- American Memorial Park Visitor Center and WWII Exhibit Hall, National Park Service
On 18 August 1978 the United States Congress authorized and directed the National Park Service "to develop, maintain and administer the existing American Memorial Park . . . for the primary purpose of honoring the dead in the World War II Mariana Islands campaign" (Public Law 95-348). In addition to administering the land for the benefit and use of the public, the park service was also charged with providing educational activities at the park and interpreting the historical aspects of the Marianas campaigns. Decades after the passage of this legislation, the National Park Service and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government committed $5.7 million in funding and personnel and rallied the public to help plan for what would be the newest and probably most visited museum inMicronesia. The museum's doors opened on 27 May 2005.
As visitors walk into the lobby of the 10,000-square-foot visitor center, the first things they notice are large portraits of the opposing leaders during World War II in the Pacific, USPresident Franklin D Roosevelt and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, flanking opposite sides of the exhibit portal. Situated between these two world powers are the indigenous peoples of the Marianas, looking peaceful and calm in a panel entitled "Clouds of War in the Marianas." This positioning illustrates how the residents ofthe Marianas would soon find themselves—caught between two warring nations.
Throughout the exhibit, the spatial positioning of images and maps subtly reminds visitors that the people and islands of the Marianas were caught between the crossfire of the United States and Japan. The chronologically and thematically organized exhibit hall allows the visitor to virtually walk through time and learn about the American, Japanese, and Islander perspectives and experiences beginning in the 1900s and continuing into contemporary times. Audio stations containing oral histories recorded in English and Japanese offer additional insight as to what it was like to fight in the war as an American or a Japanese soldier, and also what it was like to try to survive as a civilian. Journals detailing personal experiences also appear throughout the exhibit hall.
On entering the exhibit area, visitors see a replica Chamorro house and are introduced to the indigenous peoples of the Marianas at the beginning of the twentieth century. Continuing along the temporal journey, they encounter large murals and story panels describing the Japanese sugarcane [End Page 476] industry, the accompanying economic boom, and the improved infrastructure and educational and social services that the Japanese provided before the war. Visitors learn that as the war drew closer, resources dwindled, tensions grew, and the situation worsened.
Next, visitors enter the Strategy Room. On one wall are photos of US Admiral Chester Nimitz, a US submarine, and a Superfortress aircraft, while the opposite wall displays photos of Japanese Admiral Kato Kanji, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. Each wall details the strategies employed by the opposing forces in trying to either capture or defend the ever-important Marianas. Large topographical maps of Saipan and Tinian positioned between those two walls help visitors relate those strategies to local operations in the Marianas. Another large map at the end of this room reveals the US strategy of island-hopping across the Pacific and details how the Japanese were forced to defend each of their island possessions. This places the Marianas campaign within the larger context of the Pacific War.
Turning the corner, visitors suddenly find themselves situated in the invasion of Saipan. They see a gargantuan photo of troops hitting the beach in Saipan and are simultaneously assaulted with the sounds of gunfire and explosions and the flashing of lights. Interpretive texts and stunning larger-than-life-size photos describe events such as "D-Day: Invading the Beaches," "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot," "At War onSaipan," "Garapan Town Devastated," and "Deadly Obstacles." Fronting these panels are American helmets, cartridges, receivers, canteens, maps, and other tools of...