We return to the early 1960s and the seminal Saipan investigations by Fred Goerner, Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger. Brother Gregorio, who signed his full name as “Brother Gregorio Oroquieth, Churio, S.J.” in the 1961 letter he wrote to researcher Joe Gervais below, while Gervais was still in the Air Force, was a minor footnote in the Earhart saga, but this is yet another credible account that places Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan soon after their July 2, 1937 disappearance.
Based on the letter’s date, Gregorio wrote it before Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan in September 1961 for his second investigation, although Goerner apparently learned of Gregorio’s story a year earlier. We’ll return to Goerner after presenting Gregorio’s interesting missive to Gervais, who was doing respectable research on Guam and Saipan during those early days.
The letter below appeared in the November 1994 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Boldface emphasis mine throughout.
Translated 17 February 1961 by Roy Sorenson, Spanish teacher, Kubisaki High School, Okinawa
6 February 1961
Dear Captain Gervais, Saipan
I am writing this letter in Spanish rather than English because I feel I can express my reply more understandably for you. I enjoyed the photos you sent of Father Arnold [Bendowski], yourself, and [Robert] Dinger. Dinger is certainly a beautiful [sic] Air Force Captain, isn’t he?
I recall a little over 20 years ago before War was declared during the summer holidays for the children, when they came to the vestry to tell me of the two American spies who were apprehended on Saipan near Garapan. They mentioned one was an American woman who wears long pants like a man and has a haircut like a man. The Japanese police have these Americans as spies, and the woman’s companion’s face is very suntanned like Spanish people’s face. The Japanese take them away to ask questions. The children were Jesus Rios, Juan Sanches, Jose Sanches [sic, correct spelling for Juan and Jose is Sanchez, according to Fred Goerner, see page 102, 103 The Search for Amelia Earhart], Jose Geregeyo [sic], and the Americans were seen coming from the direction of Lisang near Garapan.
Kumoi [Jesús De Leon Guerrero] spoke to me about them a few days later of these two American Intelligence Spies and says he will show them everything if they give him much money. I spoke to Father Arnold in 1947, and again in 1960 on Guam about Kumoi, and his story has changed recently from that which was said over 20 years ago, and at the same time of the children’s, as I best can recall.
After the invasion of Saipan I went to Intelligence Officer there on Saipan, I don’t remember the Officer’s name, and asked him if they wanted any information of the two Americans, the man and the woman who come to Saipan from Hawaii in an airplane for American intelligence before the invasion. He said there was no such thing as an American woman in any airplane of any kind for Intelligence that he ever heard of. He was not interested at all in more talking after saying that, and I left. Vinciente Guerror [sic, Vicente Guerrero is correct] in 1947 on Saipan — Father [Jose Maria] Tardio (can’t make this out clearly) [sic].
My best wishes to you both, and Father Arnold. I do not know if this will be of help as I don’t know what became of these two Americans as the vestry was far located from where they were apprehended. If can be of further assistance please feel free to correspond.
Your friend and servant,
Brother Gregorio, Oroquieth, Churio, S.J.
In his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart Fred Goerner provided the rest of the known background on Brother Gregorio and what he knew about the presence and death of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan:
As I had learned the preceding year, only one person assigned to the Catholic mission before the war had survived the invasion and the years that followed. Father Tardio had died in Spain after the war, but one of the lay brothers, Brother Gregorio, was at the church on Yap Island. During the year, Father Sylvan [Conover] had talked with Gregorio at a gathering of church officials on Guam. Brother Gregorio remembered the story of the two white people, supposedly fliers, who had been held by the Japanese during 1937-1938, but it was not eyewitness testimony. The Brother along with the Fathers and Sisters at the mission had been restricted to church grounds by the Japanese during that period, and then had been placed under house arrest on December 8, 1941. Two young Saipanese, the Sanchez brothers, Juan and Jose, had told Gregorio of the two Americans and what the Japanese had done to them. The brothers had been in their teens at the time, but Gregorio was certain that they had told him the truth. He felt that it was extremely unlikely the boys could have invented such a story.
Father Sylvan and I traced the brothers Sanchez and found them working as mechanics for the mysterious entity known as NTTU [Naval Technical Training Unit]. They were surprised and disturbed when Father Sylvan asked them about Brother Gregorio’s statement, but admitted they had some knowledge of the incident. Both felt they would like to refresh their memories before making a definite statement and promised to come to the church mission house the next day and give us the details. Only one Sanchez appeared the following morning, and his attitude had completely changed. He claimed neither he nor his brother had any information that would help us. “Brother Gregorio does not remember correctly,” he said. “We know nothing of what he says.”
Father Sylvan questioned hard and long but to no avail. The Sanchez brothers were obviously frightened and were not going to say a thing. Another full year passed before we learned the two Saipanese had been told by the Navy or NTTU not to cooperate with the people who were asking questions about the missing fliers. Father Sylvan and I had suspected as much in 1961.
Brother Gregorio’s 1961 account added another voice to the ever-growing chorus attesting to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. The incident between Father Sylvan Conover and the Sanchez brothers as recounted by Fred Goerner is yet another example of the U.S. government’s ongoing commitment to controlling and covering up the truth about the fliers’ Saipan deaths — as if we needed any more proof.