Editor’s Note: Donald A. Farrell arrived in Guam in 1977 and taught at Inarajan Junior High and John F. Kennedy High School. In 1980, he became public relations officer for the Guam Legislature and from 1982 to 1986 was the chief of staff to Carl T.C. Gutierrez, who was then speaker of the legislature. In 1980 Farrell founded Micronesian Productions and began publishing books, which are translated into several languages besides English. He moved to Tinian in 1987.
Q: You have been a teacher in Guam, worked as a chief of staff to a leading politician, and have been an author and historian since the 1980s. Do your previous professions influence your writing, or are they part of a dim and distant past?
A: It was my experience in politics back in the early ‘80s that gave me the confidence to move forward with publishing the history of Guam, then the Northern Mariana Islands. It was not just working in the legislature, or at Adelup, it was all the backyard barbecue on the campaign circuit. Having worked for Kurt Moylan (R), Carl Gutierrez (D) and Tony Won Pat (D), I had the opportunity to chop chicken with the man’amko from Merizo to Yona in both republican and democrat back yards. At that time, many people still clearly remembered the prewar and war years. This helped bring the technical research to life, [people] sharing photographs and stories.
Q: You visit Guam periodically. The island has certainly developed as a hub of the Pacific. What do you consider the advantages and disadvantages of that?
A: When I arrived in Guam, Tumon Bay was undeveloped. There was virtually nothing along Marine Drive between GTIC and Andersen [Air Force Base], other than the village of Dededo and Ricky’s amusement park. Driving south from Piti was a dangerous one-lane road. There was no such that as a traffic jam.
Today, it is a misery to drive through Agana, morning and afternoon. I did enjoy the small-town atmosphere and the close relationships. However, since Guam has become a transportation hub, GCC, the University of Guam and MARC have become highly respected post-secondary schools and research centers. Excellent restaurants abound and international quality entertainment are available. For me, Guam is a place I need to visit for work (if I can call research and writing work), but I like my life on this quiet little island of Tinian.
Q: What are the attractions and challenges of life on Tinian?
A: The attraction is peace and quiet, tranquility. The island lifestyle I enjoyed at Inarajan and Merizo still exists here. We eat a healthy diet of fresh local vegetables, meat and fish. However, it is sometimes hard to find red kidney beans for ham hocks. Although we have the same internet capability as Guam, travel to Saipan, Guam and mainland become necessary – and it is expensive. One must have patience, tenacity and creativity. But the families are still tight and I enjoy watching how they come together in time of need.
Q: The Northern Mariana Islands has seen its share of economic disaster in recent years, to include Tinian. How is the island doing and what are its economic prospects for the future?
A: Tinian is doing fine, except for federal interference. In my opinion, the Covenant to Establish the Commonwealth has been violated several times, causing economic setbacks, particularly the federalization of labor and immigration. Yutu was far and away the worst typhoon I have lived through. However, Mother Nature should be back to normal after this dry season. Coronavirus has been a pain, although no cases have been reported on Tinian. We fear it being lifted too early, but also need to begin regenerating our economy so we can send the children back to school. This may be the most difficult decision facing the CNMI elected leadership.
Q: On April 28, the CNMI Fiscal Response Plan was unveiled. For fiscal 2020 it must cover a shortfall of $65 million and a projected shortfall next year of $85 million. The plan introduces taxes and includes furloughs in government of 600 staff, at a minimum.
A: This problem of annual deficits, particularly during election years, will require some tough decisions. The CNMI Legislature needs a computer program that will allow them to follow disbursements, and penalties for over-expenditures. The time is right for change, because the government has been forced to cut back employment. The trick is how to allocate funds where they need to go – public health, education and general welfare – without all the unnecessary frills, until the old bills are paid off. A little more sacrifice now, will pay dividends in the future.
Q: Tinian will be the site of the U.S. military’s divert airfield. Is this a positive from your perspective?
A: This will be an exceptional boon to the people of Tinian and the CNMI because of the deal that was worked out between the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the Air Force. To obtain the lease on the lands adjacent to the existing airport, the Air Force paid $21.9 million to the Ports Authority. These funds are to be used for Tinian airport development, or so we have been led to believe. These funds can and should be used to develop the instrument landing system, fuel storage facilities, fuel transfer equipment and whatever is necessary to make Tinian airport an international destination. Although the $350 million cost of construction will only be a flash-in-the-pan for Tinian economy, the possibility of international tourism will lead to hotel and golf course construction, meaning jobs for our youth. However, just like Guam, it will be significant population growth for Tinian. I may have to move to Aguiguan!
Q: Of all your books, which is your favorite and why?
A: Had you asked me that two years ago, I would say The Sacrifice of Guam: 1919-1943. It filled in the time between Americanization: 1898-1918 and Liberation—1944. Same editor, Phyllis Koontz and the same artist, Barbara Schwendiman, but time and experience allowed us to tackle some very difficult issues, in particular U.S. citizenship and the total lack of concern for what would happen to the local population when the Japanese invaded; the majority of the atrocities occurred in the weeks just before the Marines landed. Today, however, it would have to be Tinian and The Bomb. It is my first full-length book to be fully referenced from documents recovered at a variety of national archives. It is expected to go national in August.
Q: Have your books seen a lucrative return, or is that not the main motivation?
A: As Kurt Moylan once told me, “Don, there is no money in books.” He was right. It is a hobby that has managed to pay for itself, along with help from the Northern Marianas Humanities Council. I continue to do it, because no-one else seems interested and I believe it is important work.
And, I must admit, it makes me feel good when one is completed. I remember shortly after the first edition of Americanization was printed, I was walking from the Guam Legislature to the Flores Memorial Library when a stranger stopped me and said out of the blue, “Thank you, Mr. Farrell.”
Surprised, I asked why. He said, “That is my grandfather on the cover of the book and we had never seen that before.” That make all the late nights and weekends worthwhile.
Q: Are you currently working on a future book?
A: I am currently working on a story about Tinian during the war, tentatively titled Tinian at the Turning Point: Seabees and Superforts. It tells the story of the interservice cooperation necessary to build the bases for the B-29s on Tinian to win the war against Japan
Q: Historical research can be tedious; but fulfilling when you find hidden gems. What is the attraction to you – that you are good at it, that you enjoy research – and so it’s the journey that is satisfying?
A: The research is, as you say, tedious, involving many non-productive hours. But, for me, just sitting in the National Archives in D.C., or the Seabee Archives at Port Hueneme, or the Air Force Research Agency in Montgomery makes me feel good. And, if I keep digging, that magic file eventually pops up that answers the key question.
I look forward to finishing the Tinian story, so I can complete my work on the history of Naval Station Guam: 1898-1951. It will describe how the U.S. Navy reconstructed Guam from a sleepy Spanish outpost to the strategic military base it became.
Then I think I will try fiction. mbj