David M. Sablan is a well-known Saipan citizen and entrepreneur who founded the Rotary Club of Saipan in 1968. In 2017 he published his autobiography, A Degree of Success Through Curiosity: True Story of a Young Boy Eager to Learn and Find His Calling in Life, 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.”
In 2005, Sablan, who turns 87 in early April and founded Saipan’s Rotary Club in 1968, was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year, the first time in the club’s 37-year history the club presented this award to one of its own.
“Our honoree complements his public service by being closely involved with civic and community groups,” said Michael Sablan, who introduced David at the 2005 ceremony. “The list of civic and community organizations he has served on is long, but of all the honors bestowed to our honoree, of all the distinctions he has earned . . . it was his involvement in 1968 in founding the Rotary Club of Saipan that we Rotarians, as a club, appreciate the greatest.”
In my May 18, 2018 post, “Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts,” Marie introduced yet another previously unpublished piece of the ever-continuing Earhart saga, an account with which Sablan was personally familiar:
I have the photo of Mr. Jose Sadao 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 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.”
At the Oct. 9, 2018 reception dinner honoring Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s return to Saipan at age 92 at Garapan’s Fiesta Resort and Spa, Sablan spoke of his childhood memory of seeing an airplane towed through Garapan’s Second Street, though on this occasion Sablan wasn’t quite as specific as he was in an earlier email to Marie Castro:
Going back in years, during the Japanese occupation of Saipan (late thirties to early forties), I was wandering around the northern part of Garapan Town, when I saw a large crowd gathered near the dock area of a large Japanese company, Nanyo Boeki Kaisha (or NAMBO). This dock was privately owned by NAMBO for unloading cargoes that were brought in by “sampan” or barge unloaded from a ship into a sampan and brought ashore by a barge to the small “jetty.” I was curious to see what was going on but I could only see a plane which was apparently off-loaded from a barge at the NAMBO dock.
I saw an airplane being towed on Second Street in Garapan Town. The plane was being towed southward on Garapan Main Street. I later learned that the towed airplane was seen at “ASLITO AIRFIELD” on the southern end of Saipan. A local worker at Aslito Airfield came by our ranch in Chalan Kiya and told us that the airplane was recovered by the Japanese as well as a woman and a man pilots. The name of the person who told us is ISIDRO LISAMA.
Sablan then recalled visiting the Marshall Islands during the course of his many duties with Atkins Kroll Guam Ltd., where he rose from being traffic clerk to president and general manager, and upon his retirement, as chairman of the company. “One person that I remember very distinctly is Bilimon Amaron . . . was one of my customers for the merchandise that we used to sell. And I said, ‘What do you know about Amelia Earhart?’ Well, [he said] I was a corpsman in 1937 working for the Japanese government and all of a sudden we were asked to go on a ship to treat a man and a woman who were injured and were on that ship . . . and [he was told] you are not to say anything of what you see. This is in 1937.
“So they went aboard the ship and they treated a white man and a white woman,” Sablan continued, “not Japanese, and as he was doing that he looked at the aft side of the ship, the rear part of the ship, and saw a damaged airplane. This was shared to me by Bilimon Amaron.”
(Editor’s note: Although Sablan pronounced Bilimon’s name as “Amaron” in his talk, in an email he insisted the spelling should be “Amram,” a form I’ve seen before, though rarely. Bilimon himself told Bill Prymak to spell his name as Amaron when Prymak interviewed him in 1989. Amram may be a Marshallese form, but Vincent V. Loomis, whose book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, is the definitive Marshall Islands, Earhart-landing work, spelled it “Amaran,” though most others have it as Amaron, so we’ll stay with that on this blog for continuity, at the least.)
David Sablan’s childhood memory is valuable in that we have scant witness testimony about the disposition of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, and how it came to be at Aslito Field when it was discovered in a hangar there during the American invasion in the summer of 1944. And although many have heard and written about Bilimon Amaron’s sighting of Earhart and Fred Noonan aboard a Japanese ship at Jaluit in summer 1937, as a prominent member of the Saipan establishment, Sablan’s endorsement of Amaron’s eyewitness account lends it additional credibility and weight. Considering that the popular sentiment on Saipan against the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument remains strongly against its success, Sablan’s accounts can only help this worthy cause.
Sablan also has several interesting photos on his blog, including one of his meeting the emperor of Japan. To see these, please click here.
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