The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Inc. Committee held a new election on Saipan March 28. Marie S. Castro, the beating heart of the AEMMI, without whom the movement would not exist, was named the new president, with former Secretary Frances Sablan moving up to the vice president spot. Manny Borja is the treasurer and Evelyna Shoda takes over as secretary. Manuel F. Borja, Carlos Shoda, Oscar Camacho, Chailang Palacios, Bruce Bateman and Donald C. Barcinas, former president, round out the new board of directors.
Created in September 2017 as Marie’s inspired brainchild, the AEMMI has not been fondly embraced by the locals on Saipan. Although the Marianas Variety has supported the grass-roots initiative with several stories about Marie and her wealth of Earhart-related experience that have been faithfully noted on this blog, it’s painfully clear that the vast majority of the citizens of Saipan are determined to oppose the monument.
The unpleasant evidence reflecting what one reader of this blog has dubbed the “militant ignorance” of the Saipan locals — which runs depressingly parallel to the thoroughly propagandized U.S. populace — is on display in the comments sections that follow each of the several stories run locally, the most recent of which, “Amelia Earhart monument to help boost NMI tourism, says local author,” was published on May 13. Only a small fraction of the architect’s initial $200,000 estimate for the monument has been raised.
Undeterred, Marie, 86, refuses to surrender to the mindless crowd in her quest to achieve long-denied justice for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. She is becoming an iconic figure in the Saipan community, slowly and begrudgingly recognized for her courage and unflappable determination. Marie’s latest initiative is the identification and elucidation of 10 reasons that the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument should be built on Saipan.
Forthwith are the reasons that Marie and the AEMMI have advanced, introduced by a personal note from Marie Castro herself.
Dear Friends in the United States and our People of Saipan,
It is our desire to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation in joining this significant, worthy cause to recognize and acknowledge the two great aviators, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. When their plane came down in the Pacific in July 1937, they were brought to Saipan by the Japanese military.
We cannot continue to deny and ignore the great courage, the unimaginable sacrifice they endured under the Japanese regime for the cause of humanity. Many reasons for building the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument are expressed loud and clear in the book Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last by Mike Campbell. Here are some that immediately suggest themselves:
1. In 1937 Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan entered into the historical record of Saipan. Whether the fact is recognized or not, the fliers became the first American casualties of World War II. Amelia was not executed, but she contracted dysentery and was cremated. According to witnesses, Jose Sadao Tomokane attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.
2. Saipan has an obligation to recognize and give every human being the honor and respect they deserve. Although it was impossible to do such a thing under the Japanese regime, 82 years and counting is far too long for the two fliers who met their final days on Saipan soil to be honored.
3. Many of our elders saw Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in days, weeks and months following their arrival here in the summer of 1937, beginning with the well-known sighting by Josephine Blanco in summer 1937, which began the modern day search for Amelia Earhart.
4. Amelia Earhart was a pioneer in the male-dominated aviation field. She was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and was also a best-selling author who wrote about her adventures as an aviator. Among her many accomplishments, she was instrumental in forming an organization of female pilots called the Ninety-Nines. While Amelia earned the respect and admiration of people all over the world, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Amelia’s statue will inspire the daughters of the CNMI to embrace Amelia’s pioneering spirit and aspire towards fulfilling their utmost potential.
5. Saipan would become widely recognized internationally and our island’s history and culture would attract worldwide attention.
6. It is time for Saipan to take ownership of the Earhart-on-Saipan Truth and to spread that Truth not just in the region, but worldwide. The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument would focus attention on the Earhart disappearance in ways never before imagined.
7. We need to expand this idea to eventually encompass a museum, library and gift shop, as well as a research institute for worldwide Earhart researchers to come, do their work and discuss their findings. The Earhart Monument again gets this process rolling by providing a single focal point to key interest on.
8. With the proper infrastructure in place, visitors from all over the world with an interest in Amelia, her story and her “mysterious” end will come to Saipan, becoming a permanent income base for the CNMI economy. They will want to see firsthand the sites mentioned in the literature. They will buy souvenirs, paraphernalia and books commemorating their visit to Saipan, and this can add a profit center that provides funds for salaries, overhead and maintenance.
9. The Memorial Monument will be the first tangible symbol of the Earhart-on-Saipan Truth. It will become the “trademarked brand” of the Earhart saga, and the site will be instantly recognizable as the focus of Saipan’s Earhart tourism industry, with its products, attractions and services. Over the years, the museum, shop, library and research institute can grow from the first step — the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument!
10. Finally and most importantly, as international attention on Saipan and its vital historical importance as the location of the tragic deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan continues to increase, the lies, myths and endless propaganda about theories and the “Earhart Mystery” will come to an end, and the Truth will be accepted and known by all. The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument will be revered worldwide as the ultimate shrine to the heroic sacrifices of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
To contribute to the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan, please 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.
Doug Mills initially contacted me in March 2010 via email, full of questions and enthusiasm for the Earhart story, having read my 2002 book written with Thomas E. Devine, the little-known With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart.
Doug, 55, lives in small-town Bellaire, in northern Michigan, works as a manager at the spectacular Shanty Creek Resort and regularly paddles his kayak on nearby Torch Lake, not far from Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. He’s also an artist, and I think some of his Earhart-related work is worthy of posting here, in case anyone might be interested in purchasing any or all of these one-of-a-kind pieces at a very inexpensive price. They’re all framed in my office.
Doug Mills can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and will work with anyone interested. I won’t list prices here, but these pieces are far below what would be considered “market price” for such sketches. In other words, they are dirt cheap! He’s not set up for credit cards, but your check will be much appreciated. The sketches and plane below speak for themselves, are great conversation pieces and are worthy of your attention.
Today we present the conclusion of the three-part presentation of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy. Marie conceived of this project back in early January, “mostly for the locals to educate and induce them to read” the truth about Earhart’s sad demise on Saipan by presenting them a succinct compilation of the major witnesses — both local and American — that have come forward since 1937.
The intention, of course, is to somehow begin to move a brainwashed, intransigent populace that remains firmly entrenched against the idea of building the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan. Here’s the conclusion of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy:
In 1962 Joaquina M. Cabrera was interviewed by Goerner. “Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera brought us closer to the woman held at the Kobayashi Royokan [Hotel] than any other witness” Goerner wrote.
At the Cabrera home in Chalan Kanoa, Goerner and several others including Fathers Arnold Bendowske and Sylvan Conover, and Ross Game, editor of the Napa (California) Register and longtime Goerner confidant “crowded into the front room . . . and listened to her halting recital.” Joaquina described her job as that of a laundress for the Japanese guests and prisoners kept there:
One day when I came to work, they were there . . . a white lady and man. The police never left them. The lady wore a man’s clothes when she first came. I was given her clothes to clean. I remember pants and a jacket. It was leather or heavy cloth, so I did not wash it. I rubbed it clean. The man I saw only once. I did not wash his clothes. His head was hurt and covered with a bandage, and he sometimes needed help to move. The police took him to another place and he did not come back. The lady was thin and very tired.
Every day more Japanese came to talk with her. She never smiled to them but did to me. She did not speak our language, but I know she thanked me. She was a sweet, gentle lady. I think the police sometimes hurt her. She had bruises and one time her arm was hurt. . . . Then, one day . . . police said she was dead of disease. [DYSENTERY most likely.]
Mrs. Amparo Deleon Guerrero Aldan was my classmate in the third grade in Japanese school before World War II. Her brother, Francisco Deleon Guerrero and my cousin’s husband Joaquin Seman came to my house one evening to visit in 1945. The conversation was all about Amelia Earhart. I heard them describing what Amelia wore when they saw her. In our culture, a woman should wear a dress not a man’s outfit.
“Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan crash landed in the Garapan harbor near the Tanapag Naval Base on Saipan in 1937,” Fred Goerner wrote in his summary of the accounts he gathered from the first group of Saipan witnesses in The Search for Amelia Earhart. “A Japanese naval launch picked up the two fliers and brought them to shore. They were taken to the military headquarters, questioned and separated. Noonan was forced into an automobile by his captors and was never seen again. Amelia was moved to a small building at the military barracks compound.”
I have a photo of Mr. Jose Tomokane. He told his wife one day the reason for coming home late. He attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.
Mrs. Tomokane and Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes were neighbors during the Japanese time. They often visited with one another. Dolores, daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, heard their conversation about the cremation of an American woman pilot. These two wives were the only individuals who knew secretly about the cremation of Amelia through Mr. Tomokane.
Had it not been for the daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, who heard the conversation of the two wives, we would have never known about Mr. Tomokane’s interesting day. David M. Sablan has also said that he heard about Amelia being cremated according to Mr. Tomokane.
The American GI Witnesses on Saipan
The Battle of Saipan, fought from June 15 to July 9, 1944, was the most important battle of the Pacific War to date. The U.S. 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Holland Smith, defeated the 43rd Infantry Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito.
The loss of Saipan, with the death of at least 29,000 Japanese troops and heavy civilian casualties, precipitated the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and left the Japanese mainland within the range of Allied B-29 bombers. Saipan would become the launching point for retaking other islands in the Mariana chain, and the eventual invasion of the Philippines, in October 1944.
The victory at Saipan was also important for quite another reason, one you will not see in any of the official histories. At an unknown date soon after coming ashore on D-Day, June 15, American forces discovered Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E, NR 16020, in a Japanese hangar at Aslito Field, the Japanese airstrip on Saipan.
Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, was a sergeant in the Army’s 244th Postal Unit, and came ashore at Saipan on July 6, just a few days before the island was declared secure. Devine was ordered to drive his commanding officer, Lieutenant Fritz Liebig, to Aslito Field, and there he was soon informed that Amelia Earhart’s airplane had been discovered, relatively intact. Devine later claimed he saw the Electra three times soon thereafter – in flight, on the ground when he inspected it at the off-limits airfield, and later that night in flames.
During that period, Marine Private Robert E. Wallack found Amelia’s briefcase in a blown safe in a Japanese administration building on Saipan. “We entered what may have been a Japanese government building, picking up souvenirs strewn about,” Wallack wrote in a notarized statement. “Under the rubble was a locked safe. One of our group was a demolition man who promptly applied some gel to blow it open. We thought at the time, that we would all become Japanese millionaires. After the smoke cleared I grabbed a brown leather attaché case with a large handle and flip lock. The contents were official-looking papers, all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the world flight.
“I wanted to retain this as a souvenir,” Wallack continued, “but my Marine buddies insisted that it may be important and should be turned in. I went down to the beach where I encountered a naval officer and told of my discovery. He gave me a receipt for the material, and stated that it would be returned to me if it were not important. I have never seen the material since.”
Other soldiers saw or knew of the Electra’s discovery, including Earskin J. Nabers, of Baldwyn, Mississippi, a 20-year old private who worked in the secret radio message section of the 8th Marine Regiment’s H&S Communication Platoon. On or about July 6, Nabers received and decoded three messages about the Electra – one announcing its discovery, one stating that the plane would be flown, and the final transmission announcing plans to destroy the plane that night.
Nabers was present when the aluminum plane was torched and burned beyond recognition, as was Sergeant Thomas E. Devine, among others who ignored warnings to stay away from the airfield, which had been declared off-limits.
In addition to the many soldiers, Marines and Navy men who saw or knew of the presence and destruction of Amelia Earhart’s Electra on Saipan, three U.S. flag officers later shared their knowledge of the truth with Fred Goerner, acting against policy prohibiting the release of top-secret information, likely in order to encourage the long-suffering Goerner in his quest for the truth.
In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, former Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz called Goerner in San Francisco. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner said Nimitz told him.
The admiral’s revelation appeared to be a monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman, and is known even to many casual observers of the Earhart matter. “After five years of effort, the former commander U.S. Naval Forces in the Pacific was telling me it had not been wasted,” Goerner wrote.
In November 1966, several months after The Search for Amelia Earhart was released, retired General Graves B. Erskine, who as a Marine brigadier general was the deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps during the Saipan invasion, accepted Goerner’s invitation to visit the radio studies of KCBS in San Francisco for an interview. While waiting to go on the air with Goerner, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS newsman, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.”
General Alexander A. Vandegrift, the eighteenth commandant of the Marine Corps, privately admitted the truth to Goerner in a handwritten, August 1971 letter.
“General Tommy Watson, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the assault on Saipan and stayed on that island after the fall of Okinawa, on one of my seven visits of inspection of his division told me that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan,” the handwritten letter states.
“That is the total knowledge that I have of this incident. In writing to you, I did not realize that you wanted to quote my remarks about Miss Earhart and I would rather that you would not.”
Vandegrift’s claimed source for his information, former Lieutenant General Thomas E. Watson, died in 1966 – very possibly the reason Vandegrift shared the truth with Goerner in that way. Legally speaking, Vandegrift’s letter is hearsay, and he probably assumed it would afford him a level of protection against any ramifications he might face for breaking his silence with Goerner.
In assessing Vandegrift’s credibility, a sterling career culminating in his selection as the Marine Corps’ first four-star general is impressive enough. But Vandegrift also received the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his actions at Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands in 1942. In those days, receiving his country’s highest award for valor conferred upon its bearer the gravest moral responsibilities, and it’s safe to presume that the word of a Medal of Honor awardee, especially a former commander of the world’s greatest fighting force, was as good as gold. Moreover, Vandegrift had nothing tangible to gain from telling Goerner that Earhart had died on Saipan, and had no obvious reason to do so.
How Did Amelia Die?
It was common for locals to conclude that the Japanese military treated certain offences with severe punishment, including execution by shooting or beheading. This included the early, though inaccurate account of Josephine Blanco about Amelia Earhart being shot soon after her arrival at Saipan. In 1983 Nieves Cabrera Blas told American author T.C. “Buddy” Brennan that she saw Amelia shot by a Japanese soldier in 1944, shortly before the American invasion.
However, the preponderance of Saipan witness accounts suggest that Amelia was not executed. According to Matilde F. Arriola and Joaquina Cabrera’s accounts, Amelia died from dysentery. Matilde noticed that one day the lady used the toilet many times that same day and that was the last time she saw her. The next day the caretaker came to ask for wreath because the lady had died.
Mr. Jose Tomokane was Japanese himself, but we don’t know how loyal he was to his Emperor. I went to his house to talk to anyone in the family a few months after I came back from the States in December I learned that the only child living today is the youngest son, Mitch Tomokane, and he is suffering from a bad heart problem.
My first question to Mitch, was, do you know how your father came to Saipan? Mitch said he came from Japan as an agricultural instructor during the Japanese era. He stayed on Saipan, got married and built his family, and he died in 1956 on Saipan. Another interesting thing was the location of the house today. The house Mitch is living today is very close to the Japanese crematory. The only remaining part of the crematory is the base of the crematory statue.
So Mr. Tomokane, who may well have been an eyewitness to the cremation of Amelia Earhart, died four years before Fred Goerner arrived on Saipan. I was a Catholic nun then, here on Saipan, and as I recalled, Saipan was still strictly under U.S. Navy control. It was also secretly used by the CIA, which operated their spy school they called the Navy Technical Training Unit. I remember from reading Goerner’s book that he had a problem trying to enter Saipan because of this.
My dear people of Saipan, this is the story about the tragic incident that happened on our island in 1937. I’ve tried to make it easy to read for those interested in learning the truth of this extremely important historic event – a completely unnecessary tragedy that has yet to be recognized by mainstream historians.
After learning the truth of the lonely, wretched deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, we invite you to join us in supporting this most worthy and long overdue cause in giving the fliers the respect and dignity as human beings they deserve and building a memorial monument in their honor.
The people of Saipan had nothing to do with the deaths of Earhart and Noonan; however, given the fact that it happened on our soil, it is our responsibility as citizens of Saipan to recognize and acknowledge the truth, as painful and uncomfortable as the truth may be for many. If not now, when?
Let us not sit and do nothing while the Marshall Islands have long proclaimed the truth about the famous American aviators, most notably by creating four postage stamps in 1987, the 50th anniversary of their arrival at Mili Atoll, to honor and recognize the events of their arrival and pickup by the Japanese ship Koshu.
Never forget World War II! Over 3,000 American lives were lost to save your grandparents, great grandparents, other relatives and the entire Saipan community, which endured unimaginable suffering until their liberation in 1944.
Our CNMI Administration should step up with a gesture of sincere appreciation to the two great American fliers, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, and honor the heroic sacrifices they made at the hands of the militaristic pre-war Japanese on Saipan, and who were in fact the first American casualties of World War II.
“WE, the People” of Saipan most sincerely urge the CNMI leadership to support building the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument for these two great American aviators who met their tragic end on Saipan soil.
RESPECT among the CNMI is firmly rooted into our culture, so let us continue to preserve this beautiful legacy handed down through our elders and to the future generations.
To support the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, please send your tax-deductible contribution to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950.
If 2018 was memorable for anything in Earhart circles, it was the news of the birth of the grass-roots movement to erect an Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan, which actually occurred in September 2017. The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Incorporated (AEMMI) committee is the brainchild of Marie S.C. Castro, 85, the current committee vice president, who is essentially responsible for its existence. Former AEMMI President Rep. Donald Barcinas (Republican, Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature, who has since lost his seat), said in February 2018 that at least $200,000 is needed for the successful completion of the monument.
I learned about the AEMMI on Feb. 8, 2018, when reader Ken McGhee told me that he’d seen the initial story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan,” on the website of the Marianas Variety. You can read the original article, which appeared on Feb. 7, by clicking here. Several stories followed in quick succession. My near-joyous announcement, “Finally, some good Earhart news from Saipan” was posted March 2, followed by “Saipan architect unveils planned Earhart Memorial” March 16.
In my May 18 story, “Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts,” Marie produced a photo of Jose Sadao Tomokane, who told his wife in 1937 that he was late coming home because he had “attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.”
In the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety, my post about Marie S.C. Castro appeared under the headline, “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past,” and an extended version, “Marie Castro: Iron link to Saipan’s forgotten history,” was published here April 2. The stories presented Marie’s accounts of her experiences with Matilde Arriola, one of the best known of the Saipan eyewitnesses, introduced by Fred Goerner in his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart. Marie’s interview with another of Goerner’s eyewitnesses, “Revisiting Joaquina Cabrera, Earhart eyewitness,” was published here April 17.
Marie continues as the prime mover and virtual sole voice in the movement to erect the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. With the exception of a few very generous individuals, the response to our year-long fundraising campaign has been cool on this side of the Pacific, and ice cold on Saipan.
In an effort to change hearts and minds, in early January 2019 Marie was inspired to write a small booklet about her life and devotion to Amelia’s legacy, intended for distribution on Saipan, “mostly for the locals to educate and induce them to read,“ she told me. She sent me a 20-page draft, which I tuned-up and expanded, and by mid-February, the first of three boxes of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy, arrived on Saipan.
Saipan’s Marianas Variety newspaper published a story about the booklet, “New book about Amelia Earhart on Saipan now available,” by reporter Junhan B. Todiño, on Feb. 25, 2019, and on March 4, Saipan TV’s Ashley McDowell interviewed Marie for a story you can watch by clicking here.
The 35-page booklet is available at the Saipan’s Bestsellers bookstore and the Saipan Library, and Marie will ask for donations when she distributes it to those she hopes might be willing to help make the Earhart Memorial Monument a reality someday. I think it’s appropriate that readers everywhere see it, and hope that some might be moved to help Marie on Saipan, at the address listed at the top right of the front page of this blog.
Beginning with the back-cover narrative, here is the first of three parts of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy. (Boldface mine throughout and not in the booklet.)
In My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy, Mike Campbell, author of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (Second Edition 2016), and Marie Castro, author of Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII, her 2013 autobiography, present a brief summary of the facts in the 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, and their tragic deaths on prewar Japanese-controlled Saipan.
Marie, 85, is the leading light in the grass-roots initiative to erect the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan. Along with Campbell and a few others, she persists in her determination to bring long-overdue justice to the famed aviatrix and her navigator.
My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy is Marie’s unique way of continuing her mission to thank America for saving Saipan, in a way no one else has ever done, by educating her own people about Earhart, Noonan and the unhappy truth about their lonely ends on Saipan. Seeing the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument project through to its completion has become among the most daunting challenges of Marie Castro’s long life, but one in which she is determined to succeed.
Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy
By Mike Campbell with Marie S.C. Castro (Part 1 of 3)
I’m currently 85 years old, and what has happened in my life is quite amazing. For starters, and quite briefly, I lived in Kansas City, Missouri for 50 years and decided to sell my great home at 100 Garfield Avenue, also known as Tiffany Castle, and move back home for good to Saipan, the largest island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or CNMI.
In 1966 I was sent to Kansas City as a nun to complete my higher education. During the 1960s and ‘70s a big transitional movement was under way in the Catholic Church for clergy and religious to reflect on their vocations. I believe it was Pope St. John XXIII who issued a Decree for priests and nuns who questioned their vocation to go on sabbatical leave for one year. I prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide me in my decision, and I decided to relinquish my vows as a nun. I believed I made the right decision. Although I am no longer in the religious life, I maintain my Catholic Faith and training that has served as a strong guide and anchor in my secular life.
I never forget what the American military endured in World War II in order to free the people of Saipan from oppression, and I dedicated my life to education. I decided to remain in Kansas City and teach in school, where I could help children and reciprocate in my own small way to this great country. I taught two years at Ozanam Home for Boys, an institution for emotionally disturbed youngsters, and then applied to the Kansas City Missouri Public School System, where I taught for 25 years and retired in 1998. I felt it was a big accomplishment in my life in helping children to make a difference. Later I spent time doing voluntary work, as well attending courses and lectures until I came back home for good in 2016.
I took lots of pictures of the castle to show to my mother and my family before I went to Saipan in the summer of 1989. Everyone admired the beauty of the woodwork and the stained glass around the house.
When I came back to Kansas City from that vacation, I called the realtor to make an appointment to see the castle once more, so I could definitely decide what to do. I met with the realtor at the castle at 2 o’clock one afternoon. As she opened the big front door, I was mesmerized with the beauty of the woodwork, the high ceiling and a big mantle with a huge mirror built over it. The realtor led me up to a beautiful spiral stairway to the second floor and a big master bedroom with five other bedrooms. Next we went on to the turret, where we could see the Missouri River, overlooking Kansas City, downtown and the residential areas all around.
As we went back down and proceeded to the dining room, I looked over the stained glass door entrance, and I felt so humbled for the opportunity to see it again. While I stood in the dining room, suddenly I remembered what my brother Gus told me, “If you see something you like and you can do it, go for it. You only live once in your lifetime.”
I thought if I don’t take this house, it would haunt me all my life, and I will be sorry if I pass up this opportunity. At that moment I turned to the realtor and said, “I will purchase the castle.”
It wasn’t easy to sell that big historic mansion, but finally after four years on the market an interested person made an offer after touring the castle. After 26 years in this house, leaving was an emotional and difficult experience. It was a special home for me, not only considering it as my home on earth, but especially after having found out through my research on the castle that it was built in 1903. Right then, the connection with my mother became even more meaningful to me. It seemed to be a sign, in that my mother was also born in 1903. Although I was over 8,000 miles away from her, I always felt the closeness between the two of us. The castle served as a therapeutic home, a kind of extension of the intimate love of a mother.
I had sold my property on Saipan during the economic boom in the late 1970s-early ‘80s when the Japanese were investing on the island. The castle was badly in disrepair and the price was affordable, so I was able to put a down payment and then applied for a mortgage.
After a month this huge commitment began to sink in, but my determination to own it was stronger than the financial burden. I thought nothing is easy in this world.
I went back home feeling satisfied at my accomplishment that day. That evening I wasn’t able to sleep until 3 a.m. for that incredible decision I made. Later I remembered my realtor told me, “Marie, the house was meant for you.” I believed she was right, because for the 26 years I lived in that house I enjoyed every minute and every corner of the house. It was my heaven on earth. I wish my mother would have had the opportunity to taste the beauty of that house.
The castle was completely empty when I bought it. To find the most appropriate set of furniture to furnish the castle was not easy, but finally after over three years the house was well furnished, appropriate to its unique style.
My mother, Virginia C. Castro, left, was recovering from her minor heart problem at the hospital when I came for my yearly summer vacation to Saipan. I spent as much time as I could with her that summer; the thought of leaving her was so painful to me.
Three days after I arrived back in Kansas City, I got a call from my brother Gus, who said, “If you want to see Mother for the last time, come home as soon as possible. She is in critical condition.” I made my plane reservation and flew the next day back to Saipan. I prayed so hard during my flight that I would see my mother alive before she departed.
I arrived at Saipan at 8 p.m. the next day. My brother was at the airport to meet me, and we went directly to the hospital. As I entered her room the family had just finished praying the Rosary by her bedside. As I bent and kissed her, I said “Mother I am here, si Daling.” Mother opened her eyes and smiled at me, and I knew she was waiting for her daughter. I was fortunate to stay at my mother’s bedside, giving her my last assistance for five days until she died on Aug. 6, 1990.
In 2013, my book, Without a Penny in my Pocket, was published through funding provided by the Northern Marianas Humanities Council. Its subtitle, My Bittersweet Memories Before and After World War II, well summarizes its contents.
William H. Stewart, former senior economist for the Northern Marianas and a career military-historical cartographer and foreign-service officer in the U.S. State Department, wrote a very nice, comprehensive review of Without a Penny in November 2014.
“Marie Castro’s fascinating book, Without a Penny in my Pocket, takes the reader back to a period on Saipan long ago swept away on the waves of time,” Stewart wrote in beginning his two-page review. “Recalling the days of her youth she provides vivid and rare insight of bygone days of a peaceful Saipan before the ravages of war destroyed much but not the memories of what used to be. . . . Today’s youth would be well-advised to learn from the experiences of the author and her family and friends, of the heartbreak and suffering the people of Saipan endured and the faith they all exhibited to overcome such adversity. . . . She is an inspiration for all who aspire to make a contribution by helping others through education and good deeds.”
I urge interested readers who want to learn more than I can offer in this small booklet to obtain a copy of Without a Penny in my Pocket.
Return to Saipan
Two years later, on Oct. 13, 2016, I returned to Saipan for good and wondered, “What am I to do now?” Perhaps I would be bored, but interestingly enough, a few months later I remembered Matilde F. Arriola, whom I interviewed about Amelia Earhart in 1983. Perhaps this was what had been bothering me in the back of my mind the year 2017 in connection with 1937, 80 years ago when Amelia Earhart’s plane came down in the Pacific with her navigator Fred Noonan and eventually was brought to Saipan by the Japanese.
I began considering this event that happened in 1937 on Saipan. At that time, people were subject to strict Japanese governance. We had no rights on our own island. People were ordered to comply with any ordinance given by the Japanese regime. Any infraction would result in punishment, and depending on the severity of the offense, the price could be terrible and devastating. The people lived in constant fear, which had become the normal daily environment on Saipan.
Japan’s economic interests on Saipan were mainly to subsidize her own people. Much of the land was used to cultivate tapioca and cotton, but most of it was devoted to sugarcane plantations. The production of sugarcane became so large that the country decided through an entrepreneur businessman named Matsue to build a sugarcane factory on Saipan. He brought in large numbers of workers from the island of Okinawa to work in sugarcane fields as well as in the factory.
Interestingly enough, only a few Saipanese who were conscripted by the government in 1937 happened to witness an event that the locals had suppressed in their minds until the war ended. After the liberation of Saipan in the summer of 1944 and people were encamped at Camp Susupe, fears suppressed by the people for so long during the Japanese regime began to unravel, and the seeds of freedom the American victory had planted began to bear fruit.
I remember Joaquin M. Seman and his friend Frank Deleon Guerrero, who came to our house one evening for a social visit and told the story about an American woman pilot who wore a man’s outfit with short hair. The woman pilot was the great Amelia Earhart. It was so strange to them, as they had never seen a woman dressed like that, as according to the Chamorro culture, woman always wore dresses.
In early February 2017 I met with Robert Hunter at his Department of Community and Cultural Affairs (DCCA) office and Rep. Donald Barcinas and explained my idea. The presence and death of Amelia Earhart on Saipan is a very unpopular subject here; however, I believe that it should be recorded in our history, for many important reasons. These include recognizing Amelia as the American woman pilot who so exemplified the fearless spirit of adventure that so characterized the early aviation pioneers, and to finally offer those who are interested in Amelia a monument on Saipan, where she met her tragic fate.
Amelia Earhart endures in the American consciousness as one of the world’s most celebrated aviators, and she remains a symbol of the power and perseverance of women who are determined to achieve a lofty goal, and the adventurous spirit so essential to the American persona. The last time I checked, the CNMI is still a part of America.
End of Part I.
David M. Sablan is a well-known Saipan citizen and entrepreneur who founded the Rotary Club of Saipan in 1968. In 2017 he published his autobiography, A Degree of Success Through Curiosity: True Story of a Young Boy Eager to Learn and Find His Calling in Life, his account of “living under the Japanese regime before and during WWII on a remote Pacific island, who grew up under hardship but made something positive out of his life.”
In 2005, Sablan, who turns 87 in early April and founded Saipan’s Rotary Club in 1968, was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year, the first time in the club’s 37-year history the club presented this award to one of its own.
“Our honoree complements his public service by being closely involved with civic and community groups,” said Michael Sablan, who introduced David at the 2005 ceremony. “The list of civic and community organizations he has served on is long, but of all the honors bestowed to our honoree, of all the distinctions he has earned . . . it was his involvement in 1968 in founding the Rotary Club of Saipan that we Rotarians, as a club, appreciate the greatest.”
In my May 18, 2018 post, “Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts,” Marie introduced yet another previously unpublished piece of the ever-continuing Earhart saga, an account with which Sablan was personally familiar:
I have the photo of Mr. Jose Sadao Tomokane. He told his wife one day the reason for coming home late. He attended the cremation of the American woman pilot. Mrs. Tomokane and Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes were neighbors during the Japanese time. They often visited with one another. Dolores, daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, heard their conversation about the cremation of an American woman pilot. These two wives were the only individuals who knew secretly about the cremation of Amelia through Mr. Tomokane.
“Had it not been for the daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, who heard the conversation of the two wives, we would have never known about Mr. Tomokane’s interesting day. And David M. Sablan, after I showed the power point presentation at my house last month, he got up after the presentation and told the group that he heard about Amelia being cremated, according to Mr. Tomokane.”
At the Oct. 9, 2018 reception dinner honoring Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s return to Saipan at age 92 at Garapan’s Fiesta Resort and Spa, Sablan spoke of his childhood memory of seeing an airplane towed through Garapan’s Second Street, though on this occasion Sablan wasn’t quite as specific as he was in an earlier email to Marie Castro:
Going back in years, during the Japanese occupation of Saipan (late thirties to early forties), I was wandering around the northern part of Garapan Town, when I saw a large crowd gathered near the dock area of a large Japanese company, Nanyo Boeki Kaisha (or NAMBO). This dock was privately owned by NAMBO for unloading cargoes that were brought in by “sampan” or barge unloaded from a ship into a sampan and brought ashore by a barge to the small “jetty.” I was curious to see what was going on but I could only see a plane which was apparently off-loaded from a barge at the NAMBO dock.
I saw an airplane being towed on Second Street in Garapan Town. The plane was being towed southward on Garapan Main Street. I later learned that the towed airplane was seen at “ASLITO AIRFIELD” on the southern end of Saipan. A local worker at Aslito Airfield came by our ranch in Chalan Kiya and told us that the airplane was recovered by the Japanese as well as a woman and a man pilots. The name of the person who told us is ISIDRO LISAMA.
Sablan then recalled visiting the Marshall Islands during the course of his many duties with Atkins Kroll Guam Ltd., where he rose from being traffic clerk to president and general manager, and upon his retirement, as chairman of the company. “One person that I remember very distinctly is Bilimon Amaron . . . was one of my customers for the merchandise that we used to sell. And I said, ‘What do you know about Amelia Earhart?’ Well, [he said] I was a corpsman in 1937 working for the Japanese government and all of a sudden we were asked to go on a ship to treat a man and a woman who were injured and were on that ship . . . and [he was told] you are not to say anything of what you see. This is in 1937.
“So they went aboard the ship and they treated a white man and a white woman,” Sablan continued, “not Japanese, and as he was doing that he looked at the aft side of the ship, the rear part of the ship, and saw a damaged airplane. This was shared to me by Bilimon Amaron.”
(Editor’s note: Although Sablan pronounced Bilimon’s name as “Amaron” in his talk, in an email he insisted the spelling should be “Amram,” a form I’ve seen before, though rarely. Bilimon himself told Bill Prymak to spell his name as Amaron when Prymak interviewed him in 1989. Amram may be a Marshallese form, but Vincent V. Loomis, whose book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, is the definitive Marshall Islands, Earhart-landing work, spelled it “Amaran,” though most others have it as Amaron, so we’ll stay with that on this blog for continuity, at the least.)
David Sablan’s childhood memory is valuable in that we have scant witness testimony about the disposition of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, and how it came to be at Aslito Field when it was discovered in a hangar there during the American invasion in the summer of 1944. And although many have heard and written about Bilimon Amaron’s sighting of Earhart and Fred Noonan aboard a Japanese ship at Jaluit in summer 1937, as a prominent member of the Saipan establishment, Sablan’s endorsement of Amaron’s eyewitness account lends it additional credibility and weight. Considering that the popular sentiment on Saipan against the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument remains strongly against its success, Sablan’s accounts can only help this worthy cause.
Sablan also has several interesting photos on his blog, including one of his meeting the emperor of Japan. To see these, please click here.
Your support of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument would be greatly appreciated; please see this blog’s front page, top right side for more information.