Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose childhood sighting of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor in the summer of 1937 ignited the true modern search for America’s First Lady of Flight, returned to her birthplace Oct. 6 and was warmly welcomed by family and friends at an invitation-only reception hosted by the Amelia Earhart Memorial Committee at Garand’s Fiesta Resort and Spa Oct. 9. (Boldface mine throughout.)
At the reception dinner, also attended by reporters from the Marianas Variety, Saipan Tribune and Saipan’s KSPN2 News, Josephine, appearing well at 92, who’s lived in San Mateo, Calif. since 1957, said she still “still vividly remembers her only encounter with the American aviator,” Lyn C. Lirio wrote in her Marianas Variety story Oct. 11, headlined, “2 say they saw Amelia Earhart on Saipan.”
This happened in 1937, Josephine said; she was 11 years old and didn’t know the woman’s name until much later, nor did she say anything publicly about it until she was 20 years old, working on Saipan as an assistant to Navy dentist Dr. Casimir Sheft.
In her story, Lirio cited two key paragraphs from the 1960 book that started it all, Daughter of the Sky, by Paul Briand Jr.:
In the summer of 1937 Josephine was riding her bicycle toward Tanapag Harbor. She was taking her Japanese brother-in-law, J.Y. Mastsumoto, his lunch and was hurrying along because it was nearly 12 noon. Josephine has a special pass to the Japanese military area near the harbor. Not even Japanese civilians were admitted to the area unless they carried the proper credentials. The young girl rode up to gate, stopped her bicycle, and presented her pass. The guard allowed her into the restricted area. On the way to meet her brother-in-law, Josephine heard an airplane flying overhead. She looked up and a saw a silver two-engine plane. The plane seemed to be in trouble, for it came down low, headed out into the harbor, and belly-landed on the water.
The plane crash-landed in the harbor. She and her brother-in-law joined the people who gathered to watch. She saw the American woman standing next to a tall man wearing a short-sleeved sport shirt, and was surprised because the woman was not dressed as a woman usually dressed. Instead of a dress, the American woman wore a man’s shirt and trousers; and instead of long hair, she wore her hair cut short, like a man. The faces of the man and woman were white and drawn, as if they were sick.
The most surprising aspect of the evening featured Joaquin Salas, a relatively unknown native Chamorro, whose claimed eyewitness account was discussed in Rich Martini’s “Amelia Earhart on Saipan” YouTube video, but, to my knowledge, has been otherwise unreported, telling the group he was also 11 years old when he saw Earhart on Saipan — in front of his family’s house in Chalan Kanoa. Lirio continued with Salas’ account:
“I saw a Japanese military truck. They were loading three people — two men and one lady. A Japanese soldier used black ribbons to tie their hands. They parked in front of our house. We were watching them,” he said, adding that it was the first and last time he saw Earhart. “I don’t where the Japanese took them.”
Lirio added that Rep. Donald Barcinas, president of the memorial committee, “said their plan to build an Amelia Earhart monument on island has the support of the Marianas Visitor Authority, the Department of Public Lands, the Historic Preservation Office and the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.” This sounds encouraging, but with the exception of a recent significant donation by a local, independent couple, the vast majority of contributions to the memorial has come from U.S. contributors, and remains a relative pittance.
Rep. Barcinas said Josephine’s eyewitness account “is a living testimony — she is a living history, and we are very proud and honored to have her here. She is in the books written about Amelia Earhart.”
Meanwhile, Saipan’s other newspaper, the Saipan Tribune, whose coverage of the monument issue has been tepid since the proposal was announced last February — see “$150K requested for Amelia Earhart statue” and “Group behind Earhart memorial seeks assistance from Rotary Club” — showed up, but one can only wonder why they bothered.
A moving photo of Josephine with two of her nephews at the dinner is nice, but otherwise it’s hard to imagine a more halfhearted effort than the Tribune presents in “I saw Amelia Earhart,” by reporter Erwin Encinares. This mediocrity wasn’t even on the Tribune’s front page, but was buried somewhere back in the paper. I had to actually search for it in the online edition because it wasn’t even listed on the first page of the local news items, which themselves were buried.
“Two persons reportedly saw on two separate occasions the lost aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart on Saipan, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean,” Encinares wrote in his uninspired lead, which went downhill from there. In addition to turning off virtually anyone who might have been remotely interested, Encinares got Josephine’s current age, 92, wrong (93), as well as her age when she saw Amelia, 11, not 12 as he wrote.
The Saipan Tribune should have opted out of this event rather than undermining it with this poorly written story that, in fact, signaled its readers that the occasion of the return of the most important of the Saipan eyewitness is all but meaningless to them. Moreover, the story contained nothing about the planned Earhart memorial monument.
To read the Saipan Tribune story, which has garnered no “Likes” and one comment — a correction of another factual error in the story — since its publication on Oct. 11, please click here.
TV is always more effective in our video-centric media culture, and the Saipan KSPN2 News (Saipan’s Destination Channel) story was far better than the Saipan Tribune’s lame effort, though its report on the Oct. 9 event didn’t air until Oct. 15. The three-minute, 40-second segment featured Ashley McDowell interviewing Josephine at the dinner, with cutaways to file footage of Amelia and still shots of Josephine and Dr. Casimir Sheft. McDowell’s visit to Tanapag Harbor, where Josephine saw the fliers in 1937, was a nice touch.
Otherwise, McDowell’s decision to display, or more accurately, flash the July 1, 1960 front page of the San Mateo Times, with its 100-point banner headline proclaiming, “Amelia Earhart Mystery is Solved,” which readers have seen many times on this blog, highlighted a mostly flat, disappointing report, much too low-key and uninspired than this rare occasion demanded. Having the famous Josephine Blanco Akiyama live and lucid at 92 was a miracle in itself, but you’d never know it by watching this video.
The segment ended with McDowell voicing no real conclusion or telling point, and again, nothing was said about the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. On a scale of 1 to 10, this was a 5 at best, and it likely didn’t change any minds among the uninformed masses on Saipan. It’s also fair to ask whether the ugly local politics surrounding the memorial initiative — overwhelmingly against it from the beginning — exerted an insidious influence on the tone, content and efficacy of the KSPN2 News report.
On the other hand, some credit is indeed due to KSPN2 News, as Saipan’s Destination Channel is the only TV news station in the world that has produced two important stories recently about Amelia Earhart, Marie Castro and the proposed Earhart Memorial Monument (see “Saipan TV News supports Earhart monument“), while not a single American media outlet has breathed a word of it. Thus, the U.S. establishment’s total and absolute hatred for the truth in the Earhart disappearance remains stronger than ever, and the 81-year travesty shows no signs of abating.
Marie Castro sent me below prayer that she wrote for the special occasion of Josephine’s visit, lovingly prepared to close the evening’s events of Oct. 9. “I told Allen [Marie’s nephew] to play the recorded music, “Amazing Grace” on the background while I read the prayer,“ Marie wrote. “I hope the people will be inspired and believe this significant event of 1937.”
Thank you for your amazing grace which is enabling Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama, the last living person to witness the presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan here on Saipan in 1937 to be with us here tonight with the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument group.
81 years is a long, definitely overdue, time for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan to be given the recognition they deserve as human beings who unfortunately met their death on Saipan soil.
Tonight, as we acknowledge their presence here on our island, we ask that you guide our efforts to honor the memory of these two great American aviators with a memorial to be built in their honor.
This is our prayer, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
God Bless us.
In an overdue but much-needed and appreciated development, on Oct. 1, Saipan’s KSPN2 News presented the first-ever TV news interview with Marie S.C. Castro, 85, whose strident advocacy for the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan has been the subject of several posts on this blog since the plan was announced in the Feb. 7 Marianas Variety story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan.”
“Every human being that dies,” Marie told reporter Ashley McDowell, “we have to give the honor they deserve as human beings. And I was thinking that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were never given anything to honor them or to acknowledge them here on Saipan.”
Thanks to the technical skills of longtime Oakland, Calif., supporter David Kaspiak, you can watch the three minute, 30-second KSPN2 News piece by clicking here: KSPN2 News.mp4.
McDowell finished the segment by announcing that “Josephine Blanco [Akiyama], who says she saw Amelia Earhart and the navigator Fred Noonan at Tanapag harbor here in Saipan when she was just 11 years old” would be coming to Saipan Oct. 7, and promised a report. Co-anchor Adrianna Cotero added the final touch by enthusiastically telling McDowell, “What a great idea to have a monument here on Saipan!”
Among the several fine stories have been published here and in the Marianas Variety on the proposed Earhart Memorial Monument, was “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past,” which appeared in the March 28 Marianas Variety, with a longer version here on April 2,“Marie Castro: Iron link to Saipan’s forgotten history,” in praise of this brave woman whose vision birthed the bold but highly unpopular initiative to build an Earhart memorial on Saipan. But these print-based efforts have done little to improve the ugly politics that surround this movement, which, according to one informed source, are running 99-1 against its success.
Undeniably, TV’s power to persuade and change minds is far greater than newspapers or radio, and this interview is a badly needed boost. In attempting to convert even small numbers of the historically ignorant and propagandized on Saipan, only via TV can the truth break through the stone wall of massive resistance.
Saipan TV: The Visitors Channel (SaipanTV.com) is clearly not connected with any of the American alphabet networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC or Fox, actually the worst of them all for its blatant hypocrisy — or any other U.S. establishment news source, or this interview with Marie Castro would never have been contemplated, much less have seen air. Unsurprisingly, nobody the United States has touched the story of the proposed Earhart monument on Saipan, which should remind everyone how much the Earhart truth continues to be hated, ignored and denied by our establishment and its media toadies.
The news of Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s imminent visit to Saipan was likely an important factor in the decision by the independent station’s management to do the interview with Marie Castro shortly before the most famous of all the Saipan Earhart eyewitnesses returned to her birthplace.
Please consider contributing to the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument. This is a most deserving and worthy cause that has, sadly, been largely ignored. You can make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950. The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee. Thank you for whatever you can give.
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. When I wrote, “If Marie is correct that all the Saipan elders who were eyewitnesses to Earhart’s presence are gone . . . she is the strongest link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage now living,” little did I realize the understatement that really was.
Marie, 85, is the prime mover, the leading light of the grass-roots movement to erect the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument at the Saipan International Airport. She is likely the repository of other, still undiscovered witness accounts attesting to the presence and death of Amelia and Fred Noonan on Saipan. I feel truly blessed to be associated with this unique woman, and recently she sent me a photo that seems to capture the human essence of the situation there.
“The man in the picture is David M. Sablan,” Marie (center) wrote when she sent me this photo in early May 2018. “The woman in red is Mrs. Amparo DLG [Deleon Guerrero] Aldan, my classmate in the 3rd grade in Japanese school before WWII. Her brother, Pedro 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.”
Marie also confirmed that Mrs. Aldan’s husband, the late Frank Aldan, was related to one of Fred Goerner’s thirteen original witnesses, the dentist Dr. Manuel Aldan (see Truth at Last, p. 85).
David M. Sablan is a well-known local personality who founded the Rotary Club of Saipan in 1968, and in 2017 published his autobiography, A Degree of Success Through Curiosity: True Story of a Young Boy Eager to Learn and Find His Calling in Life. According to its description on Amazon.com, the book is 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.”
Marie’s second-person revelations of Pedro Deleon Guerrero and Joaquin Seman have not been published before. Pedro Deleon Guerrero’s name was new to me, but he might have been related to Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, a sinister character who collaborated with the Japanese police during the war, an enforcer whose job was to “keep the rest of the natives in line and his methods hadn’t been gentle,” according to Goerner. Joaquin Seman was mentioned by Goerner (see pp. 91, 103 in Truth at Last), but Marie’s account cites an entirely different scenario than Goerner’s.
Newly revealed evidence supports Earhart’s cremation
An even more compelling story came just a few days later. In a May 11 email, Marie suddenly ended discussion of a relatively mundane subject, and out of the blue, she introduced another previously unpublished piece of the ever-continuing Earhart saga:
I have the photo of Mr. 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 PP [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.
This was all brand-new to me, and Tomokane’s name has never been seen in any Earhart literature, to my knowledge. One of the true mysteries in the Earhart saga is how Amelia died and how her remains were treated. Was she shot, as Josephine Blanco and Michiko Sugita were told as children, and Mrs. Nieves Cabrera Blas later told Buddy Brennan in 1983, or did she die of dysentery, as Matilde Arriola, Joaquina Arriola, José Pangelinan and others were told by Japanese officers? Was she buried or cremated? A variety of witness evidence supports each contention, but none is conclusive.
I devoted an entire chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, “Griswold, Henson and Burks” (see pp. 233-253) to the compelling accounts of Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks, Marine privates who believed they were ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate the skeletal remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan outside a native cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944. Who did the Marines really dig up? Was it Amelia and Fred, as Griswold indicated to the Marine privates in 1944, or was the captain misled about the gravesite? We may never know.
In answer to several questions about this new revelation, later on May 11, Marie replied:
I also questioned about Mr. Tomokane of this information why Fred Goerner did not question him. Remember that Mr. Tomokane was a Japanese himself. We don’t know how loyal he was to his Emperor. I went to his house to talk to him or anyone in the family few months after I came back from the States on Dec. 2016. I learned that the only child living today is the youngest son, Mitch Tomokane. He is suffering from a bad heart problem.
My first question to Mitch was, do you know how your father came to Saipan? Answer: He came from Japan as an agricultural instructor during the Japanese era. He stayed on Saipan, got married and built his family. 2) When did he die? He died in 1956 on Saipan. I found another interesting thing was the location of the house today. The house Mitch is living today is just very close to the Japanese crematory. The only remain of the crematory is the base of the crematory statue. I will research next week how they settled on that very spot.
Mr. Tomokane was dead four years prior to Goerner’s trip to Saipan. I was a nun then, here on Saipan. We would have known about Goerner. However, Goerner’s purpose at the time was strictly private. Saipan was still strictly under the U.S. Navy control. I remember from reading his book that he had a problem trying to enter Saipan because it was used by the CIA and the Navy Technical Training Unit (NTTU).
Who knows what other little gems Marie is harboring in her still-nimble mind, which might require only slight prodding to pour forth more recollections of the days when many Earhart eyewitnesses were alive and well on Saipan, when it was commonly known and accepted that the great American lady flier had met her untimely end there.
Please consider making a donation to the planned Amelia Earhart Memorial on Saipan (see March 16 story for more). You can make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950. The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee, suitable for framing. Your gifts are the only way the memorial can become a reality, and anything you give is greatly appreciated.