Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts

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.

Left to right: Mrs. Amparo Deleon Guerrero Aldan, Marie S.C. Castro and David M. Sablan. (Courtesy Marie S.C. Castro.)

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 anotherDolores, 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.

Undated photo of Mr. Tomokane, surrounded by family members.  (Courtesy Marie Castro.)

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 1944Who 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.

American soldiers at Japanese crematorium on Saipan, sometime after invasion of summer 1944. (Courtesy Marie Castro.)

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.

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12 responses

  1. wolfspecter13 | Reply

    Excellent installment in the story, Mike! I agree, Marie is indeed a remarkable asset and treasure to the search for truth. This notion of cremation makes a lot of sense and puts a huge, boldface full stop on the search for remains. So likely Noonan would also have been cremated? Is there any chance that remains of the burned out, bulldozed Electra might be found somehow with LiDar or some such? Ground penetrating radar? That sounds like a go-fund me page waiting to happen, and a way better use of donated funds than anything done heretofore. Would those bits now be untraceable due to rust, fire, etc? What a story – it just keeps on giving!

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    1. Wolfie,

      Thanks, good to hear from you, but there’s no chance the Electra will ever be found. Please see my reply to hunterdion7, just below, of May 5, for more details.

      MC

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  2. William H. Trail | Reply

    Mike,

    Marie is a treasure! We are indeed very fortunate (dare I say, “blessed”) to have benefit of her insights and recollections. With Marie, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan are still part of “living memory” and have not entirely passed into history. Although you did not say, does Marie happen to recall approximately when AE was cremated? It seems to me most likely that AE and FN did not live to see 1938.

    All best,

    William

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There were two crematoriums on Saipan. The one you see in the picture still exists to some degree. Its behind the old Japanese hospital. There is another small crematorium now buried because of the passage of time at Liyang cemetery. Only feet away from where Henson and Burks and later Kothera dug up bones. I am a believer in the bones unearthed by the Kothera group. The analysis of those bones showed evidence of being burnt. Chamorro’s were strong Catholics (not so much today) and did not cremate unless the Japanese forced them to cremate because of disease. Today, the Catholic Church allows cremation.

    It’s my opinion, Earhart and Noonan were doused with fuel oil or gasoline and burned in the shallow grave privately by the Japanese. In other words, I believe Anna’s account. Here is an interesting bit of fact. Almost all of the Saipan residents had no idea there was a cemetery at Liyang and that included Dave and all the elders we spoke with on several visits. (he does now)

    I have had dinner many times with Dave Sablan. He is a fine man. Dick Spink and I had lunch with Marie Castro, Dave and his wife more than once. Please remember Dave was a small child when these events occurred and Marie wasn’t even born.

    Dave spent days driving me all over Saipan. We discussed various theories. It was Dave who introduced me to Ray Guerrero. The son of the infamous Jesus Guerrero. Dave drove me to Ray’s house, I would have never found it on my own. Ray is retired and a former Saipan civic leader. He is well educated. He scoffed at the idea that his father assisted the Japanese in the Earhart affair. His family reputation was obviously more important to him than the Earhart mystery or he simply didn’t know his father’s involvement. Anyway, he was less than helpful. He did give me a nice picture of his father.

    Les Kinney

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    1. Les,

      I too put much stock in Anna Magofna’s account as rendered to the Kotheras and recounted in Joe Davidson’s 1969 book Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (1st Ed.). Bottom line is that we cannot be sure if the spot Anna took the Kotheras to was the exact same one excavated by Griswold, Henson and Burks in 1944, though it could well have been. Remember that neither Henson or Burks ever described the skeletal remains they took as charred or burned in any way. This gives me pause, as well as the fact that Anna did not say that either of the white people she saw digging the hole outside the cemetery on Saipan was a woman (page 245 TAL). I had somehow convinced myself that Anna had said one was a woman, but this was not the case. She simply said “two people,” and of course one could have been Amelia, but this is far from certain.

      Marie was 4 years old in the summer of 1937 and has a definite memory of the lady flier’s arrival, so I must gently correct you on that. She also tells me she doesn’t “know who Dick Spink is or ever had lunch with Kenny with David M. Sablan. When was this or what year?” she asked. Just passing this along as Marie isn’t inclined to publicly comment on blogs, though I would not be surprised to see her do it at some future time if she feels strongly enough.

      MC

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      1. Mike,
        We had an extensive and long lunch with Marie, Dave Sablan and his wife at the Fiesta Resort and Spa In October 2016. I remember it well. Sablan foot the bill. Maire had recently returned from Kansas City and we discussed the sale of her house in Kansas City. We also discussed her book and I mentioned I had read it thoroughly. I also met her briefly a couple of days prior to this lunch while in the company of Dave Sablan.

        Now you know why Fed Goerner took so much heat from detractors who mentioned various witnesses later said they didn’t remember talking with Goerner (not that I am Goerner). Goerner in one instance had to supply the audio tape of interviews in order to pacify his detractors.

        Re: Anna:
        I do believe Anna. However, it is apparent she could not recall whether the two people she saw in the custody of the Japanese were that of a man and a woman. I can live with that. Anna could not specifically say the two people were standing prior to being beheaded. What she recalled was specifically seeing the white man with the “long nose” being beheaded. Anna infers the other person was on the ground. Kothera tried to get her to explain her memories. Anna couldn’t. She emphasized there were two people. Was Amelia already dead of dysentery and lying on the ground? More than likely.

        We all know how difficult it is to recall specific events that occurred 30 years earlier. Its especially tough when you’re seven or eight years old. I have done this exercise myself many times. Heck, sometimes its tough to remember specific details or events occurring a month before an incident.

        As to the grave itself, I am about 80 percent convinced the grave Anna identified to Kothera and the Cleveland Group was the same grave dug up by Burks and Henson. Kothera noted where Goerner’s grave dig had been earlier conducted. He described it geographically in relation to where they dug.

        Anna clearly describe the strange tree with the double trunk and paced off from that location where the grave was located; This coincides with Burks and Henson’s remarks; The Cleveland Group clearly retrieved small human bones and no major bone fragments. This is indicative the larger remains were previously removed from the grave. I identified the Kothera dig location as being very close to the location identified as being the grave of an American airman. As you wrote in “The Truth at Last,” Thomas Devine received a letter from a sailor who stumbled across the ongoing excavation of an American airman and was told Earhart’s grave was close by. The timeline is the same. This airman’s grave site is within feet of the location dug up by the Cleveland Group.

        Anna had to walk by that location every day and the site would be imbedded in her memory.

        You are right. The bottom line is we can’t say with 100 percent certainty the grave site dug up by Burks and Henson was the same grave unearthed by the Cleveland Group. With that said, I am confident it is the same grave. I believe you share that belief.

        Les Kinney

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      2. Thanks Les, I will send Marie your comments, as I don’t think she normally goes to this section. At 85, she doing more for the good cause than anyone else on Saipan, and I know she meant no offense when she said she didn’t remember you. She needs help on Saipan to make this memorial happen, and right now it’s nowhere in sight. I can’t tell you how much I admire her. They broke the mold.

        Otherwise we certainly agree about Anna Magofna’s gravesite.

        Thanks for checking in.

        Mike

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  4. I have to AGREE with both Mike & Les on this one. It appears the Japanese tried to burn the remains of Amelia & Fred; but only the flesh, leaving the bones. Griswold, Burks & Henson obviously dug up the bones in 1944. GOOLISH task it must have been. The bones are back in the U.S. but where???
    I wonder if Amelia’s mother had the remains burned to ashes and kept in a private & safe place? or did she have them buried? but where? It’s INCREDIBLE that nobody seems to know? Talk about a FULL SCALE COVER -UP and then some. What is our government really hiding here? More than a plane, more than a VERY FAMOUS individual, or should we say FDR’s reputation & embarrassment???

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  5. William H. Trail | Reply

    Douglas,

    More likely, the mortal remains of AE and FN recovered on Saipan in 1944 were sealed in a weighted container and quietly reburied at sea. In a rather sick, twisted way it gives the U.S. Government’s official “splashed and sank” story a thin veneer of truth. And that’s just the thing with great, important lies — they’re all crafted with a bit of truth.

    All best,

    William

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  6. Remembering Amelia and Fred on this Memorial Day; hopefully the Monument in Saipan will happen and give them a formal, lasting remembrance.

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    1. Amen to that, Tom, a very large Amen to that. One of the least known facts about the Earhart disappearance is that, for all intents and purposes, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were the first American casualties of World War II.

      MC

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  7. William – very good point. Although I don’t see Naval Intelligence going through all that trouble to find & unearth their remains, only to bury them at sea? They must have kept Amy Earhart informed about matters and returned her daughter’s remains to her; keeping it all under raps & private. I don’t see Naval Intelligence taking upon themselves to preform this burial at sea. FDR could not face acknowledgment or confession of this matter; he simply avoided, kept secret and buried the *TRUTH.

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