TIGHARs on Tinian 4

November 11, 2004
5 pm, San Jose Village, Tinian

It doesn’t look like it WILL be possible to transmit – from the Fleming Hotel, anyhow, because the Fleming Hotel has no telephones. Maybe I can work out something else tomorrow.

Tinian airfield
The airfield on Tinian. Photo by Herb Soll.
Scott collected us promptly at 8 this morning and delivered us to the airport, and we bundled aboard a little 6-seat single-engine plane for the hop over to Tinian. Kar rode in the copilot’s seat and the pilot pointed out the sites – the atom bomb pits, the VOA transmitter – while I rode in back with a very quiet businessman and a lot of luggage. Landing, we looked around for transport and ran into a polite gentleman who asked if we were associated with Bunn Jennings. “Yes indeed,” I said, and found that Jennings had reserved three cars, one of which I took responsibility for. We promptly got lost in the welter of roads that snake around San Jose Village – old Tinian Town – and thus got to see the sites, notably the big but rather seedy looking Dynasty Casino, and the quite lovely beaches. Eventually found our way to the Fleming, another cinder block and tile affair with a well-equipped store and a perfectly adequate restaurant. Here we met Bob Silver, and his partner Audrey, recently returned to Guam from sailing the S/V Arctic Lady from Vancouver, BC to Beirut. We were shortly on our way back to the airport (old West Field, decorated with a Japanese coastal gun and AA battery) to pick up Jennings and St. John Naftel. Waiting at the airport was the media team, headed by Rlene (must get her last name), poised to videotape The Arrival. It reminded me of Russ Matthews taping us as we disembarked in Fiji for the first time back in ’89; when we were much younger and more innocent.

San Jose Village

San Jose Village, Tinian. Photo by Tom King.

Mr. Naftel turned out to be a spry, white-haired, distinguished gentleman, and a great story teller. We had to drag Kar away from him to pack up the cars and head for the site, where it turned out Mike Fleming had been waiting since 8:30 with a brush clearing crew.

I should say that Mike – besides being the area’s first indigenous advanced-degreed archaeologist – is a member of a very important Tinian family, which of course owns the Fleming Hotel, Store, and Restuarant, among other things So he can do things like getting a crew with a tractor and huge brush-cutting mower from the Mayor, and he had. It was good to see Mike again; he’s an old friend and a respected colleague, and he’d spent his time well tramping the site and figuring out how to handle it. Several young guys from the CNMI and Tinian Historic Preservation Offices (HPO) are on hand to help out – all with much appreciated archaeological field experience, as are Epi Cabrera and John Mark Joseph.

The site is a rather nondescript piece of land covered with tangentangen (the local equivalent of Scaevola) and tall grasses, sloping up into a limestone escarpment, just off a north-south tending road on the southwest side of the island. A brief discussion on-site was sufficient for Mike to confirm with Jennings, Bob, and Mr. Naftel how big an area needed to be cleared; he then encouraged us to leave him and his crew to it. We returned to the hotel for lunch, and he joined us an hour or so later, reporting that they’d cleared an acre or so, that we’d need to pull a lot more stuff up by the roots to allow accurate observation of contours, and that to his practiced eye, the soil doesn’t look to be more than a couple of feet deep, overlying limestone bedrock. So the plan for tomorrow is to mobilize on site early to strip the remainder of the vegetation, search for evidence of pits or mounds, and then stake out excavation units and begin to dig. If pits or mounds aren’t visible, then we’ll consider Hiro’s idea of an exploratory backhoe trench, or maybe several. Remains to be seen. Anyhow, Mike seems to have field operations very well in hand.

The project’s leaders and media people clearly wanted some time by themselves, so Kar and I tootled off to sight-see, visiting the A-bomb pits at North Field, the limestone forest on the south end of the island (where there were Buka trees!) and the poignant Japanese peace memorial on Suicide Cliff at the island’s southeast point, where a plaque bearing a prayer for the wisdom never to repeat the madness of war – placed there in 1996 – is already rusting and rickety.

Arriving back at the hotel, we found that Jim Sullivan and several others involved with The Deep had arrived, and huddles were continuing about various administrative matters from which I was happy to be excluded. There’s a full-team planning meeting scheduled for 7 this evening, and it’s now 5, so I think it’s time for a snooze.

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