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Dave Sablan Sr. recounts his WWII experience

“DURING World War II, children performed ‘hard labor’ to construct an emergency airfield for Japanese forces,” retired business executive Dave M. Sablan Sr. said in his remarks on Saturday, during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian at American Memorial Park.

Sablan, whose war story was featured in the book “We Drank Our Tears,” said prior to the war, Saipan was inhabited by Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans and Chamorros and Carolinians.

Dave Sablan Sr. speaks during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battles of Saipan and Tinian, Saturday, at American Memorial Park. Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

“The Japanese were dominant. They possessed power and governed Saipan,” he added.

Local children were provided education but up to fifth grade only. They learned reading and math in the morning, and farming in the afternoon. Fourth and fifth graders performed “hard labor,” Sablan added.

Sablan, who was 12 years old at the time, was among the children who worked in an area that stretched from Oleai to Susupe.

“We worked for close to a year. We even had our graduation ceremony at the completed airstrip in mid-April 1944,” he added.

He also remembered being evicted from their own home in Garapan to accommodate Japanese soldiers.

On June 10, 1944, he and his brother Mariano set out to beg for food from their Japanese military friends.

But suddenly, “bombs were exploding all over the island. We immediately rushed back to the ranch and joined our family who were already in a man-made shelter. We saw dozens of airplanes some of which did not bear the insignia of the ‘Rising Sun.’ The American planes would bomb Saipan and Tinian during daytime…. The bombardment went on for several days,” Sablan said.

His family decided to seek refuge in a cave southwest of Mt. Tapochao. He said the families of Joaquin Crisostomo and Joaquin Guerrero had also sought shelter in the same cave.

“The American planes continued bombing and the island was on fire for days,” he added.

While in the cave, they had nothing to drink or eat. Three to four men had to go down the hill to get sugar cane for their meal.

One day, “bombs started exploding very close to the entrance of the cave. The personnel on the battleships evidently saw people moving in the area so they started shooting very close to the cave.”

Eventually, three U.S. Marines showed up outside the cave. One of them, John Sullivan, yelled in Japanese.

Sablan said his father, Elias, came out with his hands up.

When Sullivan learned who he was, the Marine told Elias Sablan that they had been ordered to look for him as they needed an interpreter in interrogating the captured Japanese soldiers.

Sablan was in near tears when he recounted how they were rescued by the Marines and brought to a transit camp in Oleai.

“We saw more American military personnel, and they were very friendly to us. They gave us water to drink and chewing gum,” Sablan said.

A few days later they were moved to Camp Susupe where they reunited with their other relatives.

Sablan worked for his father, who was named chief of the insular constabulary. The young Sablan was assigned to the supply department.

At first, he worked for free while learning English. Later, he was paid 25 cents a day.

“This was the turning point of our lives,” Sablan said, referring to the U.S. administration of the islands.

He thanked each and every member of the U.S. armed forces, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live.