Since the Feb. 7 publication of Junhan B. Todiño’s Marianas Variety story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan,” much has been written about the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Committee’s plans to build a memorial to Amelia at the Saipan International Airport.
Most of the vocal opposition to the monument is coming from the younger people of Saipan, many of whom have lost contact with their past, and have been subjected to historical revisionism and U.S. establishment propaganda on a grand scale about the facts surrounding Amelia Earhart’s presence on the island in the pre-war years.
Marie S.C. Castro, 84, is not among Saipan’s historically challenged, however. In fact, some of the most compelling evidence attesting to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan can be found in her fine 2013 autobiography, Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII.
Recently Marie kindly sent me a copy of Without a Penny, and I read it eagerly. Marie isn’t a trained journalist or professional writer, but this deficit seems to enhance rather than detract from the impact of this moving account of her life. “It’s written with great love and deep feeling for those you’ve met along the way of your amazing life,” I wrote to Marie. “Thank you so much for sending it; it’s truly a precious chronicle of yours and Saipan’s history.”
Despite enduring hardships under the tyrannical rule of the Japanese during the years leading to the June 1944 U.S. invasion of Saipan and the liberation of its Chamorro residents, nowhere in Without a Penny will you find the slightest a hint of the virtue-signifying, self-pitying, blame-casting or victim-status seeking rhetoric that has become so common in today’s social media culture.
“The Chamorros had no rights, our peaceful way of life on our island was gone under the Japanese,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “We were under constant fear of anything. The Japanese civilians knew what went on, we the locals knew nothing about it. The Japanese considered us third class citizens. They took over the land, cultivated it for their own good. We had no authority whatsoever. . . . When you walk on the street, look straight forward, do not turn sideways, or else you would become a suspect. Mike, even after the war, people were hesitant to say anything. Thanks to the Americans we became again like human beings. We are at peace now.”
One of the most poignant passages in Without a Penny is Marie’s description of her family’s terrifying ordeal during the American shelling and bombing of Saipan, which resulted in many unfortunate and unintended civilian casualties, as well as traumatic memories for the survivors.
“After we were liberated by the American Marines in 1944 . . . we were so thankful to the Americans,” Marie wrote in an email. “I was 11 years old then and I thought someday I will do something on my own to thank the Americans.”
She was a professed Catholic nun for 17 years, from 1954 until her resignation in 1971. “It was the time when I really examined what was I meant to be in this world,” Marie wrote. “I wanted to do more. I prayed hard to God to lead me in my decision. I believed it was the right thing to do. I resigned from religious life. I will commit my life in education to thank the American Marines in 1944.”
She remained in Kansas City, teaching in the public schools, retired in 1989 and became involved in other community service organizations, finally returning to Saipan in October 2016. “Considering the 50 years in Kansas City,” Marie wrote, “I felt that I have given a productive life for 50 years. Now I am involved with a challenging undertaking with the Amelia Earhart project, to erect an AE Memorial Monument.”
These and other notable chapters of a life well lived can be found in Without a Penny. Right now, Marie is fully engaged in the effort to erect the Earhart Memorial Monument; indications are that it could be a long and bitter struggle, and not a penny will come from the local or federal government, both of which have a vested interest in the memorial project’s failure.
Marie, the vice president of the memorial committee and the driving force behind the initiative to build the monument, told Saipan Rotarians about her 1983 interview with Matilde F. Arriola who, Castro said, met Earhart when she being held on Saipan following her disappearance in early July 1937. According to Matilde, Earhart died of dysentery. “There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan,” Marie said.
“Since I came back home,” Marie wrote in a Feb. 18 email, “I had an urge [to do] something dating back to 1937 . . . Amelia Earhart’s fate. On Feb. 2, 2017, I approached Congressman [Rep. Donald C.] Barcinas about my idea of building a Memorial Monument for Amelia Earhart here on Saipan to celebrate her 80th year. All our elders who witnessed the American woman pilot’s presence here on Saipan are long gone; however, in 1983 I interviewed a local woman [Matilde F. Arriola] who had personal contacts with Amelia Earhart in 1937, who was living next door from the political detainee hotel called the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel. [Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas (the former Matilde Fausto Ariola), see pages 102-103 of Truth at Last.] I want to pursue the Monument for Amelia Earhart and finalize the biggest lingering unsolved mystery of the 20th Century. . . . What is holding us now is funding. We need $200 thousand for the project.”
If Marie is correct that all the Saipan elders who were eyewitnesses to Earhart’s presence are gone, and no evidence contradicts this, Marie’s personal connection to Matilde F. Arriola and other eyewitnesses, including Joaquina M. Cabrera, who washed Amelia’s laundry and whose account was made famous by Fred Goerner in his 1966 bestseller The Search For Amelia Earhart (see pages 101-102 TAL), she is the strongest link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage now living, a role she deeply embraces.
“Matilde and her family had personal contacts with the American woman pilot,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “The mother knew English and spoke with AE; Matilde, Consolacion her sister and Mariono her brother, they all communicated with Amelia [Editor’s note: None spoke English, according to interviews with Fred Goerner and others.] Matilde was 24 years [old] in 1937. The political detainee was next door from her house. Matilde was a student at the Sisters of the Mercedarian school in Garapan at the time.”
The passages from Marie’s book about her encounters with Matilde Arriola are too important to paraphrase, so I reproduce them here:
Evidently Amelia Earhart was found by the Japanese after she crashed somewhere within or near what may have been the Japanese Mandated Micronesian Islands [Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands], and was subsequently taken to Saipan, which also lay within the Mandated area.
The story of the famous American pilot was secretly known by a few men and women who were conscripted by the Japanese and worked for the Japanese government. However, they had no knowledge of the lady pilot’s plight. On a beautiful morning in the late ’50’s my Aunt, Sister Remedios, and I came upon our friend Matilde F. Arriola, who was working in her yard in Chalan Kanoa. Our conversation immediately turned to the subject of Amelia Earhart’s fate. Taking us into her confidence, Matilde related a story of having met a stranger who lived next door at the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel.
On a subsequent meeting, Matilde continued, the slender American woman, who wore a short hair style, gave Matilde’s younger sister Consolacion a ring with a while stone, set in a crown mounting. Unfortunately Consolacion was wounded during the war and fell very ill. Before she died of her wounds she gave the ring to Matilde who wore it until after the war. The ring with a white stone remained in her possession during and after the war and was eventually given to her niece Trinidad. Sometime later Trinidad had a stroke. I had an opportunity to visit her and mentioned the ring her Aunt Matilde had given her. Suddenly, she appeared cheerful and in good spirits as she described the ring. However, the ring did not fit well on her finger and she sadly admitted that she had lost it somewhere around the house.
Time passes quickly and it was during one of my yearly visits to Saipan in 1983 that I once again had the opportunity to visit with my good friend Matilde. The occasion was a friendly gathering in Garapan, attended by many old friends. In a private conversation with Matilde we rehashed the subject once again: The lady pilot who remains still undiscovered. During our conversation Matilde told me that she had received from Amelia Earhart a small diary in early days [sic] titled “Aviator” that contained many, many numbers, no explanations were offered.
Matilde kept the little diary until it was accidentally lost during the war. Sadly, no trace of the diary was ever found by Matilde. It wasn’t until after the war, upon seeing a picture of Amelia Earhart, that she was identified by Matilde as the stranger who had given her the diary.
After having heard the story of Matilde and the item she received from the woman pilot during the Japanese occupation, the Chamorro law enforcement officers whom I knew did not divulge any information they had at the time for fear of enemy reprisals. Even after the liberation of Saipan, those individuals who possibly knew what happened to Amelia Earhart in Saipan refused to speak.
The residents in Saipan who had previously seen the “lady pilot,“ all described her as having worn a man’s outfit and short hair style. Women who had seen the lady pilot, after having been shown photos of several women including Amelia Earhart, correctly identified Amelia Earhart. Upon their identification the question was, would Amelia Earhart’s disappearance still remain a mystery? (End of section from Without a Penny.)
“During the Japanese period, there was no running water,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “The toilet was outside. When Amelia needed the facility she had to go outside to use the restroom. She would stop by Matilde’s house and would peep in to see if someone was around to talk to. One day Matilde gave Amelia a cooked breadfruit, Amelia took it and tasted it. At another time while Matilde was doing her geography homework Amelia helped Matilde on her homework. Amelia took the pencil from Matilde’s hand and wrote something, however Matilde did not understand what AE wrote, Matilde didn’t know English at the time. She conversed using signs. Consolacion received a ring from AE. Mariono spoke to AE.
“One day Matilde noticed that the lady was ill, pale and used the facility too often that day,” Marie went on. “That was the last day she saw her. The next day the caretaker came to Matilde’s house and asked for black material. Matilde’s father, Tun Felipe, was a tailor. Matilde’s father asked the caretaker why she needed black material, she said, ‘Kookoo died, the American pilot.’ She continued, ‘amoeba.’ She didn’t know the lady’s name and called her ‘Kookoo.’ Amelia died of dysentery disease.” Matilde died in 1996, at age 83.
Opponents of the Earhart Memorial Monument label accounts like Matilde’s and dozens of others from eyewitnesses and others with knowledge as “anecdotal,” proving nothing. But when one considers these, and then adds those of U.S. flag officers such as Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Navy’s most revered wartime leader in the Pacific; Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the Marine Corps during World War II; and Gen. Graves Erskine, a brigadier general on Saipan during the 1944 invasion and second in command of the entire land operation, all attesting to the presence and death of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan, these accounts begin to add up to far more than mere anecdotes. As Marie told the Rotarians in early February, “There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan.” You decide, but please do so only after you know more about the real facts about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, facts that can be found everywhere you look on this blog.
A shorter, gentler version of this story appeared in the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety under the headline, “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past.” As I said in the opening of this post, massive opposition to the proposed Earhart memorial is endemic on Saipan, and nowhere is it worse than in the brainwashed and propagandized Facebook crowd, where this story garnered a total of just four “Likes.” I could consider this a badge of honor, but I’d much prefer that more were in favor of building this long-overdue monument to Earhart at the place of her death. Far too many on Saipan are dead against it.
Ed Williams, 67, a retired Merchant Marine (Military Sealift Command) radio electronics officer who’s lived and worked in many capacities on Saipan since 2004, recently painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground there. “Marie is such a sweet soul,” Williams wrote in a March 21 email. “But not many locals are interested in anything but beer and betel nut. I would say 1 percent of the locals are on the same page as Marie.” Williams, whose father was an Army medic who served on Guam, Saipan and Tinian, where he saw Enola Gay land and actually guarded the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, is doing all he can on Saipan to educate the locals about Earhart’s tragic end there, but he’s a distinct minority.
Williams’ appraisal sadly mirrors that of former Navy civilian archaeologist Jennings Bunn, who spent 14 years on Guam and several months on Saipan during Typhoon Soudelor in 2015. “From what I saw in Saipan, it is over run by Chinese and Koreans, and the local folks aren’t real interested in ‘Haole’ [defined here as a white person who is not a native Chamorro] history,” Bunn wrote in a recent email. “My experience on Guam was that the local Chamorro knows very little about their own history, and few really care.”