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FEATURE: A Marine’s service. A son's quest.

Interview with  a tourist: A Battle of Saipan veteran’s son makes his own pilgrimage to the island in search of answers

IMAGINE you’re the son of a World War II veteran. Imagine also that your father, like many veterans of that generation, never spoke about his battle experience while you were growing up, but you know there’s a Purple Heart in a frame somewhere in the house. Imagine also that you, now an adult, regret never sitting your father down before he died to get the answers and insights you were always curious about. “What was it like?” “How did you feel?” “What can you tell me about the invasion, of being wounded, of seeing your comrades killed?” Yes, answers. Something. Anything to understand the man you call “father” a little better. Something to help you know what he saw and experienced as an 18-year old, far from home, to imagine what he felt fighting for his very life on an island in the Pacific. Yes, imagine.

​Lead Ranger Brooke Nevitt, special guest Patrick Hayes and author/tour guide Walt Goodridge at American Memorial Park’s Court of Honor. Inset: Jesse B. Hayes, Jr. enlistment photograph (1944).  Contributed photos​Lead Ranger Brooke Nevitt, special guest Patrick Hayes and author/tour guide Walt Goodridge at American Memorial Park’s Court of Honor. Inset: Jesse B. Hayes, Jr. enlistment photograph (1944). Contributed photos

That father was Jesse B. Hayes Jr. of Morgan City, Louisiana. He was 18 years old when he enlisted to do his duty for flag and country, and was part of the landing force that invaded Saipan’s beaches on June 15, 1944 in the bloody Battle of Saipan.

The son, Patrick Hayes, found me online, signed up for my all-day, WWII-Pilgrimage tour, and shared his reason for coming to Saipan. I asked a few questions of my own to help make the necessary arrangements for his tour.

“As many of his generation,” Patrick revealed, “[my father] spoke infrequently about his battle rigors. From what I know, There were three of them in a foxhole. They were hit by mortar fire. The other two Marines died. He suffered two broken legs, a broken arm, and was shredded with shrapnel which regularly came to the surface of his skin for years until he passed away. He always said ‘I was a grunt doing my job, serving my country, I have always been a Marine and will die a Marine.’ No fanfare just a simple proud Marine who raised three boys to be very successful men.”

“What are your goals for this pilgrimage?” I asked. “In other words, based on your expectations, what would you like to discover, see, hear, feel, learn, take away with you?”

“Well, the purpose of my trip is simply to honor my father, the Marine,” Patrick replied, “and to get some answers.”

Patrick’s questions had grown in number and intensity over the years: “Was it Yellow Beach or Red Beach on which Jesse landed?” “Was it a day or nighttime mortar attack that hit his foxhole?” “What did Saipan look like at the time?” Yes. Questions. Questions. Questions. So, on the morning of Jan. 12, 2018, 73 years and 7 months after the battle in which his father was wounded, Patrick Hayes and I rendezvoused just before 0900 at Aquarius Beach Tower in Chalan Kanoa, Saipan, and set off in search of answers.

To kick off the day’s quest and planned surprises, we stopped at American Memorial Park in Garapan. Lead Ranger Brooke Nevitt provided a wreath for Patrick to lay at the Court of Honor, and, in a small ceremony, we each said a few quick words to honor Jesse.

From there, Patrick and I walked on the landing beaches imagining just what his father Jesse B. Hayes Jr. saw on that fateful morning landing. We touched tanks, walked around bunkers, crawled inside cramped air raid shelters, viewed an amazing private collection of Battle of Saipan relics, explored a bomb magazine, and stood 1,551 feet in the sky at Saipan’s highest point for a 360-degree view, and saw the imposing terrain the American forces encountered, and what they saw when they finally captured Mount Tapochao after 10 days of fighting. We also explored Saipan’s natural beauty, enjoyed good conversation, met friendly people and basked in the island’s Guiness World Record-worthy warm weather.

Later in the day, at a stop at Marianas Visitors Authority, Kuen-Hee Han presented Patrick with a gift in honor of his father’s service.

When it was all done, we stopped at Subway back in Chalan Kanoa, and had our debriefing.

“What’s your impression of Saipan?” I asked.

“Well, first of all it’s the people. I found the people here very jovial, friendly, welcoming...and when I offered that I was here to see the area because my father served here, I was really impressed with the love that they shared for the activities and responsibilities that these young men faced in those days. I mean they really appreciate what they [the Marines] did. I was moved by that. It was very impressive.”

“Rest assured,” I told Patrick, “there’s an island out in the middle of the Western Pacific,” filled with people indigenous folks, Americans and foreign workers who — perhaps more so than those on the mainland — are intimately aware of the role his service 73 years and six months ago played in the lives of their grandparents, parents, as well as how it affects their own daily lives and that of their children. The honor you seek for Jesse B. Hayes Jr. and the men who shared his foxhole has existed here on this island for many years since that day. As you said, you experienced it yourself.”

Patrick took a few books as mementos of his time here, and as the hour of sunset was approaching, we returned to Aquarius and said our goodbyes.

Was it a success? Was Patrick’s day of searching Saipan fruitful? The day after the tour, I received the following email: “Hi Walt, thank You for the impressive effort you put forth on my behalf yesterday on the tour. You certainly planned the tour around my obvious desires and fulfilled all of the curiosity and then some that I had when I arrived on the island of Saipan as a son of a critically wounded Marine from the 2nd Marine Division. I leave the island enriched with historical data that can live on for generations in my family. Thanks Again! Patrick Hayes.”

Through my website and tours, I encourage visitors to this island to “discover the history and the mystery” of Saipan. The son’s quest is far from over, but Patrick Hayes of Zephyrhills, Florida, extends his appreciation to the people of Saipan for helping him fulfill this first leg of a long-overdue journey to do just that! Thank you, Saipan!

Online readers may leave a comment for Patrick and/or his father, Jesse, in the comments section below.

Hear what else Patrick had to say about his father, the Battle of Saipan and his visit to the CNMI in our post-tour interview, and see videos of his Memorial Park visit at http://www.discoversaipan.com/veterans/jessebhayesjr.

Walt F.J. Goodridge is a part-time tour guide and author of “Saipan Now: A Photo Adventure,” and “There’s Something About Saipan” available at Bestseller Books, JKPL Public Library and Islander Mini Mart/Car Rental in San Antonio. Check out another WWII-themed publication: “From Bugle Boy to Battleship: a Battle of Saipan and Guam Veteran’s Memoir by Lloyd Glick as told to Walt Goodridge” available on Amazon.