Today we present the conclusion of the three-part presentation of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy. Marie conceived of this project back in early January, “mostly for the locals to educate and induce them to read” the truth about Earhart’s sad demise on Saipan by presenting them a succinct compilation of the major witnesses — both local and American — that have come forward since 1937.
The intention, of course, is to somehow begin to move a brainwashed, intransigent populace that remains firmly entrenched against the idea of building the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan. Here’s the conclusion of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy:
In 1962 Joaquina M. Cabrera was interviewed by Goerner. “Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera brought us closer to the woman held at the Kobayashi Royokan [Hotel] than any other witness” Goerner wrote.
At the Cabrera home in Chalan Kanoa, Goerner and several others including Fathers Arnold Bendowske and Sylvan Conover, and Ross Game, editor of the Napa (California) Register and longtime Goerner confidant “crowded into the front room . . . and listened to her halting recital.” Joaquina described her job as that of a laundress for the Japanese guests and prisoners kept there:
One day when I came to work, they were there . . . a white lady and man. The police never left them. The lady wore a man’s clothes when she first came. I was given her clothes to clean. I remember pants and a jacket. It was leather or heavy cloth, so I did not wash it. I rubbed it clean. The man I saw only once. I did not wash his clothes. His head was hurt and covered with a bandage, and he sometimes needed help to move. The police took him to another place and he did not come back. The lady was thin and very tired.
Every day more Japanese came to talk with her. She never smiled to them but did to me. She did not speak our language, but I know she thanked me. She was a sweet, gentle lady. I think the police sometimes hurt her. She had bruises and one time her arm was hurt. . . . Then, one day . . . police said she was dead of disease. [DYSENTERY most likely.]
Mrs. Amparo Deleon Guerrero Aldan was my classmate in the third grade in Japanese school before World War II. Her brother, Francisco 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.
“Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan crash landed in the Garapan harbor near the Tanapag Naval Base on Saipan in 1937,” Fred Goerner wrote in his summary of the accounts he gathered from the first group of Saipan witnesses in The Search for Amelia Earhart. “A Japanese naval launch picked up the two fliers and brought them to shore. They were taken to the military headquarters, questioned and separated. Noonan was forced into an automobile by his captors and was never seen again. Amelia was moved to a small building at the military barracks compound.”
I have a photo of Mr. Jose 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. David M. Sablan has also said that he heard about Amelia being cremated according to Mr. Tomokane.
The American GI Witnesses on Saipan
The Battle of Saipan, fought from June 15 to July 9, 1944, was the most important battle of the Pacific War to date. The U.S. 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Holland Smith, defeated the 43rd Infantry Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito.
The loss of Saipan, with the death of at least 29,000 Japanese troops and heavy civilian casualties, precipitated the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and left the Japanese mainland within the range of Allied B-29 bombers. Saipan would become the launching point for retaking other islands in the Mariana chain, and the eventual invasion of the Philippines, in October 1944.
The victory at Saipan was also important for quite another reason, one you will not see in any of the official histories. At an unknown date soon after coming ashore on D-Day, June 15, American forces discovered Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E, NR 16020, in a Japanese hangar at Aslito Field, the Japanese airstrip on Saipan.
Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, was a sergeant in the Army’s 244th Postal Unit, and came ashore at Saipan on July 6, just a few days before the island was declared secure. Devine was ordered to drive his commanding officer, Lieutenant Fritz Liebig, to Aslito Field, and there he was soon informed that Amelia Earhart’s airplane had been discovered, relatively intact. Devine later claimed he saw the Electra three times soon thereafter – in flight, on the ground when he inspected it at the off-limits airfield, and later that night in flames.
During that period, Marine Private Robert E. Wallack found Amelia’s briefcase in a blown safe in a Japanese administration building on Saipan. “We entered what may have been a Japanese government building, picking up souvenirs strewn about,” Wallack wrote in a notarized statement. “Under the rubble was a locked safe. One of our group was a demolition man who promptly applied some gel to blow it open. We thought at the time, that we would all become Japanese millionaires. After the smoke cleared I grabbed a brown leather attaché case with a large handle and flip lock. The contents were official-looking papers, all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the world flight.
“I wanted to retain this as a souvenir,” Wallack continued, “but my Marine buddies insisted that it may be important and should be turned in. I went down to the beach where I encountered a naval officer and told of my discovery. He gave me a receipt for the material, and stated that it would be returned to me if it were not important. I have never seen the material since.”
Other soldiers saw or knew of the Electra’s discovery, including Earskin J. Nabers, of Baldwyn, Mississippi, a 20-year old private who worked in the secret radio message section of the 8th Marine Regiment’s H&S Communication Platoon. On or about July 6, Nabers received and decoded three messages about the Electra – one announcing its discovery, one stating that the plane would be flown, and the final transmission announcing plans to destroy the plane that night.
Nabers was present when the aluminum plane was torched and burned beyond recognition, as was Sergeant Thomas E. Devine, among others who ignored warnings to stay away from the airfield, which had been declared off-limits.
In addition to the many soldiers, Marines and Navy men who saw or knew of the presence and destruction of Amelia Earhart’s Electra on Saipan, three U.S. flag officers later shared their knowledge of the truth with Fred Goerner, acting against policy prohibiting the release of top-secret information, likely in order to encourage the long-suffering Goerner in his quest for the truth.
In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, former Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz called Goerner in San Francisco. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner said Nimitz told him.
The admiral’s revelation appeared to be a monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman, and is known even to many casual observers of the Earhart matter. “After five years of effort, the former commander U.S. Naval Forces in the Pacific was telling me it had not been wasted,” Goerner wrote.
In November 1966, several months after The Search for Amelia Earhart was released, retired General Graves B. Erskine, who as a Marine brigadier general was the deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps during the Saipan invasion, accepted Goerner’s invitation to visit the radio studios of KCBS in San Francisco for an interview. While waiting to go on the air with Goerner, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS newsman, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.”
General Alexander A. Vandegrift, the eighteenth commandant of the Marine Corps, privately admitted the truth to Goerner in a handwritten, August 1971 letter.
“General Tommy Watson, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the assault on Saipan and stayed on that island after the fall of Okinawa, on one of my seven visits of inspection of his division told me that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan,” the handwritten letter states.
“That is the total knowledge that I have of this incident. In writing to you, I did not realize that you wanted to quote my remarks about Miss Earhart and I would rather that you would not.”
Vandegrift’s claimed source for his information, former Lieutenant General Thomas E. Watson, died in 1966 – very possibly the reason Vandegrift shared the truth with Goerner in that way. Legally speaking, Vandegrift’s letter is hearsay, and he probably assumed it would afford him a level of protection against any ramifications he might face for breaking his silence with Goerner.
In assessing Vandegrift’s credibility, a sterling career culminating in his selection as the Marine Corps’ first four-star general is impressive enough. But Vandegrift also received the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his actions at Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands in 1942. In those days, receiving his country’s highest award for valor conferred upon its bearer the gravest moral responsibilities, and it’s safe to presume that the word of a Medal of Honor awardee, especially a former commander of the world’s greatest fighting force, was as good as gold. Moreover, Vandegrift had nothing tangible to gain from telling Goerner that Earhart had died on Saipan, and had no obvious reason to do so.
How Did Amelia Die?
It was common for locals to conclude that the Japanese military treated certain offenses with severe punishment, including execution by shooting or beheading. This included the early, though inaccurate account of Josephine Blanco about Amelia Earhart being shot soon after her arrival at Saipan. In 1983 Nieves Cabrera Blas told American author T.C. “Buddy” Brennan that she saw Amelia shot by a Japanese soldier in 1944, shortly before the American invasion.
However, the preponderance of Saipan witness accounts suggest that Amelia was not executed. According to Matilde F. Arriola and Joaquina Cabrera’s accounts, Amelia died from dysentery. Matilde noticed that one day the lady used the toilet many times that same day and that was the last time she saw her. The next day the caretaker came to ask for a wreath because the lady had died.
Mr. Jose Tomokane was Japanese himself, but we don’t know how loyal he was to his Emperor. I went to his house to talk to anyone in the family a few months after I came back from the States. In December I learned that the only child living today is the youngest son, Mitch Tomokane, and he is suffering from a bad heart problem.
My first question to Mitch, was, do you know how your father came to Saipan? Mitch said he came from Japan as an agricultural instructor during the Japanese era. He stayed on Saipan, got married and built his family, and he died in 1956 on Saipan. Another interesting thing was the location of the house today. The house Mitch is living today in is very close to the Japanese crematory. The only remaining part of the crematory is the base of the crematory statue.
So Mr. Tomokane, who may well have been an eyewitness to the cremation of Amelia Earhart, died four years before Fred Goerner arrived on Saipan. I was a Catholic nun then, here on Saipan, and as I recalled, Saipan was still strictly under U.S. Navy control. It was also secretly used by the CIA, which operated their spy school they called the Navy Technical Training Unit. I remember from reading Goerner’s book that he had a problem trying to enter Saipan because of this.
My dear people of Saipan, this is the story about the tragic incident that happened on our island in 1937. I’ve tried to make it easy to read for those interested in learning the truth of this extremely important historic event – a completely unnecessary tragedy that has yet to be recognized by mainstream historians.
After learning the truth of the lonely, wretched deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, we invite you to join us in supporting this most worthy and long overdue cause in giving the fliers the respect and dignity as human beings they deserve and building a memorial monument in their honor.
The people of Saipan had nothing to do with the deaths of Earhart and Noonan; however, given the fact that it happened on our soil, it is our responsibility as citizens of Saipan to recognize and acknowledge the truth, as painful and uncomfortable as the truth may be for many. If not now, when?
Let us not sit and do nothing while the Marshall Islands have long proclaimed the truth about the famous American aviators, most notably by creating four postage stamps in 1987, the 50th anniversary of their arrival at Mili Atoll, to honor and recognize the events of their arrival and pickup by the Japanese ship Koshu.
Never forget World War II! Over 3,000 American lives were lost to save your grandparents, great grandparents, other relatives and the entire Saipan community, which endured unimaginable suffering until their liberation in 1944.
Our CNMI Administration should step up with a gesture of sincere appreciation to the two great American fliers, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, and honor the heroic sacrifices they made at the hands of the militaristic pre-war Japanese on Saipan, and who were in fact the first American casualties of World War II.
“WE, the People” of Saipan most sincerely urge the CNMI leadership to support building the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument for these two great American aviators who met their tragic end on Saipan soil.
RESPECT among the CNMI is firmly rooted into our culture, so let us continue to preserve this beautiful legacy handed down through our elders and to the future generations.
To support the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, please send your tax-deductible contribution to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950.
Today we present Part 2 of three of our look at Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy, the 36-page booklet Marie Castro and I put together recently, which is available at Saipan’s Bestsellers bookstore and the Saipan Library. (All boldface emphasis is mine, and not included in the booklet.)
Amelia was not only the first woman to solo fly the Atlantic, she was the first person to fly the 2,408-mile distance between Honolulu and Oakland, California, the first time a civilian aircraft carried a two-way radio. As America and the world continue to make great strides in recognizing women’s accomplishments – women are even making strides in Saudi Arabia – why not recognize the truth about where Amelia Earhart met her tragic fate in the Pacific, on Japanese-controlled and occupied Saipan. In 1937 Amelia Earhart attempted to circumnavigate the world, but unfortunately, her plane came down at Mili Atoll in the Pacific and eventually was brought to Saipan by the Japanese military. Fact!
Mr. Hunter and Rep. Barcinas were very interested in hearing what I had to tell them about Amelia Earhart. Robert seemed to be familiar with it, since the subject is connected with his field as the DCCA director
We three met several times. Both wanted me to be the chairperson of a new committee; however, I declined that position, thinking it was inappropriate due to my 50 years away from Saipan. I handed the position to Congressman Barcinas and took the vice chair, while Robert Hunter was named treasurer.
(Editor’s note: Marie became the new AEMMI president on April 15, 2019; Frances Sablan, former secretary, is the new vice president.)
We formed the committee on Feb. 2, 2017 and started with a few members: Congressman Barcinas, myself, Robert Hunter, Edward Manibusan, Herman B. Cabrera, Frances C. Hout, Roberta Guerrero, and Frances M. Sablan. Last July, we applied to become a non-profit organization. Two weeks later we signed the papers and received a certificate for the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Incorporated, and we now have the bylaws of incorporation.
Last year we began meeting monthly for the planning of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. Our secretary, Frances M. Sablan, and I attended the Saipan Northern Island Legislative Delegation hearing on Capitol Hill. I spoke about Amelia Earhart and what happened in 1937 here on Saipan, a subject that was totally unfamiliar to those at the hearing.
I told the attendees it is time for Saipan to acknowledge this important historic event. After I finished I went to my seat and the guard asked me to make a copy of my talk. Other than that, there was no comment or action on my statement at the hearing. I thought perhaps I would eventually hear from the legislature, but as the old saying goes, “In one ear and out the other.”
Finding the most appropriate location to build the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument has not been easy. I decided to take another approach by talking to different individuals who could support the project. The chairman gave me several persons to meet with: Mr. Chris Tenorio, the Director of the Ports Authority; Oscar C. Camacho, Economic Development Analyst, Commonwealth Development Authority; Marianne Concepcion, Department of Public Lands; John Palacios, Historic Preservation Office; Danny Aquino, CNMI Museum; Chris Concepcion, Marianas Visitors Authority; and Harry Blanco, Field Representative of Insular Affairs.
After approaching all these different departments, however, the CDA and MVA were the most interested in the project’s success. The memorial monument would surely enhance the island’s economic development by increasing tourism and expanding the marketing base, boosting Saipan’s popularity worldwide.
‘‘The speculators obviously don’t recognize the net value to our Tourism Industry in having a Monument as over time the Monument will yield millions for the CNMI,” committee member Ambrose Bennett wrote recently. “The arguments against the Monument are really unfounded and there is nothing to support the speculative rationale as there will be thousands who will be enticed to come here because of the Monument, which is why it will be an asset to our Tourism Industry – it’s the big picture and the facts that count, and not the guesswork of unsubstantiated speculation.’’
The latest proposed location for the monument is on Capitol Hill, possibly the building that housed the NTTU Club, where we could provide a museum for Amelia Earhart and display all the photos dating back to the early 1930s. Any materials relating to Amelia and Fred Noonan that could be donated to the museum would add more interest for tourists, as well as everyone else who seeks to learn the truth about the disappearance of the iconic First Lady of Flight. Currently we have the following items to present to museum attendees, in addition to the beautiful memorial itself:
- 16 Albert Bresnik photos from Jeremy Palermo’s collection I received dating back to 1928 will be on display in the museum.
- A slide video of the same collection would be available for showing.
- The video of the May 2017 power-point presentation by Mike Campbell to the Association of Naval Aviation at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida Officers Club.
- Fred Goerner’s original KCBS radio report from July 1960
The monument will honor and commemorate one of the most famous pilots and personalities in the history of aviation. Sadly, due to the controversial political nature of the Earhart story and a blatant lack of accurate historical education – not only on Saipan but the entire United States – uninformed locals now contest the truthfulness of many witnesses who had no reason to lie.
Many eyewitness reports have reflected the presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in 1937. We strongly believe our elders’ testimonies that Saipan is the island where the doomed American fliers spent their final days.
More than 1,000 books have been published about Amelia Earhart, and 99 percent are biographies, novels, fantasies, and children’s books. Of all these, only about 10 books present aspects of the truth about what really happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Among these 10, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, by Mike Campbell, is the best, in my opinion and that of many experts who know Earhart research.
In 1988, Campbell began to study the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. That same year, he began a long-term correspondence with Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, and soon became convinced that Devine, Fred Goerner, Paul Briand Jr., Vincent V. Loomis, Bill Prymak and others were correct when they claimed that Earhart and Fred Noonan died on Saipan at an undetermined date after they failed to reach Howland Island on July 2, 1937. After 14 years of collaboration with Devine, Campbell’s first book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, was published in 2002 by a small Ohio company.
Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, published in 2012, with an expanded, more comprehensive second edition in 2016, represents over 20 years of research and presents the most compelling and complete case for the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan, as well as their initial landing at Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands, ever written.
Naysayers, critics, and cynics inject all manner of ridiculous speculation about Amelia Earhart, as if they are the absolute authorities who can proclaim that she was never on Saipan. We see this constantly, but this only exposes their irrational bias, and sometimes their inherent racism as well. As for what the witnesses saw, it is a point of fact that there were no other white women on Saipan at the time, and “a white lady dressed like a man” would have been easily recognized by locals in those days.
A sighting of Earhart would have unforgettably stuck out and made an indelible impression upon locals, and indeed it did. After the Japanese captured Earhart near Mili Atoll following her crash-landing on July 2, 1937, she was brought for interrogation to Saipan, which was their northern Pacific operations headquarters at that time.
The disappointing thing about the arguments against the monument is that they are driven by stubbornness and greed, by demanding proof of Amelia’s direct contribution before she is honored and recognized. In fact, Amelia didn’t have to have died here for the CNMI to honor her for her amazing aviation achievements.
The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument will celebrate the American pioneering spirit of this great woman’s accomplishments as one of the world’s original feminists, in the best sense of the word, and it will attract women from all professions, as well as aviators and historians throughout the world.
Josephine: What a coincidence!
We were greatly surprised and delighted when the famous Josephine Blanco Akiyama, 92, a longtime resident of San Mateo, California, was willing and able to make the trip to Saipan, and arrived with her son Ed on Oct. 6, 2018.
We are fortunate that she came at the time when we are working so hard on making Amelia Earhart’s Memorial Monument a reality.
Josephine is the last living person to actually see Amelia Earhart on Saipan in 1937. Without Josephine’s firsthand account, the important early books presenting the truth – Paul Briand’s Daughter of the Sky (1960) and Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966) – would never have been written. Josephine’s was the story that shook America, as true today as it was in 1960.
Josephine coming to Saipan was a true blessing for all of us working to establish the truth about Amelia Earhart’s presence here. She strengthened the worthy cause and helped to open up the minds of some of the unbelieving locals who have been misinformed for decades by the U.S. establishment and led to believe the popular but false “crashed-and-sank” and “Nikumaroro hypothesis” landing promoted by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and others who have used the Earhart story to profit greatly and mislead millions of the uninformed about the true fates of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
We don’t have space here to present all the Saipan witness accounts, much less the witnesses from the Marshall Islands, where the fliers landed at Mili Atoll, but following are a few such testimonies.
Amelia Earhart on Saipan: A Few Witnesses Speak
In 1960, Dr. Manual Aldan, a dentist and Saipan native who understood Japanese, told Fred Goerner he didn’t see the white woman or man in 1937, but offered an important detail he overheard from a Japanese officer. “I dealt with high officials on the island and knew what they were saying in Japanese,” Aldan said. “The name of the lady I hear used. This is the name the Japanese officer said: Earharto!” Aldan said he heard much about Earhart from his patients, and in 1937 these were restricted to Japanese officers.
“The officers made jokes about the United States using women as spies,“ Aldan told Goerner. “They said that American men did not have the courage to come and spy themselves.”
Catholic Missionary Priest Father Sylvan Conover brought Goerner to Jesús Salas, a Chamorro farmer, who had been held at Garapan Prison between 1937 and 1944 for fighting with a Japanese soldier, according to Goerner, who did not quote Salas directly but reported that “sometime during 1937 a white woman was placed in the next cell [beside Salas] but kept there only a few hours. He saw the woman only once but gave a description of her that fitted those given by the other witnesses. The guards told him the woman was an American pilot the Japanese had captured.”
Pedro Sakisag, born in 1927, told Goerner he was the youngest of those working at the harbor “for an unloading of food from the ships” in 1937. “During that time, one of our group went to the rest room, and the place where they kept the lady, and saw her face peering out a small window,” Sakisag said.
The man told Sakisag the woman was an American, and Sakisag later saw her, describing her hair as “light brown and cut like a man’s.” When asked if he knew what happened to her, Sakisag replied, “I can’t give you further answer because I just came to that place to work, and I wasn’t supposed to know the secret things.”
Antonio M. Cepada, a 52-year-old Buick employee at Agana, was interviewed by Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam in June 1960. Cepada offered the first of several vivid descriptions of events on Saipan during the summer of 1937:
One summer about two years after I got married, I saw an American girl who was referred to by some as the “American spy woman.” She was quartered on the second floor of the hotel Kobayashi Royokan in the summer of 1937. I don’t remember any plane crash, but I saw the girl twice on two separate occasions I saw her while going to work outside the hotel, which is located in East Garapan village. She wore unusual clothes – a long raincoat belted in the center. The color was a faded khaki. She was average height American girl – not short, not extra tall, had thin build. Chest somewhat flat, not out like other American girls. Her hair appeared to be a reddish-brown color and cut short like a man’s hair, trimmed close in the back like man. She did not wear powder or lipstick as I see other American women wear now.
Cepada told Gervais that the woman, “Tokyo Rosa,” was about thirty-five years old. When Gervais asked if he meant the Tokyo Rose on Japanese radio during the war, Cepada impatiently said, “Not that one. Tokyo Rosa in 1937 meant American spy girl. That’s all.” Carlos Palacious told Gervais and Dinger that he had been working on Saipan as a salesman at a store near the Hotel Kobayashi Royokan since 1930, and that he saw the girl only twice in about a three-month period, the first time at a window on the second floor of the hotel.
“The window was open,” Palacious said, “and she had on what looked to me like a man’s white shirt with short sleeves . . . open collar. She had short dark reddish-brown hair, cut like a man’s hair in back, too.” The second occasion he saw her, Palacious said she was standing at the entrance to the hotel, wearing the same clothes as before: “Same girl, hair cut short, no make-up, a slim girl . . . not fat . . . not big in the chest.” Palacious used the same term to describe her that Cepada had –“Tokyo Rosa . . . an American spy girl,” and thought she was about thirty-four to thirty-six years old.
Like Cepada, Palacios didn’t know what had happened to the girl, but thought she was probably taken to Japan. He had never heard of Amelia Earhart, but when shown Earhart’s photo, Palacious said, “Face and haircut look like the same girl to me.”
Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas (the former Matilde Fausto Arriola) told Gervais, Dinger, and Father Bendowske that she lived next door to the hotel with her family in 1937, and “saw the American girl in the hotel, and twice during the seven days she stayed there she visited me and my younger sister at our home,” mirroring Antonio Cepada’s time estimate for the woman’s stay at the hotel. She described the woman as “thin with short hair like a man’s,” and said the first time she saw her she looked very pale as though she were sick.
“My sister and I offered her food,” Matilde went on. “She accepted it but ate very little, only a little fruit.” The last time the woman visited Matilde and her sister, “she had bandages on her left forearm,” Matilde said. “Also bruises on the right side of her neck. The American girl liked my younger sister very much, and on this second visit when my sister was doing a geography lesson, the American girl helped her draw correctly the location of the Mariana Islands in relation to the other islands in the Pacific.” Later, a bus boy told Matilde the American girl had died at the hotel. “He said the bed she slept on was soaked with blood and that before she died, the American girl had been going very often to the outside toilet,” Matilde recalled. “Later the bus boy asked me to make two wreaths for a burial.” When Gervais showed Matilde several photos of Amelia Earhart, Matilde said, “It looks like the same girl.”
In September 1961, Matilde related a similar account to Goerner, with one major difference. Matilde said “for many months in 1937 and ’38 she had seen the white woman whom the Japanese referred to as ‘flier and spy.’ ”
Matilde selected the correct photo of Earhart from a group of fifteen Goerner displayed, telling him, “This is the woman; I’m sure of it, but she looked older and more tired.” She said she saw the woman many times in the hotel’s yard, and several times she gave her fruit:
One day she came out into the yard and she looked very sick and sadder than usual. I gave her a piece of fruit and she smiled. Then she gave me a ring from her finger and put her hand on my head in friendship. The next day one of the police came and got some black cloth from my father and had him make some paper flowers. The man said the lady had died and they were going to bury her. She died of dysentery.
The ring, a single pearl set in white gold that Matilde said Amelia Earhart gave her, would have been a powerful piece of hard evidence, but Matilde said she gave it to her sister, who passed it to her niece, who lost it. No photographic evidence of the ring exists, and Goerner thought Amelia could have bought it at one of her stops prior to Lae.
(End of Part II)
If 2018 was memorable for anything in Earhart circles, it was the news of the birth of the grass-roots movement to erect an Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan, which actually occurred in September 2017. The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Incorporated (AEMMI) committee is the brainchild of Marie S. Castro, 85, the current committee vice president, who is essentially responsible for its existence. Former AEMMI President Rep. Donald Barcinas (Republican, Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature, who has since lost his seat), said in February 2018 that at least $200,000 is needed for the successful completion of the monument.
I learned about the AEMMI on Feb. 8, 2018, when reader Ken McGhee told me that he’d seen the initial story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan,” on the website of the Marianas Variety. You can read the original article, which appeared on Feb. 7, by clicking here. Several stories followed in quick succession. My near-joyous announcement, “Finally, some good Earhart news from Saipan” was posted here March 2, followed by “Saipan architect unveils planned Earhart Memorial” on March 16.
In my May 18 story, “Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts,” Marie produced a photo of Jose Sadao Tomokane, who told his wife in 1937 that he was late coming home because he had “attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.”
In the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety, my post about Marie S. 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. Marie’s interview with another of Goerner’s eyewitnesses, “Revisiting Joaquina Cabrera, Earhart eyewitness,” was published here April 17.
Marie continues as the prime mover and virtual sole voice in the movement to erect the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. With the exception of a few very generous individuals, the response to our year-long fundraising campaign has been cool on this side of the Pacific, and ice cold on Saipan.
In an effort to change hearts and minds, in early January 2019 Marie was inspired to write a small booklet about her life and devotion to Amelia’s legacy, intended for distribution on Saipan, “mostly for the locals to educate and induce them to read,“ she told me. She sent me a 20-page draft, which I tuned-up and expanded, and by mid-February, the first of three boxes of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy, arrived on Saipan.
Saipan’s Marianas Variety newspaper published a story about the booklet, “New book about Amelia Earhart on Saipan now available,” by reporter Junhan B. Todiño, on Feb. 25, 2019, and on March 4, Saipan TV’s Ashley McDowell interviewed Marie for a story you can watch by clicking here.
The 35-page booklet is available at the Saipan’s Bestsellers bookstore and the Saipan Library, and Marie will ask for donations when she distributes it to those she hopes might be willing to help make the Earhart Memorial Monument a reality someday. I think it’s appropriate that readers everywhere see it, and hope that some might be moved to help Marie on Saipan, at the address listed at the top right of the front page of this blog.
Beginning with the back-cover narrative, here is the first of three parts of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy. (Boldface mine throughout and not in the booklet.)
In My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy, Mike Campbell, author of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (Second Edition 2016), and Marie Castro, author of Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII, her 2013 autobiography, present a brief summary of the facts in the 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, and their tragic deaths on prewar Japanese-controlled Saipan.
Marie, 85, is the leading light in the grass-roots initiative to erect the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan. Along with Campbell and a few others, she persists in her determination to bring long-overdue justice to the famed aviatrix and her navigator.
My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy is Marie’s unique way of continuing her mission to thank America for saving Saipan, in a way no one else has ever done, by educating her own people about Earhart, Noonan and the unhappy truth about their lonely ends on Saipan. Seeing the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument project through to its completion has become among the most daunting challenges of Marie Castro’s long life, but one in which she is determined to succeed.
Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy
By Mike Campbell with Marie S.C. Castro (Part 1 of 3)
I’m currently 85 years old, and what has happened in my life is quite amazing. For starters, and quite briefly, I lived in Kansas City, Missouri for 50 years and decided to sell my great home at 100 Garfield Avenue, also known as Tiffany Castle, and move back home for good to Saipan, the largest island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or CNMI.
In 1966 I was sent to Kansas City as a nun to complete my higher education. During the 1960s and ‘70s a big transitional movement was under way in the Catholic Church for clergy and religious to reflect on their vocations. I believe it was Pope St. John XXIII who issued a Decree for priests and nuns who questioned their vocation to go on sabbatical leave for one year. I prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide me in my decision, and I decided to relinquish my vows as a nun. I believed I made the right decision. Although I am no longer in the religious life, I maintain my Catholic Faith and training that has served as a strong guide and anchor in my secular life.
I never forget what the American military endured in World War II in order to free the people of Saipan from oppression, and I dedicated my life to education. I decided to remain in Kansas City and teach in school, where I could help children and reciprocate in my own small way to this great country. I taught two years at Ozanam Home for Boys, an institution for emotionally disturbed youngsters, and then applied to the Kansas City Missouri Public School System, where I taught for 25 years and retired in 1998. I felt it was a big accomplishment in my life in helping children to make a difference. Later I spent time doing voluntary work, as well attending courses and lectures until I came back home for good in 2016.
I took lots of pictures of the castle to show to my mother and my family before I went to Saipan in the summer of 1989. Everyone admired the beauty of the woodwork and the stained glass around the house.
When I came back to Kansas City from that vacation, I called the realtor to make an appointment to see the castle once more, so I could definitely decide what to do. I met with the realtor at the castle at 2 o’clock one afternoon. As she opened the big front door, I was mesmerized with the beauty of the woodwork, the high ceiling and a big mantle with a huge mirror built over it. The realtor led me up to a beautiful spiral stairway to the second floor and a big master bedroom with five other bedrooms. Next we went on to the turret, where we could see the Missouri River, overlooking Kansas City, downtown and the residential areas all around.
As we went back down and proceeded to the dining room, I looked over the stained glass door entrance, and I felt so humbled for the opportunity to see it again. While I stood in the dining room, suddenly I remembered what my brother Gus told me, “If you see something you like and you can do it, go for it. You only live once in your lifetime.”
I thought if I don’t take this house, it would haunt me all my life, and I will be sorry if I pass up this opportunity. At that moment I turned to the realtor and said, “I will purchase the castle.”
It wasn’t easy to sell that big historic mansion, but finally after four years on the market an interested person made an offer after touring the castle. After 26 years in this house, leaving was an emotional and difficult experience. It was a special home for me, not only considering it as my home on earth, but especially after having found out through my research on the castle that it was built in 1903. Right then, the connection with my mother became even more meaningful to me. It seemed to be a sign, in that my mother was also born in 1903. Although I was over 8,000 miles away from her, I always felt the closeness between the two of us. The castle served as a therapeutic home, a kind of extension of the intimate love of a mother.
I had sold my property on Saipan during the economic boom in the late 1970s-early ‘80s when the Japanese were investing on the island. The castle was badly in disrepair and the price was affordable, so I was able to put a down payment and then applied for a mortgage.
After a month this huge commitment began to sink in, but my determination to own it was stronger than the financial burden. I thought nothing is easy in this world.
I went back home feeling satisfied at my accomplishment that day. That evening I wasn’t able to sleep until 3 a.m. for that incredible decision I made. Later I remembered my realtor told me, “Marie, the house was meant for you.” I believed she was right, because for the 26 years I lived in that house I enjoyed every minute and every corner of the house. It was my heaven on earth. I wish my mother would have had the opportunity to taste the beauty of that house.
The castle was completely empty when I bought it. To find the most appropriate set of furniture to furnish the castle was not easy, but finally after over three years the house was well furnished, appropriate to its unique style.
My mother, Virginia C. Castro, left, was recovering from her minor heart problem at the hospital when I came for my yearly summer vacation to Saipan. I spent as much time as I could with her that summer; the thought of leaving her was so painful to me.
Three days after I arrived back in Kansas City, I got a call from my brother Gus, who said, “If you want to see Mother for the last time, come home as soon as possible. She is in critical condition.” I made my plane reservation and flew the next day back to Saipan. I prayed so hard during my flight that I would see my mother alive before she departed.
I arrived at Saipan at 8 p.m. the next day. My brother was at the airport to meet me, and we went directly to the hospital. As I entered her room the family had just finished praying the Rosary by her bedside. As I bent and kissed her, I said “Mother I am here, si Daling.” Mother opened her eyes and smiled at me, and I knew she was waiting for her daughter. I was fortunate to stay at my mother’s bedside, giving her my last assistance for five days until she died on Aug. 6, 1990.
In 2013, my book, Without a Penny in my Pocket, was published through funding provided by the Northern Marianas Humanities Council. Its subtitle, My Bittersweet Memories Before and After World War II, well summarizes its contents.
William H. Stewart, former senior economist for the Northern Marianas and a career military-historical cartographer and foreign-service officer in the U.S. State Department, wrote a very nice, comprehensive review of Without a Penny in November 2014.
“Marie Castro’s fascinating book, Without a Penny in my Pocket, takes the reader back to a period on Saipan long ago swept away on the waves of time,” Stewart wrote in beginning his two-page review. “Recalling the days of her youth she provides vivid and rare insight of bygone days of a peaceful Saipan before the ravages of war destroyed much but not the memories of what used to be. . . . Today’s youth would be well-advised to learn from the experiences of the author and her family and friends, of the heartbreak and suffering the people of Saipan endured and the faith they all exhibited to overcome such adversity. . . She is an inspiration for all who aspire to make a contribution by helping others through education and good deeds.”
I urge interested readers who want to learn more than I can offer in this small booklet to obtain a copy of Without a Penny in my Pocket.
Return to Saipan
Two years later, on Oct. 13, 2016, I returned to Saipan for good and wondered, “What am I to do now?” Perhaps I would be bored, but interestingly enough, a few months later I remembered Matilde F. Arriola, whom I interviewed about Amelia Earhart in 1983. Perhaps this was what had been bothering me in the back of my mind the year 2017 in connection with 1937, 80 years ago when Amelia Earhart’s plane came down in the Pacific with her navigator Fred Noonan and eventually was brought to Saipan by the Japanese.
I began considering this event that happened in 1937 on Saipan. At that time, people were subject to strict Japanese governance. We had no rights on our own island. People were ordered to comply with any ordinance given by the Japanese regime. Any infraction would result in punishment, and depending on the severity of the offense, the price could be terrible and devastating. The people lived in constant fear, which had become the normal daily environment on Saipan.
Japan’s economic interests on Saipan were mainly to subsidize her own people. Much of the land was used to cultivate tapioca and cotton, but most of it was devoted to sugarcane plantations. The production of sugarcane became so large that the country decided through an entrepreneur businessman named Matsue to build a sugarcane factory on Saipan. He brought in large numbers of workers from the island of Okinawa to work in sugarcane fields as well as in the factory.
Interestingly enough, only a few Saipanese who were conscripted by the government in 1937 happened to witness an event that the locals had suppressed in their minds until the war ended. After the liberation of Saipan in the summer of 1944 and people were encamped at Camp Susupe, fears suppressed by the people for so long during the Japanese regime began to unravel, and the seeds of freedom the American victory had planted began to bear fruit.
I remember Joaquin M. Seman and his friend Frank Deleon Guerrero, who came to our house one evening for a social visit and told the story about an American woman pilot who wore a man’s outfit with short hair. The woman pilot was the great Amelia Earhart. It was so strange to them, as they had never seen a woman dressed like that, as according to the Chamorro culture, woman always wore dresses.
In early February 2017 I met with Robert Hunter at his Department of Community and Cultural Affairs (DCCA) office and Rep. Donald Barcinas and explained my idea. The presence and death of Amelia Earhart on Saipan is a very unpopular subject here; however, I believe that it should be recorded in our history, for many important reasons. These include recognizing Amelia as the American woman pilot who so exemplified the fearless spirit of adventure that so characterized the early aviation pioneers, and to finally offer those who are interested in Amelia a monument on Saipan, where she met her tragic fate.
Amelia Earhart endures in the American consciousness as one of the world’s most celebrated aviators, and she remains a symbol of the power and perseverance of women who are determined to achieve a lofty goal, and the adventurous spirit so essential to the American persona. The last time I checked, the CNMI is still a part of America.
End of Part I.