Enola Gay – words that conjure up the end of the Pacific War, and ushered in a new era for mankind, the atomic era. No one’s life has been the same since. The name of that B-29 airplane also brings to mind the “permanent aircraft carrier” that was its home base – Tinian Island in the Northern Marianas.
Most of what was in the mid 1940s the biggest and busiest airport in the world, now lies hidden by the ever-encroaching jungle. Trees grow up through the runways, taxiways, and parking area “hardstands” where shiny, high-tech bombers and their crews once held sway. Big Japanese-era buildings with varying degrees of war damage are found all over this area of Tinian Island.
You don’t have to be a historian to feel the rush of emotion that sweeps over you, as you stand looking down at the preserved bomb loading pits showing evidence of the hydraulic lifts that pushed the Fat Man and Little Boy A-bombs into the holds of Bock’s Car and Enola Gay back in 1945.
After contemplating what arguably is the turning point in man’s history and the devastation wrought on military and civilians alike in Japan, you sort of wake from your reverie and realize that you are heading back to your opulent, multi-star hotel and casino on the other end of this island paradise. As you drive down Broadway, you pass the entrance to a completely different kind of airport, a modern international airport with runways to accept tourists from Asia and around the globe. You realize that while Tinian has a rich history and many historic sights to see, its real charm lies not in yesterday’s sorrowful reminders, but in today’s peaceful bliss.
All the roads on Tinian are named after streets in Manhattan, New York. It seems strange to drive up 5th Avenue to a Shinto Shrine, or to turn off 42nd street into a cow pasture. But it feels natural to turn off of Broadway into a modern hotel replete with shopping concourse and marble-lined casino. Crystal clear warm tropical waters and shining white sand beaches let you know you are not in NY, and the ever-swaying palms and friendly hand waves of the local population make you forget any notion of big cities. Modern Tinian is above all else, laid back. Kick off your shoes and commune with Neptune at the beach or wander the marked trails through an upland limestone forest. But don’t expect to see a lot of neon unless you’re standing near the casino. The rest of the island is basically undeveloped and waiting for you to come and explore it.
Tinian is one of 14 islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. It is located in the western Pacific and can be accessed by major air carriers from anywhere on planet Earth via direct flights from Japan, Korea, China, and Guam. Check it out on the web at www.marianas.com.