In June 15, 1944, a fleet of American ships dropped anchor in the Saipan Lagoon to liberate the island from the Japanese, and among them was the USS Miami.
Among those aboard was Chief Quartermaster Richard Neidrauer, who, for 13 months, did not leave his ship that was deployed to the Pacific during World War II.
Richard, who was from Buffalo, New York, was just recently married to his wife Mina at that time when the ship was commissioned and duty called. They met at a baseball park where he was working.
“We got married before the Miami was finished being built,” Mina said, “As soon as it was finished, he sailed away.”
Mina recalls how difficult it was back then when her husband had to serve the country during the war. At the time, Mina was finishing college.
“It was very difficult,” Mina said, “My sister saw me I was in class, holding on to one of his shirts, just holding it.”
Back then, mail just took way too long to arrive and keep in touch.
“Forever it seems,” Mina says, “And by the time he answered me, you know, it wasn’t very fast.”
“When he was in battle, he didn’t write,” she added.
Mina recalled how Richard’s ship would go to different places during the war wherever they needed it.
“I didn’t know where Saipan was until I looked it up on the map and he was fighting here,” Mina said, “It looked so small.”
Despite the hardships of being far apart, Mina and Richard were among the lucky ones.
In 1945, before the war was fully over, the USS Miami got damaged by a typhoon—giving a chance for the couple to reunite.
“Of course I was happy because they sent it back to the states,” Mina said.
She said it was such a relief to get a call from him that he was finally able to return to the states, safe.
“It was so good to know he was safe,” Mina said.
“When he was coming at the end of May, I called my boss and said I’m leaving, my husband’s coming home.”
After a year and a month apart, Mina met Richard in Chicago and as Richard’s ship needed repairs, he was stationed in New York City where the couple stayed until the end of the war.
“I’m very proud, very, very proud of him. He did his part to win the war,” Mina said.
Little did the couple know, Saipan’s role and their role to Saipan did not end with the war.
Their daughter, Jill Derickson, who became somewhat of a navigator herself after setting out for the Pacific on a sailboat, eventually made Saipan her home.
“Who knew she was going to live here?” Mina said.
In 1999, both of them visited the island with Richard finally setting foot on land.
“He never got off the ship the whole time he was here. So he never stepped on Saipan until he and I came to visit Jill,” Mina said.
The couple fell in love with the island. Since Richard’s passing in 2006, Mina has been visiting Saipan every winter.
While Richard has done his part for Saipan during the war, Mina has given something to the island as well.
She was able to bring back to the island some handkerchiefs that was a part of history.
“I met this man and when he heard I was going to Saipan, he said he was there during the war. He told me he was in the first landing and he was lucky to be alive and then he was stationed here. And he made friends with the Japanese prisoner who was an artist and had some colored pencils and wanted to draw but nothing to draw on,” Mina said.
The serviceman, Jack, then gave the Japanese prisoner some linen handkerchiefs to draw on.
The pieces of cloth where sceneries of Japan and other memories were drawn on now hang in the CNMI Museum.
For David “Uncle Dave” Sablan, who was 12 years old when the invasion happened, he is grateful to those who served the Americans during the war and played an important role in what the CNMI is today.
When the USS Miami and the rest of the American ships arrived on Saipan, Sablan and his family were hiding in a cave for three weeks with only sugar canes to get by.
“We were in a cave. And as we looked westward, the whole horizon was covered with battleships. Morning of the 15th, I said, here is when everything changes, our whole lives are going to change because those ships are not leaving until they accomplished their mission,” Sablan recalls.
“During the invasion of Saipan, we did not know what to think of the Americans,” he added.
Turns out, he said, the Americans were better at treating them than the Japanese at the time. And as the story goes, Saipan was liberated from the Japanese and became the Commonwealth that it is today.
“We are happy with the result of the invasion, and I’m happy that I’m still alive today. I’m happy to have met Mina whose husband was involved in saving the folks during the invasion here in Saipan. We want to thank him, God bless him and we want to thank Mina for being part of Saipan,” Sablan said.