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By Liberby Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 27) –Enola Gay pilot Gen. Paul W. Tibbets and his crew have canceled their plan to attend peace ceremonies on Tinian next month that celebrate the 60th year anniversary of the end of World War II.

This comes as the Tinian local government is finalizing plans to bring in next month some survivors of the atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a peace ceremony called Hibakusha Experience.

The event is called Hibakusha Experience, to be held at the American Memorial Park on July 31 and at the Multi-Purpose Hall in Susupe on Aug. 2 on Saipan.

Tibbets piloted the Enola Gay plane, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

Earlier reports said that Tibbets and his crewmen - navigator Theodore Van Kirk and weaponeer Morris Jeppson - who came to Saipan and Tinian in June 2004 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, had wanted to return to Tinian to take part in this year's celebration.

On Friday, the 10th Tinian Municipal Council confirmed that the Enola Gay crew would not be able to come mainly for "health reasons."

"All of the crew of the Enola Gay would not be able to come. Actually Gen. Tibbets was very willing to come. It's just that his doctors stopped his visit. I believe Mr. Jeppson, who is in his 80s, was also stopped by his doctor because of his condition," said council executive director James M. Mendiola in an interview with the Saipan Tribune.

A forwarded e-mail, which originally came from Tibbets' grandson, Paul W. Tibbets IV, also confirmed the team's decision not to come to Tinian.

"My grandfather, his business manager, and the surviving Enola Gay crew and family members have informed me they all respectfully decline the invitation to attend the 60th anniversary activities," a portion of the younger Tibbets' e-mail said.

Tibbets IV is a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force.

Independent sources could not confirm speculations that Tibbets and the other Enola Gay crew are staying away due to the presence of the atomic bombing survivors. There have been some criticisms that the presence of the survivors and the exhibit could embarrass Tibbets and the other veterans.

Mendiola admitted receiving a lot of criticisms for their plan to bring in the bombing victims but he explained that it was never the intention of the council "to stir up bad feelings among the U.S. veterans."

"We've come into a lot of criticisms this year because we're featuring the Japanese Hibakusha and not the survivors, for example, of the Bataan Death March, comfort women, etc. We went to a lot of controversies. But we say that these people are here to share their experiences so that people can realize what happened. These are the only victims of the bomb ever in the history of the world," he said.

Former Tinian senator David Cing said that he had begun to hold talks with Hirsohima and Nagsaki people since 1985 but he was allegedly dissuaded by the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA).

"I was the first elected official to get in touch with mayors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima but the OIA said it should be put on hold," he said.

Cing said the reservation "was coming from the U.S. side, not Japanese."

"Probably, the U.S. doesn't want to bring this feeling again. But take a look at the statistics, there are more Japanese tourists coming to Pearl Harbor. So I said, why not bring in the survivors. That was my whole point. So I support the coming of [Hibakusha] this year," he said.

OIA field representative Jeff Schorr said there was no OIA yet in 1985 and he was obviously not part of it back then. Right now, he said, his office has no involvement in Tinian's preparation for its peace memorial event this year.

Two Hibakusha from Hiroshima-85-year-old Keijiro Matsushima and 75-year-old Fumiaki Kajiya-and one from Nagasaki-85-year old Kiyoshi Nishida-have confirmed their attendance at the Tinian peace ceremonies. They are expected to arrive on July 29.

During their stay, the three survivors would tell of the atomic bombing and its aftermath in at least four separate occasions.

The event is called Hibakusha Experience, which will be held at the American Memorial Park on July 31 and at the Multi-Purpose Hall in Susupe on Aug. 2 on Saipan. The group will also be at the Rota Public Library on Aug. 4 and finally on Tinian on Aug. 6.The Hibakusha Experience also includes an exhibit, which displays photos showing the impact of the atomic bomb.

Mendiola said this is a product of a three-year negotiation with both Nagasaki and Hiroshima people. He said the Tinian mayor, Francisco M. Borja, led a delegation to both cities in Japan.

Following that trip, the Tinian government has held peace ceremonies in the last three years.

The Tinian mayor also became a member of the Mayors for Peace, which is headed by the Hiroshima city mayor.

"We just want to show a kind of solidarity with Hirsohima and Nagasaki. Their main message, which we really believe, is the idea that no longer would there be any city and people on the face of the earth that should be subjected to an atomic bombing," he said.

"Obviously, the war and the emperor's visit, all of that has a lot of emotions tied into it. We really want to keep away from any debate. We want to try to make sure that the peace aspect has publicity this year," he said.

Mendiola said that people associated with some veterans groups had warned against the implication of the Hibakusha's visit.

"There is a problem about people feeling that may be the exhibit posters would stir up bad feelings among the veterans, that veterans don't want to be confronted [with it] but that kind of idea is unfounded," he said, noting that all the poster venues are 'completely separate from the veterans' venue.

"If you want to look at the pictures, you have to actually enter a room. It's not blatantly displayed," he said.

The council is in-charge of the Hibakusha visit while the veterans' trip is being handled by the Mayor's Office.

Mendiola said, though, that the council and the mayor's office "are not quarreling over the issue."

Mayor Borja was unreachable for comments as of press time.

Mendiola also dismissed criticisms that he and his family, including the Mayor's Office' Phillip Mendiola-Long, who handles the veterans' group, are leaning toward the Japanese side rather than the United States.

Mendiola admitted that he is born to a Japanese mother, a Miyahara family, but he is also half Chamorro and was educated in the United States.

Mendiola is the oldest child of former Tinian Mayor James Mendiola Sr., and grandson of the first Tinian mayor (Commonwealth) Felipe Mendiola.

His grandfather, he said, fought during the war on the Japanese side. "He was on Rota. He worked for the Japanese police. He was sent to Guam," he said.

He said he is aware that while his grandfather was "a kind of a hero" in the CNMI, "on Guam he was looked at as a villain, which is very sad."

"A lot of Chamorros on Guam thought that he had something to do with the death of a priest. My grandpa was there to help the Japanese get information from the people," he said.

A memoir written about his grandfather by a Japanese writer, he said, related that the elder Mendiola "was trying to save people by making sure that they would not get killed."

The Mendiolas originally came from Guam. The elder Mendiola settled on Tinian after World War II.

Mendiola, who is turning 30, recalls that his grandfather would tell him war stories.

"I remember conversations with him from a very young age. He used to tell me war stories. He used to tell us very clearly how awful war is, how splitting and divisive it is," he said.

Mendiola said that people who are aware of his background do question his intention in bringing the Hibakusha to Tinian this year.

He said his critics also call him "a kid who does not know anything."

"The truth is I have no ill feelings. I have to explain this through an e-mail. I get a lot of e-mails complaining. They called me a kid that does not know anything, that my Japanese background is changing my perspective. I said I grew up on Tinian. At 10, I moved to the U.S. I lived in the U.S. and received an American education. My opinion now is a product of that American education," he said.

Mendiola said he majored in economics and Japanese language at Portland University in Oregon.

"You know, my Japanese background, I never look at it as a curse or anything like that. My Japanese background is something I'm proud of. I was given the opportunity to have a Chamorro father and a Japanese mother to form a bridge for our family, Mendiola family, between Japanese and Chamorro," he said.

"I realize completely that a lot of nations, even a lot of Chamorros, still harbor ill feelings for what happened during the war. These people have every single right to have those feelings but what I'm saying is that there has to be a point where people talk about things and move forward," he said.

Meantime, Mendiola said that one of the Hibakusha, Matsushima, was actually excited at hearing that he would have a chance to see Tibbets on Tinian this year.

"His personal goal was to shake the hands of Mr. Tibbets. No exchange of words. No taking of picture. Just to show that its time for the world to move on," he said.

Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino, which is a member of the preparation committee for Tinian's peace ceremonies in August, said it is reserving 150 rooms for the veterans.

"We're asked to provide hotel and meal accommodation," said TDHC executive Alfred Yu.

TDHC general manager Tom Liu said that based on the initial talk, the hotel would reserve 150 rooms.

June 27, 2005

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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