Tinian is best known as the launching pad for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945, followed by a second atomic device, “Fat Man,” dropped on Nagasaki by the B-29 Bockscar. But if the site an American Marine was shown by a native Hawaiian who worked under the Japanese in 1937 and claimed was the grave of Amelia Earhart could be found and verified, Tinian’s notoriety in world history would be exponentially increased. (Boldface mine throughout.)
St. John Naftel was a Marine gunner’s mate assigned to the 18th AAA Marine Battalion stationed on Tinian shortly after the American invasion of July 24-Aug. 1, 1944. The 8,000-man Japanese garrison was eliminated, and the island joined Saipan and Guam as a base for the Twentieth Air Force. Japanese losses were 5,543 killed, 2,265 missing and 252 captured, while 326 Americans died and 1,593 were wounded.
By Aug. 10, 1944, 13,000 Japanese civilians were interned, but up to 4,000 were dead through suicide, murdered by Japanese troops or killed in combat. The garrison on Aguijan Island off the southwest cape of Tinian, commanded by Lt. Kinichi Yamada, held out until the end of the war, surrendering on Sept. 4, 1945. The last holdout on Tinian, Murata Susumu, was captured in 1953.
Fast-forward to September 2003, when “It all began with a call from Jennings Bunn to Jim Sullivan on the ‘The Deep,’ a radio talk show aired on K57 radio in Guam,” wrote Rlene Santos Steffy, a columnist for The Guam Daily Post, in “The Tinian Earhart Expedition 2004,” still available online:
Jennings was in possession of a letter from Mr. Elliot Broughton, who knew of a WWII veteran claiming knowledge of the fate of Amelia Earhart and her navigator following their much publicized disappearance following their attempted flight around the globe in 1937. Jennings contacted Mr. Broughton and learned of Mr. St John Naftel, who was stationed on Tinian at the end of the Japanese era of control. During Mr. Naftel’s time on Tinian, he came to know a conscript of the Japanese army who confided the location of two graves that he had been forced to dig five days after his arrival in 1937. In these graves, he told Naftel, were buried the bodies of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan.
Jennings’ call to the radio show was a plea for assistance that Jim Sullivan and his guest host that evening Bob Silvers responded to. After an initial meeting to discuss the details, The Tinian Earhart Expedition [also known as The Tinian Dig] was formed. During the next month, the group interviewed Mr. Naftel, researched his story, conducted an aerial survey of the area and dug into the historical archives for additional supporting documentation to try to determine the validity of Mr. Naftel’s story. By the end of September, it was looking very promising and it was decided that the only way to progress further was to bring Mr. Naftel to Tinian to undertake a physical search for evidence of the grave sites. With great confidence and anticipation, the arrangements were made.
Steffy is an ethnographer, oral historian and research associate at the University of Guam’s Micronesia Area Research Center, and also wrote a review of Truth at Last in July 2017.
Following is Naftel’s account as given to Cassandra “Sandy” Frost, self-identified as “an award-winning e-journalist and editor who has covered the topics of Intuition, Remote Viewing and Consciousness from an Athabascan or Alaska Native point of view the past three years,” who also chronicled The Tinian Dig in a series of articles for Rense.com (see below):
The first job for my unit was to clean the place up.
There was a place that I called “the stockade” which consisted of three sections. First made up of military personnel, second, island natives (farmers, shopkeepers, etc.), third, the people the Japanese had brought in prior to any military action (they were like slaves to the Jap military). Because the cleanup operation required a lot of labor, these people could be trusted (used) to help with the cleanup.
My first job was to escort a truck load of these people from the stockade to our camp each day.
JOB — Pick a truck load of these people at the stockade which usually consisted of about 30 people — each day as we loaded the truck (open body) I would ask, “Is there anyone that can speak English?” Because these people came from different international locations, there was always some that could speak English. I would then choose one of them to act as a sort of “foreman” to help me with the job.
On about the third or fourth day when I asked this question, a man stepped forward speaking good English. I do not remember this man’s name because I had never known it before. He told me he was from one of the Hawaii [sic] Islands when he fell for the Japanese promise to come work for them at a good wage. Only when he along with others arrived at Tinian did they find out that they were actually slaves.
After the third day that he was on my truck load of people, he began to open up in talking with me while we were traveling to my camp. On the third or fourth day our conversation went kinda like this:
Man: “On the way in I want to show you something and tell you about it. Can you have the driver to slow down when I ask you to?”
Me: “Yes, no problem.”
Man: “Can we move over the side of the truck?” pointing to the left side
Me: “Yes,” which we did. I tapped the truck cab and asked Hall (clarification, C.C. Hall was the truck driver) if he would slow down when asked. As we began a downward slope toward what was Tinian Town this man asked me to slow down, then “Look out there.” He was pointing to the left (on the left was a cliff that the Japs had made in the hillside). In the cliff there were three man-made caves. These caves overlooked Tinian Bay. In each of them the Japs had some large guns. I had visited these caves earlier.
When the man pointed to the left and said, “Look,” I replied, “Yes, I see the caves. I have not been in them before.” “No, not the caves,” he said. “Look like I am pointing.” The truck had slowed down, so the man was kind of pointing back up the slope.
Man: “Look, see those two graves up there?”
Me: “Yes, what about them?”
Man: “I have never said anything to anyone about this before because there was no one that I could trust. I was about the third or fourth day that I was brought here that the Japs brought me and five or six other men here and gave us shovels and picks and pointed out that we were to dig graves. We were under the guard of two Jap soldiers. After we dug the graves to please these guards, a truck soon arrived. There were two bodies in the truck. One was a man — the other was a woman. I immediately noted that they were both Americans. The woman was dressed in pants and a jacket. On the jacket (he reached his hand across his left chest) was what looked like a wing. Before I got hooked up with these Japs, I had heard and saw newspaper pictures of this American woman that was going to fly around the world. I can’t think of her name right now.”
Me: “Would it be Amelia Earhart?”
Man: “Yes, that’s who it was. As we were instructed we buried the bodies, then the Jap in charge — he could speak English — called us together and told us that we were never to speak to anyone about this, and that if they even thought we had, we could be digging our own graves. You could not trust anyone in the camp because they tell a guard so they could get a favor. You are the first and only person I have ever mentioned this to.”
At this point we arrived at my camp and I was called to the office. I had to take a detail out aboard a ship (several had arrived carrying a lot of cargo and some with a lot of Seabees) and help with the unloading. This took two weeks. When I returned to camp we were being divided up into different gun crews — I never saw the man again. (End of Naftel account.)
“St. John was talking about picking up the workers at a ‘camp,’ that was ‘Camp Chulu,’ Jennings Bunn told me in a November 2018 email. “I took St. John there, and he recognized the standing façade of the old headquarter building and police station. Kind of like a city hall. The ‘workers’ there were primarily Okinawans who were hired long before the war to work in sugar cane fields on Tinian.”
Several established facts militate against the possibility of Earhart or Fred Noonan’s burial on Tinian. Most importantly, not one of the many Saipan witnesses — people like Josephine Blanco Akiyama, Matidle F. Arriola, Joaquina Cabrera, José Pangelinan, Dr. Manual Aldan, Jesús Salas and others — ever claimed they were told that the American fliers were taken to Tinian or buried there.
Matilde was told the American woman was cremated by an alleged eyewitness, Mr. Tomokane, in an account recently revealed by Marie Castro, in which case no Earhart gravesite would have existed at all. Don Kothera and the Cleveland Group’s interview of Anna Magofna (pages 245-247 Truth at Last) is a fairly compelling story that suggests Amelia might have been buried outside the Liyang Cemetery outside of southern Garapan, as José Pangelinan told Fred Goerner, and where Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold directed privates Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks to excavate skeletal remains of two individuals in the summer of 1944. Many others, too numerous to mention here, attested to their common knowledge of Earhart’s death on Saipan, none ever mentioning Tinian in any context.
Further, the idea that the fliers had been buried on Tinian came from just one unnamed eyewitness, who shared his story with Naftel in 1944 under unusual, strained circumstances. The anonymous Hawaiian’s own words to Naftel could be considered questionable in themselves by a suspicious observer. “You could not trust anyone in the camp because they tell a guard so they could get a favor,” he told Naftel of his 1937 experience working under the Japanese. “You are the first and only person I have ever mentioned this to.” Did the Hawaiian man himself hope to gain a favor from Naftel for this amazing revelation?
Another provocative detail in Naftel’s story was the Hawaiian man’s description of the jacket worn by the dead woman. “On the jacket (he reached his hand across his left chest) was what looked like a wing,” he told Naftel. On the back cover of Mary Lovell’s 1989 book, The Sound of Wings, is a small portrait photo of Amelia in a dress with what appears to be three pearl necklaces and a wing device attached. Also, on page 134 of Carol Osborne and Muriel Earhart Morrissey’s 1987 biography, Amelia, My Courageous Sister, Amelia is shown in June 1932 in two photos with National Geographic officials in Washington, wearing what could be the same wing device. In the appendix of the same book, on page 302, three different wing devices are shown in very small photos without descriptions.
Was the “jacket” worn by the dead woman a leather flight jacket? Though many photos of Amelia wearing such a jacket can be found on an internet search and in various books, I’ve not seen any with a wing attached, sewn or embroidered on it, as commonly done among U.S. Navy and Marine aviators, then and now, and which is likely what the Hawaiian man was describing. The Japanese would have removed a wing device and any other jewelry from a dead body, and would they even bury such a jacket with a body?
Although a photo of Amelia in a jacket with a wing on the left side would support Naftel’s story, it would not absolutely confirm it. Naftel’s account doesn’t add up for many reasons, but if you have a photo or can direct us to one that matches the Hawaiian man’s story, please let us know.
Needless to say, The Tinian Dig did not locate the remains of Earhart or Noonan. In a series of posts for Rense.com, Cassandra Frost traced the roots and progress of the Tinian Earhart Expedition 2004. In chronological order, here are Frost’s detailed reports: “Amelia Earhart’s Grave Found?”; “Earhart – Latest On-Scene Report”; “Earhart Dig – Day One”; “Earhart Dig – Day 2”; “Interview With Saint John Naftel”; “Earhart Dig – Day 3 Expedition Shifts Gears”; “Earhart Dig – Day 4 Time Travel, High Tech Style”; “Earhart Expedition – The Day After”; “Interview With Jim Sullivan”; “Earhart Expedition – Breakfast With Bob.”
In my closing comments on The Tinian Dig in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (p. 305), I compare the highly promoted 2006 Nauticos “Deep Sea Search for Amelia Earhart,” with The Tinian Earhart Expedition 2004, which was completely ignored by the American media, and came to a familiar conclusion:
The Nauticos search and Tinian Dig are minor footnotes in the long history of failure to find the smoking gun in the Earhart disappearance. Neither seems worthy of further consideration, but they reveal a disturbing reality when examined from another perspective. As we’ve seen, the Nauticos effort was well publicized in the months preceding its launching. News of the Tinian Expedition, by contrast, was found only in small publications such as the Saipan Tribune and Pacific Magazine. How can big media’s blackout of The Tinian Dig be squared with its boundless enthusiasm for the ill-conceived Nauticos excursion into the empty depths of crashed-and-sank theory? After all, both ventures were aimed at achieving the same goal: solving the great Earhart “mystery.”
The answer is simple. The intensity of our media’s passion for the idea that the Electra lies on the Pacific’s floor is equaled only by its abhorrence of the very thought of the fliers’ deaths on Saipan at the hands of the Japanese—now among our strongest allies in the Pacific Rim. Anything that might lead the public to seek more information about the fate of Earhart and Noonan, such as broadcasting or printing news stories about an investigation into their possible burial site on nearby Tinian, must be strenuously avoided. Tinian is in the same forbidden neighborhood as Saipan—too close to the truth and strictly off-limits.
St. John Naftel passed away on Feb. 2, 2015 in Montgomery, Ala., at 92.
(Editor’s note: Jerry Wilson, of Chattaroy, Wash., a longtime Earhart researcher and Tinian advocate, contributed much of the information in this post, which would not have been possible without him. My sincere thanks and appreciation go out to Jerry, as well as to Jennings Bunn.)
Much has been made by a few of the more conspiracy-minded researchers of Amelia Earhart’s disastrous crash at Luke Field, Hawaii, on March 20, 1937, during her takeoff on the second leg of her first world-flight attempt, which could have easily resulted in her death, as well as those of Fred Noonan and Harry Manning, who were also with her in the Electra that day. Some believed Amelia crashed on purpose.
First, some background might be helpful. The original world-flight plan called for an Oakland-to-Oakland flight via Honolulu, then on to Howland Island; Lae, New Guinea; and Port Darwin, Australia. “Part two, a lengthier stretch over fabulous lands,” as Earhart described it, “extended from Australia to the west coast of Africa by way of Arabia.”
Part three would take the Electra over the South Atlantic to Brazil and from there northward to the United States. Noonan would go as far as Howland and return to Hawaii by ship. Captain Harry Manning, a pilot, navigator, and master mariner of the United States Line, had agreed to serve as Earhart’s navigator and radio operator during the difficult early stages of the flight. Manning would stay until they reached Australia, and Earhart would fly the rest of the way alone.
The flight from Oakland to Honolulu went well, as Earhart, Noonan, Manning, and technical advisor Paul Mantz took off from Oakland Airport on March 17 at 4:37 p.m. Pacific time. They landed at Wheeler Field, Oahu, at 8:25 a.m. Pacific time, March 18, covering the 2,400 miles in a record 15 hours, 43 minutes. Once there, Mantz test flew the Electra, made repairs on the right propeller blades that became temporarily inoperative about six hours from Hawaii, and delivered the plane to the Navy’s Luke Field, on Ford Island near Pearl Harbor. With its 3,000-foot paved runway, Luke was considered more practical for the Electra’s 900-gallon fuel load.
But on the March 20 takeoff for the 1,900-mile flight to Howland Island, the Electra had covered about a thousand feet of runway when its right wing dropped, the right wheel and the undercarriage were torn away, and the plane slid along the runway, showering sparks before coming to rest. Miraculously, despite fuel leaking through the drain well of the belly, no fire erupted and no one was injured.
“Witnesses said the tire blew,” Earhart explained. “However, studying the tracks carefully, I believe that may not have been the primary cause of the accident. Possibly the right landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way. . . . For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course. But, alas, the load was so heavy, once it started an arc there was nothing to do but let the plane ground loop as easily as possible.” A wire report said Army aviation experts “expressed unofficial opinions that a landing gear failed just before the right tire of her plane burst.”
Art Kennedy, an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, offered a more sinister explanation for the crash in his 1992 autobiography, High Times, Keeping ‘em Flying. Kennedy first met Earhart in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race, and directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to Burbank in boxes following the accident at Luke Field.
After a close examination of the plane’s damaged right wing, right gear, brakes and propellers, Kennedy said he realized the ground loop was not normal, but “forced,” and that Earhart purposely wrecked the plane. When confronted by Kennedy, she “told me not to mention it and to mind my own business,” he wrote.
Kennedy said he reminded her that an inspector was due the next day to make an official accident report and would recognize the plane’s condition would never have been caused by an accident. “Damn! I forgot about the gear,” Kennedy claimed she said. “Art, you and I are good friends. You didn’t see a thing. We’ll just force the gear back over to make it look natural. Will you promise me never to say anything about what you know?” Kennedy complied and swore he kept his word for 50 years.
Kennedy said Earhart told him she was ordered to abort the takeoff “and did it the only way she knew how.” According to Kennedy, she said “a lot depended on my keeping quiet about what I’d seen because she was going on a special mission that had to look like a routine attempt to go around the world. She said, ‘Can you imagine me being a spy?’ then she sort of tittered and added, ‘I never said that!’” Several researchers, including some who knew him well, have looked askance at Kennedy’s claims and pointed to his reputation as a well-known “bullshit artist,” as he himself admits in his book’s prologue. Who knows for sure?
Bill Prymak, who knew Kennedy well, was among those who joined Fred Goerner in dismissing Kennedy’s claims. Goerner laid out his reasons in a cordial 1992 letter to Ronald T. “Ron” Reuther (1929-2007), himself a remarkable and highly accomplished individual.
Reuther, a close friend of Goerner, founded the Western Aerospace Museum and was a revered, original member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society. Reuther was unique among the elite of the aviation establishment in his support for the Marshalls Islands-Saipan truth in the Earhart disappearance, but these are mere footnotes in an impressive list of memorable achievements in a life well lived.
He was also a great naturalist who curated and directed the Micke Grove Zoo (Lodi, Calif.), the Cleveland Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Philadelphia Zoo. As director of the San Francisco Zoo, Reuther was instrumental in the creation of an amazingly successful project to teach the world-famous and recently deceased gorilla Koko sign language. Following is Goerner’s cordial 1992 letter to Reuther. All boldface is mine.
August 7, 1992
Mr. Ron Reuther
1014 Delaware Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Again you have proven to be a good friend!
Many thanks for your comments regarding my health, and extra thanks for sending along the chapter from Arthur Kennedy’s book, HIGH TIME [sic] — KEEPING ‘EM FLYING.
I’m more than a little happy to report that my recovery proceeds apace, although I have some distance to go in regaining strength.
The surgeons at the Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C., saved my life in a fifteen-hour operation, and I have just concluded the last of three week-long chemo sessions at Mount Zion Hospital here in San Francisco. The latest CT-scan is clean, so it appears that I have at least a few more years to plague family and friends.
With respect to the Kennedy comments about Earhart, the proverbial grain of salt applies.
Kennedy appears to have been influenced by the film FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM in which Earhart [is asked by the U.S. Navy purposefully to crash her plane in Hawaii so she can later undertake a secret mission. Kennedy alleges Earhart did just that and that Earhart even told him something about it. [Ed. note: Tony Carter is the character in Flight for Freedom that Goerner identified as Earhart, but the parallel was obvious.]
This reckons without the testimony of Harry Manning who was flying the right-hand seat alongside Earhart at the time of the Honolulu crack-up.
Harry became a good friend in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. As you will recall, Harry was the initial navigator for the around-the-world flight, and he later shared the duties with Fred Noonan.
Harry told me Earhart simply “lost it” on the takeoff, and there was no mystery about it whatsoever.
He said, “One second I was looking at the hangars and the next second the water. I thought we were going to die.”
The plane began to sway during takeoff, and according to Manning, Earhart tried to correct with the throttles and simply over-corrected. He said it wasn’t a matter of a tire blowing at all. It was pilot error with a load of 940 gallons of fuel. He added it was a miracle there was no fire.
As far as the rumor that Earhart ground looped the plane on purpose to delay the flight, he said it was a concoction of a script-writer. There was no truth to it whatsoever.
To accept such a conclusion, he added, one would have to accept that Earhart did not tell either himself (Manning) or Noonan what she planned to do. He said neither he nor Noonan would have been foolish enough to go along with such a plan which might end in death for all of them.
Harry also said if there was a need to delay the flight because of some secret mission, the easiest way to delay the flight was for Earhart to feign an illness which required her to return to California. Then they could have flown the Electra back to California instead of having the wrecked plane returned by ship.
Harry said by the time he got out of the wrecked plane and onto the runway he had already made up his mind that he no longer wanted any part of the flight. It has always been stated that Harry had to return to the command of his ship and that is why he left the flight, but the truth is he had had enough of both Earhart and Putnam.
Sometime when we have a chance for a face to face, I will tell you the whole Manning story. Harry wanted me to do a book about him and his career, but he died before the project could begin.
By the way, Harry Manning was a pilot himself, and he knew whereof he spoke.
I trust that all is well with you, Ron, and with your family.
Merla joins me in sending all good wishes to you and yours, and thanks again for your thoughtfulness in sending the Kennedy material to me.
With respect and admiration.
P.S. A chap named Bob Bessett of the Aviation Historical Society wanted me to appear tomorrow at Spenger’s to discuss Earhart along with Elgen Long and Richard Gillespie, who is flying in from Delaware. Alas, my doctor won’t turn me loose. I simply do not have the requisite strength yet. Oh, how I would love to train my guns on Gillespie. The man is a consummate rascal, and the Nikumaroro business is totally bankrupt. If you happen to attend tomorrow’s confrontation, give me a blow by blow. I’m sure Elgen and Gillespie will pea [sic] on each other’s shoes. (End of Goerner letter.)
Goerner had two more years before the cancer took him on Sept. 13, 1994.
Publicly unfazed by the near disaster at Luke Field, Earhart nonetheless changed the flight’s direction to an easterly route, explaining in Last Flight that weather differences in various locations after the three-month delay for repairs dictated the reversal:
The upshot of those consultations was, that I decided to reverse the direction originally chosen for the flight. Revising the Pacific program was a sizable task in itself. The Coast Guard had arranged its routine cutter cruise to Howland Island so as to be on hand there at the time of my flight, other provisions had been made by the Navy.
The original course from Brazil though Panama, Central America and Mexico would be replaced by a cross-country flight to Miami, a “practical shakedown flight, testing the rebuilt ship and its equipment . . . thereby saving the time of running such tests in California,” Earhart wrote, adding that any necessary adjustments or repairs could be made in Miami.
Do Goerner’s letter and Prymak’s dismissal of Kennedy’s claims really mark the end of the story? Can we really declare “case closed” with confidence, based on the word of these two experts, as well as what some of our own “better angels” would have us conclude?
The words of a few others might give some of the more suspicious among us reason to pause. We still don’t know precisely how much Amelia’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart knew, for example, as I discussed in a Dec. 9, 2014 post, “Amy Earhart’s stunning 1944 letter to Neta Snook.“
And in Amelia Earhart’s Radio (2006), respected researcher Paul Rafford Jr. made an astonishing revelation:
Yet Mark Walker, a Naval Reserve Officer, heard something different from Earhart. I heard about Mark from his cousin, Bob Greenwood, a Naval Intelligence Officer. Bob wrote to me about Mark and what he had heard.
Mark Walker was Pan Am copilot flying out of Oakland. He pointed out to Earhart the dangers of the world flight, when the Electra was so minimally equipped to take on the task. Mark claimed Earhart stated: “This flight isn’t my idea, someone high up in the government asked me to do it.”
“Earhart’s crack-up in Honolulu is a classic example of how minor events can change world history,” Rafford wrote. “Had she not lost control and ground looped during takeoff, Earhart would have left navigator Fred Noonan at Howland and radio operator Captain Harry Manning in Australia. Then, she would have proceeded around the world alone.
“Fate decreed otherwise.”
(Updated Oct. 30.)
Just three years after Typhoon Soudelor, a Category 4 monster with sustained winds of 130 mph with gusts in excess of 160 mph, became the worst storm to strike Saipan and Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands in nearly 30 years, beleaguered citizens of the U.S. Trust Territory are facing another serious crisis.
Surprisingly, however, if early video is any indication, many of the larger buildings along the Saipan shore appeared to be in better shape than I expected, based on the early reports. To view the brief Oct. 26 Saipan KSPN2 News “Typhoon Yutu Round-Up,” please click here. .
On the other hand, global satellite images present a far starker view of Yutu’s destruction. To view the Weather Channel’s “Super Typhoon Yutu’s Destruction in Saipan, Tinian Seen in Before and After Satellite Photos,” please click here.
The Washington Post framed the awful news as well as any of the U.S. media it its Oct. 25 headline: “Category 5 typhoon Yutu devastates the Northern Marianas in worst storm to hit any part of U.S. since 1935“:
Typhoon Yutu’s 180 mph winds overturned cars, knocked down hundreds of power poles and left an island of thousands without a medical center and another without an airport. Buildings were reduced to haphazard piles of tin and wood; if a structure wasn’t made of concrete, one resident said, it was probably wiped out by the most powerful tropical cyclone to hit any part of the United States since 1935.
. . . According to figures released by the Weather Underground website, Yutu was tied with the fifth-highest wind speed of any storm on record as it made landfall. Only a few storms, including 2013′s Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines, have been stronger, and even then not by much. For the United States, just one storm — the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys — is believed to have been more powerful.
To read more of the Washington Post story, please click here.
Everyone knows know about Hurricane Michael, which made landfall at Mexico Beach, Fla., as a high-end Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph on Oct. 10, and has claimed at least 54 deaths, but if you blinked you’d miss the news about Yutu. Because the fortunes of the approximately 55,000-plus indigenous people of the Trust Territory of the Mariana Islands, consisting mainly of Saipan and Tinian, present no immediate political benefit to the U.S. media establishment, network coverage of the tragedy has been scant.
In the Weather Channel’s Oct. 26 update, “Super Typhoon Yutu Impacts: 1 Killed, 133 Injured by Storm,” we learn:
- Super Typhoon Yutu left major damage on the Northern Mariana Islands after a direct hit.
- The entire island of Saipan suffered damage and it may take weeks to restore power to everyone.
- The governor’s office confirmed one death and at least 133 injuries in Saipan.
In an Oct. 26 story, “Tinian destruction: 10 out of 10,” the Saipan Tribune reported, “On the smaller island of Tinian, which took a direct hit from Super Typhoon Yutu, most of the houses were destroyed, and even some concrete ones were reduced to rubble, resident Juanita Mendiola said.”
Recovery efforts were well under way by Oct. 29, and in a few parts of the island, power had been restored. To see the latest KSPN2 News reports, please click here.
Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, October was always my favorite month, as its fresh, cool, blue days trumpeted the end of another hot, humid summer, but as we see, it can also be the cruelest month if you live in the wrong place.
“Our Lady of Mount Carmel intercede for All on Saipan and Tinian as they embrace their journey to Recovery,“ Saipan residents Evelyna and Carlos Shoda, spared from certain months without power, wrote from their temporary home in Fountain Valley, Calif. “Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.“
And Frances Sablan, secretary of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Committee and a close friend of Marie Castro, its guiding light, wrote in understatement Oct. 25, “Si Yu’us Ma’åsi’! We need all the prayers to help us through this recovery phase!“
Just after midnight, Oct. 27, my prayers were answered when I received a brief email from Marie Castro: “Thanks for your prayers,” she wrote. “Allen [Marie’s nephew] came and shut all the shutters to secure the house from the typhoon, Yutu. I was in total darkness for two days. I did not have any damage around the house, everything is OK other than fallen trees along Navy Hill. I was reading the book [Truth at Last, presumably].”
With the recent news of Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s return to Saipan at age 92, I had been cautiously hopeful that some progress was being made there in favor of the planned Earhart Memorial Monument. But this worthy cause and all the controversy it brings will now be set aside for another time, as far more pressing matters occupy the unlucky citizens of Saipan, Tinian and the rest of the Mariana Islands.
Your prayers are needed and appreciated.
Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose childhood sighting of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor in the summer of 1937 ignited the true modern search for America’s First Lady of Flight, returned to her birthplace Oct. 6 and was warmly welcomed by family and friends at an invitation-only reception hosted by the Amelia Earhart Memorial Committee at Garand’s Fiesta Resort and Spa Oct. 9. (Boldface mine throughout.)
At the reception dinner, also attended by reporters from the Marianas Variety, Saipan Tribune and Saipan’s KSPN2 News, Josephine, appearing well at 92, who’s lived in San Mateo, Calif. since 1957, said she still “still vividly remembers her only encounter with the American aviator,” Lyn C. Lirio wrote in her Marianas Variety story Oct. 11, headlined, “2 say they saw Amelia Earhart on Saipan.”
This happened in 1937, Josephine said; she was 11 years old and didn’t know the woman’s name until much later, nor did she say anything publicly about it until she was 20 years old, working on Saipan as an assistant to Navy dentist Dr. Casimir Sheft.
In her story, Lirio cited two key paragraphs from the 1960 book that started it all, Daughter of the Sky, by Paul Briand Jr.:
In the summer of 1937 Josephine was riding her bicycle toward Tanapag Harbor. She was taking her Japanese brother-in-law, J.Y. Mastsumoto, his lunch and was hurrying along because it was nearly 12 noon. Josephine has a special pass to the Japanese military area near the harbor. Not even Japanese civilians were admitted to the area unless they carried the proper credentials. The young girl rode up to gate, stopped her bicycle, and presented her pass. The guard allowed her into the restricted area. On the way to meet her brother-in-law, Josephine heard an airplane flying overhead. She looked up and a saw a silver two-engine plane. The plane seemed to be in trouble, for it came down low, headed out into the harbor, and belly-landed on the water.
The plane crash-landed in the harbor. She and her brother-in-law joined the people who gathered to watch. She saw the American woman standing next to a tall man wearing a short-sleeved sport shirt, and was surprised because the woman was not dressed as a woman usually dressed. Instead of a dress, the American woman wore a man’s shirt and trousers; and instead of long hair, she wore her hair cut short, like a man. The faces of the man and woman were white and drawn, as if they were sick.
The most surprising aspect of the evening featured Joaquin Salas, a relatively unknown native Chamorro, whose claimed eyewitness account was discussed in Rich Martini’s “Amelia Earhart on Saipan” YouTube video, but, to my knowledge, has been otherwise unreported, telling the group he was also 11 years old when he saw Earhart on Saipan — in front of his family’s house in Chalan Kanoa. Lirio continued with Salas’ account:
“I saw a Japanese military truck. They were loading three people — two men and one lady. A Japanese soldier used black ribbons to tie their hands. They parked in front of our house. We were watching them,” he said, adding that it was the first and last time he saw Earhart. “I don’t where the Japanese took them.”
Lirio added that Rep. Donald Barcinas, president of the memorial committee, “said their plan to build an Amelia Earhart monument on island has the support of the Marianas Visitor Authority, the Department of Public Lands, the Historic Preservation Office and the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.” This sounds encouraging, but with the exception of a recent significant donation by a local, independent couple, the vast majority of contributions to the memorial has come from U.S. contributors, and remains a relative pittance.
Rep. Barcinas said Josephine’s eyewitness account “is a living testimony — she is a living history, and we are very proud and honored to have her here. She is in the books written about Amelia Earhart.”
Meanwhile, Saipan’s other newspaper, the Saipan Tribune, whose coverage of the monument issue has been tepid since the proposal was announced last February — see “$150K requested for Amelia Earhart statue” and “Group behind Earhart memorial seeks assistance from Rotary Club” — showed up, but one can only wonder why they bothered.
A moving photo of Josephine with two of her nephews at the dinner is nice, but otherwise it’s hard to imagine a more halfhearted effort than the Tribune presents in “I saw Amelia Earhart,” by reporter Erwin Encinares. This mediocrity wasn’t even on the Tribune’s front page, but was buried somewhere back in the paper. I had to actually search for it in the online edition because it wasn’t even listed on the first page of the local news items, which themselves were buried.
“Two persons reportedly saw on two separate occasions the lost aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart on Saipan, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean,” Encinares wrote in his uninspired lead, which went downhill from there. In addition to turning off virtually anyone who might have been remotely interested, Encinares got Josephine’s current age, 92, wrong (93), as well as her age when she saw Amelia, 11, not 12 as he wrote.
The Saipan Tribune should have opted out of this event rather than undermining it with this poorly written story that, in fact, signaled its readers that the occasion of the return of the most important of the Saipan eyewitness is all but meaningless to them. Moreover, the story contained nothing about the planned Earhart memorial monument.
To read the Saipan Tribune story, which has garnered no “Likes” and one comment — a correction of another factual error in the story — since its publication on Oct. 11, please click here.
TV is always more effective in our video-centric media culture, and the Saipan KSPN2 News (Saipan’s Destination Channel) story was far better than the Saipan Tribune’s lame effort, though its report on the Oct. 9 event didn’t air until Oct. 15. The three-minute, 40-second segment featured Ashley McDowell interviewing Josephine at the dinner, with cutaways to file footage of Amelia and still shots of Josephine and Dr. Casimir Sheft. McDowell’s visit to Tanapag Harbor, where Josephine saw the fliers in 1937, was a nice touch.
Otherwise, McDowell’s decision to display, or more accurately, flash the July 1, 1960 front page of the San Mateo Times, with its 100-point banner headline proclaiming, “Amelia Earhart Mystery is Solved,” which readers have seen many times on this blog, highlighted a mostly flat, disappointing report, much too low-key and uninspired than this rare occasion demanded. Having the famous Josephine Blanco Akiyama live and lucid at 92 was a miracle in itself, but you’d never know it by watching this video.
The segment ended with McDowell voicing no real conclusion or telling point, and again, nothing was said about the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was a 5 at best, and it likely didn’t change any minds among the uninformed masses on Saipan. It’s also fair to ask whether the ugly local politics surrounding the memorial initiative — overwhelmingly against it from the beginning — exerted an insidious influence on the tone, content and efficacy of the KSPN2 News report.
On the other hand, some credit is indeed due to KSPN2 News, as Saipan’s Destination Channel is the only TV news station in the world that has produced two important stories recently about Amelia Earhart, Marie Castro and the proposed Earhart Memorial Monument (see “Saipan TV News supports Earhart monument“), while not a single American media outlet has breathed a word of it. Thus, the U.S. establishment’s total and absolute hatred for the truth in the Earhart disappearance remains stronger than ever, and the 81-year travesty shows no signs of abating.
To watch the Saipan KSPN2 News video of the story, please click here.Marie Castro sent me the below prayer that she wrote for the special occasion of Josephine’s visit, lovingly prepared to close the evening’s events of Oct. 9. “I told Allen [Marie’s nephew] to play the recorded music, ‘Amazing Grace’ in the background while I read the prayer,“ Marie wrote. “I hope the people will be inspired and believe this significant event of 1937.”
Thank you for your amazing grace which is enabling Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama, the last living person to witness the presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan here on Saipan in 1937 to be with us here tonight with the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument group.
81 years is a long, definitely overdue, time for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan to be given the recognition they deserve as human beings who unfortunately met their death on Saipan soil.
Tonight, as we acknowledge their presence here on our island, we ask that you guide our efforts to honor the memory of these two great American aviators with a memorial to be built in their honor.
This is our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
God Bless us.
In an overdue but much-needed and appreciated development, on Oct. 1, Saipan’s KSPN2 News presented the first-ever TV news interview with Marie S.C. Castro, 85, whose strident advocacy for the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan has been the subject of several posts on this blog since the plan was announced in the Feb. 7 Marianas Variety story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan.”
“Every human being that dies,” Marie told reporter Ashley McDowell, “we have to give the honor they deserve as human beings. And I was thinking that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were never given anything to honor them or to acknowledge them here on Saipan.”
Thanks to the technical skills of longtime Oakland, Calif., supporter David Kaspiak, you can watch the three minute, 30-second KSPN2 News piece by clicking here: KSPN2 News.mp4.
McDowell finished the segment by announcing that “Josephine Blanco [Akiyama], who says she saw Amelia Earhart and the navigator Fred Noonan at Tanapag harbor here in Saipan when she was just 11 years old” would be coming to Saipan Oct. 7, and promised a report. Co-anchor Adrianna Cotero added the final touch by enthusiastically telling McDowell, “What a great idea to have a monument here on Saipan!”
Among the several fine stories have been published here and in the Marianas Variety on the proposed Earhart Memorial Monument, was “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past,” which appeared in the March 28 Marianas Variety, with a longer version here on April 2,“Marie Castro: Iron link to Saipan’s forgotten history,” in praise of this brave woman whose vision birthed the bold but highly unpopular initiative to build an Earhart memorial on Saipan. But these print-based efforts have done little to improve the ugly politics that surround this movement, which, according to one informed source, are running 99-1 against its success.
Undeniably, TV’s power to persuade and change minds is far greater than newspapers or radio, and this interview is a badly needed boost. In attempting to convert even small numbers of the historically ignorant and propagandized on Saipan, only via TV can the truth break through the stone wall of massive resistance.
Saipan TV: The Visitors Channel (SaipanTV.com) is clearly not connected with any of the American alphabet networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC or Fox, actually the worst of them all for its blatant hypocrisy — or any other U.S. establishment news source, or this interview with Marie Castro would never have been contemplated, much less have seen air. Unsurprisingly, nobody the United States has touched the story of the proposed Earhart monument on Saipan, which should remind everyone how much the Earhart truth continues to be hated, ignored and denied by our establishment and its media toadies.
The news of Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s imminent visit to Saipan was likely an important factor in the decision by the independent station’s management to do the interview with Marie Castro shortly before the most famous of all the Saipan Earhart eyewitnesses returned to her birthplace.
Please consider contributing to the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. This is a most deserving and worthy cause that has, sadly, been largely ignored. You can make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950. The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee. Thank you for whatever you can give.