TINIAN—A few meters away from the air raid shelters and the monuments erected in memory of the marine battalions is the dilapidated yet sturdy structure used to house the air administrations staff building in the North Field of Tinian.
Except for the distant whirring sounds of a brush cutter some maintenance men making as they cleaned the area, everything else was quite and deserted. It was just half past 7 a.m. and we have the place to ourselves.
I’ve been to the same building a couple of times in the past three years but those were just for a quick stop to take quick photos, and off to other, more interesting sites in the island.
Last week was different. I flew in to Tinian real early with Dr. Dirk Spennemann, a visiting professor from the Charles Sturt University in Australia to visit the historical places and take photos of the people and life in the island.
What made that trip totally different from my previous trips was that I was with somebody who is not only a professional photographer but one trained to see more than what we ‘ordinary mortals’ see, and one who was willing to share his knowledge.
We spent some time in the kitchen area and Spennemann pointed out where the sink and cooking pots used to be installed, the areas where the washrooms and restrooms were, and gave special attention to how the walls, floor tiles and ceilings were designed.
I paid just a passing glance to a white cloth with Japanese symbols and a glass of water placed on the sink. Alongside it were three pieces of incense sticks. To my untrained eye, those were just objects left by some tourists but Spennemann took his time taking photos of it. Only then did I understand that those objects were purposely left by Japanese individuals as offering to their relatives who have passed on during the war.
We gingerly picked our way through the debris and up the slippery stairs to the second floor, where more traces of devastation awaited us. One can just imagine what a busy office that place used to be.
Spennemann pointed out the concrete walls, floors and pillars, the thick pieces of steel sticking out from what was left of the concrete after bombs ripped through. Honestly, I saw the concrete walls, floors and pillars and the thick steel pieces and nothing more as leftovers of a sturdy building before but never took any notice of how sturdily built the building really was so that it is still standing after several decades and despite having several of its pillars blown off by the bombs.
Spennemann said that the constructors did a commendable job using materials designed to last for decades.
Where before I just saw the ruins of the air administration building as one of the must-visit historical sites on Tinian, I left that building not only with hundreds of photos in my camera but saw it under a different light, not only as a remnant of the bloody war but of the important role it played.
Records show that the air administration staff building used to be the headquarters for the Japanese Navy’s 1st Air Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Kakuji Kakuta, and the building was just one of those vital structures that played an important role in the final stage of the war of the Pacific.