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American Memorial Park

American Memorial Park was established on August 18, 1978 to honor the American and Marianas people who gave their lives during the Marianas Campaign of World War II. At the park, memorials stand in tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the over 5,200 U.S. Servicemen who lost their lives during the Battles of Saipan, Tinian, and the Philippine Sea, and in remembrance of the over 900 Chamorro and Carolinian civilians who died as a result of the battles between the U.S. and Japan. 

The Northern Mariana Islands

The Northern Mariana Islands are a chain of 14 islands, located north of the island of Guam in the Mariana Archipelago. Saipan, Tinian and Rota are the largest and mostly inhabited of these islands. The Mariana Islands were first settled roughly 3,500 years ago by the Chamorros. In 1521, the first Europeans arrived in the Mariana Islands, and Ferdinand Magellan claimed the archipelago for Spain. During the 17th century, Spanish colonists forcibly moved Chamorros to Guam. During this time, Carolinians sailed from their home islands after a devastating typhoon and settled in the Northern Mariana Islands. The first Carolinian settlement was established on Saipan in 1815, which is now Micro Beach at American Memorial Park. Today, both Chamorros and Carolinians are recognized as the two indigenous groups of people in the Northern Mariana Islands. 

 

The islands remained under Spanish control until its loss during the Spanish-American War, when Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany under the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. The German administration lasted only 15 years, and ended as the islands were seized by Japanese naval forces during World War I. During the Japanese administration, the sugar industry was developed which required tens of thousands of workers. By the 1940s, foreign workers and their families outnumbered local residents nearly 10 to 1. 

 

Peace ended as the war reached the Pacific. On December 8, 1941, hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces launched an invasion from Saipan and placed Guam under Japanese occupation for the next two and a half years. Chamorros and Carolinians throughout the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota experienced a shift away from the economic expansion of the sugar industry in preparation for the coming war.

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“I have always considered Saipan the decisive battle of the Pacific [for it] breached Japan’s inner defense line and opened the way to the home islands."

- Lt. General Holland Smith

Battle of Saipan (June 15, 1944 – July 9, 1944)

On June 15, 1944, after two days of bombardment, the Battle of Saipan began when U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of the Japanese island of Saipan. Japanese troops prepared for the arrival of the Americans while civilians left their homes and sought refuge in caves throughout the island. At the time of the American invasion, Saipan had a garrison of about 30,000 Japanese, twice the estimated number of men from American intelligence. The goal was to acquire a crucial air base from which the U.S. could launch its new B-29 bombers directly at Japan’s home islands. Americans poured from their landing crafts and faced fierce Japanese resistance. They battled Japanese soldiers inland and forced them north while taking As Lito Airfield and Mount Tapochau, Saipan’s highest peak. When the U.S. trapped the Japanese in the northern part of the island, Japanese soldiers launched the largest banzai charge of the war. Over 4,000 Japanese troops died during this final attack.

 

After just over three weeks, the U.S. flag was raised in victory over Saipan on July 9, 1944. Of the 71,000 U.S. troops that landed, about 3,000 were killed and more than 10,000 wounded. Only about 1,000 prisoners were captured out of the entire Japanese garrison of about 30,000 men. Following the end of the battle, hundreds of Japanese civilians committed suicide, many by leaping off the high cliffs on the north end of the island. It is estimated that over 10,000 Japanese civilians were killed during the fighting and mass suicides. Of the 4,000 Chamorros and Carolinians, over 900 died as a result of the war.

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Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19-20, 1944)

The Battle of the Philippine Sea was a major naval battle of World War II that took place on June 19-20, 1944. While the Battle of Saipan was ongoing, U.S. carrier-based fighters decimated the Japanese Fleet in what would become known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”. The Mariana Islands were vital to Japan which had air bases on Saipan, Tinian and Guam. The U.S Fifth Fleet was on its way west to the Marianas when it was challenged by a Japanese fleet. Japanese forces faced severe losses, totaling 476 aircraft, 13 submarines, 5 destroyers, 2 oil tankers, and 3 aircraft carriers. While the U.S. Navy suffered minimal loss, a total of about 130 aircrafts. This was the largest carrier-to-carrier battle in history.

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Battle of Tinian (July 24, 1944 – August 1, 1944)

The Battle of Tinian began on July 24, 1944 with about 15,600 men of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions landing on the island of Tinian. They were supported by naval bombardment and artillery fired by U.S. Marines on Saipan, as Tinian was just 5 nautical miles away. The Marines defeated the Japanese garrison of an estimated 6,200 men. A total of 252 Japanese troops were taken prisoner and the rest of the garrison was wiped out. Americans lost 389 killed and 1,816 wounded during the battle. The island of Tinian was declared secure on August 1, 1944.

 

By August 10, 1944, 13,000 Japanese civilians were interned, but up to 4,000 were dead through suicide, killed in combat, or murdered by Japanese troops. Once Tinian was under American control, camps were built for 50,000 troops and a large-scale construction project began to repair and extend the existing runway on the north end of the island. When completed, North Field on Tinian became the largest and busiest airfield in the world during World War II. Ultimately, North Field on Tinian became the launching point for the atomic bomb attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan – leading to the end of the war.