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.
Many eyewitnesses and several investigators have established the presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan, but only one of these alleged eyewitnesses has ever claimed she actually watched Amelia’s execution. The stunning account of Mrs. Nieves Cabrera Blas, who was interviewed extensively in the mid-1980s by Texas real estate man-turned-Earhart-investigator T.C. “Buddy” Brennan, remains perhaps the most provocative of all the first-person testimonies to have ever been taken on Saipan. (Boldface mine throughout.)
Besides listening to Mrs. Blas’ incredible story, Brennan, author of the 1988 book, Witness to the Execution: The Odyssey of Amelia Earhart, excavated yet another alleged Earhart gravesite on Saipan in 1984. Manny Muna, a child there during the war years, told Brennan several Earhart stories, but nothing approached the blockbuster potential of the alleged eyewitness account of Mrs. Blas, an 83-year-old native who had never been interviewed before Brennan came to her home in November 1983. If her story was true, Amelia lived much longer on Saipan than most researchers have believed.
Initially, Mrs. Blas feared that Brennan was affiliated with the CIA, but he assured her that he only wanted to inform Amelia’s long-suffering family about her true fate. More than once, Brennan had to convince Mrs. Blas that U.S. officials weren’t lurking nearby, determined to send her to an American prison for telling civilian investigators what she knew about the famous pilot’s death.
Before the war, Nieves Cabrera lived on a farm near Garapan, and part of her family’s land was next to a fence the Japanese built to protect their base. One day, she said, they were told Japan was at war with the United States and only her family would be permitted to work in that area. Mrs. Blas’ account as told to Brennan, Mike Harris and Brennan’s son, T.C. Brennan II, is the highlight of Witness to the Execution:
Before the war one day there is great excitement. It is said that the Japanese have captured two spy people. They are holding them in the town. Many of us go there to see the two spies. I saw them in the square where the Japanese police building was. The Japanese guards made them take off all the clothes, everything they had on their bodies.
It is then we can see that one of the spies is a woman. Both of them were wearing trousers and I had believed both were men. I had never known before a woman who wore men’s trousers. The man seemed to be hurt and had a bandage on his head. The woman was wearing a watch, and some rings and some kind of medal. They take these, then put her back in the cells. We learn in the village the woman’s name is Amelia Earhart and she was a flyer and an American spy.
Realizing he might be onto something big — “an eyewitness placing Earhart and Noonan on Saipan, a source never before contacted by anyone!” — Brennan asked Mrs. Blas if she saw Earhart again. “Not for many years,” she told him, but she heard Earhart had been kept in “the little prison building . . . and never brought outside the fence again.” Through Rosa, their native interpreter, Brennan learned it wasn’t until several years after the war had started that Mrs. Blas and her family were “surprised to be bombed by ships and airplanes.” She said the Japanese told them it was the Americans and ordered her family to seek shelter in the caves. The Cabrera family eventually returned to their farm, where she picked up her story:
Then one day I am working . . . and I see three Japanese motorcycles. Amelia Earhart is in a little seat on the side of one motorcycle. She is wearing handcuffs and she is blindfolded. I watch and they take her to this place where there is a hole been dug. They make her kneel in front then they tear the blindfold from her face and throw it into the hole. The soldiers shoot her in the chest and she fall backwards into the grave.
Mrs. Blas said she “ran from that place so the soldiers do not see me. Later, I go back to see if they bury her, and they had.” An unidentified local had informed Mrs. Blas that Brennan was a “good person,” so she acceded to his pleas and led the group to a spot below a huge parking lot surrounded by a seven-foot security fence.
Brennan and Harris returned to Saipan several months later, sometime in mid-1984. Brennan wasn’t precise with his dates, but he and Harris calculated that Mrs. Blas watched the alleged Earhart execution on a day between the February 1944 U.S. naval and aerial bombardment of the island and the June 1944 invasion. The day after their arrival, Brennan and Harris excavated the site with the assistance of a native equipment operator, a front loader, and two additional hired hands as Mrs. Blas and Rosa looked on. When the digging was finished, a “trench roughly four feet wide and about 12 feet long,” according to Brennan, and at least five-and-a-half-feet deep yielded nothing of interest until a strange piece of cloth suddenly appeared.
“It was not a random scrap of torn cloth,” Brennan wrote, but was “cut to a distinct pattern, portions of a stitched hem were faintly discernible. The top was cut straight and measured slightly over 24 inches in length. It was the bottom portion that puzzled us. The center segment was a uniform width of about six or eight inches, but on each side it had been cut in even arcs to form thin bands at the top.” As Brennan and Harris stood in the ditch looking over their find, Mrs. Blas peered down on them with no doubt about its provenance, as Rosa translated. “She believes that is the blindfold Amelia was wearing,” Rosa said. “The soldiers removed it and threw it into the grave just before they shot her.”
Though he needed only the parking lot manager’s permission to dig, Brennan had agreed to complete the job on a Sunday, a condition he would later claim seriously compromised their efforts. “We could have been within a foot of our artifacts,” Brennan told Harris afterward. “Until we get permission to cover at least a 10- to 15-square-yard area we can’t prove or disprove anything. . . . I believe we came within inches of finding human remains out there today. And I believe that when we do find them they will be those of Amelia Earhart.”
In closing Witness to the Execution, Brennan said efforts to “validate the blindfold developed into a real Catch-22 situation,” without explaining his use of that term, and that “publicly funded crime labs” performed this kind of analysis. A “formal, signed, official report would have to wait for the future,” Brennan wrote, and claimed the blindfold was “made of cotton fiber, consistent with fabrics in general use during the early ’40s. There is nothing to indicate it was woven more recently than fifty years ago. Yes, it could well have survived that length of time underground.”
Mrs. Blas told a fascinating story, but it’s been contradicted by many who place Earhart’s death within months, or a few years at most, of her arrival on Saipan. Her gravesite’s location, relative to any known community or landmark, was never described by Brennan, but it was not the site revealed to Thomas E. Devine by the unnamed Okinawan woman in 1945, nor was it the gravesite outside the Liyang Cemetery excavated by Marine Privates Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks under the direction of Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold sometime after the island was secured on July 9, 1944, and to which an entire chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last is devoted. Devine offered an alternate scenario that he thought could explain Mrs. Blas’ story, while preserving the integrity of the Okinawan woman’s site, which he never doubted was the true Earhart burial place.
“Mrs. Blas may have been confused by prior events that have taken place on Saipan,” Devine wrote:
I recall the ONI Report, I was allowed to read at their office in Hartford, Connecticut, stating white women were not a rarity on Saipan, since a Russian woman writer had arrived on the island in the early 1930s. But there is no report of her departure. And since Vincente Taman had bragged about burying a white woman in the Tanapag village area, as did Jesús Salas, it could very well have been the Russian woman writer. Mrs. Blas, as well as other residents of Saipan, no doubt recalls the existence of a cemetery in the Tanapag area, where burials took place.
When I observed this piece of rag, I recalled rags such as these were used as sweat bands by prisoners, as well as civilians, working at labor in the hot sun on Saipan. But I cannot imagine Brennan coming along with a rag saying it was in there since that time, when the bones are gone and the teeth are gone and the rag survived. The Brennan- [Ray] Rosenbaum [ghostwriter] book is a repeat of prior misinformation; the exhibition and interpretation of a piece of rag is extraordinarily bizarre.
Devine’s critique of Brennan’s blindfold claim was valid, but the Texan interviewed three significant witnesses for the first time ever — Lotan Jack, Manny Muna and Nieves Cabrera Blas. The “prior misinformation” Devine referenced was undoubtedly anything suggesting a Marshall Islands landfall by the fliers—the accounts of Oscar deBrum, John Heine and Queen Bosket Diklan, for example. Devine’s aversion to Earhart’s Marshalls landing was among his greatest flaws as a researcher, and prevented him from developing a true vision of the events that led to her arrival on Saipan.
Whether Mrs. Blas witnessed the execution of Amelia Earhart or not, and regardless of Brennan’s dubious blindfold claim, Witness to the Execution is a valuable contribution to Earhart research. The witnesses it presented further established the most important truth about the fliers’ fate, a reality that the American and Japanese governments continue to ignore — that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan died on Saipan. Brennan recognized this, and concluded his book on that note:
That Earhart and Noonan were incarcerated in Garapan Prison is no longer open to speculation. They were there. People like David Sablan, a highly respected businessman, and Manny Muna, an ex-senator, as well as members of their families remember the appearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan. (Italics Brennan’s.)
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.
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.”