Mayberry of the Pacific: Tinian Island - US Represented 03/26/2018
I hesitate to talk about the beauty of Tinian Island in the Central Pacific because I don’t want excessive tourism to ruin its charm. The remote island getaway has a population of under 3500 people and some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.
The least populous of the Northern Marianas Islands, Tinian is only a short commuter flight from Saipan. Last week, my fellow travelers and I crossed the Saipan Sea on “puddle jumper” planes to visit Tinian. The pilot of my plane had to hold one of the doors closed while we were in flight, which was both scary and thrilling at the same time. However, once we were safely across the water and on Tinian’s shores, we spent the day learning about Tinian’s history and people.
Like Saipan, Spain colonized Tinian in the sixteenth century but sold its interest in the island to Germany after the Spanish-American War. Japan controlled the island after World War I but lost it to the United States during bloody fighting there between July 24-August 1, 1944. In total, nearly 8,000 Japanese forces were killed or went missing during the Battle of Tinian, and some 4,000 Japanese civilians died by suicide or as collateral damage. Once in control of Tinian, the U.S used it as a base for its B-29 bombers to attack Japan.
Tinian is best known as the takeoff point for the Enola Gay, the B-29 Colonel Paul Tibbets flew to Hiroshima to drop “Little Boy,” the first atomic bomb. But Bockscar, the bomber flown by Major Charles W. Sweeney, also took off from Tinian before dropping “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. We visited these remote sites on the island and stood on Runway Able, where the planes took off, and looked down into the bomb pits.
Surprisingly, despite its role in World War II, Tinian is an extremely tranquil place. The day we visited, Don Farrell, our historian and a resident of the island, arranged for us to enjoy a beachside lunch with traditional Chamorro food.
On one hand, the island’s economy could benefit from tourism. A quaint new hotel, constructed from shipping containers, is being built, so there is some effort to bring more people to the island. Still, I worry that if the island becomes too well known, its charming “Mayberry of the Pacific” vibe may be lost.