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From the Eastern U.S. to the Western Pacific: Our Space-A Adventure

By Marc and Robin Stewart

My husband, LCDR Marcus “Marc” W. Stewart, Jr., USN (Ret.), and I thought about Space Available (better known as Space A) military travel but hadn’t a clue where or how to start. Military Living® proved instrumental in our self-education.


Marc is retired but I still worked full-time. It seemed our schedules would never sync enough to try for a Space A trip. That changed in November 2018 when my position was eliminated. Suddenly, time was on our side! We immediately began digging into learning as much as possible about Space A.


First, where to go? As an aviation artist, Marc is also a bit of a historian. He loves WWII, specifically the war in the Pacific theatre. Could we get to Guam? It was a Space A destination, so all we could do was try. Beyond Guam, we had aspirations to also visit Saipan and Tinian—also sites of major WWII Pacific battles. Those were not Space A options but if we made it to Guam, we could utilize commercial flights for the rest.


We knew of the destruction from Super Typhoon Yutu in October of 2018, but all indicators were that Guam was okay. Unfortunately, Saipan and Tinian were the worst hit. After checking many sources we were confident that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was open for business and happy to have tourists.


I studied one of Military Living’s Space A guidebooks with renewed interest. I followed the “working backward” steps outlined in the text. I started following select Air Mobility Command (AMC) passenger terminals on Facebook, keeping a watchful eye on flights perhaps to the point of mild obsession! Soon it became obvious that our best route to Guam was via Travis AFB in California and then to Joint Base (JB) Hickam on Oahu, Hawaii. At the time, Hickam showed fairly regular flights to Guam. Those were the dots we hoped to connect.


As directed in the publication, via email we signed up for Space A travel at all three terminals. We watched schedules for weeks. Finally, we realized we would need to pick a day and get to Travis to get the ball rolling. Living near Atlanta made a one-way flight from Atlanta to Sacramento a breeze. We left on a Monday night, January 21, 2019, hired Aloha Airporter shuttle service (recommended by other Space A-ers) to Travis where we had reservations at the Westwind Inn on base. Duke from Aloha was great, very friendly with an encyclopedic knowledge of Space A. We enjoyed chatting with him en route to the base.

We settled into the very nice accommodations at the Westwind and began keeping an eye on the Facebook slides posted by Travis. There were no flights to Hickam on Tuesday, Jan. 22, so we explored the base and visited the aviation museum on site there, the Travis Air Force Base Heritage Center. Their tagline is, “Gateway to the Pacific, Gateway to the World!” which made us feel a little closer to our target destination. The museum is worth seeing and with free admission, easy on the pocketbook.

Exploring Travis AFB
Exploring Travis AFB

Wednesday, January 23, was our next attempt at Hickam but, again, no flights. No worries! We rented a car on base and off we went to San Francisco. The drive and scenery were wonderful. We had one goal: walk across (and back) the Golden Gate Bridge, and we did it! Though famous for fog, we were blessed with a bright, clear day. The views were outstanding and the walk in the chilly January air was invigorating!

Posing before walking 3.4 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and back in San Francisco.
Posing before walking 3.4 miles across the Golden Gate Bridge and back in San Francisco.

Part of Space A travel is waiting on your desired flight. While you wait, don’t forget to make the most of the time you have where you are. The detour to San Francisco was enjoyable evidence of that.


The third day, Thursday, January 24, was the charm. A 0420 flight to Hickam was posted. We checked out of the Westwind Inn and visited the terminal to check in for that flight and be present for roll call. Returning the rental car was easy with the use of the key drop at the terminal.


There were 47F (firm) seats available so one gets pretty good at counting heads as the terminal fills with others trying for the same flight. Long story short, everyone who wanted to get on the flight made it! We were issued our boarding passes, checked our luggage, screened through security and moved to a secure holding area.


This sounds fast but bear in mind; we “lived” at the terminal that day. There was lots of down time and waiting. We arrived at 09:30 to mark ourselves present for the 13:20 roll call which got bumped to 14:50 for a 15:50 boarding time which also ran late.

A look at the Travis passenger terminal during a quiet moment
A look at the Travis passenger terminal during a quiet moment

The plane was still loading cargo so a couple of hours later we were placed on buses and driven out to the aircraft. There were delays during the process but we did get to watch these Air Force experts gingerly load all manner of cargo onto the massive C-5 aircraft.


Finally, it was our turn. A giant set of stairs unfolded from a GSE vehicle and rose to a fuselage hatch just aft of the port wing’s trailing edge. We debussed and lined up to climb the two stories to the entrance. When onboard, we took our seats which were airline style, facing aft. You’re flying backward but you can’t really tell. We had no windows.


Again, following tips from seasoned Space A travelers, we were prepared with our noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs so the jet engine noises were no problem. Even though we’d worn heavy coats, the cold was a surprise. We opted to sit near the doorway (more leg room for 6’1” Marc) but our lower extremities pretty much froze during the flight! A blanket, thicker socks/pants or all of these would’ve served us well.


Not to worry. We warmed up when we arrived on beautiful Oahu about 4 hours later nearing midnight island time. The terminal was closed. We scrambled to find a cab that had base access, having learned the hard way that at the time, Uber could only pick you up at the base gate. Most everyone on that flight had the same need for ground transportation. We waited an hour plus, finally splitting a cab with a solo female traveler who was also heading to the Navy Gateway Inns and Suites (NGIS) on the Pearl Harbor side.


Important lesson: the NGIS on Oahu has MANY buildings! If you’re cabbing there in the middle of the night, see if your cab can wait for you while you check in then take you to the building where your room is. That might save you from wheeling and carrying your bags up to a mile away!


Thankfully, our room was in the building across a small side street from the check-in desk. We were exhausted but that’s the price of progress.


After we found our lodging, we suddenly became aware that the room was stuffy. There was no air conditioning for this third floor room, only window louvers. When we cranked these slats open we found there was no need for AC. Regulated by the louvers, the cool island trade winds started blowing through like a wind tunnel, giving us all the air we needed for our stay.


After a good night’s sleep, the next morning, Friday, we took a cab back to the AMC and the adjacent on-site car rental to pick up a vehicle. We also turned a watchful eye to Hickam’s daily flight schedule. What a lesson in how things change! In spite of seeing weekly flights to Guam for weeks prior, there were none for the next few coming days.


We headed out to see the western side of Oahu, an area we’d not visited on prior leisure trips to Hawaii. In addition to exploring new parts of the island, we revisited some of our favorite spots. Number one on our list was the beach on Bellows AFB. Only military members are allowed there so it’s secluded and pristine, and most beautiful. To the northeast you can see Kaneohe and the Marine Corps Base and to the south Makapu’u Light. It’s difficult to capture the beauty of the beach at Bellows. Be sure to see it yourself!

Enjoying sun, sand and surf at beautiful Bellows Beach, Bellows AFB on Oahu
Enjoying sun, sand and surf at beautiful Bellows Beach, Bellows AFB on Oahu

After soaking up enough sun and fun, we opted for a return trip to Ford Island and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. There are still signs of the Japanese attack from 1941, with bomb fragments in the concrete and bullet holes in the hangar doors. We returned to our room in daylight and from the balcony could see Pearl Harbor and the modern U.S. Navy ships berthed there. Across the harbor you could see the U.S.S. Missouri moored at Ford Island and to its north the resting place of the U.S.S. Arizona. So much history!

Impressive views of Pearl Harbor from our NGIS building
Impressive views of Pearl Harbor from our NGIS building

The next day, we checked the AMC slides, again looking for regular but suddenly elusive flights to Andersen AFB in Guam. There were none, so we took off for northwestern Oahu to hike Kaena Point. The hike was a six mile journey. With its rugged, rocky shoreline and amazing surf, we could almost believe we were the only people on earth. Seeing whales in the ocean and plenty of Laysan albatrosses were highlights of this hike.

Sights from the nearly 6-mile hike on Oahu’s westernmost tip
Sights from the nearly 6-mile hike on Oahu’s westernmost tip

Once back to our car, we headed over to the Hawaiian Railway Society for one of their train rides. It was a little bit slow for our tastes but it was interesting and we’d never done it. Also there was ice cream at the halfway point which earned Marc the nickname, “Two Scoops Stewart.”

“Two Scoops Stewart” poses after an ice cream stop during the relaxing Hawaiian Railway ride up the coast of Western Oahu.
“Two Scoops Stewart” poses after an ice cream stop during the relaxing Hawaiian Railway ride up the coast of Western Oahu.

After three nights on Oahu waiting for the Guam Space A trip to materialize, Marc said to me, “I can’t believe we’re stuck in Hawaii.” We looked at each other and busted out laughing.


Soon, I checked the Hickam AMC Facebook slides again. There were three C-17 Globemaster IIs flying to Andersen AFB on next day’s schedule. Once again, we were on our way … or so we hoped!


On Sunday, 27 January, we repeated the same exercise as Travis: check out of our room, sign ourselves up for the flight, wait for roll call, and—only when we’re certain—turn in the keys for the rental car.


At 04:50, we mark ourselves present for the 20T (tentative) seats on a flight to Guam. That turned into 25F (firm), so things were looking good. Roll call was at 05:40.


An AMC works pretty much like a U.S. airport terminal. You check in for your flight, tag your bags, go through security, and wait to be called to bus out to your aircraft. We were even able to purchase two box lunches for the trip—highly recommend this! Ours contained juice, water, an apple, applesauce, a cold-cut sandwich, condiments, chips and a Rice Krispy treat. At just $5.60 per box, it was a deal. Pro Tip: Pay with cash. Exact change is welcome by your Pax Terminal Representative.


As we waited for our transportation (the bus ride to the aircraft), we started hearing rumors of a military exercise/show of force taking place on Guam. This was in response to some bluster from the North Koreans and Communist Chinese. I called the Andersen Air Force Gateway Inns and Suites to reserve our room, anticipating possible vacancy problems due to the exercise. We secured the room after we figured out what day to reserve—tricky when you arrive the day after you leave … or is it the day before?


By 08:40, we were on a spacious C-17! As we boarded the aircraft we saw the cargo we would be carrying: a Mobile Medical Hospital and their personnel, cots, and gear, again very impressive to see our military personnel at work.

Enjoying the spaciousness of the C-17, showing off our box lunch and Marc stretching his legs.


It became obvious who the experienced Space A pax were. We saw inflatable beds, yoga mats and blankets used during the flight. Stretching out on a flight like that was amazing but you learn fast why the pad and beds are a good idea! We saw others starting to jockey for floor space to sleep. We did the same and soon got comfortable. The flight was new to us and fun. It was so much better than the airline-style seats.


About 4,000 miles and 8 hours later, having crossed the International Date Line, Hafa Adai! We were in Guam at the Andersen Passenger Terminal.

Guam’s traditional greeting, “Hafa Adai” awaits our arrival at the Andersen AFB pax terminal
Guam’s traditional greeting, “Hafa Adai” awaits our arrival at the Andersen AFB pax terminal

Upon landing we could see equipment being used for the military exercise including B-52s, B-2s, and RQ-4s. After taxiing to the terminal, a USDA representative came on board the aircraft and dryly informed us that if we brought any unauthorized fruit into Guam—including our box lunch apple—we would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, including fine and/or imprisonment. Yikes!


Nevertheless, we made it, fatigued but excited! Another lesson learned was that my cellphone was now useless. No service. Thankfully, the terminal offered use of a phone.

There was a rental car office on site but no cars were available. We should’ve reserved in advance but hadn’t.


Again, we shared a cab with a fellow traveler, this time to the local international airport. There we had no difficulty renting a car but no GPS device was available. At the time, it was an add-on, not built into the vehicle. Still we were on our way. Even without GPS, we made it back to the Air base and got checked in.


Truth be told, upon checking into the NGIS on Guam on Monday, 29 January, we were exhausted. After several days of nonstop running around, hikes, thousands of miles and hours of travel, jet lag, time changes, and gaining a day, it’s funny how you can hit a wall and fatigue gets on top of you. We slept for many hours but woke ready to go the next day, Tuesday, 30 January.


A stop at the base Exchange was in order. There we bought a pay-as-you-go phone at the Exchange plus a card that gave us a certain number of minutes. It was just enough to give us Google maps which proved helpful as we explored.


Day one on Guam brought a fantastic sunrise, a portent to a wonderful day. Our first stop was to the South Pacific Memorial Peace Park. It was a self-guided indoor/outdoor experience of a solemn nature, with a focus on Japanese lives lost during the war.

Visiting the South Pacific Memorial Peace Park
Visiting the South Pacific Memorial Peace Park

Next stop was Two Lovers Point where Chamorro legend tells of two lovers immortalized by rock formations on the cliff. It is a beautiful overlook 400 feet above the Philippine Sea.


Our next stop was the main Marine Corps landing beach at Asan Park and Agat Beach. Many memorials at Asan and at Agat include a flag and Japanese gun display in front of another Japanese “pill box.”

Amazing views abound at the popular tourist stop, Two Lovers Point. That’s Robin in the red dress, top level, arms outstretched.
Amazing views abound at the popular tourist stop, Two Lovers Point. That’s Robin in the red dress, top level, arms outstretched.

On to the Japanese “Piti” guns located above Asan Bay. These guns were hard to find even with GPS. Lots of signage was missing or down, likely due to damage from Yutu. Our new phone guided us to the corner of a church property, almost in a family’s front yard. We got out of the car and walked along the edge of a jungle area and found a weathered, crumpled sign with the letters NPS painted on it. National Park Service?


We looked past the foliage and saw some steps. Written on the steps was “Piti Guns”. We took the steps up and eventually saw the first 5.5-inch coastal gun pointing out to the Asan horizon. We followed a path to the next gun which had fallen from its perch 20 feet into the jungle below. The third and last gun was the most photogenic and was positioned in a concrete perimeter. We spent some time here.

Marc really, really enjoyed exploring, finding and photographing the Piti Guns. Fun Fact: These guns were never fired in battle!


We proceeded to the War in the Pacific Museum presented by the National Park Service. It was an in-depth look at the Guam Campaign with displays, dioramas, and artifacts. A Japanese suicide-midget submarine was displayed out front. We also visited the U.S. Naval Base further down the coast and had lunch. We checked with the Navy Lodge there for availability if we needed it, but they were already anticipating no vacancies due to the exercise. Eventually, we would need to vacate our Air Force lodging to travel to our next island adventure.


The Pacific War Museum was open and another must-see. This locally owned museum had some good displays inside but it was a hands-on museum outside. We touched Japanese artillery, anti-aircraft guns, bombs, vehicles, and the tail section to a Japanese Aichi “Val” Dive Bomber. Marc was in history heaven! That night we visited the Chamorro Village Market featuring native cuisine and crafts—right up my (Robin’s) alley. Later, we took Marine Corps Drive back to our room at Andersen.

Enjoying local culture at the Chamorro market
Enjoying local culture at the Chamorro market

One unexpected but unfortunately common sight on Guam was that of the many stray dogs or “Boonie” dogs as they are known locally. As a volunteer with our local humane society, the sight of these creatures tugged at my heart. It’s been an issue for Guam for years as these strays number in the tens of thousands. Local animal rescues work to help remedy this.

One of Guam’s many stray dogs also known as “Boonie” dogs
One of Guam’s many stray dogs also known as “Boonie” dogs

The next day, stunning Tumon Bay offered our first glimpse of Japanese WWII beach defense positions, the first being on Gun Beach at the northern end of Tumon Beach. There sits a permanently silent, rusted out, concrete-mounted, 20cm Japanese artillery piece forever aimed in a crossfire position against the Marines that invaded the island in 1944. History buffs will get chills, like we did!


Another Japanese gun emplacement was rumored to be right in the middle of Tumon Beach but no one there knew where it was. We even inquired with the local expert inside one of the beachfront hotels to no avail. We decided to look for it in the logical place a defender would build it.


Using Marc’s calculations, there it was—a WWII Japanese pillbox right in the middle of the beach, a massive faux rock structure, built with concrete, and a machine gun slot in the front. Both sides were open with decorative steps and walkway on top, almost a civilian camouflage job.

It was hard to capture but this photo helps show how spectacularly beautiful the water is on Tumon Bay.


The tourists and locals must have thought it was a bathhouse or something. On the hill above the beach and the pillbox was a Chapel with a Japanese wedding taking place, a weird dichotomy. From there, we drove up to the Asan Overlook to get a 360° view of Guam and the invasion beach in particular. Very beautiful.


On January 31st, 2019, we awoke early for our commercial flight to Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. When we arrived at the A.B. Won Pat Airport on Guam, we returned our rental car and proceeded to check-in. We had to use our passports to board the flight. In the final moments of our 45-minute flight to Saipan, we passed over the old WWII B-29 base named North Field on Tinian Island, 14 miles south of our destination.


We left the airport and headed to our room at the Saipan Beach Hotel on the Philippine Sea. The island had been mauled by Yutu, and they were still in the process of recovering. A lot of the foliage was growing back, but some of the palms, signs, and roads were still down or damaged. Even so, the island was still a tropical paradise, the sea was beautiful beyond description, and the people were amazingly cordial and hospitable.

In spite of the Yutu-battered trees, the beauty of the Philippine Sea is impossible to hide.
In spite of the Yutu-battered trees, the beauty of the Philippine Sea is impossible to hide.

Arriving at the hotel, we noticed that the beach, and the sea with its blues and greens, was beautiful and pristine, like a desert island. After speaking to the Israeli owner for about 30 minutes, we headed out to explore.


Our first stop was the American Memorial Park of the National Park Service. Here we found a great museum filled with displays and artifacts of WWII in the Northern Mariana Islands. It was near the beach and had Japanese gun emplacements nearby for exploration. Almost every sign you read reminded the reader not to dig anywhere on the island for fear that you could unearth unexploded munitions that could still kill.

Guam and Saipan had these caution signs around the island. Marc explores a Japanese gun emplacement (pillbox).


We next just happened upon The Old Japanese Jail which was on our list of places to see. The people of Saipan, local historians, and actual witnesses, claim that Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, along with their aircraft, were captured in the Marshall Islands during their 1937 failed flight and transported to this jail. They say Earhart eventually died of dysentery and Noonan was executed by the Japanese.

Visiting the Old Japanese Jail, where Amelia Earhart was supposedly held
Visiting the Old Japanese Jail, where Amelia Earhart was supposedly held

As we continued down the beach highway we came across a Japanese machine gun bunker with the remnants of a Japanese tank sitting on top of it, a bizarre find just a few yards from the beach and a few feet from the busy highway.

Marc poses near a Japanese tank on a pillbox on Saipan
Marc poses near a Japanese tank on a pillbox on Saipan

After lunch, we drove to the Japanese Last Command Post located just below Suicide Cliff. This command post displayed numerous artillery and anti-aircraft pieces, along with Japanese Type 95 tanks, and Japanese shrines. As we climbed into the fortress we were amazed at the concrete artistry the Japanese used.

Exploring the Japanese Last Command Post
Exploring the Japanese Last Command Post

Just above this fortification we found Suicide Cliff. By telling the civilian population that the Americans were “monsters” and “devils,” the Japanese persuaded thousands of people to jump hundreds of feet to their deaths in the jungle below instead of surrender.


Another sad chapter in the war was Banzai Cliff which was the same Suicide Cliff situation but on a seaside palisade—a most beautiful spot, covered in shrines, but with a very sad history. The natural beauty of the spot and its dark history offered a study in striking contrasts. This was also the site of the last Japanese Banzai charge against the American forces during the Battle for Saipan.

The beautiful views belie the history of this place
The beautiful views belie the history of this place

Next down the road was the Saipan Sign, a six to eight foot tall, three dimensional set of letters spelling out “Saipan.” When we visited, it was painted blue with a lei decoration painted on it, and mounted on a concrete base. It proved to be very popular with the tourists.

A photo op at a tourist stop
A photo op at a tourist stop

Another popular albeit somewhat comical sight on Saipan roads and highways, were brand new, pastel colored, Ford Mustang convertibles. According to our hotel owner, Chinese youths come to Saipan on holiday with friends and want to live as Americans do with all the perceived trappings. An enterprising Saipan businessman introduced these automobiles as part of the American way of life. There were seemingly hundreds of these gaudy cars all over the island, with hundreds of selfie photos being taken of the kids driving, sitting in and on the cars, with their girlfriends, etc. It made us smile.


Bird Island was next on our list, an island bird sanctuary on the Philippine Sea. The island is a beautiful aviary refuge on the western side of Saipan. It wasn’t far from The Grotto, another popular destination on the island. We visited but no diving for us as it was closed at the time.

Enjoying views of Bird Island off the coast of Saipan
Enjoying views of Bird Island off the coast of Saipan

On the way back to our hotel, we passed one of the two half sunken Marine Corps M4 Sherman Tanks abandoned during the invasion. We could only see the turret sticking out of the water but knew we would be back after we had checked the tides.


The next day, 01 February, 2019, we awoke and headed to the airport for our Star Marianas Airline flight to Tinian in our 6-person Piper Cherokee. The flight took about 15 minutes and the ride was great and quite scenic. Upon landing at the Tinian International Airport, we walked to the car rental office to pick up our ride for the day.

Leaving on a small plane, bound for Tinian from Saipan
Leaving on a small plane, bound for Tinian from Saipan

Because of Yutu, the agent told us she only had one vehicle still operating. It was a white Nissan Quest minivan—aptly named! The van’s back hatch door window was missing, had plastic covering the hole, and the vehicle had about 200 mini-dents in it. She took out the sheet that showed current damage, indicated the missing window, and put a few dots that showed dents. Marc asked her if he could show some more of the damage and began dotting everywhere on the page. She laughed, and we were on our way.


Our post-Yutu car rental on Tinian looked rough but drove fine
Our post-Yutu car rental on Tinian looked rough but drove fine

There was almost no one on this island and half the people who were there seemed to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). We even ran across a cadre of Seabees who were repairing a memorial on the island, following damage from Yutu.


We drove down the main drag known by its WWII name as “Broadway.” We were headed to North Field on the northern end of the island. On the way, we saw several concrete structures built by the Japanese during their two and a half decades of ownership of Tinian. The roads were sand and rock, and we moved along. As we got closer to the airfield we started seeing signs for Runway Able, Runway Baker, and the Atomic Bomb Pits.

History lives here! Driving on Broadway and then Runway Able on Tinian


Hundreds of B-29 bombers were stationed on Tinian (as well as Saipan and Guam), but the most famous of these planes were the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the two aircraft that carried atomic bombs to Japan. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay took off on Runway Able headed to Hiroshima, and on August 9, 1945, Bockscar took off on Runway Baker headed to Nagasaki. The two atomic bomb pits were hydraulic systems built into the tarmac to lift these special weapons into the bomb bays of the two planes.


As we got closer to the field, we were suddenly at the eastern end of Runway Able. It was wide and massive and went forever. There were a few shrubs and trees on the edges but for the most part it seemed passable. We started driving down Able the same direction from which the Enola Gay took off. After driving the runway we came back to the midway cutover and took Baker back to the end from which we started.

We circled around north of the runways and there were the famed bomb pits. About 50 feet apart and covered in protective glass (Plexiglas?) casements, inside each was an array of photos and information on each bomb. The quiet stillness belied what had taken place there decades earlier. There was almost a spookiness to it but also a respectful solemnity. Hard to believe this overgrown, abandoned-feeling spot in the middle of the Western Pacific was the point of origin for the actions that would ultimately end World War II, and change the world.

What a privilege to see this spot! A shot of one of the two atomic bomb pits on Tinian
What a privilege to see this spot! A shot of one of the two atomic bomb pits on Tinian

We felt as though we were witnessing something everyone should see but few were privy to. It was a privilege and an honor.


We took some time here before heading to Chulu Beach on the west side of the airfield. There we visited the Marine Corps landing beach, complete with a large Japanese gun bunker. As we left the beach we came upon a Marine Corps LVT or Landing Vehicle Tracked that had been disabled during the landing. It was on display on a concrete pad and you could see where it had hit a mine. Marc climbed over the rusted relic thinking, “This is a true historical artifact that was absolutely here during the battle, and I am touching and admiring it.”

Marc explores a landing craft that was disabled during the Marine Corps invasion of Tinian, Robin rests at Chulu Beach in front of a Japanese gun emplacement.


As we made our way around the west side of the island, we came upon a more manicured area of homes and a town. We found a Japanese gun emplacement in the middle of a large, well-kept yard overlooking the Tinian Harbor. This was the harbor that the USS Indianapolis had pulled into and downloaded the atomic bombs for transfer to North Field. The Indianapolis was also the ship that was chronicled in the riveting tale told by the character Quint in the blockbuster movie Jaws, a mostly accurate account even if presented in such a work of fiction.

Inspecting a pillbox overlooking Tinian Harbor
Inspecting a pillbox overlooking Tinian Harbor

After refueling the “Dentmobile,” (there was one gas station on Tinian), we returned to the airport. As we departed, we again flew over North Field. As Saipan got closer, we were once more amazed at the vibrant colors of the surrounding water.


When we returned to the Saipan Airport, we toured some of the old Japanese buildings and air raid shelters on or adjacent to the airport property. This included Japanese tanks, anti-aircraft guns, bomb storage bunkers, and outdoor baths.

One of the Japanese rusting relics near the Saipan airport
One of the Japanese rusting relics near the Saipan airport

We headed back to our hotel to change and get to Susupe before low tide. As we reached the spot, we could see the turret of the closest Sherman jutting out from the sea. In Hawaii, we had purchased two cheap flotation devices in anticipation of swimming to both tanks. With strong winds blowing, we headed out to the first Sherman, and Marc found he could walk all the way.


Marc pulled my float behind him as I paddled to assist. I’m about one foot shorter than he is. When we reached our objective, we put our underwater camera to work. We took shots of us on the tank and below the increasing waves. Marc climbed onto the turret to have his picture taken, took a step, a wave slapped his leg, and he stepped into the rusted open assistant driver’s hatch.

Marc climbs atop one of Saipan’s famous sights: a submerged M4 Sherman tank
Marc climbs atop one of Saipan’s famous sights: a submerged M4 Sherman tank

Marc knew some shock and some pain as the waves ground his leg into the coral and rust inside the hole. When he pulled his leg out to view the damage, I was considerably upset. Wondering how deep the cuts were, Marc wrapped a shirt around his leg and shoved off for the second tank. My destination was different. I was frantic to get him to shore. Marc said, “I think I’ll be okay,” and I responded “Have you ever heard of sharks?” even as he was actively bleeding!


We immediately headed for the beach. One last joke on Marcus was watching the wind take his float out of his hands and flip it over and over, away from him, down the coast as he yelled “Take it!” We headed back to the hotel to assess the damage to Marc’s leg.

Next stop: Saipan Emergency Room! Guess what, folks? They take Tricare! The staff really did a great job on Marc’s leg. They were friendly and helpful. Marc says, “Even with a couple of shots, it was the best ER experience of my life.” He has a scar as a souvenir which he hopes will not fade.


Back to the hotel, we relaxed, ate, and watched Russian TV—one of the three available channels. We woke up the next morning, packed up, and headed to the airport for our flight back to Guam.

Marc leaves Saipan with an unexpected souvenir
Marc leaves Saipan with an unexpected souvenir. Tank: 1; Marc: 0

We started checking the AMC at Andersen for flights back to Hickam and saw one for the next morning. The exercise was evidently over so we had no trouble getting a room.

We decided to eat at the exchange, purchase a few items there, and to just relax for the rest of the evening. We got back to our NGIS room, assuming we were there at minimum overnight. I was video chatting our niece. Marc was re-wrapping his leg and napping when I suddenly shouted “They moved up our flight. It’s going tonight!”


Next, bedlam. We re-packed our stuff, fueled the rental car, stopped by the packed Commissary (it was Super Bowl Sunday) for a few rations and headed to the AMC Terminal. The car rental was next door to the terminal but we were not going to turn in our car until we knew we were on the flight.


We were interested in this particular C-17 flight because we could check all the way through to its final destination and their home base of Charleston AFB, SC. From there it would be a five hour, one-way rental car drive to our home just south of Atlanta, Georgia. We would again be “stuck” in Hawaii for 19 hours for crew rest. Evidently these guys couldn’t wait to get home.


On 3 February we made our flight back to Hickam, and as we boarded the aircraft noticed that, other than personal baggage, there was no cargo on this flight. We could sleep anywhere and had another eight hours to do it. We had purchased our mats and expected a sleepy flight back.


Ready for takeoff from Guam back to Hickam
Ready for takeoff from Guam back to Hickam

When we arrived back at Hickam, once again reliving Super Bowl Sunday, we rented a car for the day, checked into the Navy Lodge, and headed out on the town. We had 19 hours to kill, and we wanted to go back to Bellows, so we did. The weather was cooler, so we curled up on the beach and relaxed. Later we returned for dinner, then back to our room and more sleep.


The next day, we arrived back at the AMC, returned our rental car, and checked into our flight for which we’d already been manifested through to the end destination of Charleston, South Carolina.


Again, there was no cargo and plenty of room to move around. Ten hours to Charleston plus a tailwind in our favor made for a nice, tight flight. Some sleep, some music, some movies, some reading, and some word puzzle books, eventually landed us at Charleston AFB about nine hours later, rightfully fatigued but happy to get back to the East coast.

Fatigue gets to Robin
Fatigue gets to Robin

Upon departure from the aircraft, most of us came to realize that all rental cars were on the International Airport side of the airfield. We all shared Uber rides over to the rental car facility. We picked up our one-way rental and drove back to Georgia. We returned home weary but happy. We slept and returned the vehicle the next day. One last comical footnote: we found out that due to some clerical error, we were not listed as having rented the vehicle we were driving. Good thing we weren’t stopped!


Overall, it was a wonderful adventure that we would readily pursue again! We encourage all others to do the same. Blue skies!


7 THINGS WE LEARNED

  1. Don’t underestimate the fatigue factor. Time changes, travel and even something as simple as waiting can wear on you.

  2. Patience – be sure to pack it.

  3. Abandon your expectations. Example: From humid Georgia, we assumed air conditioning was mandatory but Hawaii’s trade winds proved otherwise!

  4. Be social! Don’t be afraid to share a cab or Uber with a fellow Space A-er. We did several times, and it was for the best.

  5. Enjoy where you are! Waiting is part of all this. Make the most of where you are. There’s usually something to see and do where ever you go while waiting for your Space A flight.

  6. Never forget this is a privilege, not a right. Try to be the good Category Sixer. Be prepared. Follow the rules. Extend courtesy and consideration to the AMC staff and crew.

  7. For heaven’s sake, TAKE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS, including underwater ones if possible. At the end of all this, all you have left are memories … and pictures.


PHOTOS & CAPTIONS – Photo credits by Marc and Robin Stewart.


A special thank you to the Stewarts for sharing their Space-A adventure with us. We hope you enjoyed their story, and that it inspires you to try your own Space-A adventure, too!


This article is shared with you by Militaryliving.com, your premier source for temporary Military Lodging, Military Space-A Air Travel, and Military RV Camping information.






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