In the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety, my post about Marie S.C. Castro appeared under the headline, “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past,” and an extended version, “Marie Castro: Iron link to Saipan’s forgotten history,” was published here April 2.
The stories presented Marie’s accounts of her experiences with Matilde Arriola, one of the best known of the Saipan eyewitnesses, introduced by Fred Goerner in his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart. When I wrote, “If Marie is correct that all the Saipan elders who were eyewitnesses to Earhart’s presence are gone . . . she is the strongest link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage now living,” little did I realize the understatement that really was.
Marie, 85, is the prime mover, the leading light of the grass-roots movement to erect the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument at the Saipan International Airport. She is likely the repository of other, still undiscovered witness accounts attesting to the presence and death of Amelia and Fred Noonan on Saipan. I feel truly blessed to be associated with this unique woman, and recently she sent me a photo that seems to capture the human essence of the situation there.
“The man in the picture is David M. Sablan,” Marie (center) wrote when she sent me this photo in early May 2018. “The woman in red is Mrs. Amparo DLG [Deleon Guerrero] Aldan, my classmate in the 3rd grade in Japanese school before WWII. Her brother, Pedro Deleon Guerrero and my cousin’s husband Joaquin Seman came to my house one evening to visit in 1945. The conversation was all about Amelia Earhart. I heard them describing what Amelia wore when they saw her. In our culture, a woman should wear a dress not a man’s outfit.”
Marie also confirmed that Mrs. Aldan’s husband, the late Frank Aldan, was related to one of Fred Goerner’s thirteen original witnesses, the dentist Dr. Manuel Aldan (see Truth at Last, p. 85).
David M. Sablan is a well-known local personality who founded the Rotary Club of Saipan in 1968, and in 2017 published his autobiography, A Degree of Success Through Curiosity: True Story of a Young Boy Eager to Learn and Find His Calling in Life. According to its description on Amazon.com, the book is his account of “living under the Japanese regime before and during WWII on a remote Pacific island, who grew up under hardship but made something positive out of his life.”
Marie’s second-person revelations of Pedro Deleon Guerrero and Joaquin Seman have not been published before. Pedro Deleon Guerrero’s name was new to me, but he might have been related to Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, a sinister character who collaborated with the Japanese police during the war, an enforcer whose job was to “keep the rest of the natives in line and his methods hadn’t been gentle,” according to Goerner. Joaquin Seman was mentioned by Goerner (see pp. 91, 103 in Truth at Last), but Marie’s account cites an entirely different scenario than Goerner’s.
Newly revealed evidence supports Earhart’s cremation
An even more compelling story came just a few days later. In a May 11 email, Marie suddenly ended discussion of a relatively mundane subject, and out of the blue, she introduced another previously unpublished piece of the ever-continuing Earhart saga:
I have the photo of Mr. Tomokane. He told his wife one day the reason for coming home late. He attended the cremation of the American woman pilot. Mrs. Tomokane and Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes were neighbors during the Japanese time. They often visited with one another. Dolores, daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, heard their conversation about the cremation of an American woman pilot. These two wives were the only individuals who knew secretly about the cremation of Amelia through Mr. Tomokane.
Had it not been for the daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, who heard the conversation of the two wives, we would have never known about Mr. Tomokane’s interesting day. And David M. Sablan, after I showed the PP [power point presentation] at my house last month, he got up after the presentation and told the group that he heard about Amelia being cremated according to Mr. Tomokane.
This was all brand-new to me, and Tomokane’s name has never been seen in any Earhart literature, to my knowledge. One of the true mysteries in the Earhart saga is how Amelia died and how her remains were treated. Was she shot, as Josephine Blanco and Michiko Sugita were told as children, and Mrs. Nieves Cabrera Blas later told Buddy Brennan in 1983, or did she die of dysentery, as Matilde Arriola, Joaquina Arriola, José Pangelinan and others were told by Japanese officers? Was she buried or cremated? A variety of witness evidence supports each contention, but none is conclusive.
I devoted an entire chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, “Griswold, Henson and Burks” (see pp. 233-253) to the compelling accounts of Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks, Marine privates who believed they were ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate the skeletal remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan outside a native cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944. Who did the Marines really dig up? Was it Amelia and Fred, as Griswold indicated to the Marine privates in 1944, or was the captain misled about the gravesite? We may never know.
In answer to several questions about this new revelation, later on May 11, Marie replied:
I also questioned about Mr. Tomokane of this information why Fred Goerner did not question him. Remember that Mr. Tomokane was a Japanese himself. We don’t know how loyal he was to his Emperor. I went to his house to talk to him or anyone in the family few months after I came back from the States on Dec. 2016. I learned that the only child living today is the youngest son, Mitch Tomokane. He is suffering from a bad heart problem.
My first question to Mitch was, do you know how your father came to Saipan? Answer: He came from Japan as an agricultural instructor during the Japanese era. He stayed on Saipan, got married and built his family. 2) When did he die? He died in 1956 on Saipan. I found another interesting thing was the location of the house today. The house Mitch is living today is just very close to the Japanese crematory. The only remain of the crematory is the base of the crematory statue. I will research next week how they settled on that very spot.
Mr. Tomokane was dead four years prior to Goerner’s trip to Saipan. I was a nun then, here on Saipan. We would have known about Goerner. However, Goerner’s purpose at the time was strictly private. Saipan was still strictly under the U.S. Navy control. I remember from reading his book that he had a problem trying to enter Saipan because it was used by the CIA and the Navy Technical Training Unit (NTTU).
Who knows what other little gems Marie is harboring in her still-nimble mind, which might require only slight prodding to pour forth more recollections of the days when many Earhart eyewitnesses were alive and well on Saipan, when it was commonly known and accepted that the great American lady flier had met her untimely end there.
Please consider making a donation to the planned Amelia Earhart Memorial on Saipan (see March 16 story for more). You can make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950. The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee, suitable for framing. Your gifts are the only way the memorial can become a reality, and anything you give is greatly appreciated.
Today we return to the early 1960s correspondence between KCBS radio newsman Fred Goerner and retired Coast Guard Lt. Leo Bellarts, who as the chief radioman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, was on hand to hear Amelia Earhart’s last official messages on the morning of July 2, 1937, concluding with her last transmission at 8:43 a.m. Howland Island time. For Bellarts’ Nov. 28, 1961 letter to Goerner, posted Feb. 6, 2017, as well as the author’s reply, please click here. Bellarts Dec. 15, 1961 response to Goerner, posted April 24, 2017, can be seen here.
Many of Goerner’s questions are still relevant today, especially since the American public has been fed a steady diet of disinformation for many decades by a U.S. media that hasn’t shown the slightest interest in learning the facts since Time magazine panned The Search for Amelia Earhart as a book that “barely hangs together” in its 1966 review that signaled the establishment’s aversion to the truth the KCBS newsman found on Saipan. Goerner died in 1994 at age 69, Bellarts in May 1974 at 66. (Boldface mine throughout.)
CBS Radio – A Division of Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.
SHERATON – PALACE, SAN FRANCISCO 5, CALIFORNIA – YUKON 2-7000
December 20, 1961
Mr. Leo G. Bellarts
1920 State Street
Dear Mr. Bellarts,
Thank you very much for your letter with enclosures of the 15th. It was received with a good deal of interest by all of us who have been working on the Earhart story.
I’m sorry if I took on the proportions of a “quizmaster” to you. I think it must be the reportorial instinct. I learned long ago that if you don’t ask the questions, you very seldom get the answers.
First, let me answer several of your questions. As far as I know, there is absolutely no connection between CBS and Mrs. Studer; in fact, I have never met her, and I found the article you mentioned slightly on the irritating side. That article was the first time I was even aware of her existence.
As to George Palmer Putnam, I never had the opportunity to meet him. He died in January, 1950.
The only members of Amelia’s family I know personally are her mother and sister who live in West Medford, Massachusetts. The mother [Amy Otis Earhart] is now in her nineties, and her sister [Muriel Earhart Morrissey] teaches high school in West Medford.
I was glad to receive the information that Galten was a bona fide member of the Itasca’s crew; however, it leaves me even more at a loss to explain his remarks to the press to the effect that the Earhart [plane] was incapable was transmitting radio signals more than 50 to 75 miles, and that the seas were eight feet with fifteen feet between crests the day of the disappearance. The Itasca Log indicates as you have that the sea was calm and smooth.
You might be interested in Galten’s address: 50 Solano Street, Brisbane, California.
Galten has also stated that he actually copies the message, “30 minutes of gas remaining”; yet, your record of the messages and the July 5 transcript sent by the Itasca to ComFranDiv, San Francisco, indicates “but running low on gas.”
As you probably well know, there is a vast difference between 30 minutes of gas remaining and gas running low. Every pilot who has flown the Pacific Area will tell you if you are unsure of your position, are having difficulty in contacting your homing station and are down to four or five hours of gas — the gas indeed is “running low.”
We know as a positive fact that the Lockheed had sufficient gas for twenty-four to twenty-six hours aloft. The take-off time from Lae, New Guinea, was 10:30 a.m. at Lae, 12:30 p.m. at Howland. It was possible for the plane to have stayed aloft until 2:30 p.m. Howland time the following day. The July 2 transmission from the Itasca to San Francisco estimates 1200 maximum time [i.e. noon local time] aloft.
Why then the supposition that Earhart “went in” right after her last message at 0843?
It just isn’t true that Earhart and Noonan began their flight from Lae to Howland with just enough fuel to reach Howland and no more. They were fully aware of the navigational hazards of the flight. The planning for that 2,556-mile flight is contained in Amelia’s notes which were shipped back to the United States from Lae. She planned her ETA at Howland just after daybreak. Daylight was absolutely necessary to locate that tiny speck. She had figured her fuel consumption to give her at least six additional hours to make a landfall if Noonan’s navigational abilities did not bring the plane dead center to Howland.
Is the supposition based on the fact that her voice sounded frantic when she radioed the last message, “We are 157-337, running north and south. Wait listening on 6210”? If she were “going in” at that time, why would she ask the ITASCA to wait on 6210? (Caps Goerner’s throughout.)
Your comment that she simply forgot to include the reference point in the final message seems to be negated by the fact the she included “running north and south.” If Noonan had been able to give her a reference point, there would have been no reason for running north and south courses. They would have known their exact position and in which direction to fly.
The variance in the two groups of messages sent to San Francisco by the ITASCA is not the result of “faulty press reports.” I’m going to have my copies of the Coast Guard Log photostated and sent along to you. The amazing discrepancies are clear and incontestable.
Your quotes from TIME magazine are “faulty press reports.” TIME is wrong that no position reports were received after Earhart’s departure from Lae. The Coast Guard Log indicated a check-in 785 miles out from Lae with a full position report. TIME was also mistaken in the number of messages received by the ITASCA from the plane. It varies from your own list.
Yes, I was aware that the COLORADO refueled the ITASCA. This is indicated in the Navy’s official report of the search. The Navy report indicates that the COLORADO, on a naval training cruise in the Honolulu vicinity with a group of reservists and University Presidents [sic] in observance when it was ordered to assist in the search and refuel [of] the ITASCA and the SWAN.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to resort to another list of questions. There is so much that appears to be unanswered in this entire vacation. I think you are as interested in this as I am, or I wouldn’t bother you.
Was the signal strength of Earhart A3 S5 on all the messages from the 0615 “About two hundred miles out” to the final 0843 message? In your list A3 S5 is not listed for 0615,0645, 0742 and 0800.
Many radio operators have told us that in the South Pacific, particularly near the equator, a voice signal will come in from any distance so strongly that the person appears to be in the next room, then, a few minutes later, it cannot be raised at all even when the transmission station is only a few miles away. Was this your experience while in the South Pacific?
Did the ITASCA make any contact with Lae, New Guinea to set up radio frequencies before her final take-off?
Did the ITASCA contact Lae to determine the actual time of the take-off?
Was the ITASCA aware of the gas capacity and range of the plane?
If the ITASCA arranged frequencies with Earhart at Lae, or at least firmed them up, why didn’t the ITASCA know that Noonan could not use cw [sic, i.e., Morse Code] on 500 kcs because of a lack of a trailing antenna?
The “Organization of Radio Personnel” Photostat indicates that in the event of a casualty the ITASCA was to block out any other station attempting to communicate information. What other station was near the ITASCA that might transmit information contrary to fact? When the plane was lost, did the ITASCA block out any other transmission of information?
Do you know of the whereabouts of [RM2 Frank] Ciprianti [sic, Cipriani is correct], [RM3 Thomas] O’Hare, [RM3 Gilbert E.] Thompson, Lt. Cmdr. F.T. Kenner, Lt. (j.g.) W.I. Stanston or Ensign R.L. Mellen?
This is aside from the Earhart matter, but is certainly of interest. What was the eventual fate of the ITASCA, ONTARIO, and SWAN?
In closing, Mr. Bellarts, let me say that we sincerely appreciate the opportunity the [sic] with you. Let me assure you that we will keep your confidence, and will in no way quote you without your permission.
I, personally, have been working on this investigation for nearly two years. It has nothing to do with any stamp that might be issued with her image, or some nebulous entry into a hall of fame. This is a news story, and we intend to pursue every possible lead until a satisfactory conclusion is reached. I [sic] happy to say we have the blessings of both Amelia’s mother and sister. They have suspected for many years that the disappearance was not as cut and dried as portions of our military have indicated, but no one, including that military, has ever put together a concerted effort to tie together the loose ends.
I believe with all my heart that Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan. I saw the testimony gathered by the Monsignor and the Fathers. I know the witnesses were telling the truth. There was no reason for them to lie, and such a story could never have been invented by simple natives without the appearance of serious discrepancies.
However, I believe with you that Earhart and Noonan never flew their plane to Saipan. They must have been brought to the island by the Japanese.
The search for Earhart has been a joke for years. I think that’s because the military has dogmatically maintained that the pair went down close to Howland; yet, that contention appears to be based solely on the belief that the strength of signals before the last received transmission indicated the ship was probably within two hundred miles of the ITASCA. Where did they fly on the four to five hours of gas we know remained?
Mr. Bellarts, if you know anything that has not been made public that will shed more light on this enigma, please give us the information. If not to CBS, to Amelia’s sister:
Mrs. Albert Morrissey
1 Vernon Street
West Medford. Mass.
No one, certainly not CBS, has the idea of castigating individuals, the Coast Guard, the Navy or the Air Force or even Japan for something that happened so long ago. The important thing is to settle this matter once and for all, and bring a modicum of peace to the individuals involved.
Earhart and Noonan fought their battle against the elements. If they later lost their lives to the aggrandizing philosophy of a nation bent on the conquest of the Pacific, the great victory is still theirs. Their story should be told, and they should receive their nation’s gratitude and a decent burial.
Would you ask less for your own?
Best wishes for a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
I’ll be looking forward to your next communication.
San Francisco 5,
California (End of Goerner letter.)
I have more of the fascinating correspondence between Fred Goerner and Leo Bellarts, two of the most interesting people in the entire Earhart saga, and will post more at a future date.