Inside the Capitol

Thursday, June 16, 2005

6-24 Marianas

FRI, 6-24-05

NORTHERN MARIANAS -- We now are in the land where history was made. The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was voted the most important event of the 20th century.
And that event began at Tinian Island in the Marianas, where the bombs were delivered, assembled and loaded on B-29s.
To be precise, however, the event actually began in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the bombs were conceived, created and then tested at Trinity Site, near Carrizozo.
A number of Los Alamos scientists became quite familiar with Tinian before it all was over. Bomb components were sent to Tinian by air and sea to be assembled in very special buildings, constructed to the exacting specifications of the scientists.
That meant Los Alamos scientists got to know the island of Tinian, its military commanders and the Seabees constructing their buildings and equipment.
In Santa Fe, there is a trading post at the city's major intersection, called the Tinnie-Ann. Nancy Bartlit, of Los Alamos, who recently co-authored Silent Voices of World War II, tells me there is a connection, which she will describe, once I return home.
Sounds as though she wants dinner in return for her information, doesn't it? Now that I'm out here listening to many veterans of Tinian pronounce the name of the island the same way, I can believe there is a connection.
The story of the Marianas during World War II is the story of Seabees and B-29s. Although Guam, Saipan and Tinian were easier to invade than the Iwo Jimas of the war, nothing came easy, especially as we neared the Japanese homeland.
The purpose of taking these islands was that they were within range for the brand new B-29 super fortresses to bomb Japan. That meant constructing runways longer than ever before and doing it quickly because war production back home was going at break-neck speed.
That meant that while fighting was still in progress around them, Navy Seabees were clearing land, constructing runways and throwing up all manner of buildings needed by a major military installation. One of America's major advantages in every war we've fought is that we are so much better at engineering and construction than our enemies.
And that means making do with whatever materials happen to be available. The New Mexico National Guard won accolades for is ingenuity in the Philippines. And the Seabees deserve tremendous credit for their job. Their motto is fitting.
"The difficult is easy. The impossible takes a little longer. Because we have done so much, with so little, for so long, we can do anything, with nothing, forever."
Airfields were built on all three islands, but Tinian was the most ideally suited for many, super-long airstrips. Since the war, however, Guam and Saipan have prospered more. Tinian's airfields have grown over with jungle. The special buildings, constructed to house the atom bomb assembly, have deteriorated and are being reclaimed by jungle.
That is depressing to the veterans on this cruise. They feel the greatest event of the 20th century, the event that ended the war and so far has halted future world wars, should receive more recognition. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have their memorials. Los Alamos has the Bradbury Museum. But Tinian has been almost forgotten.
The Enola Gay has finally found a home after lying in pieces for so many years. She's now at Dulles Airport. Bockscar, which carried the second bomb to Nagasaki, has long had a home at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
Perhaps with Guam coming into the spotlight with its major buildup of naval and air power to counter any possible threat from North Korea, Tinian might come in for a little more emphasis.
All of the Marianas, except for Guam, have chosen commonwealth status, in political union with the United States. Guam remains a territory, as it has been since the Spanish American War in 1898. And that surely means that Guam will get the major attention.



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