Over 120 visiting Koreans and members of the local community held a solemn memorial service on Saturday in Marpi to pay tribute to Koreans and others who died during the Battle of Saipan in June and July 1944.
As a Korean priest chanted prayers for the war dead, others bowed their heads to also pray. Visiting Korean Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps members also offered their salute.
The event held at the Korean War Memorial Monument in Marpi marked the 32nd annual memorial service for Korean citizens who lost their lives in the Northern Marianas during World War II.
Korea was made a Japanese colony in 1910. At least 1,000 Koreans were brought to Saipan before the war as laborers.
Saipan was a major battleground between Japanese and American forces during World War II.
Korean Consul General to the CNMI Chong Il Lee, in his remarks, thanked all those who took part in the memorial ceremony “for the Korean people who had been forcibly dragged into World War II by Japanese imperialism and had been killed in the Pacific area.”
He also expressed hope that all the people in the CNMI can endure all the difficulties and succeed in the face of the global economic recession and the many changes brought by the federalization of CNMI immigration on Nov. 28.
“I also wish everybody here, as a Korean, to make an honorable history for the motherland Korea and CNMI, something like holding the successful Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 and the World Cup football games in Seoul in 2002,” he added.
Fitial, for his part, said the memorial service “honors the sacrifices made by those who lived here decades ago, before the war, and who lost their lives during the Battle of Saipan in the summer of 1944—65 years ago.”
“For the past 32 years, you have never forgotten those who were lost, and here we are again paying proper tribute and respects to the Saipan Korean community of that era,” the governor said.
He also recognized the new Korean community which he describes as a “vibrant community with much to contribute to the CNMI.”
But the governor said the strength of the Korean community in the CNMI “lies in part to its past, in honoring and respecting those who made great sacrifices.”
“Let us join together today to contemplate a part of our shared history, here in this sacred place, and pray for those who lost their lives during World War II. And as we reflect upon the lessons of the past, let us always recognize the importance of peace and goodwill. Thank you for returning to Saipan this year for this important annual peaceful ceremony in Marpi,” he said.
Chon Hee Lee, secretary of the Korean Association of Saipan, said 56 visitors from the University of Taegu in South Korea came to Saipan for the 32nd annual memorial service, along with three officials from the Memorial Service Association for the Deceased Compatriots Overseas.
Saipan Mayor Juan B. Tudela, in a speech read during the ceremony by his chief of administration Robert A. Guerrero, said “through the many years since the end of the battle, our community, both Korean and indigenous alike, have joined together to rebuild our island and our families.”
“It is this sense of unity from every ethnic background that has brought our community together and made our island what it is today,” he said.
After the playing of the Korean, U.S., and CNMI national anthems, the prayers, the offerings, the wreath-laying, and the delivery of speeches by dignitaries including Fitial, Chong Il Lee, Korean Association of Saipan president Gyung Gu Rhee, and visiting officials from the University of Taegu in Korea, came the lighting of incense.
Visitors to the Korean War Memorial Monument in Marpi would also read these words etched on one of the rocks by the Taegu Council/Girl Scouts of Korea: “In Saipan far away…The soul is sad and all alone. The younger generation of the nation wishes to pay respect and sympathy by using this rock representing a grave stone from the fatherland.”