In 2007, I traveled to Saipan and Guam for work. During the time there, I visited several World War 2 sites. These poems were written following those visits.
BANZAI CLIFF, SAIPAN
Monuments to peace
stand as silent sentinels.
Waves, rocks remember
that day of fear at cliff’s edge
when women and children leaped.
Soldiers laid down guns;
tried to stop the maddened rush;
unable to lift
war’s dark veil of fear and death.
Silence deafens at cliff’s edge.
Prayer sticks in the grass,
offered for the souls who leaped;
read by sun and wind.
ASAN BAY, GUAM
Blue water, white sand;
palm trees sway in the June breeze.
Hard to imagine
red water lapping on shore;
corpses, like seaweed floating.
The invasion of Saipan in 1944 was the first instance in which US troops in the Pacific theater encountered urban settings and large numbers of civilians. Saipan had been under Japan’s control since the end of World War 1, having acquired them from Germany, which had acquired the islands from Spain near the end of the 19th Century. There was a large population of Japanese civilians on Saipan, in addition to the native Chamorrans, and they had been fed propaganda about the brutality and inhumanity of Americans toward civilians. As the battle for Saipan progressed, US marines and army units pushed Japanese troops and civilians to the rugged, northern end of the island. Japanese soldiers made a desperate, final banzai attack which, after intense fighting, US troops defeated. This left Japanese civilians trapped and without support. Rather than fall into the hands of American soldiers, many opted for suicide, throwing their children and then leaping themselves from the cliffs, now named Banzai Cliff and Suicide Cliff. Seeing what was happening, American soldiers attempted to stop the suicides, which many of the Japanese civilians misinterpreted, leading to greater frenzy. In the end, the soldiers saved many civilians, but many others leaped to their deaths.
Asan Bay was one of the locations at which US marines went ashore during the invasion of Guam, after Saipan had been secured. There is a reef several hundred yards out from the beach at which the landing craft had to stop. The marines waded ashore from that point, under fire from Japanese soldiers in bunkers on shore as well as batteries on the heights overlooking the bay. An older gentleman whom I knew at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting told me he went ashore as a young marine at Asan Bay. It was his first action, and the first time he’d ever seen death, as fellow marines were cut down as they waded ashore, their bodies floating in the shallow water.