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 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 studies 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 offences 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 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 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.