In late October 2017, Ms. Carla Henson, daughter of the late Everett Henson Jr., contacted me for the first time, completely out of the blue. You will recall Pvt. Henson, who, along with Pvt. Billy Burks, was ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate a gravesite several feet outside of the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944. This incident is chronicled in detail on pages 233-253 in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
When the pair had removed the skeletal remains of two individuals and deposited them in a large container that Henson later described as a “canister,” Henson asked Griswold what the impromptu grave-digging detail was all about. Griswold’s reply, “Have you heard of Amelia Earhart?” has echoed down through the decades and continues to reverberate among students of the Earhart disappearance.
To read more about Carla, her father and the Saipan gravesite incident in 1944, please see my Dec. 26, 2017 post, “KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga.”
Richard Bergren, 70, a retired naval flight officer with whom I once worked on a story as a Navy civilian at the Navy Internal Relations Activity in Alexandria, Va., in the late 1980s, has recently done some research that sheds more light on the 1944 search for Amelia Earhart on Saipan, and brings more insight to the Griswold, Henson and Burks saga. I thought some would be interested, and so present his findings forthwith. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“Did top doctors search for Earhart on 1944 Saipan?”
by Richard Bergren
A number of books and articles have mentioned efforts to locate and recover the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan, as well as on other Pacific Islands. Most of those attempts were “rush jobs” which were conducted with questionable expertise and methods and often under arbitrary time constraints. If any remains were actually recovered, they have yet to be officially and publicly identified as the bodies of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
Starting in July 1944 with the U.S. takeover of Saipan, and beginning again with renewed interest in the early 1960’s, excavations of potential gravesites were made based on sketchy stories, and human memories which were 25 years old. Searches for burial sites were made in areas significantly changed since 1937 and World War II.
Eyewitness stories vary widely in details, but all seem to agree that the Japanese held American aviators prisoner and that they buried more than one in the years and months prior to June 1944.
Rather than sort through and evaluate the details of the conflicting eyewitness stories, I wanted to see what might be in World War II era U.S. records regarding the recovery of aviator remains on Saipan in 1944. This was the first time that the U.S. had access to Saipan since Amelia and Fred were declared missing.
Operation Forager began on 22 February 1944 with U.S. Navy (and later Army Air Force) air strikes carried out on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. This was in preparation for all out amphibious attacks which began the invasion of Saipan on 10 June 1944. Fighting on Saipan was savage and it continued even after the island was officially declared secure on 10 July 1944. Casualties of killed, wounded, and missing were high and the U.S. Army hospital and graves personnel were very busy in the days which followed the fighting.
“The largest number of casualties handled over a short period of time by the Central Pacific Area general hospitals occurred following the Saipan, Guam, and Tinian battles,” according to the U.S. Army Office of Medical History, Chapter 11. These casualties were evacuated from the islands by hospital ship and landed at Kwajalein for care and transshipment to the hospitals on Oahu. These casualties numbered 2,900 during June and July of 1944.” While U.S. casualties were high, Japanese losses were much higher, totaling close to 30,000 killed on Saipan alone. As fighting continued sporadically on Saipan in mid-July 1944, the invasions of Tinian and Guam had just begun.
Where do Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fit into this picture? They had gone missing on July 2 1937, seven years earlier. Exactly what intelligence the U.S. government may have had prior to the 1944 capture of Saipan is not publicly known, but starting in 1944, a number of Armed Forces personnel (Army, Marine Corps, and Navy) came to learn from various sources that Amelia and Fred had been imprisoned on Saipan, and had met their deaths there.
A number of books mention efforts to locate graves of Amelia and Fred, but the earliest account is probably that of Fred Goerner in his book The Search for Amelia Earhart. In it he relates the story told by Marines Everett Henson, Jr. and Billy Burks who claim that they were ordered by a Captain Griswold (USMC) in “late July or early August” 1944 to dig up two graves in or near a civilian cemetery on Saipan in an effort to find the two missing aviators. Allegedly some bones were found and taken by this Captain Griswold, with no further information regarding their final resolution or destination.
The story may be true, although vague as to exactly when and where the dig took place; unfortunately there seems to be no official resolution to the account because there was no definite confirmation that the remains were those of Amelia and/or Fred. And no information as to what was done with those alleged remains.
Remains recovery was not normally the job of the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a task specifically assigned to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, Graves Registration Unit. In fact, the U.S. Army had established the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan for interment of the U.S. dead who were killed or died of wounds in the recent battle and there was a whole unit of those specially trained Army personnel on Saipan.
A number of Saipan eyewitness statements allude to the burial of “aviators” on Saipan prior to the June 10, 1944 invasion. Some of these accounts state that it was a single burial and others say there were two. Some accounts claim that it was a man and a woman who were so buried. Seldom, if ever, do those eyewitnesses identify the “aviators” by name or provide specific information regarding when or where the burial(s) took place. One Saipan witness states that he was pressed into service to bury an aviator on or about Feb. 23 or 24, 1944. This would most likely have been a U.S. Navy pilot killed in the opening air attacks of Operation Forager.
World War II historian Ted Darcy has compiled a website featuring U.S. aviation casualties. Like many other such efforts, it is not a complete listing of casualties, but it does contain a lot of very interesting information. Through his efforts, some previously unidentified/unknown servicemen, killed in World War II, have been positively identified and returned home for burial.
One veteran so identified was Navy Lieutenant Woodie McVay, a Naval Aviator killed on Feb. 22, 1944 while flying a mission with his wingman, Lt. (junior grade) Arthur Davis off the carrier USS Yorktown. Both men were lost over Saipan and initially declared missing in action.
Here is an excerpt from Ted Darcy’s website, Pacific Wrecks, about the effort which led to the 2009 eventual identification of Lt. McVay:
On July 17, 1944 during the American occupation of Saipan, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col Richard C. Wadsworth (both U.S. Army Medical Corps) visited the Catholic Cemetery at Garapan to recover the remains of three aviators that had been reported buried there on February 23 or 24 1944. The remains were exhumed and taken to the 369th Station Hospital for an autopsy.
During that examination the following findings were made: One body was clothed in a one-piece, greenish-khaki coverall type of uniform; the buttons on the uniform contained the words “U.S. Navy”; a plain silver ring was found on the left hand; and on the underwear, marked in two places appeared the name W. L. McVay. It was determined that the injuries were caused as a result of an aircraft accident, not a war crime.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Army doctors had no records with which to compare their findings in an effort to identify this victim. The body was removed to the 27th Division Cemetery and buried as Unknown (Saipan X-35) in plot 3, row 11, grave 1132. In March 1948, these remains were moved to a mausoleum on Saipan. During October 1948, the remains were buried as an unknown at the Manila American Cemetery for “final burial” as unknown X-35 in section F, row 12, grave 2.
Lt. McVay was officially declared dead on Jan. 15, 1946. He posthumously earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart.
Through the research of Ted Darcy, it was found that the height and dental records of unknown X-35 matched with MIA/KIA McVay. The results were forwarded to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii. In February 2009, the grave in Manila was opened and the remains shipped to the Central Identification Lab, where they arrived on Feb. 25, 2009. The identification was confirmed in May 2009, and Elizabeth Huff was notified that X-35 was positively identified as her grandfather, Lt. Woodie McVay.
McVay’s remains were transported to Mobile, Ala., for internment. On July 13 2009, McVay was laid to rest at his existing memorial marker, next to his parents in the Pine Crest Cemetery at Mobile, Ala. U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings published a lengthy story on McVay by historian Bruce M. Petty in its June 2015 issue. (End of Darcy excerpt.)
I located more information on both Army Doctors, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col. Richard C. Wadsworth. Colby was the commanding officer of the 369th (Army) Station Hospital on Saipan in July 1944. Wadsworth was also a medical doctor and pathologist, possibly attached to the same command, but I have not found him on any rosters to prove that. Dr. Colby died in 1960 in San Diego, CA, and Dr. Wadsworth died in 1980 in Bangor, Maine — both after long and distinguished medical careers.
Goerner mentions an unnamed Department of Commerce person who contacted him in 1964, and suggested that an unnamed medical doctor may have taken remains to Washington D.C. Goerner associated that information with the name Griswold from his previous research and located a doctor by that name who had served on Saipan in 1944. Goerner did not specify, but he was likely an Army doctor, since it was an Army hospital on Saipan.
[Editor’s note: In a March 1968 letter to Fred Goerner, Tracy Griswold informed him that he had learned from his brother-in-law about a Major E.K. Griswold, of Santa Ana, Calif., who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. “It is further recalled that this particular Major Griswold spent time in the Pacific during World War II,” Tracy Griswold wrote. “This becomes rather remarkable in as much as you were told, as I recall it, by Marine Corp headquarters that there was not another Griswold in the Pacific Theatre [sic] during World War II, in the Marine Corp. [sic] I was sure that you would want to contact this party, particularly since he is in California in the event that there might possibly be a further clue to the Saipan incident.” Nothing further is contained in Goerner’s Griswold file.]
A report by an Army medical officer on conditions in the Marianas immediately following the U.S. takeover described the huge amount of medical work being done on Saipan (see above). The hospital dealt with hundreds of surgeries and hundreds of other treatments daily — and yet the locating and disinterment of three graves by these two high ranking Army doctors took a higher precedence.
It might follow that the remains of the other two “aviators” disinterred with McVay’s body on 17 July 1944 were also buried as unknowns in the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan — and might have followed a similar documented path to Manila either as “Saipan Unknowns” or under names yet to be found. If they were NOT buried in the 27th Division Cemetery, what became of them and why?
Whether or not the other two bodies were Amelia Earhart and/or Fred Noonan is not stated in anything I have seen to date. It is a possibility. Regardless of who those two bodies were, it seems likely that they were disinterred and autopsied by these two medical doctors on the premise that they might be Amelia and Fred.
What are the chances that these two high ranking medical officers (Colby and Wadsworth) with their credentials and qualifications would just happen to be attached to a forward area army field hospital, temporary cemetery, or refugee camp? And on their own initiative go digging up a civilian cemetery?
The July 17, 1944 disinterment and subsequent autopsy begs several questions:
– Why was it so important to send two high ranking officers to a civilian cemetery at a time when the service of medical officers was so critical? Even though Saipan had been declared “secure” a few days before, fighting was continuing, and there were thousands of wounded military and civilians to care for.
– Who ordered these disinterments?
– How was intelligence of their location obtained?
The stated purpose at the time was that they were looking for downed military aviators, yet even when evidence obtained from the grave indicated one body was that of Navy Lieutenant McVay, it was stated that the doctors did not have Navy information to compare/confirm his identity and so he was buried as an “Unknown.” Clearly they were NOT looking for him specifically, nor did they identify the other two bodies as being military aviators.
The autopsy report goes out of its way to state that Unknown X35 (McVay) died as a result of injuries received in a crash rather than due to a “war crime.” This indicates that they may have been looking for bodies of Americans taken prisoner, tortured, and killed during a war crime — perhaps by beheading?
With all of the work to be done on Saipan in the way of securing the Island, caring for the wounded, bringing in supplies, and building hospitals, roads and airports, why was this disinterment of such high importance? It is highly doubtful that the two senior medical doctors on Saipan would on their own initiative go digging in a civilian cemetery.
(Editor’s note: I’m not an expert on the location of all the cemeteries on Saipan, either in 1944 or now, but the Catholic Cemetery discussed in this piece was not the same place as the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan, as far as I can tell. Liyang was south, outside of Garapan, while the Catholic cemetery was within the city limits, according to Everett Henson Jr., Billy Burks, Anna Diaz Magofna and others who knew of these events. See Les Kinney’s comments below for more clarification.)
What became of the other two “aviators” disinterred at the same time as Unknown X35 (Lt. McVay)? In light of the careful cemetery record keeping of the Army Quartermaster Corps (as seen in the McVay case) it might follow that the other two bodies were also autopsied and buried in the 27th (Army) Division Cemetery as unknowns and later also transferred to Manila for reburial.
Note: There were a number (perhaps as many as 20) of U.S. Navy and Army Air Force aviators declared Missing in Action (MIA) during and prior to the Saipan invasion. Except for Lt. McVay, none of them have ever been recovered and identified.
It is quite possible that the other two “aviators” were also military pilots. If so, they were never identified as such.
Could it be that the two doctors had been specifically tasked to locate the bodies of Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart? (End of Richard Bergren’s piece.)
Richard Bergren retired from the U.S. Navy in 1994 after 22 years as a naval flight officer (NFO). He flew in the Lockheed P-3B Orion, the Lockheed EC-130 Hercules, and numerous types of trainer planes. Piloted Pioneer unmanned air vehicles (UAV’s) from the Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS Shreveport (LPD-12). He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University, Troy, Ala. He is a graduate of the Naval War College and took postgraduate courses in Japanese, German, and history at various colleges.
He is a military historian, writer, teacher, musician and competitive rifleman. He’s married, the father of six and grandfather of 12.
The following column by Michael Fitzgerald first appeared in The Stockton Record on Feb. 4, 1996, and presents the account of Marine veteran Robert Ross, then 71, who claimed to have served on Saipan during the critical summer 1944 invasion, at that time the most important conflict of the Pacific war. Someone sent it to Bill Prymak, who included it in the July 1996 issue of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter.
At first glance it might appear compelling, especially to the uninformed, who comprise well over 99.99 percent of the nation’s populace. Let’s take a look anyway, before we explain what’s wrong with it. (Boldface and italic emphases are mine throughout.)
“Whatever Happened to Earhart?”
by Michael Fitzgerald, The Stockton Record
Today I offer a solution to the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. Seriously, but not positively.
How, you ask, could a punk columnist from Stockton solve one of the great mysteries of the 20th century — the disappearance of Earhart (1897-1937), the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean? The American heroine who, with her navigator Fred Noonan vanished without a trace over the Pacific in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world?
Well . . . in Lodi there lives a certain man, an older ex-Marine who says that long ago, on a mission deep in a jungle on a remote Pacific island, he stumbled onto Earhart’s missing airplane.
Robert Ross, 71, says he also learned Earhart’s terrible fate, but the U.S. Navy swore him to secrecy.
Now he’s talking.
In August of 1944, Ross was a Marine with the 2nd Raider Battalion, battling fiercely to recapture the Mariana Islands from the Japanese. One day on Saipan, Ross was ordered to undertake a solo night mission — to hunt down and kill a Japanese sniper firing from a mountain on U.S. soldiers at Tanepeg [sic] Harbor, Saipan’s west side.
Under cover of night, Ross says, he made stealthily through dense jungle toward the sniper’s vicinity. “The banana palms were so thick I had to cut through with a K-bar (a Marine knife).”
At one point, “I kind of fell into a space,” and there Ross unexpectedly found a hidden aircraft. “There was no crash, no nothing,” Ross recalled.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why did the (Japanese) set a Betty bomber (a twin-engine Japanese bomber) out here and leave it?’ ”
Intent on stalking his prey, Ross moved on. He put the plane out of his mind. Ross got the sniper, returned to the beach and was eating K-rations when, he says, he overheard one officer tell another, “We know her damned airplane is here somewhere. We just can’t find it!”
Ross realized the officer must be talking about Amelia Earhart. So he reported his find. The officers ordered him to lead them to the plane. In an armored vehicle, the men punched through the jungle.
Simultaneously, Ross says, U.S. soldiers were finding pictures of Earhart and Noonan in the wallets of dead Japanese soldiers. The photos depicted Earhart with Japanese officers. In some, the Japanese fleet could be seen in the background. “In one, I saw the airstrip on Saipan.”
Ross says a native maid who worked in a hotel in the village of Garapan came forward with information. The woman told the Americans that Earhart and Noonan had been held captive at the hotel. According to Ross, the maid said the Japanese had poisoned Earhart and shot Noonan and decapitated his corpse. Ross says the woman led Americans to the shallow grave where Earhart’s corpse, and Noonan’s headless body, were found.
The next day, Ross says, an order came out: The discovery of Earhart was top secret. “Anyone having any Amelia Earhart paraphernalia after 0400 the next morning, it was a general court-martial offense,” Ross says.
“Why? I really don’t know.”
That is Ross’ story.
What to make of it? History records that Earhart and Noonan took off from New Guinea and crashed at sea somewhere en route to Howland Island. That, incidentally, was many of hundreds of miles from the spot where Ross says he discovered Earhart’s plane.
Some biographers theorize that the U.S. military on New Guinea outfitted Earhart’s plane with spy equipment and she embarked on an unpublicized mission for her country.
Following this theory, Earhart’s crash was picked up by Japanese military radio. The Japanese military rescued Earhart and Noonan, recovered the plane and transported their catch to the privacy of distant Saipan for interrogation. The plane was hidden so America would never learn the fate of its heroine.
Ross said he heard scuttlebutt that the remains of Earhart and Noonan were removed to a forensic lab near Pearl Harbor. A bulldozer plowed through the jungle and towed the plane out, and he has no idea what became of it.
Perhaps Amelia Earhart was killed because she was a spy; perhaps not. Perhaps the U.S. military clamped a lid on Ross’ discovery because Earhart’s top secret mission was a political embarrassment: perhaps not. Perhaps you are one of the first people in the world to learn the real solution to the mystery of Amelia Earhart. (End of Fitzgerald column.)
As I said, Ross’ story may appear impressive to some. I recall seeing a small print advertisement that he had taken out in a magazine several years ago, claiming to reveal the location of the Earhart Electra for several thousand dollars, but I can’t find it now. I must not have placed much stock in it, and apparently for very good reasons.
First of all, absolutely no evidence exists that the 2nd Raider Battalion served on Saipan. In fact, the record tells us this unit didn’t even exist in the summer of 1944. This is from the Wikipedia entry for Marine Raiders:
On 1 February 1944, the 1st Raider Regiment was redesignated the 4th Marine Regiment, and eventually became part of the 6th Marine Division. The 1st, 4th, and 3d Raider Battalions became respectively the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions, 4th Marines. The 2nd Raider Battalion became the regimental weapons company, lacking the manpower to form an entire Battalion after the costly fighting in the Solomons. Personnel of the Raider Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton transferred to the 5th Marine Division.
Although the foregoing unassailable facts render the rest of Ross’ account moot, we’ll go through it anyway, perhaps to disabuse the querulous of any doubts about its lack of veracity, as well as to flesh out common misconceptions that sometimes plague those whose attention to detail might not be as well developed as they imagine.
Ross’ claims that he “heard scuttlebutt that the remains of Earhart and Noonan were removed to a forensic lab near Pearl Harbor,” and “A bulldozer plowed through the jungle and towed the plane out, and he has no idea what became of it” both strain credulity.
If “the discovery of Earhart was top secret” among a few GIs in the know on Saipan, how did a bulldozer “plough through the jungle” and tow the plane out without everyone on the island knowing about it? Further, I’ve never read nor heard a whisper about the involvement of forensic labs at Pearl Harbor with the remains of Amelia Earhart or Fred Noonan, have you?
Contrast this scenario with the one heard on Saipan in early April 1968, when Antonio Diaz, 59, a native witness whose credibility based on his interviews with several researchers is quite shaky, told Don Kothera, John Gacek and the Cleveland Group that “he had been called out to build a coral road [by the Japanese] into the jungle to bring out Amelia’s plane. The plane had gone down in some pine-like trees and was damaged very little.” (Page 131 second edition  of Joe Davidson’s Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan; all references are for the second edition.)
Diaz said it took him two weeks to build the road, and “after building the road to bring the airplane out, it was loaded on a ship and probably sent to Japan; he was told it went to Japan,” Davidson wrote (p. 135).
Davidson mentioned nothing about the Cleveland Group finding any evidence of the coral road that Diaz claimed he built, nor about them even attempting to pin down the approximate date for the events Diaz described. But Diaz drew a map of the area that’s displayed on page 120 of Amelia Earhart Returns. All of it reeks of fabrication from Diaz, in my opinion. So which do you prefer, the Ross or Diaz accounts? Ross couldn’t have found a plane that Diaz had already taken out on a road he’d been ordered to build, but nothing exists to support Diaz’s claim either, not even another independent witness. Neither story withstands any real scrutiny.
Of course, we do have several credible reports that the Earhart Electra was discovered by American forces soon after D-Day, June 15, 1944, in a hangar at Aslito Field. Thomas E. Devine’s 1987 book Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident chronicles his experiences on Saipan on or about July 6, 1944, when he claimed to have seen the Earhart Electra on three separate occasions; the final time, at Aslito, the plane was in flames.
Devine presented a far more plausible narrative about the disposition of the Electra on Saipan. The former postal sergeant wrote that after he witnessed the “large, twin-engine, double-fin civilian plane,” with NR 16020 under its left wing clearly in view, flying over his bivouac area at Cape Obiam, he and Pfc. Paul Anderson violated an off-limits order surrounding Aslito Field and actually inspected NR 16020 at “the southwest end of the airfield, before a roofless hangar.” Later, after returning to his camp nearby, “a muffled explosion at Aslito Field erupted into a large flash fire,” Devine wrote, and after he quickly returned to the airfield to see what was going on, he watched “aghast” as the “twin-engine plane was engulfed in flames.” (Eyewitness, p. 40-41).
“I saw the plane,” Devine told me emphatically during our extensive discussion at his New Haven, Connecticut home in February 1991. “I know all about the plane. The plane was there. No matter what anyone would ever say, that plane was Earhart’s plane — positively, absolutely, 100 percent. I can drop dead right now if it wasn’t so. Nobody can change my mind about it, because it was her plane.”
It was then that Devine told me the remains of Electra NR 16020 were bulldozed into a landfill with the assorted rubble and refuse of war under Aslito Airfield, and remains buried under the tarmac of what is now Saipan International Airport. “I don’t know exactly where they pushed it, where it’s buried now under the airport,” Devine said, “but I’m sure they would not allow me to dig up an airfield to find an airplane.” (For a complete discussion, see Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, pages 65-78.)
Several GIs contacted Devine to corroborate his sighting after publication of Eyewitness in 1987. Both Devine, in 1963 and 1990, and Fred Goerner, in 1965, directly questioned Gen. Wallace M. Greene, who was promoted to commandant of the Marine Corps on Jan. 1, 1964. Greene, a lieutenant colonel and operations officer of the 2nd Marine Division on Saipan, was unofficially credited with discovering the Electra (See Truth at Last, multiple pages.) Of course Greene vehemently denied all involvement with the Earhart plane.
The Ross story typifies those created by certain types who are vaguely familiar with the known facts, who then pick and choose among the Earhart saga’s better known elements, stitching them together into new confections that suit their strange whimsies. It’s rather pathetic, actually, and those who weave these tales would be deserving of our sympathy if they weren’t so annoying, not to mention the extra confusion they create about a subject that’s already one of the most misunderstood in American history.
Not all Saipan veterans’ stories are equal — if they’re Saipan vets to begin with — and this one from Ross has a very strong aroma, much like that of Paul Erwin, who also claimed an amazing find on Saipan. Ironically, Erwin’s tale, “Soldier’s Secret,” also appeared in the July 1996 edition of the AES Newsletters. Originally appearing in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier, on June 16, 1996 and written by Jennifer Jacobs, “Soldier’s Secret” is another that didn’t pass the smell test, at least in this observer’s opinion. For a complete discussion of Paul Erwin’s account, please click here.
I’ve been unable to locate Ross, or even determine if he’s still alive. He would be 94 or 95 now, and little has been heard from him since the late 1990s. I have a letter from former newsman Ross Game, Fred Goerner’s close associate, that appears to be addressed to Ross, that I’ll present in a future post.
Michael Fitzgerald retired from The Stockton Record in October 2018 after 33 years and 4,200 columns. To read his final column, please click here.
(Editor’s note: Late on Friday, Dec. 13, I received an email from Marie Castro, who had just read this post. Regarding the Antonio Diaz account, Marie wrote: “The fabrication on Diaz’s story was never heard or mentioned among his family. Clearly it was a made up story. Right after the war all the conversations were only about the war, but Diaz’s story was never heard among the locals.”)
Jon Hagadorn, host of “1001 Heroes, Legends, Histories and Mysteries” recently asked me to appear on his program, and we did two parts of about 90 minutes each. Jon did his homework before we produced the programs, and we discuss the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument movement on Saipan, which I haven’t had a chance to do recently.
Part I aired Sunday night, June 2, and Part II is available as of Wednesday, June 5. To listen, please click here and scrawl down to “EARHART: THE FINAL TRUTH.”
Today we present Part 2 of three of our look at Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy, the 36-page booklet Marie Castro and I put together recently, which is available at Saipan’s Bestsellers bookstore and the Saipan Library. (All boldface emphasis is mine, and not included in the booklet.)
Amelia was not only the first woman to solo fly the Atlantic, she was the first person to fly the 2,408-mile distance between Honolulu and Oakland, California, the first time a civilian aircraft carried a two-way radio. As America and the world continue to make great strides in recognizing women’s accomplishments – women are even making strides in Saudi Arabia – why not recognize the truth about where Amelia Earhart met her tragic fate in the Pacific, on Japanese-controlled and occupied Saipan. In 1937 Amelia Earhart attempted to circumnavigate the world, but unfortunately, her plane came down at Mili Atoll in the Pacific and eventually was brought to Saipan by the Japanese military. Fact!
Mr. Hunter and Rep. Barcinas were very interested in hearing what I had to tell them about Amelia Earhart. Robert seemed to be familiar with it, since the subject is connected with his field as the DCCA director
We three met several times. Both wanted me to be the chairperson of a new committee; however, I declined that position, thinking it was inappropriate due to my 50 years away from Saipan. I handed the position to Congressman Barcinas and took the vice chair, while Robert Hunter was named treasurer.
(Editor’s note: Marie became the new AEMMI president on April 15, 2019; Frances Sablan, former secretary, is the new vice president.)
We formed the committee on Feb. 2, 2017 and started with a few members: Congressman Barcinas, myself, Robert Hunter, Edward Manibusan, Herman B. Cabrera, Frances C. Hout, Roberta Guerrero, and Frances M. Sablan. Last July, we applied to become a non-profit organization. Two weeks later we signed the papers and received a certificate for the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Incorporated, and we now have the bylaws of incorporation.
Last year we began meeting monthly for the planning of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. Our secretary, Frances M. Sablan, and I attended the Saipan Northern Island Legislative Delegation hearing on Capitol Hill. I spoke about Amelia Earhart and what happened in 1937 here on Saipan, a subject that was totally unfamiliar to those at the hearing.
I told the attendees it is time for Saipan to acknowledge this important historic event. After I finished I went to my seat and the guard asked me to make a copy of my talk. Other than that, there was no comment or action on my statement at the hearing. I thought perhaps I would eventually hear from the legislature, but as the old saying goes, “In one ear and out the other.”
Finding the most appropriate location to build the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument has not been easy. I decided to take another approach by talking to different individuals who could support the project. The chairman gave me several persons to meet with: Mr. Chris Tenorio, the Director of the Ports Authority; Oscar C. Camacho, Economic Development Analyst, Commonwealth Development Authority; Marianne Concepcion, Department of Public Lands; John Palacios, Historic Preservation Office; Danny Aquino, CNMI Museum; Chris Concepcion, Marianas Visitors Authority; and Harry Blanco, Field Representative of Insular Affairs.
After approaching all these different departments, however, the CDA and MVA were the most interested in the project’s success. The memorial monument would surely enhance the island’s economic development by increasing tourism and expanding the marketing base, boosting Saipan’s popularity worldwide.
‘‘The speculators obviously don’t recognize the net value to our Tourism Industry in having a Monument as over time the Monument will yield millions for the CNMI,” committee member Ambrose Bennett wrote recently. “The arguments against the Monument are really unfounded and there is nothing to support the speculative rationale as there will be thousands who will be enticed to come here because of the Monument, which is why it will be an asset to our Tourism Industry – it’s the big picture and the facts that count, and not the guesswork of unsubstantiated speculation.’’
The latest proposed location for the monument is on Capitol Hill, possibly the building that housed the NTTU Club, where we could provide a museum for Amelia Earhart and display all the photos dating back to the early 1930s. Any materials relating to Amelia and Fred Noonan that could be donated to the museum would add more interest for tourists, as well as everyone else who seeks to learn the truth about the disappearance of the iconic First Lady of Flight. Currently we have the following items to present to museum attendees, in addition to the beautiful memorial itself:
- 16 Albert Bresnik photos from Jeremy Palermo’s collection I received dating back to 1928 will be on display in the museum.
- A slide video of the same collection would be available for showing.
- The video of the May 2017 power-point presentation by Mike Campbell to the Association of Naval Aviation at the Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida Officers Club.
- Fred Goerner’s original KCBS radio report from July 1960
The monument will honor and commemorate one of the most famous pilots and personalities in the history of aviation. Sadly, due to the controversial political nature of the Earhart story and a blatant lack of accurate historical education – not only on Saipan but the entire United States – uninformed locals now contest the truthfulness of many witnesses who had no reason to lie.
Many eyewitness reports have reflected the presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in 1937. We strongly believe our elders’ testimonies that Saipan is the island where the doomed American fliers spent their final days.
More than 1,000 books have been published about Amelia Earhart, and 99 percent are biographies, novels, fantasies, and children’s books. Of all these, only about 10 books present aspects of the truth about what really happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Among these 10, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, by Mike Campbell, is the best, in my opinion and that of many experts who know Earhart research.
In 1988, Campbell began to study the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. That same year, he began a long-term correspondence with Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, and soon became convinced that Devine, Fred Goerner, Paul Briand Jr., Vincent V. Loomis, Bill Prymak and others were correct when they claimed that Earhart and Fred Noonan died on Saipan at an undetermined date after they failed to reach Howland Island on July 2, 1937. After 14 years of collaboration with Devine, Campbell’s first book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, was published in 2002 by a small Ohio company.
Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, published in 2012, with an expanded, more comprehensive second edition in 2016, represents over 20 years of research and presents the most compelling and complete case for the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan, as well as their initial landing at Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands, ever written.
Naysayers, critics, and cynics inject all manner of ridiculous speculation about Amelia Earhart, as if they are the absolute authorities who can proclaim that she was never on Saipan. We see this constantly, but this only exposes their irrational bias, and sometimes their inherent racism as well. As for what the witnesses saw, it is a point of fact that there were no other white women on Saipan at the time, and “a white lady dressed like a man” would have been easily recognized by locals in those days.
A sighting of Earhart would have unforgettably stuck out and made an indelible impression upon locals, and indeed it did. After the Japanese captured Earhart near Mili Atoll following her crash-landing on July 2, 1937, she was brought for interrogation to Saipan, which was their northern Pacific operations headquarters at that time.
The disappointing thing about the arguments against the monument is that they are driven by stubbornness and greed, by demanding proof of Amelia’s direct contribution before she is honored and recognized. In fact, Amelia didn’t have to have died here for the CNMI to honor her for her amazing aviation achievements.
The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument will celebrate the American pioneering spirit of this great woman’s accomplishments as one of the world’s original feminists, in the best sense of the word, and it will attract women from all professions, as well as aviators and historians throughout the world.
Josephine: What a coincidence!
We were greatly surprised and delighted when the famous Josephine Blanco Akiyama, 92, a longtime resident of San Mateo, California, was willing and able to make the trip to Saipan, and arrived with her son Ed on Oct. 6, 2018.
We are fortunate that she came at the time when we are working so hard on making Amelia Earhart’s Memorial Monument a reality.
Josephine is the last living person to actually see Amelia Earhart on Saipan in 1937. Without Josephine’s firsthand account, the important early books presenting the truth – Paul Briand’s Daughter of the Sky (1960) and Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966) – would never have been written. Josephine’s was the story that shook America, as true today as it was in 1960.
Josephine coming to Saipan was a true blessing for all of us working to establish the truth about Amelia Earhart’s presence here. She strengthened the worthy cause and helped to open up the minds of some of the unbelieving locals who have been misinformed for decades by the U.S. establishment and led to believe the popular but false “crashed-and-sank” and “Nikumaroro hypothesis” landing promoted by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and others who have used the Earhart story to profit greatly and mislead millions of the uninformed about the true fates of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
We don’t have space here to present all the Saipan witness accounts, much less the witnesses from the Marshall Islands, where the fliers landed at Mili Atoll, but following are a few such testimonies.
Amelia Earhart on Saipan: A Few Witnesses Speak
In 1960, Dr. Manual Aldan, a dentist and Saipan native who understood Japanese, told Fred Goerner he didn’t see the white woman or man in 1937, but offered an important detail he overheard from a Japanese officer. “I dealt with high officials on the island and knew what they were saying in Japanese,” Aldan said. “The name of the lady I hear used. This is the name the Japanese officer said: Earharto!” Aldan said he heard much about Earhart from his patients, and in 1937 these were restricted to Japanese officers.
“The officers made jokes about the United States using women as spies,“ Aldan told Goerner. “They said that American men did not have the courage to come and spy themselves.”
Catholic Missionary Priest Father Sylvan Conover brought Goerner to Jesús Salas, a Chamorro farmer, who had been held at Garapan Prison between 1937 and 1944 for fighting with a Japanese soldier, according to Goerner, who did not quote Salas directly but reported that “sometime during 1937 a white woman was placed in the next cell [beside Salas] but kept there only a few hours. He saw the woman only once but gave a description of her that fitted those given by the other witnesses. The guards told him the woman was an American pilot the Japanese had captured.”
Pedro Sakisag, born in 1927, told Goerner he was the youngest of those working at the harbor “for an unloading of food from the ships” in 1937. “During that time, one of our group went to the rest room, and the place where they kept the lady, and saw her face peering out a small window,” Sakisag said.
The man told Sakisag the woman was an American, and Sakisag later saw her, describing her hair as “light brown and cut like a man’s.” When asked if he knew what happened to her, Sakisag replied, “I can’t give you further answer because I just came to that place to work, and I wasn’t supposed to know the secret things.”
Antonio M. Cepada, a 52-year-old Buick employee at Agana, was interviewed by Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam in June 1960. Cepada offered the first of several vivid descriptions of events on Saipan during the summer of 1937:
One summer about two years after I got married, I saw an American girl who was referred to by some as the “American spy woman.” She was quartered on the second floor of the hotel Kobayashi Royokan in the summer of 1937. I don’t remember any plane crash, but I saw the girl twice on two separate occasions I saw her while going to work outside the hotel, which is located in East Garapan village. She wore unusual clothes – a long raincoat belted in the center. The color was a faded khaki. She was 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 a reddish-brown color and cut short like a man’s hair, trimmed close in the back like man. She did not wear powder or lipstick as I see other American women wear now.
Cepada told Gervais that the woman, “Tokyo Rosa,” was about thirty-five years old. When Gervais asked if he meant the Tokyo Rose on Japanese radio during the war, Cepada impatiently said, “Not that one. Tokyo Rosa in 1937 meant American spy girl. That’s all.” Carlos Palacious told Gervais and Dinger that he had been working on Saipan as a salesman at a store near the Hotel Kobayashi Royokan since 1930, and that he saw the girl only twice in about a three-month period, the first time at a window on the second floor of the hotel.
“The window was open,” Palacious said, “and she had on what looked to me like a man’s white shirt with short sleeves . . . open collar. She had short dark reddish-brown hair, cut like a man’s hair in back, too.” The second occasion he saw her, Palacious said she was standing at the entrance to the hotel, wearing the same clothes as before: “Same girl, hair cut short, no make-up, a slim girl . . . not fat . . . not big in the chest.” Palacious used the same term to describe her that Cepada had –“Tokyo Rosa . . . an American spy girl,” and thought she was about thirty-four to thirty-six years old.
Like Cepada, Palacios didn’t know what had happened to the girl, but thought she was probably taken to Japan. He had never heard of Amelia Earhart, but when shown Earhart’s photo, Palacious said, “Face and haircut look like the same girl to me.”
Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas (the former Matilde Fausto Arriola) told Gervais, Dinger, and Father Bendowske that she lived next door to the hotel with her family in 1937, and “saw the American girl in the hotel, and twice during the seven days she stayed there she visited me and my younger sister at our home,” mirroring Antonio Cepada’s time estimate for the woman’s stay at the hotel. She described the woman as “thin with short hair like a man’s,” and said the first time she saw her she looked very pale as though she were sick.
“My sister and I offered her food,” Matilde went on. “She accepted it but ate very little, only a little fruit.” The last time the woman visited Matilde and her sister, “she had bandages on her left forearm,” Matilde said. “Also bruises on the right side of her neck. The American girl liked my younger sister very much, and on this second visit when my sister was doing a geography lesson, the American girl helped her draw correctly the location of the Mariana Islands in relation to the other islands in the Pacific.” Later, a bus boy told Matilde the American girl had died at the hotel. “He said the bed she slept on was soaked with blood and that before she died, the American girl had been going very often to the outside toilet,” Matilde recalled. “Later the bus boy asked me to make two wreaths for a burial.” When Gervais showed Matilde several photos of Amelia Earhart, Matilde said, “It looks like the same girl.”
In September 1961, Matilde related a similar account to Goerner, with one major difference. Matilde said “for many months in 1937 and ’38 she had seen the white woman whom the Japanese referred to as ‘flier and spy.’ ”
Matilde selected the correct photo of Earhart from a group of fifteen Goerner displayed, telling him, “This is the woman; I’m sure of it, but she looked older and more tired.” She said she saw the woman many times in the hotel’s yard, and several times she gave her fruit:
One day she came out into the yard and she looked very sick and sadder than usual. I gave her a piece of fruit and she smiled. Then she gave me a ring from her finger and put her hand on my head in friendship. The next day one of the police came and got some black cloth from my father and had him make some paper flowers. The man said the lady had died and they were going to bury her. She died of dysentery.
The ring, a single pearl set in white gold that Matilde said Amelia Earhart gave her, would have been a powerful piece of hard evidence, but Matilde said she gave it to her sister, who passed it to her niece, who lost it. No photographic evidence of the ring exists, and Goerner thought Amelia could have bought it at one of her stops prior to Lae.
(End of Part II)