Even after I performed my patriotic duty, visiting the NPS attractions, I continued to stumble over remnants of the war: a corroded Japanese cannon at Gun Beach in Tumon, tanks and a bunker at Saipan’s Last Command Post, a pillbox at Jeff’s Pirates Cove in southern Guam — and Jeff himself, who had met Shoichi Yokoi, the Japanese army sergeant who hid in the jungle for 28 years, on three occasions.
At the Suicide Cliff in Saipan, I peered through a screen of flowering cactus to see a wide green vista of palm-dotted hills color-blocked with the blue ocean. A scene of beauty today, the cliff was in July 1944 the staging ground of an unimaginable tragedy. After the Americans secured the island, hundreds of Japanese civilians and soldiers chose death over surrendering to the U.S. forces and dishonoring their emperor. (Similar jumps also occurred at nearby Banzai Cliff.)
In the twilight, I was only one of three visitors standing at the precipice of history. While the two Japanese girls took photos, their guide came over to me. He was friendly and chatty, a common trait among locals. When his guests were ready to go, he handed me his card. It advertised a Thai massage parlor near my hotel.
Apparently, you can forgive and have your back muscles kneaded.
She did not just say that to me, did she?
“Passport,” the airline agent repeated.
“I don’t have one,” I explained as I tried to check in for my flight from Guam to Saipan.
“We just want to make sure that you can get back,” she responded.
My fear had come true, but I was prepared: With a flourish, I produced a copy of my birth certificate. The document appeased the employee and every official thereafter who requested proof of citizenship. Because, friends, there is more than one way (the passport way) to prove your citizenship.
For the entire length of my trip, I’d interacted with only two immigration officials, one when I was leaving Saipan for Guam, the other when I was departing Guam for Honolulu. At both outposts, I reversed the roles, peppering the agents with questions.
I wanted to know why the agency requested proof of citizenship when I had never left U.S. soil. The officers explained to me that they’re trying to stop foreigners who don’t have the legal right to enter Guam or the States, such as travelers who might not need a visa for Guam but require one for the United States. Many foreign workers in Saipan also do not have authority to visit Guam, such as the kind man who’d rented me a car. The Filipino native has lived in Saipan for more than 10 years but has never visited the sister island to the south.
In hindsight, the birth certificate was unnecessary as well. I’d fallen under the spell of CBP’s suggestion: “It is recommended that travelers bring a government issued photo ID and copy of birth certificate.” I shouldn’t have doubted the power of my driver’s license to open fairy doors to borders.
“They could look you up,” said an immigration officer at the Guam airport, referring to the driver’s license. “It may take us another five minutes, but you could do it.”
Back in Honolulu, I handed the customs agent my declaration form. In the section that asked for my passport information, I’d scribbled down my driver’s license number. The ID had gotten me into Guam, and it would get me home.