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.C. 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 March 2, followed by “Saipan architect unveils planned Earhart Memorial” 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In my May 18 story, “Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts,” Marie produced a photo of Jose Sadao Tomokane, who told his wife in 1937 that he was late coming home because he had “attended the cremation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.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. 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.