One of the most important aspects of visiting a new place is learning about its history. While visiting Saipan, we had an opportunity to explore a part of our own history, as well as the history of the island’s native people and of the Japanese. It was an experience we didn’t expect to have but are so glad we took the time to look into.
Craig and I admittedly knew next to nothing about Saipan before booking our trip there. Located in the Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan is less than 50 square miles in size. If you look it up on a map, its neighbors are other small islands, including Guam, along with the Pacific Ocean and Philippine Sea. If isolation isn’t your thing, avoid Googling.
Saipan played a crucial role in World War II by becoming the battleground for American and Japanese forces in June and July of 1944. This pivotal clash was a turning point in the war that resulted in the loss of more than 40,000 soldiers and civilians. Due to the high number of civilian deaths, some estimates have even pegged the total exceeding 50,000.
We learned more about the Battle of Saipan by visiting the American Memorial Park in Garapan, which honors the Americans and natives of the island who lost their lives in the battle. The beautiful and spacious grounds include a Flag Circle engraved with the names of the deceased and a museum with artifacts from the war. What we appreciated most about the museum was how it presented both sides of the conflict — both the American and Japanese perspective — to help visitors fully understand the events that transpired.
Upon returning to Japan, we learned I have relatives who were stationed on Saipan during the war, which made the experience much more significant to me. With a brother-in-law who is also a veteran, I’ll never pass up the chance to honor their sacrifice and take a moment to consider the freedoms I enjoy because of it. Taking the time to learn the story of somewhere you visit can only deepen your appreciation for the people you meet there and the welcome reception you receive.