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Bruce M. Petty
Author & Traveler to Mariana Islands

Saipan Oral Histories of The Pacific War
Bruce spent five years living on Saipan, as part of the research for his book, Saipan: Oral Histories of The Pacific War. There are two parts to it. The first part is the oral histories of islanders, on whose real estate Japan and American did their fighting. These are people who were born and raised under the Japanese. Then, or course, the war came along. This is their story. The second part of the book is made up of the oral histories of US Military personnel who served in the PTO. He interviewed vets from every branch of the service except the U. S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Something else that has fascinated me since I started researching my first book is the fact that so many Nisei found themselves trapped in Japan on the eve of the war. Many of them were forced to serve in the Japanese military even though they were American citizens. I might also add that some went enthusiastically. I know of at least one who still lives in Japan and won't talk about his wartime experiences, not even to his wife. The ones who were forced to serve in the IJA or IJN were allowed to return to the US after the war was over unless they were found to have participated in wartime atrocities. I have made many attempts to try and locate some of these people, but without success.

Voices From The Pacific War: Bluejackets Remember
After his five year stint on Saipan, Bruce, and his wife and three children returned to their home in Fairfield, California for two years, where Bruce started researching and interviewing navy veterans of the Pacific War. This resulted in two volumes, the first being Voice From The Pacific War. It is the recollections of navy enlisted men Bluejackets who served in the Pacific during WWII. A second volume, tentatively titled, Academy Grads To Ninety-Day Wonders: Naval Officers Remember the Pacific War, is awaiting publication.

After Bruce completed his research in California, his wife, who is a medical doctor, accepted a position at a new rehabilitation hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. With interviews and research material in hand, Bruce dutifully followed his wife, along with their three children, to the oil-rich desert wastelands of Saudi Arabia, where he completed both books in spite of numerous terrorist attacks and car bombings close to their compound.

Two years later, the Petty family has moved to the more relaxing environs of New Zealand, where Bruce hopes to do another book about WWII in the Pacific, this one about the America's allies in the Pacific. He says he plans to access, not only extant document sources, but oral history collections, letters, and diaries of Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis, who served in their respective navies in the Pacific, and how they adapted to serving in U.S. fleet and task force formations. He also wants to interview U.S. Navy veterans who have recollections of their times in Australia and New Zealand, or served with members of allied navies in whatever capacity.

He says he interviewed one retired Australian naval officer, one Mackenzie Gregory, who was a young naval officer aboard HMAS Canberra, when it went down at Savo Island in August 1942. His story will appear in Bruce's upcoming volume on naval officers, who served in the Pacific and was the inspiration for his next book, which is still in the planning stages.

I suppose if there is some reason for my interest in WWII in the Pacific, it comes from the fact that my father and one uncle were in the navy during WWII, and both served in the Pacific. Then too, I served for two years aboard USS Yorktown CVS-10, during the Vietnam War, as an aviation ordenancman, and spent most of those two years in Pacific waters.

Although we are in the process of getting settled into our new home here in New Zealand, my thoughts often go back to the five years we spent on Saipan, and the many hours I spent hacking my way into the jungles of that island in search of physical evidence of the battle that tore that island apart sixty years ago. There are several old military dumpsites on the island, as well as the remains of old aircraft and other equipment left there from the war. Although it is less common these days, human skeletal remains can also be found. Probably hundreds of caves were sealed with explosives, and in some cases, bulldozers. I have come across at least two that I recall and would have loved to excavate them. However, that would require some organized effort and permission from the Office of Historic Preservation on the island.

Of course Tinian, which is close by, is another fascinating place to explore because of the old B-29 airstrips that are there, and the B-29 bone yard that lies untouched just off North Field. But I have to admit that it is not so much the artifacts of that war that fascinate me so much as are the human stories that are behind them. I'm not a collector myself, and don't encourage others to go to these islands with the idea in mind of stripping them of WWII artifacts. Whatever I found, I always reported to the Office of Historic Preservation. A new visitors center is now under construction at American Memorial Park on Saipan, and I am of the opinion that any WWII artifacts found on the islands should stay there. And for those who might be interested, June and July 2004 will mark the 60 th anniversary of the battles for Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. This will probably be the last big gathering of veterans of those island battles. I doubt that there will be a 70 th , so I plan to make every effort to be there, and encourage others to attend, as well.

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(l to r) HMAS Canberra veteran Mackenzie Gregory & Bruce Petty in Australia

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Saipan Oral Histories
of the Pacific War

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Saipan Photo Gallery

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Tinian Photo Gallery

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Voices of the Pacific War
Bluejackets Remember

 

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