When tragedy struck the fishing community of San Jose, Guam, in 2008, Maya Lin visited to comfort victims of the Navy bomb blast.
Lin, the iconic architect who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., donated her services to help rebuild the community’s precious plastic-covered diving boat landing pads.
The stations, which were a crucial part of search and rescue operations, were dismantled during the U.S. military buildup after the U.S. occupation of the former Japanese territory.
But the design of the landing pads still remains.
The same year he saw Lin’s famed memorial sculpture at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., Guam resident Ambrose E. Sutton dreamed up an idea.
A years-long, multimillion-dollar campaign has been underway since 2010 to restore the four barges that once lined a canal that was navigable from San Francisco to Guam.
Only one boat is still safe and standing, and it now occupies a private dock. The four-story-tall bridge forms the centerpiece of the Los Travailos Rangamati national monument and will eventually include bunk beds, hammocks and an outdoor shower.
The coral boats, as they’re called, have seen some parts of their lives flash before their eyes.
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Slightly more than 10 years ago, the bowsprit of one of the boats broke into shards after it was torn from its pier.
“It’s torn up — a lot,” said Aaron Butler, a U.S. Coast Guard fisheries biologist from the Philippines, who recently described the pieces of the disassembled ship while they sat on the dock at the monument.
The 200-foot-long barge, a Japanese-built shrimp trawler, will soon be transformed into replica pillows, tables and a blackboard for outdoor class work.
“I appreciate their efforts,” said Sutton, who eventually acquired all four barges. “It’s become something special.”
NOAA supported the maintenance of the barges and the growing memorial during its 30-year tenure in Guam, said Chris Lewis, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Islands fisheries management program.
“It’s important that we keep memorials open and accessible to everyone,” he said.
NOAA’s present contract with the monument is set to expire next year. But later this month, the monument committee will seek bids from contractors, said Walter Flores, chairman of the Boats of San Jose Monument Committee.
NOAA’s $272,000 annual support has allowed the entire monument cost to remain more or less the same since the start of the project, he said.
“NOAA has been very good to work with,” Flores said.
Originally published on Times of Northwest Florida.