Sunday, March 23, 2008

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Who is Master Gunnery Sgt. Gust Spart?

The answer is part of this naval base’s 120-year history, which could be put on regular display to the Japanese public for the first time.

The U.S. Navy and Sasebo City have collaborated on a proposed walking tour of historic sites including a memorial to Spart, a Marine who was wounded at Iwo Jima and died en route to Sasebo during World War II.

A trial tour was planned for the weekend by the Sasebo Convention and Visitors Association. Depending on its success, the tour could become a weekly offering and could put Sasebo Naval Base on the list of such local attractions as 99-islands and Huis Ten Bosch.

“We built the walking tour around the six historical monuments we put up” in 2007, said base spokesman Chuck Howard, who proposed the walking tour along with local historian Phil Eakins.

The monuments include the Fleet Landing, the Harbor View Pond, India Basin and Japanese-built brick structures.

The tours give the Japanese a chance to experience the history they share with the U.S. Navy, Howard said.

“This has been a navy base for almost 120 years,” he said. “There is a lot of legacy that has been left behind from the Imperial Navy days.”

For its historic preservation efforts, the base was the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Award winner for cultural resources management in 2007, Howard said.

The visitors association was approached by base officials, who wanted to start a base tour, in December, Sasebo Convention and Visitors Association official Yukako Tomita said.

At the time, the association was planning a tour with a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force retiree association that will visit sites associated with the Imperial Japanese Navy.

“We were just planning a tour, so we decided to combine them,” Tomita said.

The city’s two-day tour will visit the historical monuments on the Navy base and the JMSDF base as well as 99-islands and other tourist sites in the city, she said.

Twenty people will take part in this weekend’s tour, including 13 from the general public and seven Tokyo and Fukuoka journalists and travel agents who were invited, Tomita said.

The 13 public guests paid 19,000 yen for adults or 13,000 yen for children to join the tour, she said.

After the trial tour this weekend, the visitors association will make any necessary changes based on feedback from the participants, Tomita said.

Tomita said the association hopes to begin a regular monthly tour this year.

“This is the first time, and we have high expectations,” she said.

Historic sites on the walking tour

Port Operations No. 1 Building

The former Imperial Navy headquarters building was built in 1916. A longstanding rumor was that orders to attack Pearl Harbor came from its offices, though base spokesman Chuck Howard and historian Phil Eakins have been unable to confirm that. In 1999, fire damaged the building. Today, the headquarters building houses command offices at Sasebo. To its side sits a garden, groomed since 1935. Nearby, a small white building contains a portrait of Emperor Hirohito.

Harborview Pond

The garden behind the current Harborview restaurant was first planted in 1920 by the Imperial Navy. Ten years later, the Japanese navy installed a bronze pagoda near the garden and the nearby pond. The garden is the oldest on base.

Brick buildings

The first in this series of warehouses was built in 1888, and later buildings were added in 1923 and 1924. The buildings originally were part of the Japanese navy’s supply depot. A $15 million renovation project is under way to restore the buildings.

India Basin

When built in 1916, it was the largest mooring basin in the Far East. It could hold nine 10,000-ton vessels. The marker will be at a gate behind the McDonald’s restaurant.

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