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By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Mar. 8) - Thirty-six World War II veterans who are on Saipan with their families were honored yesterday at American Memorial Park by Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) officials.

Speaking on behalf of his brothers in arms, retired Corporal Marion T. Spiller of the U.S. Marines Corps recounted his experiences with the 6th Defense Battalion.

He said he was a 50-caliber machine gun squad leader during the landings in the first wave of "Operation Detachment" in the Pacific islands including Iwo Jima where over 6,800 American troops perished.

Spiller, now in his early 80s was accompanied by his son, daughter and grandson.

He was with two other veterans, retired Private 1st Class Frank A. Rappl and retired Corporal William P. Tosline both with the Marines’ 4th Division.

Other veterans who arrived with them saw action in Vietnam -- John Collier, USMC; Robert Forbes, USMC; Kearney Glenn, Army; Richard Grover, Army/National Guard; Sam Lightbourn, USMC; Martha Kelly, Navy; William Lysle, USMC; Robert Martin, Navy; John Smith USMC; Arthur Uhlemeyer, USMC; Kenneth Zieska, Army; Clifford Brow, USMC; James Foreste, USMC; and Vietnam, Bosnia and Desert Storm veteran Daniel J. Hamill, Air Force.

Military Veterans Affairs Office executive officer Ruth Coleman led the ceremony at 9 a.m. yesterday with JROTC cadets from Saipan Southern High School participating.

Called "Return to the Marianas 2007," the visit was a chance for the CNMI to again thank the veterans, Coleman said.

"They have come back at a time when we are enjoying the freedoms that they fought for 63 years ago," Coleman said.

Acting Governor Timothy P. Villagomez said in his remarks that "it is difficult to find words to adequately describe the Battles of Saipan and Tinian and the war (that was seen by) our veterans."

Sarah Creachbaum, superintendent of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park on Guam and American Memorial Park on Saipan, delivered the welcoming remarks.

Villagomez, Veterans of Foreign Wars commander Mariano Fajardo and Coleman also recognized the Marianas Marine Scouts who attended the ceremony -- Santiago M. Babauta, Nicolas Muna, Francisco Palacios, Ignacio Sablan, Antonio C. Tenorio and Manuel S. Villagomez.

Coleman said 62 more veterans are scheduled to arrive today and will join Spiller’s group which will head to Tinian, Guam and Iwo Jima.

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