Donald M. Wilson was a veteran of the Battle of Saipan, where he was both a rifleman and a chaplain’s assistant in the 2nd Marine Division, and where he no doubt heard stories about the presence and death of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan in the pre-war years. He became an ordained minister and served as a pastor and assistant pastor in several churches in Ohio, Michigan and finally in Lake Pleasant, New York, where he passed away on Thanksgiving Day, 2012, at age 86.
Wilson was also an avid student of the Earhart disappearance, and he occasionally corresponded with fellow Saipan veteran Thomas E. Devine. In 1994, Wilson self-published Amelia Earhart: Lost Legend: Accounts by Pacific Island Witnesses of the Crash, Rescue and Imprisonment of America’s Most Famous Female Aviator and Her Navigator, an obscure anthology known chiefly to habitués of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, where he was a respected member.
The following letter, from Wilson to Prymak in April 1994, appeared in the November 1998 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, concerns a strange incident involving Wilson and an unidentified man that occurred at an unknown time and location, and in that regard it is reminiscent of several other accounts of unknown provenance that have been passed down to us through the years. It also reprises some of the more unpleasant possible scenarios of Earhart’s final days on Saipan, and I present it for your consideration. Boldface is mine throughout.
A STRANGE ENCOUNTER BY DON WILSON
Donald Moyer Wilson
One Woods Point
Webster, NY 14580
April 28, 1994
During a book signing recently, a man came up to me and said insistently that Amelia Earhart was captured by the Japanese and executed by them. He identified himself as a former Marine Corps colonel, who had spent three months at the Pentagon. He pulled out his wallet to show me some identification. Unfortunately, I did not look at it carefully, and do not remember his name.
He seemed to be bitter about his experience with the Pentagon. He said that he had worked with G-2 — Intelligence. He claimed that he saw secret documents about Amelia Earhart. He said there were two witnesses to her execution, not just one. He also said that she had been stripped at the time of her execution and previously raped by her guards. He also said (and I neglected to tell you this) something about her fingers or fingernails, that they had been mutilated, or possibly her fingernails had been pulled out. He also said (again I forgot to tell you this) that, as I recall, her body had been removed from the grave later, and cremated (possibly by Americans? — I’m not sure of this).
He said that the Earhart plane had been destroyed — I’m quite sure he said by Americans on Saipan. He was very reluctant to give more details, and when I suggested things like the name of the airfield on Saipan, he would neither confirm nor deny them. I spoke of the Freedom of Information Act, and asked where the materials might be obtained. He implied that the Navy might have them. As I recall, I asked him to get in touch with you,* and I believe I gave him your address. Also, he mentioned another individual briefly who might have the same (or different) information, and I again said I hoped he would supply more information.
A couple of thoughts have gone through my mind. He might be telling the truth and was torn between the desire to give information and the fear of risking retaliation of some sort for giving it. There is a slight possibility that he might have been discharged from the service for homosexual behavior. Or he might have taken information he obtained elsewhere, particularly the Unsolved Mysteries program with Tom Devine and Nieves Cabrera Blas, among others, and built on their stories — for the fun (?) of it. He asked me what my interest in Amelia Earhart was, but walked away before I could give him an answer.
(Signed) Don Wilson
*He Never Did
Prymak note: Don Wilson must sure wish he had collared this guy for subsequent interviews. (End of Wilson letter.)
Wherever this “Marine colonel” got this information in the early to mid 1990s, it didn’t all come from the Nov. 7, 1990 Unsolved Mysteries segment, “New Evidence Points to Saipan,” which featured Thomas E. Devine, Robert E. Wallack, Fred Goerner, T.C. “Buddy” Brennan and even crash-and-sank poster boy Elgen M. Long. Nothing was mentioned in that program about Amelia being stripped, horribly mutilated or her body’s removal from a gravesite, though all these things could well have happened during her captivity on Saipan. For more on this theme, please see my June 12, 2015 post, “Navy nurse’s letter describes gruesome end for fliers, but was it true?”
Many of the smaller details have yet to be learned, but we do know beyond any doubt that the doomed fliers met their tragic ends on Saipan. The U.S. government and its media toadies still do not want you to know the truth about the death of Amelia Earhart, for all the reasons I continue to re-emphasize and present to the few who are willing and able to accept the truth.
Today we return to the early 1960s correspondence between KCBS radio newsman Fred Goerner and retired Coast Guard Lt. Leo Bellarts, who as the chief radioman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, was on hand to hear Amelia Earhart’s last official messages on the morning of July 2, 1937, concluding with her last transmission at 8:43 a.m. Howland Island time. For Bellarts’ Nov. 28, 1961 letter to Goerner, posted Feb. 6, 2017, as well as the author’s reply, please click here. Bellarts Dec. 15, 1961 response to Goerner, posted April 24, 2017, can be seen here.
Many of Goerner’s questions are still relevant today, especially since the American public has been fed a steady diet of disinformation for many decades by a U.S. media that hasn’t shown the slightest interest in learning the facts since Time magazine panned The Search for Amelia Earhart as a book that “barely hangs together” in its 1966 review that signaled the establishment’s aversion to the truth the KCBS newsman found on Saipan. Goerner died in 1994 at age 69, Bellarts in May 1974 at 66. (Boldface mine throughout.)
CBS Radio – A Division of Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc.
SHERATON – PALACE, SAN FRANCISCO 5, CALIFORNIA – YUKON 2-7000
December 20, 1961
Mr. Leo G. Bellarts
1920 State Street
Dear Mr. Bellarts,
Thank you very much for your letter with enclosures of the 15th. It was received with a good deal of interest by all of us who have been working on the Earhart story.
I’m sorry if I took on the proportions of a “quizmaster” to you. I think it must be the reportorial instinct. I learned long ago that if you don’t ask the questions, you very seldom get the answers.
First, let me answer several of your questions. As far as I know, there is absolutely no connection between CBS and Mrs. Studer; in fact, I have never met her, and I found the article you mentioned slightly on the irritating side. That article was the first time I was even aware of her existence.
As to George Palmer Putnam, I never had the opportunity to meet him. He died in January, 1950.
The only members of Amelia’s family I know personally are her mother and sister who live in West Medford, Massachusetts. The mother [Amy Otis Earhart] is now in her nineties, and her sister [Muriel Earhart Morrissey] teaches high school in West Medford.
I was glad to receive the information that Galten was a bona fide member of the Itasca’s crew; however, it leaves me even more at a loss to explain his remarks to the press to the effect that the Earhart [plane] was incapable was transmitting radio signals more than 50 to 75 miles, and that the seas were eight feet with fifteen feet between crests the day of the disappearance. The Itasca Log indicates as you have that the sea was calm and smooth.
You might be interested in Galten’s address: 50 Solano Street, Brisbane, California.
Galten has also stated that he actually copies the message, “30 minutes of gas remaining”; yet, your record of the messages and the July 5 transcript sent by the Itasca to ComFranDiv, San Francisco, indicates “but running low on gas.”
As you probably well know, there is a vast difference between 30 minutes of gas remaining and gas running low. Every pilot who has flown the Pacific Area will tell you if you are unsure of your position, are having difficulty in contacting your homing station and are down to four or five hours of gas — the gas indeed is “running low.”
We know as a positive fact that the Lockheed had sufficient gas for twenty-four to twenty-six hours aloft. The take-off time from Lae, New Guinea, was 10:30 a.m. at Lae, 12:30 p.m. at Howland. It was possible for the plane to have stayed aloft until 2:30 p.m. Howland time the following day. The July 2 transmission from the Itasca to San Francisco estimates 1200 maximum time [i.e. noon local time] aloft.
Why then the supposition that Earhart “went in” right after her last message at 0843?
It just isn’t true that Earhart and Noonan began their flight from Lae to Howland with just enough fuel to reach Howland and no more. They were fully aware of the navigational hazards of the flight. The planning for that 2,556-mile flight is contained in Amelia’s notes which were shipped back to the United States from Lae. She planned her ETA at Howland just after daybreak. Daylight was absolutely necessary to locate that tiny speck. She had figured her fuel consumption to give her at least six additional hours to make a landfall if Noonan’s navigational abilities did not bring the plane dead center to Howland.
Is the supposition based on the fact that her voice sounded frantic when she radioed the last message, “We are 157-337, running north and south. Wait listening on 6210”? If she were “going in” at that time, why would she ask the ITASCA to wait on 6210? (Caps Goerner’s throughout.)
Your comment that she simply forgot to include the reference point in the final message seems to be negated by the fact the she included “running north and south.” If Noonan had been able to give her a reference point, there would have been no reason for running north and south courses. They would have known their exact position and in which direction to fly.
The variance in the two groups of messages sent to San Francisco by the ITASCA is not the result of “faulty press reports.” I’m going to have my copies of the Coast Guard Log photostated and sent along to you. The amazing discrepancies are clear and incontestable.
Your quotes from TIME magazine are “faulty press reports.” TIME is wrong that no position reports were received after Earhart’s departure from Lae. The Coast Guard Log indicated a check-in 785 miles out from Lae with a full position report. TIME was also mistaken in the number of messages received by the ITASCA from the plane. It varies from your own list.
Yes, I was aware that the COLORADO refueled the ITASCA. This is indicated in the Navy’s official report of the search. The Navy report indicates that the COLORADO, on a naval training cruise in the Honolulu vicinity with a group of reservists and University Presidents [sic] in observance when it was ordered to assist in the search and refuel [of] the ITASCA and the SWAN.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to resort to another list of questions. There is so much that appears to be unanswered in this entire vacation. I think you are as interested in this as I am, or I wouldn’t bother you.
Was the signal strength of Earhart A3 S5 on all the messages from the 0615 “About two hundred miles out” to the final 0843 message? In your list A3 S5 is not listed for 0615,0645, 0742 and 0800.
Many radio operators have told us that in the South Pacific, particularly near the equator, a voice signal will come in from any distance so strongly that the person appears to be in the next room, then, a few minutes later, it cannot be raised at all even when the transmission station is only a few miles away. Was this your experience while in the South Pacific?
Did the ITASCA make any contact with Lae, New Guinea to set up radio frequencies before her final take-off?
Did the ITASCA contact Lae to determine the actual time of the take-off?
Was the ITASCA aware of the gas capacity and range of the plane?
If the ITASCA arranged frequencies with Earhart at Lae, or at least firmed them up, why didn’t the ITASCA know that Noonan could not use cw [sic, i.e., Morse Code] on 500 kcs because of a lack of a trailing antenna?
The “Organization of Radio Personnel” Photostat indicates that in the event of a casualty the ITASCA was to block out any other station attempting to communicate information. What other station was near the ITASCA that might transmit information contrary to fact? When the plane was lost, did the ITASCA block out any other transmission of information?
Do you know of the whereabouts of [RM2 Frank] Ciprianti [sic, Cipriani is correct], [RM3 Thomas] O’Hare, [RM3 Gilbert E.] Thompson, Lt. Cmdr. F.T. Kenner, Lt. (j.g.) W.I. Stanston or Ensign R.L. Mellen?
This is aside from the Earhart matter, but is certainly of interest. What was the eventual fate of the ITASCA, ONTARIO, and SWAN?
In closing, Mr. Bellarts, let me say that we sincerely appreciate the opportunity the [sic] with you. Let me assure you that we will keep your confidence, and will in no way quote you without your permission.
I, personally, have been working on this investigation for nearly two years. It has nothing to do with any stamp that might be issued with her image, or some nebulous entry into a hall of fame. This is a news story, and we intend to pursue every possible lead until a satisfactory conclusion is reached. I [sic] happy to say we have the blessings of both Amelia’s mother and sister. They have suspected for many years that the disappearance was not as cut and dried as portions of our military have indicated, but no one, including that military, has ever put together a concerted effort to tie together the loose ends.
I believe with all my heart that Earhart and Noonan were on Saipan. I saw the testimony gathered by the Monsignor and the Fathers. I know the witnesses were telling the truth. There was no reason for them to lie, and such a story could never have been invented by simple natives without the appearance of serious discrepancies.
However, I believe with you that Earhart and Noonan never flew their plane to Saipan. They must have been brought to the island by the Japanese.
The search for Earhart has been a joke for years. I think that’s because the military has dogmatically maintained that the pair went down close to Howland; yet, that contention appears to be based solely on the belief that the strength of signals before the last received transmission indicated the ship was probably within two hundred miles of the ITASCA. Where did they fly on the four to five hours of gas we know remained?
Mr. Bellarts, if you know anything that has not been made public that will shed more light on this enigma, please give us the information. If not to CBS, to Amelia’s sister:
Mrs. Albert Morrissey
1 Vernon Street
West Medford. Mass.
No one, certainly not CBS, has the idea of castigating individuals, the Coast Guard, the Navy or the Air Force or even Japan for something that happened so long ago. The important thing is to settle this matter once and for all, and bring a modicum of peace to the individuals involved.
Earhart and Noonan fought their battle against the elements. If they later lost their lives to the aggrandizing philosophy of a nation bent on the conquest of the Pacific, the great victory is still theirs. Their story should be told, and they should receive their nation’s gratitude and a decent burial.
Would you ask less for your own?
Best wishes for a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
I’ll be looking forward to your next communication.
San Francisco 5,
California (End of Goerner letter.)
I have more of the fascinating correspondence between Fred Goerner and Leo Bellarts, two of the most interesting people in the entire Earhart saga, and will post more at a future date.
In our most recent post, we met Matidle F. Arriola, later known as Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas, a native Saipanese eyewitness who shared her fascinating personal encounter with Marie S.C. Castro on at least two occasions, and whose later interviews by researchers Joe Gervais, Robert Dinger and Fred Goerner are presented on pages 102-103 of Truth at Last. Needless to say, Matilde is among the most important of the Saipan eyewitnesses, her story well known to Earhart enthusiasts.
Closely associated with Matilde’s reports are those of Joaquina M. Cabrera, because both eyewitnesses encountered Amelia Earhart in or in close proximity to Saipan’s Kobayashi Royokan Hotel, where other Chamorros also saw her in the months following her July 2 disappearance.
Joaquina, who was born on October 4, 1911 and died July 22, 2004 according to recent information from Marie Castro, told researcher Joe Gervais in 1960 that she worked in the hotel in 1937 and ’38, and that each day she had to take a list of the people staying at the hotel to the island governor’s office. “One day when I was doing this I saw two Americans in the back of a three-wheeled vehicle,” she said. “Their hands were bound behind them, and they were blindfolded. One of them was an American woman.” Cabrera said a photo of Earhart and Noonan that Gervais displayed “look like the same people I saw, and they are dressed the same way,” adding that she saw the Americans only once, and didn’t know what happened to them.
Contrast this with her account to Goerner in 1962, when he wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart, “Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera brought us closer to the woman held at the Kobayashi Royokan [Hotel] than any other witness.” 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.” Cabrera said nothing about delivering daily lists of people staying at the hotel, describing 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.
Joaquina said the woman was kept at the hotel for “many months. Perhaps a year.” She heard the man had also died, though she didn’t know the cause of his demise, and she thought the woman was buried in the cemetery near Garapan, long since reclaimed by the jungle. Though Joaquina offered two different stories, both may have been true. Her testimony to Goerner seems more credible, however, considering the presence of the priests and the rich details in her recollection, than the brief, rather stiff account she rendered Gervais. Joaquina passed away in July 2004 at 92.
Along with Marie’s recollections of Matilde F. Arriola, she also wrote briefly of Joaquina Cabrera in Without a Penny:
In 1937 Joaquina M. Cabrera, a young woman, worked in the laundry at the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel. Joaquina was our neighbor and a relative. One day a number of years later, Joaquina, accompanying her mother on a regular visit to our house, mentioned a leather jacket that had turned up in the laundry to be washed. Suddenly she remembered seeing the lady pilot wearing the jacket. Joaquina handled the leather jacket with care. In Saipan’s warm climate Amelia wouldn’t be wearing it. So what happened to her jacket? No one ever knew!
The puzzle that remains unsolved regarding the location of Amelia Earhart’s final resting place should focus on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands. I believe that — based upon the fact that during her exile as a political detainee of the invaders, Saipan is the island where she was known to have last lived — by taking advantage of today’s sophisticated technology, it should be possible to finally uncover the place of her mysterious burial, unknown to the world for the past 75 years.
Is it possible that after all these years the solution of one of the most vexing mysteries of the last century will finally be solved? We can only wait and see.
Once again, I ask everyone who cares about the truth to donate whatever you can to the planned Amelia Earhart Memorial on Saipan (see March 16 story, “Saipan architect unveils planned Earhart Memorial.” 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, like the one below, from the Earhart Memorial Monument Committee. Thank you.
Since the Feb. 7 publication of Junhan B. Todiño’s Marianas Variety story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan,” much has been written about the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Committee’s plans to build a memorial to Amelia at the Saipan International Airport.
Most of the vocal opposition to the monument is coming from the younger people of Saipan, many of whom have lost contact with their past, and have been subjected to historical revisionism and U.S. establishment propaganda on a grand scale about the facts surrounding Amelia Earhart’s presence on the island in the pre-war years.
Marie S.C. Castro, 84, is not among Saipan’s historically challenged, however. In fact, some of the most compelling evidence attesting to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan can be found in her fine 2013 autobiography, Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII.
Recently Marie kindly sent me a copy of Without a Penny, and I read it eagerly. Marie isn’t a trained journalist or professional writer, but this deficit seems to enhance rather than detract from the impact of this moving account of her life. “It’s written with great love and deep feeling for those you’ve met along the way of your amazing life,” I wrote to Marie. “Thank you so much for sending it; it’s truly a precious chronicle of yours and Saipan’s history.”
Despite enduring hardships under the tyrannical rule of the Japanese during the years leading to the June 1944 U.S. invasion of Saipan and the liberation of its Chamorro residents, nowhere in Without a Penny will you find the slightest a hint of the self-pitying, blame-casting or victim-status seeking rhetoric that has become so common in today’s “social media,” “snowflake” culture.
“The Chamorros had no rights, our peaceful way of life on our island was gone under the Japanese,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “We were under constant fear of anything. The Japanese civilians knew what went on, we the locals knew nothing about it. The Japanese considered us third class citizens. They took over the land, cultivated it for their own good. We had no authority whatsoever. . . . When you walk on the street, look straight forward, do not turn sideways, or else you would become a suspect. Mike, even after the war, people were hesitant to say anything. Thanks to the Americans we became again like human beings. We are at peace now.”
One of the most poignant passages in Without a Penny is Marie’s description of her family’s terrifying ordeal during the American shelling and bombing of Saipan, which resulted in many unfortunate and unintended civilian casualties, as well as traumatic memories for the survivors.
“After we were liberated by the American Marines in 1944 . . . we were so thankful to the Americans,” Marie wrote in an email. “I was 11 years old then and I thought someday I will do something on my own to thank the Americans.”
She was a professed Catholic nun for 17 years, from 1954 until her resignation in 1971. “It was the time when I really examined what was I meant to be in this world,” Marie wrote. “I wanted to do more. I prayed hard to God to lead me in my decision. I believed it was the right thing to do. I resigned from religious life. I will commit my life in education to thank the American Marines in 1944.”
She remained in Kansas City, teaching in the public schools, retired in 1989 and became involved in other community service organizations, finally returning to Saipan in October 2016. “Considering the 50 years in Kansas City,” Marie wrote, “I felt that I have given a productive life for 50 years. Now I am involved with a challenging undertaking with the Amelia Earhart project, to erect an AE Memorial Monument.”
These and other notable chapters of a life well lived can be found in Without a Penny. Right now, Marie is fully engaged in the effort to erect the Earhart Memorial Monument; indications are that it could be a long and bitter struggle, and not a penny will come from the local or federal government, which has a vested interest in the memorial project’s failure.
Marie, the vice president of the memorial committee and the driving force behind the initiative to build the monument, told Saipan Rotarians about her interview in 1983 with Matilde F. Arriola who, Castro said, met Earhart when she being held on Saipan following her disappearance in early July 1937. According to Matilde, Earhart died of dysentery. “There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan,” Marie said.
“Since I came back home,” Marie wrote in a Feb. 18 email, “I had an urge [to do] something dating back to 1937 . . . Amelia Earhart’s fate. On Feb. 2/ 2017, I approached Congressman Barcinas about my idea of building a Memorial Monument for Amelia Earhart here on Saipan to celebrate her 80th year. All our elders who witnessed the American woman pilot’s presence here on Saipan are long gone; however, in 1983 I interviewed a local woman [Matilde F. Arriola] who had personal contacts with Amelia Earhart in 1937, who was living next door from the political detainee hotel called the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel. [Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas (the former Matilde Fausto Ariola), see pages 102-103 of Truth at Last.] I want to pursue the Monument for Amelia Earhart and finalize the biggest lingering unsolved mystery of the 20th Century. . . . What is holding us now is funding. We need $200 thousand for the project.”
If Marie is correct that all the Saipan elders who were eyewitnesses to Earhart’s presence are gone, and no evidence contradicts this, Marie’s personal connection to Matilde F. Arriola and other eyewitnesses, including Joaquina M. Cabrera, who washed Amelia’s laundry and whose account was also made famous by Fred Goerner in his 1966 bestseller The Search For Amelia Earhart (see pages 101-102 TAL), she is the strongest link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage now living, a role she deeply embraces.
“Matilde and her family had personal contacts with the American woman pilot,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “The mother knew English and spoke with AE, Matilde, Consolacion her sister and Mariono her brother, they all communicated with Amelia [Editor’s note: None spoke English, according to interviews with Fred Goerner and others.] Matilde was 24 years [old] in 1937. The political detainee was next door from her house. Matilde was a student at the Sisters of the Mercedarian school in Garapan at the time.”
The passages from Marie’s book about her encounters with Matilde Arriola are too important to paraphrase, so I reproduce them here:
Evidently Amelia Earhart was found by the Japanese after she crashed somewhere within or near what may have been the Japanese Mandated Micronesian Islands [Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands], and was subsequently taken to Saipan, which also lay within the Mandated area.
The story of the famous American pilot was secretly known by a few men and women who were conscripted by the Japanese and worked for the Japanese government. However, they had no knowledge of the lady pilot’s plight. On a beautiful morning in the late ’50’s my Aunt, Sister Remedios, and I came upon our friend Matilde F. Ariola, who was working in her yard in Chalan Kanoa. Our conversation immediately turned to the subject of Amelia Earhart’s fate. Taking us into her confidence, Matilde related a story of having met a stranger who lived next door at the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel.
On a subsequent meeting, Matilde continued, the slender American woman, who wore a short hair style, gave Matilde’s younger sister Consolacion a ring with a while stone, set in a crown mounting. Unfortunately Consolacion was wounded during the war and fell very ill. Before she died of her wounds she gave the ring to Matilde who wore it until after the war. The ring with a white stone remained in her possession during and after the war and was eventually given to her niece Trinidad. Sometime later Trinidad had a stroke. I had an opportunity to visit her and mentioned the ring her Aunt Matilde had given her. Suddenly, she appeared cheerful and in good spirits as she described the ring. However, the ring did not fit well on her finger and she sadly admitted that she had lost it somewhere around the house.
Time passes quickly and it was during one of my yearly visits to Saipan in 1983 that I once again had the opportunity to visit with my good friend Matilde. The occasion was a friendly gathering in Garapan, attended by many old friends. In a private conversation with Matilde we rehashed the subject once again: The lady pilot who remains still undiscovered. During our conversation Matilde told me that she had received from Amelia Earhart a small diary in early days [sic] titled “Aviator” that contained many, many numbers, no explanations were offered.
Matilde kept the little diary until it was accidentally lost during the war. Sadly, no trace of the diary was ever found by Matilde. It wasn’t until after the war, upon seeing a picture of Amelia Earhart, that she was identified by Matilde as the stranger who had given her the diary.
After having heard the story of Matilde and the item she received from the woman pilot during the Japanese occupation, the Chamorro law enforcement officers whom I knew did not divulge any information they had at the time for fear of enemy reprisals. Even after the liberation of Saipan, those individuals who possibly knew what happened to Amelia Earhart in Saipan refused to speak.
The residents in Saipan who had previously seen the “lady pilot,” all described her as having worn a man’s outfit and short hair style. Women who had seen the lady pilot, after having been shown photos of several women including Amelia Earhart, correctly identified Amelia Earhart. Upon their identification the question was, would Amelia Earhart’s disappearance still remain a mystery? (End of section from Without a Penny.)
“During the Japanese period, there was no running water,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “The toilet was outside. When Amelia needed the facility she had to go outside to use the restroom. She would stop by Matilde’s house and would peep in to see if someone was around to talk to. One day Matilde gave Amelia a cooked breadfruit, Amelia took it and tasted it. At another time while Matilde was doing her geography homework Amelia helped Matilde on her homework. Amelia took the pencil from Matilde’s hand and wrote something however Matilde did not understand what AE wrote, Matilde didn’t know English at the time. She conversed using signs. Consolacion received a ring from AE. Mariono spoke to AE.
“One day Matilde noticed that the lady was ill, pale and used the facility too often that day,” Marie went on. “That was the last day she saw her. The next day the care taker came to Matilde’s house and asked for black material. Matilde’s father, Tun Felipe, was a tailor. Matilde’s father asked the caretaker why she needed black material she said, ‘Kookoo died, the American pilot.’ She continued, ‘amoeba.’ She didn’t know the lady’s name and called her ‘Kookoo.’ Amelia died of dysentery disease.” Matilde died in 1996, at age 83.
Opponents of the Earhart Memorial Monument label accounts like Matilde’s and dozens of others from eyewitnesses and others with knowledge as “anecdotal,” proving nothing. But when one considers these, and then adds those of U.S. flag officers such as Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Navy’s most revered wartime leader in the Pacific; Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the Marine Corps during World War II; and Gen. Graves Erskine, a brigadier general on Saipan during the 1944 invasion and second in command of the entire land operation, all attesting to the presence and death of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan, these accounts begin to add up to far more than mere anecdotes. As Marie told the Rotarians in early February, “There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan.” You decide, but please do so only after you know more about the real facts about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, facts that can be found everywhere you look on this blog.
A shorter, gentler version of this story appeared in the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety under the headline, “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past.” As I said in the opening of this post, massive opposition to the proposed Earhart memorial is endemic on Saipan, and nowhere is it worse than in the brainwashed and propagandized Facebook crowd, where this story garnered a total of just four “Likes.” I could consider this a badge of honor, but I’d much prefer that more were in favor of building this long-overdue monument to Earhart at the place of her death. Far too many on Saipan are dead against it.
Ed Williams, 67, a retired Merchant Marine (Military Sealift Command) radio electronics officer who’s lived and worked in many capacities on Saipan since 2004, recently painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground there. “Marie is such a sweet soul,” Williams wrote in a March 21 email. “But not many locals are interested in anything but beer and betel nut. I would say 1 percent of the locals are on the same page as Marie.” Williams, whose father was an Army medic who served on Guam, Saipan and Tinian, where he saw Enola Gay land and actually guarded the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, is doing all he can on Saipan to educate the locals about Earhart’s tragic end there, but he’s a distinct minority.
Williams’ appraisal sadly mirrors that of former Navy civilian archeologist Jennings Bunn, who spent 14 years on Guam and several months on Saipan during the Typhoon Soudelor in 2015. “From what I saw in Saipan, it is over run by Chinese and Koreans, and the local folks aren’t real interested in ‘Haole’ [defined here as a white person who is not a native Chamorro] history,” Bunn wrote in a recent email. “My experience on Guam was that the local Chamorro knows very little about their own history, and few really care.”
Today we conclude Fred Goerner’s 1964 Argosy magazine feature story, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.” When we left Part III, former Navy men Eugene Bogan and Charles Toole had contacted Goerner and shared their mutual wartime experiences in the Marshall Islands that pointed to Amelia Earhart’s presence there, launching Goerner’s Marshalls investigations, which were much briefer and less productive than his Saipan research.
We open the final part of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” as Goerner is contacted by another World War II veteran, this one from Saipan, who has some fascinating information to share:
Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, has worked seventeen years in a responsible position for the New York Telephone Company. In 1944, Kanna was sergeant of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 106th Infantry, 27th Division, during the assault on Saipan. Kanna’s duty was to take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.
“On Saipan, we captured one particular prisoner near an area designated as ‘Tank Valley,’ ” wrote Kanna. “This prisoner had in his possession a picture showing the late Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield. Assuming the picture of the aircraft to be of value, it was forwarded through channels to the S-2 intelligence officer. But more important, on questioning of this prisoner by one of our Nisei interpreters, he stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion, and subsequently, he felt both of them had been executed. From time to time, I have told these facts to associates, who finally have convinced me to write.”
Kanna went on to list three Nisei interpreters who served with his unit during that period: Richard Moritsugu, William Nuno and Roy Higashi.
I have located and spoken personally with both Moritsugu and Nuno. Moritsugu, now living near Honolulu, is unwilling to discuss his part in the Saipan invasion. Nuno lives in Pasadena, California, and indicates that he was not with Kanna that day in 1944. I found Roy Higashi just three days ago. He is living in Seattle, Washington, and almost seemed to be expecting my call. He said he had something to tell me, but would rather do it in person. Higashi is bringing his family to San Francisco on vacation, and will contact me on arrival. I’m sorry I cannot include his information in this article because of the publication deadline.
Robert Kinley of Norfolk, Virginia, was a demolition man with the Second Marine Division. Pushing inland from Red Beach One, his squad came upon a house near a small cemetery. Kinley went inside to clear it of any booby traps. On a wall, he found “a picture of Miss Earhart and a Japanese officer. The picture was made in an open field, showing only a background of hills. The officer wore a fatigue cap with one star in the center.” Kinley says he took the picture with him, but everything was lost in July 1944, when he was wounded.
Robert Kinley then added a bit of provocative information. “The Japanese had a command post in a tunnel next to the house where I found the picture. My demolition team closed up the tunnel. You might be able to find more pictures or records in the tunnel.
Kinley sent along a map showing the location of the house, tunnel and graveyard. It coincides almost perfectly with the area Devine was shown by the Okinawan woman.
In September 1962, I went back to Saipan for the third time, but I had to do it on my own time and money. KCBS wasn’t uninterested, but there’s a limit to financial soundness in making assignments. I couldn’t drop it, though; there was just too much to go on, and no one in official places had been able to satisfactorily answer any of the many questions raised by the investigation.
Fearing that I might have become prejudiced, I took along Ross Game, the editor of the Napa, California Register, consulting editor to the nineteen Scripts’ newspapers in the West and Secretary for the Associated Press on the Pacific Coast. We picked up Captain Joe Quintanilla, Chief of Police of Guam, and his detective-lieutenant, Edward Camacho, and took them along, too.
Things had changed in one year. My, had they changed! Commander Bridwell was gone; the Navy was gone; Mr. Schmitz was gone – and NTTU was gone. I should say NTTU were gone, since there were eleven of them.
The fence gates were open, and we went in. Commander Bridwell and the Naval Administration Unit had been a front for one of the most elaborate spy schools in the history of this or perhaps any country. The faculty consisted of civilian professors of espionage, the very same men whom I had addressed that night at the club. It’s hard to imagine the impact of coming out of the jungle and discovering a modern town of ninety two- and three-bedroom houses with concrete roofs, typhoon-proof and modern in every respect even to modern landscaping; a modern apartment house for the single members of the faculty; a library, snack bar, barber shop and theater-auditorium. Seven of the NTTU training facilities were located on the north end of the island and four on the east. For the spy-school student, there were sturdy, concrete barracks at each site and other concrete buildings in which classes were held.
For ten years, the students were flown into Kagman Field at night, taken in buses with the shades drawn to any of the eleven areas, trained in techniques of spying and a very specialized brand of guerrilla jungle warfare. Most of them never knew where it was they were being trained. When their courses were completed, they were dispatched on any one of a thousand missions, penetrating through or parachuting behind Communist lines. Nationalist Chinese, Vietnamese, and men from other areas were brought to Saipan, trained and then assigned.
Where did the NTTU go? Why did they go?
I can’t answer the first. I don’t know that I want to.
The second has to do with the focus of international attention the Earhart story placed on Saipan twice within two years, but more importantly, the United Nations inspection team for the Trust Territory of the Pacific gave Commander Bridwell and the Navy bad marks in 1961 for the administration of Saipan. They had done too much rather than too little for the people of Saipan. It was out of line with what the Department of Interior was doing for the rest of the people of the Pacific area. I don’t believe the UN team even knew about the NTTU. They probably got the same trip to Bridwell’s quarters I did. In any case, when the history of the post-World War II struggle between East and West is finally written, I’m sure Saipan and NTTU will be prominently mentioned.
We did some more excavation around the perimeter of the cemetery; this time outside the northern end, but found nothing. We needed Devine to show us the spot, but permission was still being denied to him. We did find where the house Kinley had entered once stood, and we found a huge mound which must be the command post he speaks of. It would be, of course, a major and expensive earth-moving job to open it up.
Ross Game, Captain Quintanilla, Eddie Camacho, Father Sylvan and I went back over every piece of testimony, and even managed to turn up some new leads. The consensus: They were more convinced than I. Two American flyers, a man and a woman, bearing an almost unmistakable resemblance to Earhart and Noonan had indeed been brought to Saipan by the Japanese in 1937.
The most important event of the third expedition came one morning at the mission house. One Jesus De Leon Guerrero, a native Saipanese, came to see me. Father Sylvan served as interpreter. Guerrero proposed a trade. He had been collecting scrap from the war for years and had a mountainous pile. If I would arrange a Japanese ship to come to Saipan to pick up his scrap, he would give me the conclusive answer to the mystery of the two American flyers.
I remembered several Navy and Department of the Interior people telling me that U.S. policy was that no Japanese ships were permitted to enter the former mandated islands.
I couldn’t have changed that policy if I had wanted to, which I didn’t. No story can be bought without being tainted. I told Guerrero, through Father Sylvan, that if he had anything to say to me, he’d better say it now. There would be no deal. Guerrero blinked, turned on his heel and walked out of the mission. The most striking thing about the whole conversation was that I recognized Guerrero. He was the native who had been in my Quonset that rainy night the year before. Father Sylvan told me later that the rest of the natives fear Guerrero. Before and during the war, Guerrero worked with the Japanese military police.
The trip in ’62 produced another vital piece of information. Ross and I went down into the Marshall Islands, and found Elieu [Jibambam]. Elieu teaches at the Trust Territory school at Majuro. He tells exactly the same story he told to Bogan and Toole in ’44. The American flyers landed near Ailinglaplap in 1937.
And now, as you read this, I’ll once more be on Saipan. There is one important difference this time. Thomas Devine is with me. After nearly a four-year effort, permission has finally been granted for him to enter the island.
Why has such an effort been necessary? What about Japan? This long after the war, wouldn’t she be willing to admit an incident involving two white flyers?
The answer is no. It involves far more than the detention of Earhart and Noonan. Japan has categorically denied building military facilities in the mandated islands prior to Pearl Harbor. In the war crimes trials in Tokyo in 1946 and ’47, Japan stated, “The airfields and fortifications in the mandated islands were for cultural purposes and for aiding fishermen to locate schools of fish.” It is obvious that Japan cannot admit an incident involving two American flyers before the war without also admitting a far graver sin – the necessity for covering up their activities in the mandates. If Japan ever concedes that the islands were used for military purposes, it will represent a violation of the League of Nations Mandate, a breach of international law, a most serious loss of face and the loss of the last chance to get the islands back.
Is there any other way to clear up the mystery, through extant records perhaps?
I don’t know. The records that might shed light upon this matter seem beyond our reach. According to the United States Navy, Army and other departments of the Government, the following have been declared “missing, destroyed, or returned to Japan”:
- Twenty-two tons of Japanese records captured on Saipan, which were never interpreted.
- The radio logs of Commander Bridwell’s four United states logistics vessels.
- Records of a physical examination of both Earhart and Noonan, including dental charts made by Navy Chief Pharmacist Mate Harry S. George, in Alameda, in the year 1937.
- The large bulk of Naval intelligence records for the Pacific from 1937 to 1941.
In spite of the fact that the Navy sent the carrier [USS] Lexington to Howland Island in 1937 and spent some $4,000,000 in a fruitless search, their official position today, at least to CBS and the Scripps’ League newspapers, is that “the Earhart-Noonan disappearance is a civilian matter. There has been and is no reason for this Department to make an investigation.”
Bridwell told me an ONI man conducted an investigation in 1960 after my first visit, and the testimony could not be shaken. The Navy maintains there has been no investigation at all. As recently as four months ago, Captain James Dowdell, now Deputy Chief of Naval Information in Washington, vehemently denied to Ross Game that the Navy was withholding any information, and indicated that the Navy hadn’t conducted any investigation. Yet, just two months ago, the U.S. State Department stated in a letter to me, “The State Department does have a limited amount of information about the Earhart matter which is Classified, but the Navy Department has informed us that they conducted a complete investigation in 1960, and there’s nothing to the conjecture that Earhart and Noonan met their end on Saipan.”
(Editor’s note: Goerner was shown part or all of the then-classified 1960 ONI report in April 1963, and he commented briefly on its contents on pages 236 and 307 of The Search for Amelia Earhart, First Edition. Based on the publication date (January 1964) of this article, he clearly had seen the classified report in plenty of time to mention it here. Why he didn’t disclose this fact in this article is unknown to this observer.)
As I said earlier in this article, I can’t really blame the Navy Department for its evasiveness. The Navy was fronting, at any cost, for the CIA, and it’s going to be a wee bit embarrassing, at the very least, to clear the record now.
Were Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on a spy mission in 1937? I simply haven’t the space to begin that discussion here. Let me simply say that those “two American fliers’ on Saipan are I believe, the key to an even more incredible story: The twenty years in the Pacific before Pearl Harbor and the bitter battle between departments of our Government over what to do about the Japanese mandated islands.
There are many who say that the enigma of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan is best left untold. “Embarrassment of Japan at this time would not be wise,” they say. “What good can it do to rake over old coals?”
My answer is a simple one. With most Americans, the individual still counts. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fought a battle for most of their lives against the sea and the elements, not against men bent on war. We orbit men around our earth and turn our eyes to the stars and what may lie beyond because of the courage and contribution of such as Earhart and Noonan.
If they won their greatest victory only to become the first casualties of World War II, the world should know. Honor for them is long overdue.
When all is considered, a single question remains: If the two white flyers on Saipan before the war were not Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, who were they?
Within the next few days, we may know the answer. (End of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”)
Readers should note that this article well summarized the state of Goerner’s Earhart research in late 1963, before his fourth trip to Saipan in December 1963. Some of Goerner’s most important findings and ideas would undergo radical changes in the coming years, and long before his death in 1994, he would actually renounce his belief in Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. In future posts I will endeavor to flesh out as much of these small mysteries as I can.