Navy nurse’s letter describes gruesome end for fliers, but was it true?

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 who had their own experiences during the summer of 1944 that supported his own and indicated the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan in the years prior to the war. 

Patterson was Lieutenant (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.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Mary Adams, Navy Nurse Corps, circa 1946.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Mary Adams, Navy Nurse Corps, circa 1946.

Dear Tom,

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 think 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.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Mary E. Adams, USN, with Sister Angelica and an unidentified nun, at the gravesite of Sister Genoveva, who was killed during the Battle of Saipan, circa 1946. Sister Angelica, who was on Saipan in 1937, told Adams about an American white man and woman who “became known as Amelia Earhart and Noonan” who were “tortured to death” by the Japanese on Saipan in the prewar years (Courtesy Mary Patterson.)

Lieutenant (junior grade) Mary E. Adams, USN, with Sister Angelica and an unidentified nun, at the gravesite of Sister Genoveva, who was killed during the Battle of Saipan, circa 1946. Sister Angelica, who was on Saipan in 1937, told Adams about an American white man and woman who “became known as Amelia Earhart and Noonan” who were “tortured to death” by the Japanese on Saipan in the prewar years.  (Courtesy Mary Patterson.)

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:



3 responses

  1. Here is Mary’s obit-

    Mary (Adams) Patterson, R.N., B.S., 85, died Friday, March 14, 2008, at a Bangor hospital. She was born Oct. 9, 1922, in Brewer, the daughter and oldest of 14 children of George Clarence and Mary (Coleman) Adams. Mary graduated from Eastern Maine General Hospital School of Nursing, Class of 1943. On April 17, 1944, she received her commission as an officer in the Navy Nurse Corps, stationed in the American Theater, Guam and Saipan. She was released to inactive duty in 1947, but served in the Navy Reserve, Inactive, until 1951….


    1. Thanks Flyfan, I only did a quick google search, didn’t think to search the Bangor newspaper obits right away. The people search sites have still her living at 92, which shows they don’t do a good job keeping track of the dead, doesn’t it? May Mary rest in peace, she was a true patriot and a great lady, no doubt.


  2. Mary Adams second hand account of this story may be correct exaggerated or wrong. Did this Chamarro woman explain these events & tortured individuals in correct order in which they happened? Or did she piece parts of this story with another?

    We learned from other eyewitnesses, Amelia was blindfolded & executed; from another she died of dysentery, and still from another of her arm being bruised, hand singed & mishandled by guard.

    Amelia was able to carve her initials & leave evidence she was being held in a prison on Saipan; so if she was missing her fingers, how could she be able to write or carve into a back of a door or wall of a prison?

    We learned Fred Noonan was beheaded for lashing back at a guar or grabbing a hold of guard; so if he was missing his fingers or hands, how could he grab a hold of guard?

    Mary Adam’s story, reported by the Chamarro woman, is terrifying & scary but is it correct? Exaggerated? Wrong? There’s no actual *visual witness to this event, other than a individuals hearing blood curdling screams. We need *proof of Amelia & Fred being seen without their fingers, toes or limbs, to make this believable for me



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