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Suicide Hill

February 26, 2013

Saipan – Sunday, February 10

The car rental people were down in the lobby first thing this morning, so I was able to head out to explore on my own – and it felt good to be in a car again. Thanks to yesterday’s tour with Annie, I knew where I wanted to go, and headed for the north side of the island, where I stopped again at some of the memorials, and a US veteran’s cemetery, The Last Command Post for the Japanese, and then on to Banzai Cliff. There were a lot of memorials lining the road on the way to the cliff – some honored specific groups, and some simply were in honor of everyone who died, regardless of where they were from. And there were monuments for peace. Before the Japanese commanders had killed themselves, they had ordered their soldiers to take 7 lives before ending their own. The Japanese, who knew that death would be the end result, armed themselves with whatever they had left – even stones, sticks and spears – and went on a final rampage with such determination and recklessness and ferocity (the very definition of banzai), that they broke through the American ranks and managed to kill a number of them. Nearly all of the attacking Japanese soldiers ended up dead, and some of them had jumped off a cliff onto the rocks in the sea, which is why that cliff is named Banzai Cliff. Other soldiers and civilians went up to an even higher cliff, overlooking Banzai Cliff, and threw themselves off of that onto the ground below. There had been so much propaganda against Americans during the years of the war, that the Japanese viewed death as a better alternative to being taken prisoner. The soldiers were forbidden to be captured alive, and the civilians had been convinced that they would share the same elevated status of afterlife as the soldiers if the ended their lives in honor of their emperor. Despite interpreters (a couple of the few Japanese soldiers taken alive) and US soldiers telling them over loudspeakers they would be treated humanely, and given meals and water, and that they would be returned to Japan after the war was over, 800-1000 people still leaped off the cliff that later became known as Suicide Cliff. It’s difficult to understand how a leader can be so persuasive that people end up doing things they would never consider otherwise. Some of the mothers leaped off holding their children, and other families lined up from youngest to oldest child – the youngest child would be pushed off the cliff by the next oldest child and so on, and then the mom would push off the oldest child, her husband would push her off, and then he would turn around backward (don’t know the significance of that) and jump off. It’s such a horrible part of history.

After visiting Banzai Cliff, where I had seen a lot of turtles again, I walked for miles on a pathway along the road that I had seen yesterday. I didn’t know exactly where it went, but it was climbing up, and I began to wonder if it was circling up to the top of Suicide Cliff. But it was taking the long way up, and there were some beautiful views back down to the harbor on the other side of the island. After about 3 1/2 miles, I turned around and walked back – it was hot and I was getting tired and I wanted to make sure I had enough water for the walk back. Then I got in the car and drove along the same road, and discovered the path did indeed lead to the top of Suicide Cliff and I had walked up to within about 1/2 mile of it. There was a guard by the cliff just keeping an eye on things, and there were a couple memorials – again, honoring everyone; the Americans, the Japanese and the Chamorros who got caught in between. And there was a plea for peace, and learning from past mistakes. It was actually peaceful up there, and there were doves flying around, which seemed sort of symbolic. As I looked over the cliff way down to the ground, it was simply incomprehensible thinking about what happened. I was glad the doves were there.

There is very little evidence left of all the activity that once happened on that end of the island. Many of the old roads and things have been overgrown, and that helps it seem sort of peaceful despite the history. I could still see faint traces of where roads had been, but there weren’t really any buildings or anything left – it’s just all green. After a while I drove back to the motel, and had a bite to eat before returning to the national park visitor center before they closed. I watched the video again, and this time it was in English, and it made even more sense now that I’d been around more of the island. I wish this park, and the one on Guam, could be magically transported to the US, so that more people could visit and learn about some of this powerful history in the Pacific. One of the Chamorro rangers has parents who are still alive who survived the war, and she said they never spoke badly of either the Japanese or Americans. And Annie, who drove me around yesterday, told me her mother, who was about 18 at the time, had to hide in one of the many caves, and she became sick, and while her dad (Annie’s grandpa) was trying to comfort her, he was shot by an unseen American – who had thought Japanese soldiers were in the cave. So the war is still close to people on the islands.

I had to spend Sunday evening doing laundry – it had been a long time, so I drove to one of the bigger laundromats and took care of that. While waiting, I was knitting a couple dish cloths as small little thank-you gifts for both Annie and the lady on Guam who tracked me down to be able to return my passport. Some school-age girls were watching curiously – they may not have seen anyone knitting before!

I didn’t make a donation today, so tomorrow will be busy as I catch up with 3 of them. I have 4 ideas, and 3 donations left, and none of them were open on weekends, which is why it all had to wait until Monday. But with a car, I can take care of them!
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