|One of the jail cells is covered in branches and roots.|
|Trees have engulfed this historic landmark.|
|A tree is seen growing inside the pre-WWII Japanese jail cell.|
|Retired Northern Marianas College instructor Samuel F. McPhetres talks with Aircraft Recovery Associates investigator Captain Paul Cooper last Friday at the Japanese jail in Garapan, Saipan.|
Educator Sam McPhetres calls for preservation of pre-WWII structure on Saipan
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
IF nothing is done, trees will tear down the walls of the Japanese jail, one of the few remaining structures dating back to the Japanese occupation of the islands.
Asked if restoration and preservation of the Japanese Jail is urgent, retired educator Samuel F. McPhetres told Variety, “Absolutely!”
“Restore as much of this as possible,” said McPhetres as he pointed to the extant Japanese Occupation period structure.
Last Friday, McPhetres was at the site where the Aircraft Recovery Associates investigators were digging for possible evidence in support of the Earhart-on-Saipan hypothesis.
“I am concerned about the jail. There is a lot of history here,” he said.
For McPhetres, the jail affords residents and tourists a glimpse of what life was like during the Japanese Period.
The Northern Mariana Islands were under Japanese administration from 1914 to 1944.
McPhetres said the Japanese jail offers a view of what life was back then and what the criminal justice system was like.
“It will provide a better picture of life in Garapan [during that time.],” he said.
The retired educator, is concerned that if nothing is done to preserve what’s left of the Japanese jail, there will be nothing left for future generations to appreciate and understand the site’s historical significance.
He noted that only a few Japanese structures are still standing including the Japanese Jail, the Japanese hospital — which is now the museum — and a few houses.
He said that other than these structures, “you can’t find anything.”
McPhetres said, “Tourism here is basically Japanese.”
He said that jail, among other remaining pre-WWII Japanese structures, will offer visiting Japanese an idea of what life was during the Japanese administration of the islands.
Pointing to the buildings where trees have grown and are breaking up the walls, he said, “Take these trees out of here and save the buildings from complete disaster.”
He said it will take just one typhoon to destroy the historical site.
Aircraft Recovery Associates investigator Captain Paul Cooper told Variety, “This has been Sam’s interest. He is trying to get this place taken care of in a manner so that it will be respected.”
Cooper showed Variety how the roots of trees have grown throughout the structure.
“Roots are breaking this historical landmark apart,” said Cooper.
He also pointed to a flame tree whose root system is destroying the concrete.
“All these trees need to be removed,” said Cooper echoing McPhetres’ call for the Japanese Jail’s preservation.
McPhetres told Variety that the Japanese Jail was built sometime in the 1920s.
He said a similar structure was built on Chuuk and Palau.
Last Friday, ARA investigators contracted workers to empty a 7.5-foot deep water cistern which was believed to have been a solitary confinement area of the jail.
McPhetres said, “I have been told by responsible authorities that it was built for the worst criminals.”
He pointed to the area where a flame tree now stands. The “entry way was the stairwell there and they were thrown down there to die.”
He also shared a story about two American pilots who were left to die on the grounds of the Japanese jail.
He said two American pilots who were involved in the pre-invasion bombardment of Saipan were captured and held prisoner at the Japanese jail.
As the invasion of Saipan drew closer, the Japanese decided to get rid of the pilots.
McPhetres said they were pulled out of their cells and executed.
As the Japanese swords were dull, the pilots did not die instantly, but lay on the ground and bled to death.
McPhetres said this and other stories were told by relatives of those who were incarcerated at the jail.
Variety asked McPhetres under whose mandate the preservation of the jail was; he said, “The Historic Preservation Office.”
He added, however, that “HPO is not equipped to do it right now.”