WWII Pacific Special: US Marines Attack Japanese in the Battle for Saipan
The Northern Marina Scouts
Battle of Saipan
By: Lieutenant Scott E. Rutter US Army (Retired)
-Senior Warrior Maven columnist and contributor
D-Day the 6th of June is a significant event in the European campaign that was focused at the destruction of the axis of evil, but half way around the world another major offensive began to bring the end of fighting in the Pacific. I am humbled to tell a story of total dedication and commitment demonstrated half way around the world by Asian Pacific Islanders from the Northern Mariana’s Islands during World War II. Today these islands are known as the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Marianas are located approximately 80 miles from Guam and 8 hours east by plane from the State of Hawaii. Saipan is the capital city and most populated island of the Northern Mariana Islands. This story is just one example of many that highlight the reason why we celebrate the significant and invaluable contributions people of Asian Pacific descent have made to the United States of America and her armed forces.
On 31 January 2000, the US Marine Corps held a formal recognition ceremony and on 17 March the US Marine Corps held a Purple Heart Ceremony in the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. These ceremonies were unparalleled and long overdue. They would not have been possible without the determination and focus of former Representative Juan Babauta and his staff. From the very initial documentation to the years of applications within government agencies, the work of Representative Babuta seemed for a very long time to be fruitless. Then in 1999, the Department of Defense formally recognized the magnitude of the contribution of the indigenous people of the North Mariana Islands and placed them on active duty for their service during WWII.
These actions are of major significance to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States of America, the United States Marine Corps, and to all of service members who fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After more than fifty years, the Chamorro and Carolinian Marine Corp Scout veterans of the Battle of Saipan and those that have departed this world were finally recognized and honored for their gallant and heroic actions. Although the contribution of these individuals has always been evident, they officially joined the ranks of the over 70,000 U.S. Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airman that fought in Saipan and Tinian during World War II.
Their efforts helped to secure a strategic position for the United States that led directly to the defeat of Imperial Japan and to the preservation of freedom not only for our generation, but also for generations to come. Then and now these Scouts upheld and represented the most fundamental tenet and motto of the United States Marine Corps: Semper Fidelis: Always Faithful. All who attended the ceremony were proud as the Scouts officially engraved their names and legacy into the ranks of Americans who have served in the United States Marine Corps and our Armed Forces.
Saipan has memorialized the battlefields by maintaining and marking many beaches, caves and jungles. As a matter of fact, a tank from used by the U.S. Marines during WW II still sits in the waters off Chalan Kanoa beach and is a modern day tourist site. One can only imagine the battlefield action that took over 3 thousand Marine Corps lives and over 700 innocent Chamorros and Carolinians, many who were related to the people of the Mariana’s today, during the fierce 25 day battle called Operation Forager which was part of the Battle for Saipan. Places such as Red Beach, White Beach, and Chalan Kanoa were drenched with American and Japanese blood as the United States Marine Corps destroyed enemy forces and secured the island. We, as Americans, must always remember that day in June 1944 that has been called, “the day the Ocean was Red with Blood.”
Saipan, and the rest of the Mariana Islands, was deemed a key location in the American war strategy in the Pacific. It was believed that Japan would never surrender and that to prevail would require the US positioning itself in the Marianas. These islands, then controlled by the Japanese, would be essential to providing air bases for the new B-29 Super fortress. The B-29 was a U.S. bomber that had a round trip range equidistant from Saipan, Tinian and Guam to Japan. The airfields in the Marianas were needed to launch strategic air attacks against Japan.
On June 6, 1944, D-day, the U.S. forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. Nine days later, the U.S. commenced the battle to capture Saipan from the Japanese. An armada of over 500 ships carrying over 120,000 U.S. military personnel of which over 70,000 were Marines of the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Marine Divisions, with the 27th Army Division in reserve, converged on Saipan. Over 35 American Battleships, Destroyers, Heavy Cruisers and Light Cruisers shelled Saipan for 2 days. The island was surrounded and bombarded. Shells rained down on the islands. The earth shook and air filled with the death of Americans, Japanese and the local inhabitants. The destruction of the island was total.
The U.S. Marines then launched their invasion of the island along 4 miles of beach at Chalan Kanoa. Over twenty-five U.S. tanks were destroyed on the first day and the 2nd Marine Division sustained over 2,000 casualties. The island was heavily defended by the Japanese and the battle for Saipan evolved into three distinct stages: First: there was the fight for the beachhead, Second: there was the fight for the Mount Topotachau line and Third, there was the seizure of the northern part of the island.
Within 10 days, the American forces had captured the Aslito Airfield and were blasting the Japanese out of caves on Mount Tapotchau, a key terrain feature. By June 26th, the 2nd Marine Division had cleared up to the Mount Topotachu fortress and had established positions at the summit. Meanwhile, the 4th Marine Division had captured Kagman Peninsula in the east. The fierce fighting continued until July 9, 1944 when all organized Japanese resistance had ceased and Saipan was officially secured. American losses exceeded 3,100 and over 13,000 were wounded or missing in action. Of the over 31,000 Japanese on the island, approximately 29,500 died as a result of the fighting.
After the capture of Saipan, the fighting continued elsewhere in the Pacific for 13 months. No time was lost in taking advantage of the strategic position in the Marianas. The construction of air bases in the Marianas for B-29 Super fortress bombers was rushed to completion. On August 6, 1945 an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, flying from Tinian dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The Japanese surrendered, nine days later, on August 15, 1945. The American War strategy in the Pacific proved successful and the importance of Saipan and the Mariana Islands remains forever an indispensable component of this American victory.
When the Marines landed on the island of Saipan in June 1944, two groups of native scouts began assisting them in securing the island and locating Japanese holdouts. On many of the Mariana Islands, individuals and small groups of Japanese soldiers did not surrender to the Allies until long after the Japanese Emperor accepted the unconditional surrender provision of the Potsdam Declaration on August 15, 1945.
The first group is described as the “three scouts/guides, Miguel Tenorio, Penedicto Taisacan, and Cristino Dela Cruz” who assisted the U.S. Marines in the offensive operations against the Japanese on the Northern Mariana Islands from June 19, 1944 through September 2, 1945”.
The second group is described as the “approximately 50 Chamorro and Carolinian former, native policeman who received military training in the Donnal area of central Saipan and were placed under the command of LT Casino of the 6th Provisional Military Police Battalion to accompany United States Marines on active, combat-patrol activity from August 19, 1945 to September 2, 1945.”
The duties of these scouts filled a wartime need by locating Japanese supplies, holdouts and snipers that were in the jungles and islands of the Mariana Islands. The second group of approximately 50 Chamorro and Carolinian native policeman were organized and trained under the leadership of the Marine Corps 6th Provisional Military Police Battalion with the intent to use them in missions into the northern islands. Both of these groups performed their military service in a combat zone.
In accordance with the provisions of Public Law 95-202 and upon the recommendation of the Department of Defense Civilian/ Military Service Review Board, on September 30, 1999, the Secretary of the Air Force, acting as Executive Agent of the Secretary of Defense, determined that these two groups shall be considered “active duty” for purposes of all laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These men served in combat to secure the Mariana Islands in the United States offensive against Japan. They were officially organized, trained and equipped as United States Marines. Their military service was an integral part of the wartime operations and promoted the mission of the United States Marine Corps in the islands of the Marianas.
This recognition took over 50 years, but their contribution to the mission of the United States Marine Corps was clearly demonstrated. To sacrifice your life for freedom and democracy, as reflected in the flag of the United States of America, represents one of the greatest contributions that a citizen can make to the future of this great nation.
Subsequent to the recognition of the Marine Scouts, on 17 March another ceremony was held that recognized the heroic contributions of Corporal Christino dela Cruz. He was being awarded the Purple Heart with Gold Star for his bravery and faithful service during the U.S. occupation in Saipan.
There is no question that the award was long overdue. At first glance it seemed a dishonor that an award could take more than 50 years to find its recipient. But there is a simple explanation for this. In order for a Marine to receive an award, he in fact has to be a Marine first. Well, Corporal Cristino S. Dela Cruz didn’t enlist in the Marine Corps until --31 January 2000 to be exact -- at the age of 73. The same day he was awarded WWII campaign medals and then discharged from the Marine Corps as a Corporal.
Dela Cruz’s service to the United States is representative of both groups during the U. S. occupation in Saipan. His wartime efforts typify the valor and nature in which these men contributed to the Marine Corps from 1944-45. During his duty as a scout, Corporal Dela Cruz was not under any obligation to serve the United States. He didn’t have an enlistment contract, and he was not a U. S. citizen.
His service to the United States began while he was in an internment camp at the 4th Marine Division Area of Operations in Southern Saipan. Because American Servicemen discovered that Dela Cruz had been placed into service with the Japanese military, and knew all the locations of critical supplies such as ammunition and fuel, he was immediately recruited as a scout. Dela Cruz provided the Marines information regarding gun emplacements and the locations of Japanese soldiers that remained hidden in caves. In the place of a weapon, Dela Cruz was armed with deep-seeded respect and support for American freedom and democracy, and he persisted in his wartime efforts to expose Japanese vulnerabilities to America’s Armed Forces.
His service to the United States, combined with the other island natives who served alongside the Americans in the Marianas, was extraordinary. Dela Cruz and his compatriots were not exempt from the terror and tragedy that many Americans faced during their occupation of the islands. In fact, during the time period when Dela Cruz served, he was wounded on two separate occasions – once slashed by a Japanese bayonet and another time wounded by shrapnel from a Japanese hand grenade.
The Purple Heart ceremony held in March 2000 was in the home of CPL Dela Cruz. Although Corporal Dela Cruz was very weak and couldn’t speak or stand, he was fully aware of what was taking place. His pride was evident in the tears that came when the Purple Heart with Gold Star on his chest. Present at the ceremony was Governor Tenorio, Representative Juan Babauta, and U.S. Circuit Court Judge Alex Munsen. Brigadier General Ralph E. Parker who represented the General Robert L .Jones the Commandant of the Marine Corps whose father fought in the Battle of Saipan, presented the award.
Corporal Dela Cruz has since passed away. He died just nine days after the ceremony. His service to our nation will always be forged with all veterans who have served in the battle under the flag of the United States of America. Corporal Dela Cruz, and the honored men who served with him in the Mariana Islands, have earned a special place in our United States history that will forever be sacred to all service members past, present and future. With the meticulous and determined efforts of Representative Babauta, the world came to know what the people of the Marianas already knew of their fathers and grandfathers. He knew that these families deserved this recognition, despite the time that had passed. Although many of the men had already passed, the honor and respect received from this recognition is now memorialized and preserved as a permanent part of US history.
Today, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands proudly has many of its sons and daughters serving in our armed forces. They follow in the rich tradition of service to this nation as the Marine Corp Scouts did during World War II. The strength of our nation and of our armed forces lies in the diversity of the people it embraces.
-- Scott Rutter is a senior Warrior Maven columnist and contributor ---
Lieutenant Colonel Scott Rutter U.S. Army (Retired), the President and Founder of the Valor Network and Board Member and Treasurer of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) served as Special Assistant to the Governor and Resident Representative to the United States Congress from the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). He was awarded the Defense Volunteer Service Medal, January 2000 Defense for efforts that resulted in passage of a Joint Resolution by the United States House of Representatives to formally recognize significant contributions made by United States Marine Corps Scouts from the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands during World War II.
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