn spoke with longtime Tinian resident and local historian Don Farrell and asked him if he was interested in a being Hap’s guide on Tinian. “I said yes as fast as I could catch my breath,” Farrell told IL. Farrell said he had often run into stories about Saipan B-29 navigator Hap Halloran when he was researching Paul Halloran, the commanding officer of all Seabees on Tinian during the war.

And so it was that Facey, Hap and I flew to Tinian to spend a day with Farrell reliving the events that took place there well over 60 years ago—when Tinian loomed large on the world stage—and learning from Farrell a wealth of extraordinary details about Tinian’s historic WWII sites.

The History of Broadway Avenue
As the four of us left the airport on Tinian, we turned north onto a boulevard that runs from the palatial Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino in the south to the Hinode Shrine Circle in the north—a road now known as Broadway.

Hap studied our route as Farrell narrated: “This part of Broadway was originally built by the Japanese, using mixed coral and dirt as a roadbed. The Americans created a development plan for Tinian which included extending the road south to the harbor and then hardening it. The Seabees built the road for exactly the same purpose as the Japanese—to get bombs from the south end of the island to the airfield on the north end where Ushi Airfield was located. The U.S. called it North Field.” According to Farrell, the senior Seabee commanders began planning the development of Tinian shortly after the first aerial photograph missions from a carrier raid were conducted against the Marianas from 22-24 February 1944.

“The Marianas invasion was originally scheduled for November,” Farrell said. “However, Admiral Nimitz pushed the invasion up to June 15. Consequently, the construction planning team in Hawaii had only three-and-a-half months to prepare for the development of Tinian. The job was given to Captain Paul J. Halloran, USN, CEC.” Our Hap Halloran, in his characteristic humor blurted out, “I love him already.”

Captain Halloran just happened to be a native of Manhattan Island’s New York City. According to Farrell, Halloran glanced at the latest Japanese map of Tinian and declared that it closely resembled his own island of Manhattan. Having the authority and liberty to do so, he began naming the roads and locations after those in New York—Broadway, 8th Avenue, 86th Street, even a China Town Strip. When Hap asked what became of his namesake, Farrell said he had been promoted to Commodore due to his efforts on Tinian.

The Tinian Seabees
Farrell was disappointed with not being able to focus more of his attention on the Tinian Seabees due to his commitment to finish his latest book, which is about the role Tinian played in the WWII atomic bomb missions. But he assured us that a book about the Seabees would follow. For their work on Tinian, Hap expressed hopefulness that the Seabees got the recognition they deserved, to which Farrell remarked, “Sadly, they have not received even close to the recognition they deserve.”

Farrell described what driving up Broadway in December 1944 might have looked like. “Right now these fields look like something right out of Virginia, a lot of cattle grazing on vast grasslands. During Christmas 1944, however, bulldozers cleared sugarcane from pre-designated sections where thousands of Seabees pitched two-man pup tents. The road we are riding on was being hardened so Seabee trucks could get to the new quarry pits. From the pits, Seabee drivers were hauling coral to what they called Air Strip Number 1, located on top of the old Ushi Air Field and which would one day be the runway for atomic bomb missions to Japan.” While the war moved on to Iwo Jima, there were 12,500 Seabees working on the Tinian airfields, night and day, seven days a week.

As we crossed 86th Street, pointing left, Farrell said, “Down there is the monument to the 107th Seabees—one of the 13 Seabee battalions stationed on Tinian with each battallion composed of about 1,100 men. It is on 8th Avenue, which leads south to West Field. There was a traffic cop stationed here 24 hours a day making sure the trucks kept moving. This was one of the busiest intersections on the island.”

Next Stop, Invasion Beach
As we climbed out of our SUV at Invasion Beach, located along the northwest coast of the island, Farrell told Hap why the Chamorros called it Unai Chulu. “Still today,” Farrell said, “many local families, including ours, come to this beach to camp on long weekends. We stretch a gill net from the edge of the reef across the little lagoon and tie it to a rock. When the tide goes out, the fish get caught. All night long the young men check the net with flashlights, pulling out the fish and cooking them on the fire. It is a great family experience, chinchulu fishing, as they call it.”

Standing on the beach where the invasion took place, Farrell pointed at the ocean, the narrow beach, and the high ground just to the southeast along the Mt. Lasso-Mt. Maga Ridge. “This could have been a nasty fight, but the plan developed by the Navy, Marines and Seabees ‘made the day’ and saved a lot of lives,” said Farrell.

“The Second and Fourth Marine Divisions had just won the battle for Saipan and were pretty beat up,” said Farrell. “The Japanese thought the Americans would land on the broad sandy beach in front of Tinian Town and the Americans knew the Japanese expected them to land there, which meant the Marines and Seabees would be landing into the teeth of the enemy again. Consequently, they were able to concoct an invasion plan that was acceptable to Admiral ‘Terrible’ Turner, commander of all landing forces. To overcome the six- to eight-foot cliffs between beaches White I and White II, the Seabees improvised a portable ramp that could be carried on the back of an amphibious tractor called a ‘Doodlebug.’ Amtracs that followed used the ramps to gain access to the beach to unload their troops. That’s awesome logistics!”

Farrell continued, “Turner ordered the Second Marine Division to load up into their troop carriers and fake a landing at the previously proposed site in front of Tinian Town. Meanwhile, the Fourth Marine Division, with its Seabee detachments, loaded directly into amphibious tractors near Saipan’s Sugar Dock. At midnight of July 24, the invasion fleet began its move to southern Tinian. Sentries standing right here on the beach would have watched the fleet, with a conspicuous number of lights on, moving south. General Ogata, the commanding officer of all the Japanese Army forces on Tinian gave the order for his mobile battalion on Mt. Lasso to move south into pre-designated locations for a defense at the beach in front of Tinian Town. Only a small force was left here for a “just in case” scenario. Those poor souls would be the first to die.”

Farrell concluded, “Bottom line is, the Fourth Marines faced only what they called “light resistance” and drove on toward Ushi Airfield. The Second Marines then steamed back up here and began to land as soon as the Fourth moved off the beach.
Farrell spoke reverently of the 18th and 121st Seabees, who landed with the Fourth and Second Marine Divisions during the invasion of Tinian. All the while under fire themselves, their job was to make roads and clear debris so the Marines could advance. Seabee bulldozers cleared the beachhead and cut a road toward the airfield.
Hap acknowledged the great job the Seabees did on Tinian, not realizing how extremely important their mission was in order for the invasion to succeed as well as operations that followed.

Marine Corps General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith called it “the perfect amphibious operation of the Pacific war.’”

The Marines fought off a banzai charge early the next morning and fought their way to Ushi Airfield, while “the Seabees immediately went to work filling the bomb holes and getting the airfield ready for airplanes from Saipan to land, take out our wounded and bring in supplies.”

In hindsight, Farrell commented, “there were a lot of screw-ups during the war, many that will never be written about. But when you look at the magnitude of death and destruction that occurred from the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor until VJ Day, which includes the victory in Europe—that war was such a huge world event. However, the American team, in battle and at home, did the really big things right, whereas our enemies, Japan and Germany, made dreadful mistakes.”

For Farrell, “It was truly a world at war—being able to carry out such vast campaigns in a two-ocean war in such a relatively short period of time. That we were able to maintain pressure and keep driving forward on both fronts is utterly amazing. We got knocked on our heels really bad at Pearl Harbor earlier and the Japanese fully expected the Americans would sue for peace. The Japanese believed the Americans didn’t care at all about the Filipinos or the Islanders; that they would gladly give up the Philippines and Guam in return for calling off the war. They really believed that!”

“When they finally tested the Americans’ mettle in the Battle of the Coral Sea and then at Midway, all of a sudden they understood they had made a big mistake by underestimating the American resolve.”

Both Hap and Farrell concluded that the Japanese were disheartened and just could not bring themselves mentally to accept defeat. Hap, a successful business consultant, compared Japanese decisions to those of an American businessmen. “The Japanese just couldn’t write off a bad investment while an American would easily get out of it and move on.”

Before leaving White Beach, Farrell guided Hap into a nearby coastal bunker where they found prewar photos of a Japanese family and incense on the floor, recently brought there by a relative who was probably praying for a departed son or grandson from the war.

From the invasion beaches, we proceeded to the bomb pits, where more discussions about World War II’s details unfolded and where Farrell shared his firm grasp of the history of the atomic bombs.

North Field, Tinian
Turning onto Lennox Avenue, we drove around to the official bomb pit entrance. Farrell drove past one bomb pit and stopped at the other nearby. It was chilling to look at the bomb loading pictures in Farrell’s book and know we were standing right where that happened 63 years ago.

Serious work began on developing an atomic bomb after President Roosevelt gave it his official “OK, FDR” in June, 1942, Farrell explained. It took two and a half years to refine uranium and produce plutonium, design a simple bomb, and modify an airplane to carry the 9,500 pound beast. The 509th Composite Bomb Group was created as the “delivery mechanism” in September 1944, under the command of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., US Army Air Force; however, Admiral Nimitz got wind of the plan in December 1944, which was to send something called a “Composite Group” to the Marianas, without his permission. He was not happy.

At a hurriedly called meeting in D.C., and later in Los Alamos, New Mexico, plans were made to decide on just where in the Marianas America’s first atomic strike base should be established. Navy Commander Frederick L. Ashworth was chosen to be the one to break the news to Nimitz. He arrived on Guam in early February with a letter from Nimitz’ boss, Admiral of the United States Navy Ernest J. King, telling Nimitz to cooperate. Ashworth went on to explain to Nimitz that they created this new bomb with an explosive force of 20,000 tons TNT.” To provide a better picture how destructive the atomic bomb was, Farrell explained, “A single B-29 could carry a maximum load of 10 tons. It would take 2,000 B-29s all dropping their bombs simultaneously to equal this one bomb. This got Nimitz’s attention.”

General Curtis LeMay, commanding officer of all B-29s in the Pacific, then gave Ashworth a letter of introduction to the Tinian Island Commander, Brig. Gen. Frederick Von Harten Kimble, who took him directly to North Field. Meanwhile, the 313th Wing had already set up and was busy carrying bombs to Tokyo. As he surveyed the area, Ashworth noticed the coastline just west of North Field was not being used, was large enough to house the ordnance and bomb assembly buildings, and could easily be fenced in. Without telling Kimble why, the Navy commander said he would take it. Ashworth flew back to Guam and pointed to an area he had circled on a map of Tinian. Nimitz nodded his approval. The commander then flew back to Washington where he reported his findings to General Leslie Groves, Commanding Officer of the Manhattan Project. The decision for Tinian was made.

Groves, according to Farrell, then turned the project over to one of his engineers—Lt. Col. Elmer E. Kirkpatrick, Jr., a West Point graduate and a civil engineer, whose two brothers were Naval Academy graduates. He would slide into Tinian the following month, disguised as an Air Force engineer with some sketchy plans under his arm. The plan for the 509th Composite Group was underway.

Atomic Bomb Pits
Reaching the first pit, Hap asked Farrell which one is Pit No. 1 and Pit No. 2, an enumeration that Farrell debunked. “We talked it over with several other historians and we all pretty much believe that both bombs were loaded in one pit,” Farrell said.

“There was no bomb pit No. 1 or 2. It was created in the minds of the people when they put up the original monuments.”

“From studying the pictures of the pits after they were excavated for the 60th (commemoration), it looks pretty clear that they were both loaded in this pit because there are slight differences in the insides of the pits,” Farrell said.
Remembering his conversations with General Paul Tibbets in 2004 on Tinian, Hap said, “One time, I was with Tibbets, after the day’s program, and Tibbets told him, ‘I don’t know why they built the second pit because we never needed it.’” Farrell retorted, “Because everything in the Manhattan Project had redundancies—sometimes three or four times. Everything had a backup.”

Hap asked Farrell, “Do you feel that the bombs we dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were all of the bombs we had completed and ready to drop?”

Farrell replied, “We were ready to go with one within another week or so. And after that, we could deliver one a week. We were ready to drop them as long as it took.”
As far as backups were concerned, Farrell said before the Enola Gay and Bockscar missions, an intermediate base was built on Iwo Jima with two hardstands and one atomic bomb pit. For both missions, Kirkpatrick was the officer in charge on Iwo Jima, standing by in case the Enola Gay or Bockscar had mechanical problems en route. The bomb would be transferred to a standby plane, and the mission would continue.

The Atomic Bomb
The uranium bomb was very simple, said Farrell. “It worked just like a gun. They put a uranium target at one end of the gun barrel, put a uranium bullet at the other end, and then loaded gunpowder behind the bullet. When the gunpowder was fired, the uranium bullet smashed into the uranium target, creating critical mass, and the uranium explodes.

But the Nagasaki bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, was more complex. For the plutonium bomb to work, Farrell said, “They couldn’t use the gun mechanism. Instead, the scientists took one eleven-pound piece about the size of a baseball and surrounded it with 64 perfectly shaped high explosive charges that would crush the plutonium to a ball about the size of a golf ball thus reaching critical mass. The big problem was figuring out a wiring system that would detonate all 64 within a millisecond. Nobel Prize winner George Kistiakowski accomplished this tasks at Los Alamos.”

The Mission
They waited for perfect weather over Japan. The three planes in Tibbetts’s strike mission—Enola Gay, a plane carrying instruments to measure the strength of the bomb and a photographic plane—rendezvoused at Iwo Jima, as they had practiced so many times. Then they flew straight to Hiroshima, dropped the bomb, and came straight home, all on a clear and sunny day. Everything was absolutely perfect. There was no reason why it should not have been perfect because they waited for the perfect opportunity.”

Hap spoke about the ethical implications of dropping the bomb but had they waited, more POWs like Hap would have died in prison camps, while hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the Philippines, China, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, would have died had the bombs not been used not to mention the estimated million or more Japanese and American deaths in Japan had an invasion taken place.
They all agreed that the Tibbets mission was perfect. “It came as a complete surprise to the Japanese.”

The Critical Nagasaki Mission
For the Nagasaki mission, Tibbets picked Charles Sweeney to fly the mission. Farrell said General LeMay was shocked when he found out that Tibbets was not flying the second mission as well. “He could have flown the mission. The Enola Gay operated perfectly. Same plane, same people, same job.”

When Tibbetts chose Sweeney, Sweeney had the prerogative to pick his own plane. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take his regular plane, The Great Artiste, the same one he flew on the Hiroshima mission as the instrument plane, because they didn’t have time to move the instruments to another plane. So he chose Bockscar instead.

Farrell continued, “So Sweeney had to switch to another plane and he took his crew with him but it was a strange plane. All B-29s are B-29s and all Chevys are Chevys. But still, every one of them has its little quirks. Right off the bat, one of these quirks popped up. They couldn’t get the fuel transfer pump on the auxilliary fuel tanks to work. The mission was delayed as they discussed the problem. The decision was made to go with Bockscar anyway. The Nagasaki mission was underway.”

Because of bad weather, a bad omen, Sweeney chose a new rendezvous point at Yakushima, a small island at the southern end of Kyushu that none of them had ever flown over. The photographic plane never made the rendezvous.

When Bockscar and the instrument plane, The Great Artiste, finally got to their primary target, Kokura, it was covered with haze and industrial smoke, possibly caused by General LeMay who had firebombed Yawata, just 60 miles up wind, the day before. The plane made three passes at Kokura without seeing the target as required. It was as if the bomb didn’t want to be dropped.

Fortunately, due to excellent radar coordination, Sweeney made one direct path over the secondary target Nagasaki, the bombardier saw an identifiable landmark, and took the shot.

After Fat Man was released and they began their trip home, they discovered the auxiliary fuel tank was broken and they would not be able to use the 600 gallons of gas stored in it to complete the journey. Since Sweeney was so low on fuel, he had to head for the newly captured base at Okinawa, Yontan; however, his troubles still weren’t over. When he approached the island his gas gauges read empty. He had no choice: It would be an emergency landing. As Bockscar dove for the runway, it lost one engine from fuel starvation. The plane hit the runway hard, bouncing about 25 feet in the air, then making an emergency turn at the very end of the runway. Then all other engines began coughing to death. When the plane was finally parked and they measured the tanks, seven gallons of useable fuel was all that was left.
On the ground, in order to send a message to Tinian, Sweeney met with the Island Commander who turned out to be General Jimmy Doolittle, leader of the first bombing attack on Tokyo from the deck of the carrier Hornet in 1942. With the message sent, Sweeney, along with the crews of the other two strike mission aircraft that also arrived low on fuel, took on half-a-tank for the ride home and left.

The Japanese leadership received the message about the Nagasaki bombing while they were discussing surrender. Later on the night the Nagasaki bomb was dropped, Emperor Hirohito made his final decision to end the war. His tentative acceptance of “unconditional surrender,” was wired from Tokyo at about 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the 10th.

As they drove back to the south end of the island, Hap acknowledged that this was a trip he will never forget. He would return home with fond memories of Tinian and the voluminous information that Farrell shared about the Manhattan Project and Tinian’s hugging the limelight during the end of World War II and the fact that Tinian played a very significant role in hastening the war’s end.

Back at the historic Fleming’s Hotel’s restaurant, Hap remembered once again the many others who fought against the Japanese, those Seabees who failed to get the recognition they deserve and whose efforts would not be for naught since Farrell is working on a book that would finally give them the credit they deserve.

Tinian became the largest operational airbase in the world during World War II with four 8,500-foot runways at North Field and two at West Field and a new harbor to support both. And the Seabees made it happen.

Our short flight back to Saipan and back into the present age took us over most of the entire tiny island of Tinian and above the now desolate World War II landing strips at North Field. Glancing out the window at the scene below, Hap muttered mostly to himself, but loud enough for me to overhear, “Imagine, those now deserted runways were once the busiest in the entire world and it’s at that very spot where the atomic age began. Remarkable!”