Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) yesterday introduced legislation anew that authorizes a Tinian Annex for the American Memorial Park. Sablan introduced the legislation in the previous Congress and the House Natural Resources Committee recommended it for passage by the full House. Now Sablan hopes to get the bill back through the committee again quickly so there will more time for the House to act on the measure and send it to the Senate.
In his introductory remarks, Sablan explained the importance of establishing an extension of the American Memorial Park on Tinian. “Despite the critical role of Tinian and its airfields [in bringing an end to World War II], today there is no repository on the island for artifacts recovered from the vast military sites that were quickly abandoned at the end of the conflict. Nor is there any location at which residents and visitors to Tinian can obtain adequate information about the historically significant events that occurred there.
“The proposed Tinian Annex would fill this gap. The Annex would have both a curatorial and an interpretive function. And, as conceived, the Annex would accomplish these purposes by building on National Park Service resources and infrastructure already established to manage the American Memorial Park and largely supported by a trust fund.”
Sablan also recognized that the Department of Defense has said that it will seek additional funding to support a historical center on Tinian and that his bill contemplated the use of public lands provided by the local government to help share the costs of the Tinian Annex.
In the 112th Congress Sablan introduced his Tinian Annex bill on March 15, 2011. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, which held a hearing on May 17, 2012. Three weeks later, on June 7, the full Natural Resources Committee adopted Sablan's bill without amendment and ordered it favorably reported to the House of Representatives by unanimous consent. It was placed on the Union Calendar. With that history the bill has a chance to move out of Committee more quickly in this, the 113th, Congress.
In his statement on the bill Sablan emphasized the importance of prompt action. “For decades after World War II the historically significant areas of the island remained relatively undisturbed,” he explained. “The U.S. military leased two-thirds of Tinian and there were only occasional training exercises on these lands.
“But more recently, as U.S. forces have begun to be reconfigured and realigned in the Pacific region, the tempo of activity on Tinian has increased. Lands are being developed for firing ranges, encampments sites are being enlarged, and the airfields of the 1940s are being reconstructed as part of the military's ongoing readiness exercises.
“Although the people of the Northern Mariana Islands certainly support this increased activity and are proud to have a role in our nation's defense, we are also concerned that historically important artifacts that may be unearthed over the coming decades of stepped-up training will be discarded and lost without a nearby repository for their preservation.
“We are concerned, too, that because this military activity will at times necessarily limit physical access to large parts of the island. Tinian residents and visitors will need some alternative, virtual means of learning about the role of Tinian North Field, where the atomic bomb carrying B-29s, Enola Gay and Bock's Car, lifted off and about other sites of historic significance.”
Sablan quoted U.S. Marine Corps Chaplain Lt. David Jeltema, who was on Tinian last September accompanying a Marine expeditionary unit training there. Lt. Jeltema said the visiting Marines were in awe to be in such a historically significant location and viewed Tinian as “hallowed ground.” Tinian's North Field is one of those places he said he wished more people could see, “so that we can remember the tremendous power the military has and realize what an incredible responsibility it also has.”
Sablan said that Jeltema had highlighted one of the many important lessons of history that could be gained by any visitor to the Tinian Annex of the American Memorial Park.
Without the facility, however, Sablan expressed concern that “we may be losing a little bit of our nation's and our islands' history, day by day.”
The congressman asked the House to move quickly to approve the American Memorial Park Tinian Annex Act “for the benefit of the future and in honor of the past.” (PR)