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  • Saipan:From Then to Now
  • P F Kluge (bio)
Abstract

When I left the island of Saipan after two years of Peace Corps service in the late 1960s, I promised myself that I would return as often as possible. Thats not the same as living there, certainly not the same as having been born there. But its a promise that I have kept and still keep. I was back in the early 1970s to work for the Congress of Micronesias Future Political Status Commission, in the mid-1970s to work for the Micronesian Constitutional Convention. Magazine assignments brought me back, as did the research for my 1991 book The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia. Most recently, I was invited back to give a speech in connection with the sixtieth anniversary of the World War II battle for Saipan. What follows is an edited version of Saipan: From Then to Now, delivered to an audience of veterans and Saipan residents on 16 June 2004.

When I left the island of Saipan after two years of Peace Corps service in the late 1960s, I promised myself that I would return as often as possible. That's not the same as living there, certainly not the same as having been born there. But it's a promise that I have kept and still keep. I was back in the early 1970s to work for the Congress of Micronesia's Future Political Status Commission, in the mid-1970s to work for the Micronesian Constitutional Convention. Magazine assignments brought me back, as did the research for my 1991 book The Edge of Paradise: America in Micronesia. Most recently, I was invited back to give a speech in connection with the sixtieth anniversary of the World War II battle for Saipan. What follows is an edited version of "Saipan: From Then to Now," delivered to an audience of veterans and Saipan residents on 16 June 2004.

I'll begin with a scrap, just a scrap, of poetry. If you travel around Australia and drop in for an early evening drink at a Returned Servicemen's Club, you'll find that, at precisely 7 PM, the lights will flicker, the place will fall silent, the drinking will stop, and someone will read this 1914 poem by Laurence Binyon, a poem in memory of young men who died.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them . . .

(Laurence Binyon, "For the Fallen")

Now, this is a time of remembering on Saipan. I have reflected about what I might say to you or whether I had any right to stand before you at all. I was not a part of the battle, and whatever my times on Saipan over [End Page 89] the years have amounted to, they were never a matter of life and death. So what business does a former Peace Corps Volunteer have at a battle memorial? And what can someone from a small college in Ohio have to say about Saipan, where he doesn't live, doesn't own property, doesn't vote?

The answer is that I keep thinking about Saipan, wherever I am, and keep returning; and each return—this one, no exception—is more surprising than the last. Saipan is an island that is defined by its ability to reinvent itself, to startle, intimidate, charm, and appall. It's a place that can—over and over again—win your heart, and break it, and take it back.

I wonder what it looks like—make that, feels like—to those of you who saw this place in 1944. It must be as if you have traveled through two dimensions: not just space—many long miles—but time as well, sixty years of it. Half a world, more than half a century: that's quite a trip. It speaks well of you that you have come, and of the Northern Marianas government that it has welcomed you. There will always be a place for you here, I suspect. I remember a line of William Faulkner's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 89-100
Launched on MUSE
2005-12-06
Open Access
No
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