Friday, September 9, 2011

Inside a World War II-era blockhouse

DRIVING on the rough path along the lush golf courses of Coral Ocean Point one day last week, I had no idea that one of the island’s historical treasures lies along the coastal area beyond the thick shrubbery that made the road almost impossible to see.
Riding in two golf cars, I and two officemates parked along the side of the path and followed a trail some meters down to the beach and I saw one of those Japanese pillboxes almost obscured by the tall weeds.
The structure, which turned out to be one of the three Japanese blockhouses constructed on island, stood as strong and proud as ever like it was constructed just recently. The blockhouse was perched in a location that provided a commanding view of the beach.
It usually takes a lot to convince me to go inside any of these old structures like bunkers but unexpectedly, an inner battle was taking place as I fought my fear of enclosed spaces and tried to curb my curiosity as I made the few steps down to the door of the structure.
Finally, my curiosity won and for the first time, I stepped inside a Japanese bunker. Ducking to avoid the spider’s web along the way, I took tentative steps inside. Contrary to what I thought, it was well lighted inside, with the rays of the afternoon sun streaming through the small rectangular windows on each of the internal partitions.
Although the walls of the blockhouse were over one yard thick and the ceiling was low, I forgot my being claustrophobic  for a moment as I stood still and surveyed my surroundings for a few minutes, trying to imagine that almost 70 years ago this place housed canons and the walls were the only mute witnesses to the bullets ricocheting from the enemy’s firing line.
The sting of mosquitoes on my arms and face brought me back to the present and I hurried out from the confines of the thick walls and into the fresh and salty air outside.
According to the interpretive sign posted by the CNMI Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. National Park Service, the 20mm blockhouse, which is also referred to as the German blockhouse, was of Japanese design and construction. The other two are at Obyan Beach and Laolao Beach. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Inside a World War II-era blockhouse | around-the-island.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Inside a burned out fuel bunker

MY conviction that I had explored and written short pieces about every nook and cranny that Tinian had to offer was proven wrong a few weeks back when I went on a photography jaunt with Australian professor and photographer Dirk Spennemann.
After taking photos of the Atomic Bomb Pits, airstrip and the Air Communications building, Spennemann parked our rented car in a grassy portion at the roadside a few meters away from and hauled his giant camera from the backseat. Although I had driven around several times in that area before, the place we were heading to was unfamiliar. Asking no questions, I followed him, pausing now and then to take photos of things that caught my interest.
We hiked through a tree-lined path cut into a coral hill for a few minutes before I saw where we were heading for. A massive concrete building dug into the bedrock and protected with heavy steel plate doors was at the end of the trail, sharp pieces of steel sticking out of its thick concrete roof and walls. The building, although obviously sturdily built, was broken and shattered.
We went just inside the door of the structure. I couldn’t see a thing and Spennemann told me to wait until my eyes get adjusted to the darkness. Very soon, objects like drums and huge pillars began to take shape. I trained my camera at half-shutter in different directions for some seconds before pressing it and looked at the viewfinder. I saw hundreds of burned out drums and pieces of steel inside the bunker, all in disarray at the floor. After taking a few more photos, my being a claustrophobic started to take over and I found it hard to breath. With no exit, it was humid inside. I groped my way outside, thankful for the breath of fresh air when I emerged from the structure.
A marker at the side of the building tells the story that one of the fuel storage structures was ignited sometime during the first days of American invasion and the fire got so intense that Marine battalions nearby were prompted to move to a different position. Because of the heat, huge concrete slabs stripped from the ceiling and in exploded fuel drums.
Picking our way slowly to avoid the slippery and muddy patches on the road, we went around to the other side of the canyon and saw the cement slabs that were the remaining pieces of the fuel drum storage. The Japanese bomb storage and fuel drum storage are among the most remarkable Japanese military structures on Tinian.
We left the place with more gigabytes of photos in our memory cards and an additional piece of history on a relic on Tinian that played a big role during the World War II. If you think that one day is enough to visit Tinian and explore its cultural and historical wealth, you can think again. The island has so much to offer.
Exploring a burned out fuel bunker | around-the-island.