Kwajalein Atoll is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Comprising 97 islands and islets, it has a land area of 6.33 square miles and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, with an area of 839 square miles. Some 13,500 Marshallese citizens live on the atoll, most of them on Ebeye Island.
The southernmost and largest island in the atoll is Kwajalein Island, with a population of about 1,000, mostly Americans with a small number of Marshall Islanders and other nationalities, all of whom require express permission from the U.S. Army to live there. Kwajalein Island houses the mission control center for the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Test Site, commonly referred to as the Reagan Test Site, which primarily functions as a test facility for U.S. missile defense and space research programs.
Roi-Namur has several radar installations and a small residential community of unaccompanied U.S. personnel who deal with missions support and radar tracking. Japanese bunkers and buildings from World War II are in good condition and preserved. Roi and Namur were originally separate islets that were joined by a causeway built predominately by Korean conscripted laborers working under the Japanese military.
This brief introduction to Kwajalein is simply meant to help focus readers who may not be familiar with this Marshalls Islands atoll, located in the north-central Pacific about 1,500 miles from Saipan, which is always directly related to Amelia Earhart, at least in this blog.
Now to the point: The Jan. 7, 2003 edition of The Kwajalein Hourglass, the weekly newsletter at the U.S. Army facility at Kwajalein, ran an article, “Did Amelia Earhart land on Kwajalein Atoll?” by Eugene C. Sims, who was stationed there as a GI in 1945 and returned to work as a civilian from 1964 to ’71, and from 1983 to ’86.
Sims recalled his youth in Oakland, Calif., during the 1930s, and how he grew to idolize Earhart after seeing her at the local airport. When Fred Goerner’s book was published in 1966, Sims was working on Kwajalein; after reading it, he was inspired to pursue his own Earhart investigation. “I was surprised to hear them speak so openly about the white-skinned lady and man that came to Kwajalein in 1937,” Sims wrote.
An unidentified Marshallese man told Sims that as a 12-year-old in 1937, “a large Japanese ship came into the harbor” and he saw “a white lady and man on the deck,” a rare sight in those times. Sims wrote that because Goerner had been denied access to Kwajalein in the early 1960s, “Goerner was never to learn [the] concrete proof that Amelia was on Kwajalein and Roi-Namur in 1937.”
In a future post, we’ll look at the previously unknown eyewitnesses Sims and others presented in the pages of The Kwajalein Hourglass, but today is for something different. As I’ve done before when it’s appropriate, I remind readers that I’m presenting this information for your own discernment, and am neither endorsing it or dismissing it.
In 1972 Sims was transferred to Agana, Guam, to set up a new business for Global Associates. He and his wife Betty remained on Guam for over eight years, and during that time Sims continued to learn more about the fate of Amelia Earhart. As an engineer and manager of the new business, he traveled extensively throughout Micronesia, and made weekly trips to Saipan, where he made friends with many of the island’s indigenous families. Some of them had lived on Saipan in the 1930s, and the subject of Earhart was discussed many times.
I contacted Sims in 2006 after his work in the Hourglass came to my attention, and he was happy to talk and share his findings. He also sent me a copy of the Winter 2002 Kwajaletter, a sister publication of the Hourglass, which featured a fascinating story, “The Ghost of Amelia Earhart,” that Sims wrote from his home in Coos Bay, Oregon. Following are the salient paragraphs of Sims‘ article, along with the unique photo he shot on Saipan in 1973:
I found that few people wished to discuss the 1937 event of her disappearance or of her being brought to Saipan by the Japanese. My wife and I were shown various places on Saipan where Amelia allegedly had been seen. One man took me to a spot in the old cemetery where he claimed she was buried but the most interesting place we visited was the old Garapan prison used by the Japanese in the 1930s.
After the American forces recaptured Saipan in mid-1944, the old stone and steel-framed prison building was abandoned and left to decay. Cutting through the dense overgrown jungle and then stumbling over giant roots of tangatanga to gain access to the remnants of the old jail-like structure was a real effort. Our guide showed us the jail cells where Amelia and Fred were supposedly held captive. I took many pictures.
Several days later in Guam and after the photos had been developed, I was shocked to see one print of Amelia’s cell. In the rusted metal frame of the cell door stood a white ghostly figure! Was this some sort of photo misprint? I had the picture reprinted and again the ghostly outline was in evidence. I considered the ghost to be a message from Amelia and put my collection of Amelia in my locked files. What good would it do to show the picture?
At first, I reasoned the information might make a whale of a story, but then I realized maybe the data would just become more controversy about the fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. At this time I have no intention of writing anything more on the subject. My files are closed, but I still look at that ghostly picture . . . and wonder. (End of Sims story.)
Eugene C. Sims passed away in November 2013 at 86.
Mary Adams Patterson, of Bangor, Maine, was the only female veteran to provide Earhart-related information to Thomas E. Devine, after he closed his classic 1987 book, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, with a plea to all Saipan veterans whose experiences during the summer of 1944 supported his own, and indicated the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in the years prior to the war.
Patterson was Lt. (Junior Grade) Mary Adams, Navy Nurse Corps, assigned to the military hospital on Saipan in 1946, where she met Sister Maria Angelica Salaberria, M.M.B, known to all as Sister Angelica, a Spanish-born, multilingual Catholic nun who taught Japanese and English on Saipan from 1934 to 1949.
Sister Angelica’s account is one of the most gruesome ever reported in describing the deaths of the American fliers on Saipan. No other Saipanese or GI veterans of the Saipan invasion reported details as ghastly as these. This is not to endorse or dismiss Patterson’s account via Sister Angelica, but is presented simply for your information and entertainment, if reading such a horrific account of the wretched deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan can be considered entertaining. Following is Mary Patterson’s letter to Devine of March 14, 1993.
I am so sorry you worked so hard to find me. I moved to my daughter’s house for the winter. I am definitely going to try to get a copy of your book.
A Chamorro woman, whose name I have forgotten, told me a little bit about a white man and woman brought to Saipan by the Japanese. I passed what information given me to Sister Angelica, a Spanish missionary nun from the Basque Country. She added to it by saying that the Japanese jail in Chalan Kanoa village was only a short distance from the convent. A very limited number of Chamorros knew about the white prisoners.
This information was whispered to her as everyone feared the Japanese guards. A few days later the six Spanish nuns heard blood-curdling screams coming from the jail. They paced the floor and prayed. They were powerless to intervene. The screams ceased at 3 P.M. Tension ran high.
The next day a Japanese-trusted Chamorro man whispered to Sister Angelica, in promised secrecy, that the bodies were removed in the darkest part of the night and buried. The white people were questioned as spies and were tortured to death by first cutting the fingers off at the first joint, the second, third, at the wrist and so on. The feet were used also.
After time passed, Sister Angelica told me that the white man and woman were Americans and became known as Amelia Earhart and Noonan [sic]. Sister Angelica told me that she was informed secretly by her trusted Chamorro friend, that a plane was brought ashore at Tanapag harbor with the two white prisoners. The plane was taken to a guarded building with no windows a short distance away. The building was strictly secured and Japanese soldiers were there twenty-four hours a day. About two weeks later, in the middle of the night, the plane was put aboard a Japanese ship.
I have forgotten where the Navy engineering officers were excavating to construct the building as to the exact site but was not near Chalan Kanoa. It seems vaguely that it was near Tanapag. They told Captain Siess (MC) USN over drinks at the officers club at the hospital about the bodies. I was sitting at the same table. It was probably October 1945.
Capt. Siess told them that they did the right thing in respectfully burying the two unknown skeletons near the building in an unmarked grave. No autopsies were necessary he said. No missing persons were reported. There were no facilities for forensic autopsies and it could open up a Pandora’s Box.
I was at the time Lt. (j.g.) Mary Eileen Adams (NC) USNR and on active duty at that hospital. No one asked my advice and I knew better than to doubt Capt. Siess. Furthermore it sounded right at the time.
Sister Angelica . . . would presently be about 80 years old. I am enclosing a snapshot of me, Sister Angelica and another Spanish missionary nun whose name I have forgotten. When the Germans withdrew from Saipan following World War I, the natives contacted Tokyo for religious teachers. The Japanese contacted the Pope who sent a Spanish priest, four teaching nuns and two lay sisters to care for the convent. The nuns went to Japan first to learn Japanese which Sister Angelica said was very easy because it was so similar to their own Basque.
One night in June 1944 the Japanese put the nuns in Japanese-American crossfire and they were kept moving along a jungle path. Bullets were flying everywhere, a soldier told them not to touch the electric fences that were strung for the advancing Americans. The night was inky black. Sister Genoveva was hit and mortally wounded according to Sister Angelica.
Then next morning they returned to get the body. A soldier told Sister Angelica that the deceased was buried in their funeral pyre for their killed soldiers. In the picture, I am at the death site where the wooden crosses were put. Those nuns in the picture spoke excellent English. The lay sisters could not. The remaining missionaries are not on Saipan now.
Forrest Sheldon . . . WWII Saipan sailor is also interested in Amelia Earhart. His friend worked for Polaroid and supposedly pushed a cart (to the back of the plant) marked A. Earhart trunk.
Sincerely, Mary Adams Patterson
The disposition of the Earhart Electra in Angelica’s account is unlikely, unless the plane was put on a ship to perform repairs, possibly in Tokyo, and later returned to the island for some unknown reason. Devine and others reported that they saw Earhart’s plane in the air over Saipan in the summer of 1944, thus the damaged wing described by Bilimon Amaron and John Heine must have been repaired in the intervening years.
Time of agony: The War in the Pacific in Saipan, the personal account of Sister Maria Angelica Salaberria is Sister Angelica’s harrowing account of the terrors she, seven of her fellow nuns, and two Jesuit priests endured as they struggled for survival while the battle for Saipan raged around them, and is available at several online sites.
Unmentioned in her story was an encounter with a group of Marines during the conflict’s final days, an incident one of them, Anselmo Valverde, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, described in a 1995 letter to Devine. “As well as I can remember,” Valverde wrote, “it was when the Army was on our left flank and we were making sure there were no breaks in the line, that I met the nuns and about eight children who were on the way to the holding area. . . . When we assured them we were not the enemy, they said that a woman pilot was killed on the island by the Japanese. When and where, they did not say.”
Nothing more is known of Forrest Sheldon or his friend with the strange claim about the “A. Earhart trunk.” I haven’t found an obituary for Patterson, who would be well into her 90s now.
UPDATE: I’ve just be informed by a reader, Flyfan, that Mary Adams Patterson died at age 85 in 2008. As I told Mr. Fly, she was a great patriot and a fine lady. She was survived by six children and 12 grandchildren. More can be found at: