Micronesia: a visit to the not-so-"lost" city of nan madol 

click to flip through (2) PHOTO CREDIT MITCHELL SMYTH/MERIDIAN WRITERS' GROUP - Walkers explore the ruins of Nan Madol, built on basalt columns for the dynasty that ruled the island until it was overthrown in the 16th century.

Page 2 of 3

Visitors are warned, too, not to disturb the stones on pain of death, and here again there's a story. It tells how in 1907, when the island was part of Germany's far-flung empire, the Prussian governor died of a mysterious ailment after starting to excavate a burial site.


Pohnpei is part of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in the western Pacific Ocean, just north of the equator.

For more information go to the FSM Visitors Board website at visit-fsm.org.

Micronesia: peaceful beach hides bloody WWII past

PELELIU, Micronesia — Cal, a U.S. Marines veteran from Minnesota, stands on the white sand of Orange Beach. "Last time I was here I was crouching and running for cover," he says. "I made it. So many of my buddies didn't. I was 20-years-old."

That was in 1944. It was the beginning of the U.S. attack on Peleliu, one of the bloodiest — and least known — battles of the Second World War.

Today on Orange Beach and Amber Beach and White Beach the sands are pure and soft and the palm fronds bend in the gentle trade winds. The only reminders that this was once hell on earth are the rusting hulks of a few U.S. landing craft, half buried in the sand but still visible at low tide.

Inland a little ways the jungle has grown thick and deep again over earth once burned white by phosphorous bombs. Water fills the craters gouged by the shells that pounded the tiny island from a fleet of warships offshore.

I stood with Cal on that once blood-soaked beach and, in my mind, heard the words of a young American corporal in a letter written to his sweetheart. "Say hello to Rev. Peterson," he wrote. "Tell him my faith is reasonably intact... He won't have to preach to me about hell any more. I've just been there."

The hell of 1944 is now a peaceful island of 600 people, mostly fisherfolk. It's also a time capsule of the war in the Pacific, a living history museum. At every turn you find reminders: rusting tanks, crashed fighter planes, grenades, mortars, bazookas, machine guns, bayonets, handguns, water canteens...

Ten thousand soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army held off U.S. Marines and Army here for 10 weeks, starting September 14, 1944, in an action that General William Rupertus had said would take "three days, maybe two."

But the Japanese fought almost literally to the last man. When it was all over the Americans had taken only 18 prisoners. The rest perished, many in the network of caves that the Americans sealed with explosions.

I stood in an unsealed cave, the entrance blackened by flamethrowers, and examined the contents: pill bottles and other medical supplies on a ledge, a few rusting helmets, a skeleton wearing remnants of a uniform, a machine-gun loaded with a belt of ammunition...

Readers also liked…

Latest in Travel

More by Mitchell Smyth

© 1994-2020 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation