Today present the conclusion of Paul Briand Jr.’s “Requiem for Amelia,” perhaps the best early synopsis of the accounts presented by the original Saipan and Marshall Islands witnesses, based on the interviews done by Fred Goerner and the “Operation Earhart” duo of Air Force officers Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960. (Boldface emphasis is both Briand’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Briand’s.)
According to other witnesses, the American fliers were blind-folded, taken into custody, and driven away from the crash scene into the nearby village of Garapan. Jose Basa, who had been stacking gasoline drums for the refueling of Japanese construction equipment, saw the crash, clearly remembers that one of the apprehended pilots was a woman, then saw them blindfolded and driven away by Japanese officials. Jose Camacho and his wife, also witnesses to the crash in the Sadog Tasi area near the Chico base, stood nearby and watched the Americans being taken away in a vehicle toward the direction of Garapan.
Mr. Antonio A. Diaz, now a distinguished member of the Saipan legislature, was in 1937 the chauffeur for the Commanding Officer of the Japanese Navy Chico Base on Saipan. One day in the commander’s sedan he overheard a conversation between the commanding officer and another Japanese officer. The officers were discussing the airplane that had crashed at Sadog Tasi. Two American pilots were apprehended. One of them was a woman.
Contrary to expectations, the Americans were not taken directly to prison, but to the Hotel Kobayashi-Royokan in Garapan. Many Saipan natives remember seeing the Americans at the hotel, particularly the woman, because of the name they all called her by and best remember her by. The name was “Tokyo Rosa” the American spy girl with the camera up front.
Antonio M. Cepada, then 52, recalls that he saw the American woman on two separate occasions over a period of three months during the summer of 1937. Asked to explain the term Tokyo Rosa which he was using in his story (because of the connection with Tokyo Rose used later during the war), Cepada said they named the American woman themselves among his people. In 1937 in Saipan, Tokyo Rosa meant American spy girl, and that IS all it meant, nothing else.
“I saw her while going to work outside the hotel which is located in East Garapan village,” Cepada said. “She wore unusual clothes, belted in the center. The color was faded khaki, which looked like it had been washed many times. Clothes like pilots wear.” He described the woman as “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 reddish brown color and cut short like man’s hair, trimmed close in back like man. She did not wear powder or lipstick.”
“The girl looked soft,” Cepada remembers, “very calm, not expressive, not smile —seem to be thinking far away and not notice her surroundings and people much.” He guessed her age to be about 35, but remarked it was hard to tell age of the American woman. When shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Cepada said, “Looks just like same girl then.”
Commenting on her capture, Cepada did not know how she had been caught. But the belief then was: “she take secret picture with flying suit in front hidden camera.”
Another man who saw the American girl under similar circumstances and also referred to her as Tokyo Rosa, was Carlos Palacios, then 48, who in 1937 worked as a salesman in a merchandise store near the Kobayashi-Royokan hotel. Palacios, too, had only seen the woman twice, while going to and from his place of work. The first time was at an open window on the second floor of the hotel. She had on what seemed to him a man’s white shirt, with short sleeves, and open at the neck. She had dark reddish-brown hair, cut like a man’s hair in back too. He could not see any make-up or lipstick.
The second time Palacios saw the woman she was standing at the entrance to the hotel. She wore the same white shirt, and a dark skirt and American-type shoes. “It was the same girl,” he affirmed, “hair cut short, no make-up, slim girl, not fat, not big in front of chest.”
He said he did not know where the woman was caught and does not remember a crash incident – “only American spy girl and secret pictures she take.” She was Tokyo Rosa, his people’s 1937 expression for the American spy girl. Like Cepada when shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Palacios said, “Looks and haircut look like same girl.”
A resident of the hotel, Antonio G. Cabrera, then 62, now a farmer, who lived downstairs and owned the land on which the hotel was located, remembers that in 1937 an American man and woman lived at the Kobayashi-Royokan and were under the custody of the Japanese. The Americans lived at the hotel for only a short while and then were taken away by the Japanese.
When asked to examine some photographs, Cabrera positively identified the man as Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart as a woman who looked just like the woman who stayed at the hotel.
Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera [relationship to Antonio G. unknown], then 49, employed as a servant at the hotel in 1937, recalled seeing the two Americans and that as part of her duties she took a list of the guests to the governor’s office every day. On one particular day while carrying out this duty, Mrs. Cabrera saw the two Americans in the rear of a three-wheeled vehicle. They were blindfolded and their hands were bound behind them. One of them was the American woman. When she looked at a newspaper picture of Amelia and Fred, Mrs. Cabrera said they looked like the same people, and they were dressed in the same manner as the people she saw in the truck. She never learned what then happened to the two Americans.
Living next door to the hotel was Mrs. Matilda Ariola Saint Nicholas, then 47, perhaps the last woman to see the woman flier alive. The American woman visited Matilda and her younger sister on two different occasions in a one-week period while she was still living at the hotel. On the first visit the American girl wore a trench coat, and appeared very pale, as if she were sick.
The Nicholases offered her some food; the woman accepted, but ate very little, only some fruit. When the American woman visited the second time, she was noticeably changed in appearance, for although still pale and sick-looking, she now had bruises or burns on the right side of her neck and had her left forearm wrapped in bandages. It was on this visit, Mrs. Saint Nicholas remembers, that the American girl, despite her pain and sickness, helped the sister with her geography lesson, guiding her as she drew correctly the location of the Mariana Islands in relation to the other islands in the Pacific.
Matilda Saint Nicholas did not see the American girl again, nor did she hear about her again until a busboy from the hotel told her he had learned that the American girl had died. Lately he had noticed how often she had to use the outside toilet and how, most recently, he saw that the bed she slept on was soaked with blood. It was later, Mrs. Saint Nicholas said, that the same busboy asked her to make two wreaths for a burial.
From the hotel the American fliers were taken to the prison in Garapan. An Insular policeman and prison guard for the Japanese at the time was Ramon Cabrera, then 41, who saw the pi1ots, bound and blindfolded, brought to the prison. They both wore khaki-colored flying clothes. One had a beard with thick whiskers. The other, he noticed, was strange looking, with no whiskers and a smooth face, smaller in height than the other, and slender in build. But both had short haircuts. The fliers were kept in separate cells, but were permitted to exercise out in the main prison yard for short periods during the day. There were approximately 200 prisoners in the prison at the time, composed of Saipanese, Carolinians and Guamanians. But the two pilots were the only Americans there.
For the first few days, Cabrera recalls, the Americans could not eat their prison food — breadfruit and other bits thrown in. But by the fourth day they began to eat, although they still did not like the food, because they only received one meal a day, served in thirds three times a day. Like other Saipan natives in 1937, Cabrera used the expression Tokyo Rosa, and in addition he used the term “driver” as it was meant by the Japanese then to refer to an American woman as a driver of a car, boat, or airplane.
Ramon Cabrera claims he does not know what happened to the American prisoners after they were taken from the Garapan jail. He guessed they were either deported to Japan or executed.
If the Japanese were convinced that the Americans were spies, that the cameras found in the crashed aircraft, or the camera carried by the girl, or both, were used to photograph the fortifications being built in the Pacific contrary to the terms of the League of Nations man- date, then they had but one recourse to silence this discovery by two Americans . . . death. If the Americans were executed as spies, however, there is no witness who is willing to come forth and confirm what can only be inferred.
That there was an execution can be inferred from the testimony of two natives, who claim they know the exact location of the unmarked graves of the American man and woman pilots, but who are unwilling to point them out for reasons fearful and mysterious even twenty years after the fact. If they continue unwilling, the jungle will finally reclaim the graves and the signs of the crosses, now broken and mute to the outrage committed.
The two men are Joaquin Seman, then 48, a sugar mill worker on Saipan in 1937, and Ben Salas, then 43, a carpenter at the Japanese Chico Navy Base at the same time. They are good friends. When they were interviewed [by Gervais and Guam Police Sergeant Eddie M. Camacho] they both stated that they remembered the two Americans on Saipan in 1937, and that one of them was the American spy woman, Tokyo Rosa. The executions, they said, were performed not at the Garapan prison, but at the main Chico base.
Salas and Seman were in complete agreement that there were only Americans killed before the war by the Japanese — an American man, and an American woman. They were buried in unconsecrated ground in the Catholic cemetery at Liyang on Saipan, near the quarry and lumberyard, one mile south of the main prison.
Perhaps the one native witness who could reveal the certain identity of the American man and woman on Saipan in 1937 is the one man whose story does not agree with the testimony of all the other witnesses. The man is Jesus De Leon Guerrero, then 51, alias “Kumoi,” who in 1937 on Saipan was chief investigator on the police force for the Japanese. (He gave a negative response to the civilian administration in Saipan in the official report.) Although today he has no official connections with either the American or Japanese governments — he is a dealer in scrap metal — he is still greatly feared and respected on Saipan as the man who could extract confessions out of anybody. For this reason he was very useful to the Japanese authorities on Saipan in dealing with the natives and getting necessary information out of prisoners.
Guerrero denies any knowledge whatever about two American fliers taken prisoner. He has said, however, there was an American-born Japanese woman who was hanged as a spy in 1938. “She was beautiful,” he was quoted as saying, “and about 25 years of age. She appeared to have been part American and would have been mistaken for one. She was born in Los Angeles, California.”
The woman had come to Saipan from Japan apparently to look for work, Guerrero recalled. But she didn’t look like a worker because she was well-groomed and spoke very good English.
Back and forth through almost thirty years, the story of Amelia Earhart has unfolded, not clarifying the mystery of her disappearance, but deepening and complicating it by hearsay evidence and the conflicting testimony of natives who should know, and be able to tell, the truth.
Amelia Earhart was not on a spy mission for her government, she did not crash-land on Saipan; she was not taken as a prisoner; she was not executed as a spy or allowed to die. These are the conclusions of the Navy in the official report I was allowed to read. Considering their evidence, they could reach no other conclusions.
Most interestingly, there is no villain in the piece. The U. S. Navy was not trying to suppress or hide information. On the contrary, the Navy was trying as hard as I was (or anybody else) to uncover the truth. [Editor’s note: In this statement, Briand could not be more mistaken. Clearly, he fell victim to a convincing Navy propaganda effort.]
What, then, are my conclusions about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, after having conducted research about her almost continuously for the nine years since 1957 when I decided to write her biography?
I believe, now that I have examined all my latest evidence, that Amelia Earhart accidentally crash-landed on Saipan, that she and Fred Noonan were taken prisoners by the Japanese, were imprisoned on Saipan, and later — perhaps even many years later — were executed or allowed to die either on Saipan or in Japan. I do not believe she was on a deliberate spy mission, but I think the Japanese did believe Amelia was a spy because of the evidence of cameras on her person and in the airplane.
The Japanese, of course, could not reveal that they had found her, for she had discovered what they had been trying to hide — preparations for war against the United States. Unwittingly and without a plan on their part, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been mistaken as spies. If they could have brought home evidence of a Japanese military build-up in the Pacific, they would have been rewarded as heroes. Fate, however, dealt them a contrary hand.
How can anyone explain why stories from widely scattered sources support each other in broad outline and even, at times in small detail? Natives are naturally hostile to or afraid of established authority and will say almost anything not to get officially involved. Witnesses like Jesus Guerrero, for example, would have much to fear from official sources.
The weight of my evidence adds up to Saipan, a crash-landing, imprisonment and death. Josephine Blanco, J. Y. Matsumoto, and Thomas Blas confirm a crash-landing on Saipan; Jose Blaza, and Jose Camacho and his wife saw a man and a woman pilot being driven away by Japanese officials; Antonio M. Cepada, Carlos Palacios, Antonio G. Cabrera, and Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera confirm that the pilots were held in custody; Ramon Cabrera saw the fliers, bound and blindfolded, brought to prison; Jesus Guerrero undoubtedly knows of any execution; and Joaquin Seman and Ben Salas most probably know the location of the graves.
“Courage,” Amelia Earhart once wrote, “is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” She paid the price, and all of America is ennobled because she was willing to pay it — all of her life, and up to what must have been its bitter end. May she at last rest in peace. (End of “Requiem for Amelia.”)
We now know beyond any doubt, based on a massive assemblage of credible evidence, not to mention common sense, that Amelia did not fly to Saipan from Lae, New Guinea, which would have been a nearly 90 degree mistake, virtually unthinkable for even the most incompetent aviators of her day.
Remember that Briand was writing in 1966, when we knew about 10 percent of what has been learned since, and had no knowledge of the fliers’ Mili Atoll landing off Barre Island. But with the seminal work of Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner and yes, even the creator of the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart lie, Joe Gervais, we would have had precious little to guide us, and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart might still be correctly called a mystery.