Readers of this blog are familiar with the efforts of Marie S. Castro and the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Inc. (AEMMI) to establish a permanent memorial to Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan, as well as the less-than-encouraging progress they’ve made since the formation of the AEMMI in September 2017. Although the Marianas Variety and Saipan TV have supported the AEMMI movement with several stories about Marie and her wealth of Earhart-related experience, the vast majority of the citizens of Saipan remain overwhelmingly opposed to the Earhart Memorial Monument.
What appears to be a small step forward occurred on Feb. 9, when Marie and several members of the AEMMI gathered at the offices of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) Historic Preservation Office at Saipan’s Springs Plaza in Gualo Rai to make a charitable donation of several extremely important books that present many aspects of the truth in the Amelia Earhart saga so that local readers can learn the truth for themselves.
Saipan TV’s Ashley McDowell was on hand to chronicle the brief event for local viewers, and interviewed Marie about the AEMMI’s donation to the CNMI Historic Preservation Office of the seven best books ever written (in my opinion) that present various aspects of the truth about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
“This is valuable material that is going into the archives of the Historic Preservation [Office], and this is for anybody who would like to know more about the story on Saipan in 1937,” Marie told McDowell.
Marie then formally read the names and authors of the seven books that will be available in the HPO archives, and presented the AEMMI official HPO resolution to HPO Director Rita Chong. Most are Earhart disappearance classics familiar to anyone with even a casual interest in the Earhart story.
Chronologically, these books are Paul Briand Jr.’s Daughter of the Sky (1960), Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966); Vincent V. Loomis’ Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (1985); Thomas E. Devine’s Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident (1987); Marie S. Castro’s Without a Penny in My Pocket (2013); Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (2nd Ed. 2016), by Mike Campbell; and Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy (2019) by Mike Campbell with Marie S.C. Castro.
“Castro says she hopes these books will give insight to anyone questioning Earhart’s story in 1937 on Saipan,” McDowell said. To watch the Saipan TV video, please click here and go to 13:45.
Better late than never, the Marianas Variety followed with a story and photo by Bryan Manabat on Feb. 16, “Amelia Earhart books donated to Historic Preservation Office.”
Manabat’s story presented some powerful quotes from Marie,, including these:
Castro believes that there is “undeniable evidence that Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were on Saipan. Earhart’s plane was seen in a Japanese hangar at the Aslito Airfield on Saipan and a Marine, Robert E. Wallack, discovered Earhart’s briefcase in a blown safe on Saipan shortly after the island was declared secure on July 9, 1944.”
Castro pointed out, “Three high-ranking military officials — Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, Gen. Graves B. Erskine and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Pacific commander-in-chief during WWII and the last of the Navy’s 5-star admirals — came to the same conclusion that Amelia Earhart had been on Saipan.”
“So we have the responsibility to keep and honor this part of our history, as recorded in these books,” Castro said.
Soon another opportunity for Marie and the AEMMI to bring their Earhart Memorial Monument proposal to public attention looms. The 5th Marianas History Conference, co-organized by the University of Guam, Northern Marianas College, Northern Marianas Humanities Council, Humanities Guåhan, Guampedia, and Guam Preservation Trust, will be held virtually [via Zoom] from Feb. 19-26, 2021 and will feature on-site venues in the CNMI and Guam for select, conference-related events and presentations.
Marie will present her Earhart story to the conference on Feb. 26. Please stay tuned.
Saipan’s Marie Castro is well known to readers of this blog, and I won’t repeat the myriad details of the many stories I’ve posted about this brave woman. Though she was only 4 years old in 1937 when Amelia Earhart came ashore at Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor with Fred Noonan as captives of the Japanese military, Marie later came to know and interview several eyewitnesses to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan.
On Nov. 16, Marie, now 87, appeared on “1001 Heroes, Legends, Histories and Mysteries” podcast with Jon Hagadorn. To listen please click here and scroll down to “The Shocking Truth: Marie Castro Recalls Stories of Amelia Earhart’s 1937 Captivity on Saipan.”
“I have been receiving good responses from people who heard the interview about Amelia Earhart,” Marie wrote in a Nov. 17 email. “Thank you kindly for referring me to Jon so we could reach more people in learning what really happened to the two fliers. I tried my best to answer Jon’s questions during the interview although I missed two or three minor details. I am satisfied for bringing out the real truth of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s presence on Saipan in 1937.”
In September 2021, Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Inc. (AEMMI), the group Marie founded on Saipan, will mark its fourth anniversary, but despite its best efforts to educate Saipan’s limited populace, scant progress has been made toward erecting a monument to the famed aviatrix and her navigator who became perhaps the first casualties of World War II during their captivity on Saipan in 1937.
Barely a dent has been made in the estimated $200,000 price tag for the monument, and local officials have yet to designate a small plot of land for the monument’s location. The resistance on Saipan to the monument is overwhelming, and I’ve written about this insidious problem at length on this blog and in the Marianas Variety (Micronesia’s Leading Newspaper Since 1972).
A bit closer on the horizon, in February 2021, another opportunity for Marie and the AEMMI to bring their Earhart Memorial Monument proposal to public attention looms. The 5th Marianas History Conference, co-organized by the University of Guam, Northern Marianas College, Northern Marianas Humanities Council, Humanities Guåhan, Guampedia, and Guam Preservation Trust, will be held virtually from Feb. 19-26, 2021 and will feature on-site venues in the CNMI and Guam for select, conference-related events and presentations. Here’s more about this event, straight from their official online promotion (boldface emphasis theirs):
The 5th Marianas History Conference invites scholars, students, and individuals with oral history knowledge of events and people in the Marianas to submit a brief abstract of a paper or presentation that contributes to the many stories that define the history and identity of one archipelago.
The conference theme, One Archipelago, Many Stories: Navigating 500 Years of Cross-Cultural Contact, calls for participants to examine aspects related to history, cultural heritage, language, political status, demographic change, and the overall process of adaptation of the Mariana Islands and her people following Western contact.
In 1521, half a millennium ago, the people of the Mariana Islands had the first known encounter with people from the other side of the world, through the Spanish expedition of Ferdinand Magellan. Those first, complex interactions triggered a number of consequences for our islands: being placed in world maps, the visits in succeeding years by other explorers, and eventually an intense process of colonization that in some respects continues to this day in Guam and in other parts of the Pacific.
I may be biased, but what could be more fitting for this Marianas “History Conference” than to designate the heretofore unacknowledged presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan during the years leading up to World War II as the No. 1 item for discussion? More than likely, however, the eight decades of corrupt politics surrounding the Earhart sacred cow will militate heavily against any meaningful mention of the Earhart case at this “virtual” event, regardless of anything Marie and the AEMMI do to create interest. I hope I’m wrong, but so far I’m batting 1.000 in predicting developments — or lack of same — on Saipan.
“This is the first time also I’ve learned about this event,” the ever-optimistic Marie wrote in a Nov. 23 email. “I told Frances [Mary Sablan, AEMMI vice president] that we need to take any occasion to expose the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument project. The committee is enthusiastic about it. This strategy serves in educating the whole island about Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.”
With that in mind, Marie has sent the required 200-word abstract on behalf of the AEMMI to the board and staff of the Northern Marianas Humanities Council for their consideration. I won’t be holding my breath, but as always, will be hoping and praying for a merciful break in the constant flood of irrational resistance to the long-overdue establishment of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan.
To contribute to the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan (see March 16, 2018 story), please make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950. The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee.
In late October 2017, Ms. Carla Henson, daughter of the late Everett Henson Jr., contacted me for the first time, completely out of the blue. You will recall Pvt. Henson, who, along with Pvt. Billy Burks, was ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate a gravesite several feet outside of the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944. This incident is chronicled in detail on pages 233-253 in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
When the pair had removed the skeletal remains of two individuals and deposited them in a large container that Henson later described as a “canister,” Henson asked Griswold what the impromptu grave-digging detail was all about. Griswold’s reply, “Have you heard of Amelia Earhart?” has echoed down through the decades and continues to reverberate among students of the Earhart disappearance.
To read more about Carla, her father and the Saipan gravesite incident in 1944, please see my Dec. 26, 2017 post, “KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga.”
Richard Bergren, 70, a retired naval flight officer with whom I once worked on a story as a Navy civilian at the Navy Internal Relations Activity in Alexandria, Va., in the late 1980s, has recently done some research that sheds more light on the 1944 search for Amelia Earhart on Saipan, and brings more insight to the Griswold, Henson and Burks saga. I thought some would be interested, and so present his findings forthwith. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“Did top doctors search for Earhart on 1944 Saipan?”
by Richard Bergren
A number of books and articles have mentioned efforts to locate and recover the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan, as well as on other Pacific Islands. Most of those attempts were “rush jobs” which were conducted with questionable expertise and methods and often under arbitrary time constraints. If any remains were actually recovered, they have yet to be officially and publicly identified as the bodies of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
Starting in July 1944 with the U.S. takeover of Saipan, and beginning again with renewed interest in the early 1960’s, excavations of potential gravesites were made based on sketchy stories, and human memories which were 25 years old. Searches for burial sites were made in areas significantly changed since 1937 and World War II.
Eyewitness stories vary widely in details, but all seem to agree that the Japanese held American aviators prisoner and that they buried more than one in the years and months prior to June 1944.
Rather than sort through and evaluate the details of the conflicting eyewitness stories, I wanted to see what might be in World War II era U.S. records regarding the recovery of aviator remains on Saipan in 1944. This was the first time that the U.S. had access to Saipan since Amelia and Fred were declared missing.
Operation Forager began on 22 February 1944 with U.S. Navy (and later Army Air Force) air strikes carried out on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. This was in preparation for all out amphibious attacks which began the invasion of Saipan on 10 June 1944. Fighting on Saipan was savage and it continued even after the island was officially declared secure on 10 July 1944. Casualties of killed, wounded, and missing were high and the U.S. Army hospital and graves personnel were very busy in the days which followed the fighting.
“The largest number of casualties handled over a short period of time by the Central Pacific Area general hospitals occurred following the Saipan, Guam, and Tinian battles,” according to the U.S. Army Office of Medical History, Chapter 11. These casualties were evacuated from the islands by hospital ship and landed at Kwajalein for care and transshipment to the hospitals on Oahu. These casualties numbered 2,900 during June and July of 1944.” While U.S. casualties were high, Japanese losses were much higher, totaling close to 30,000 killed on Saipan alone. As fighting continued sporadically on Saipan in mid-July 1944, the invasions of Tinian and Guam had just begun.
Where do Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fit into this picture? They had gone missing on July 2 1937, seven years earlier. Exactly what intelligence the U.S. government may have had prior to the 1944 capture of Saipan is not publicly known, but starting in 1944, a number of Armed Forces personnel (Army, Marine Corps, and Navy) came to learn from various sources that Amelia and Fred had been imprisoned on Saipan, and had met their deaths there.
A number of books mention efforts to locate graves of Amelia and Fred, but the earliest account is probably that of Fred Goerner in his book The Search for Amelia Earhart. In it he relates the story told by Marines Everett Henson, Jr. and Billy Burks who claim that they were ordered by a Captain Griswold (USMC) in “late July or early August” 1944 to dig up two graves in or near a civilian cemetery on Saipan in an effort to find the two missing aviators. Allegedly some bones were found and taken by this Captain Griswold, with no further information regarding their final resolution or destination.
The story may be true, although vague as to exactly when and where the dig took place; unfortunately there seems to be no official resolution to the account because there was no definite confirmation that the remains were those of Amelia and/or Fred. And no information as to what was done with those alleged remains.
Remains recovery was not normally the job of the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a task specifically assigned to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, Graves Registration Unit. In fact, the U.S. Army had established the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan for interment of the U.S. dead who were killed or died of wounds in the recent battle and there was a whole unit of those specially trained Army personnel on Saipan.
A number of Saipan eyewitness statements allude to the burial of “aviators” on Saipan prior to the June 10, 1944 invasion. Some of these accounts state that it was a single burial and others say there were two. Some accounts claim that it was a man and a woman who were so buried. Seldom, if ever, do those eyewitnesses identify the “aviators” by name or provide specific information regarding when or where the burial(s) took place. One Saipan witness states that he was pressed into service to bury an aviator on or about Feb. 23 or 24, 1944. This would most likely have been a U.S. Navy pilot killed in the opening air attacks of Operation Forager.
World War II historian Ted Darcy has compiled a website featuring U.S. aviation casualties. Like many other such efforts, it is not a complete listing of casualties, but it does contain a lot of very interesting information. Through his efforts, some previously unidentified/unknown servicemen, killed in World War II, have been positively identified and returned home for burial.
One veteran so identified was Navy Lieutenant Woodie McVay, a Naval Aviator killed on Feb. 22, 1944 while flying a mission with his wingman, Lt. (junior grade) Arthur Davis off the carrier USS Yorktown. Both men were lost over Saipan and initially declared missing in action.
Here is an excerpt from Ted Darcy’s website, Pacific Wrecks, about the effort which led to the 2009 eventual identification of Lt. McVay:
On July 17, 1944 during the American occupation of Saipan, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col Richard C. Wadsworth (both U.S. Army Medical Corps) visited the Catholic Cemetery at Garapan to recover the remains of three aviators that had been reported buried there on February 23 or 24 1944. The remains were exhumed and taken to the 369th Station Hospital for an autopsy.
During that examination the following findings were made: One body was clothed in a one-piece, greenish-khaki coverall type of uniform; the buttons on the uniform contained the words “U.S. Navy”; a plain silver ring was found on the left hand; and on the underwear, marked in two places appeared the name W. L. McVay. It was determined that the injuries were caused as a result of an aircraft accident, not a war crime.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Army doctors had no records with which to compare their findings in an effort to identify this victim. The body was removed to the 27th Division Cemetery and buried as Unknown (Saipan X-35) in plot 3, row 11, grave 1132. In March 1948, these remains were moved to a mausoleum on Saipan. During October 1948, the remains were buried as an unknown at the Manila American Cemetery for “final burial” as unknown X-35 in section F, row 12, grave 2.
Lt. McVay was officially declared dead on Jan. 15, 1946. He posthumously earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart.
Through the research of Ted Darcy, it was found that the height and dental records of unknown X-35 matched with MIA/KIA McVay. The results were forwarded to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii. In February 2009, the grave in Manila was opened and the remains shipped to the Central Identification Lab, where they arrived on Feb. 25, 2009. The identification was confirmed in May 2009, and Elizabeth Huff was notified that X-35 was positively identified as her grandfather, Lt. Woodie McVay.
McVay’s remains were transported to Mobile, Ala., for internment. On July 13 2009, McVay was laid to rest at his existing memorial marker, next to his parents in the Pine Crest Cemetery at Mobile, Ala. U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings published a lengthy story on McVay by historian Bruce M. Petty in its June 2015 issue. (End of Darcy excerpt.)
I located more information on both Army Doctors, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col. Richard C. Wadsworth. Colby was the commanding officer of the 369th (Army) Station Hospital on Saipan in July 1944. Wadsworth was also a medical doctor and pathologist, possibly attached to the same command, but I have not found him on any rosters to prove that. Dr. Colby died in 1960 in San Diego, CA, and Dr. Wadsworth died in 1980 in Bangor, Maine — both after long and distinguished medical careers.
Goerner mentions an unnamed Department of Commerce person who contacted him in 1964, and suggested that an unnamed medical doctor may have taken remains to Washington D.C. Goerner associated that information with the name Griswold from his previous research and located a doctor by that name who had served on Saipan in 1944. Goerner did not specify, but he was likely an Army doctor, since it was an Army hospital on Saipan.
[Editor’s note: In a March 1968 letter to Fred Goerner, Tracy Griswold informed him that he had learned from his brother-in-law about a Major E.K. Griswold, of Santa Ana, Calif., who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. “It is further recalled that this particular Major Griswold spent time in the Pacific during World War II,” Tracy Griswold wrote. “This becomes rather remarkable in as much as you were told, as I recall it, by Marine Corp headquarters that there was not another Griswold in the Pacific Theatre [sic] during World War II, in the Marine Corp. [sic] I was sure that you would want to contact this party, particularly since he is in California in the event that there might possibly be a further clue to the Saipan incident.” Nothing further is contained in Goerner’s Griswold file.]
A report by an Army medical officer on conditions in the Marianas immediately following the U.S. takeover described the huge amount of medical work being done on Saipan (see above). The hospital dealt with hundreds of surgeries and hundreds of other treatments daily — and yet the locating and disinterment of three graves by these two high ranking Army doctors took a higher precedence.
It might follow that the remains of the other two “aviators” disinterred with McVay’s body on 17 July 1944 were also buried as unknowns in the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan — and might have followed a similar documented path to Manila either as “Saipan Unknowns” or under names yet to be found. If they were NOT buried in the 27th Division Cemetery, what became of them and why?
Whether or not the other two bodies were Amelia Earhart and/or Fred Noonan is not stated in anything I have seen to date. It is a possibility. Regardless of who those two bodies were, it seems likely that they were disinterred and autopsied by these two medical doctors on the premise that they might be Amelia and Fred.
What are the chances that these two high ranking medical officers (Colby and Wadsworth) with their credentials and qualifications would just happen to be attached to a forward area army field hospital, temporary cemetery, or refugee camp? And on their own initiative go digging up a civilian cemetery?
The July 17, 1944 disinterment and subsequent autopsy begs several questions:
– Why was it so important to send two high ranking officers to a civilian cemetery at a time when the service of medical officers was so critical? Even though Saipan had been declared “secure” a few days before, fighting was continuing, and there were thousands of wounded military and civilians to care for.
– Who ordered these disinterments?
– How was intelligence of their location obtained?
The stated purpose at the time was that they were looking for downed military aviators, yet even when evidence obtained from the grave indicated one body was that of Navy Lieutenant McVay, it was stated that the doctors did not have Navy information to compare/confirm his identity and so he was buried as an “Unknown.” Clearly they were NOT looking for him specifically, nor did they identify the other two bodies as being military aviators.
The autopsy report goes out of its way to state that Unknown X35 (McVay) died as a result of injuries received in a crash rather than due to a “war crime.” This indicates that they may have been looking for bodies of Americans taken prisoner, tortured, and killed during a war crime — perhaps by beheading?
With all of the work to be done on Saipan in the way of securing the Island, caring for the wounded, bringing in supplies, and building hospitals, roads and airports, why was this disinterment of such high importance? It is highly doubtful that the two senior medical doctors on Saipan would on their own initiative go digging in a civilian cemetery.
(Editor’s note: I’m not an expert on the location of all the cemeteries on Saipan, either in 1944 or now, but the Catholic Cemetery discussed in this piece was not the same place as the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan, as far as I can tell. Liyang was south, outside of Garapan, while the Catholic cemetery was within the city limits, according to Everett Henson Jr., Billy Burks, Anna Diaz Magofna and others who knew of these events. See Les Kinney’s comments below for more clarification.)
What became of the other two “aviators” disinterred at the same time as Unknown X35 (Lt. McVay)? In light of the careful cemetery record keeping of the Army Quartermaster Corps (as seen in the McVay case) it might follow that the other two bodies were also autopsied and buried in the 27th (Army) Division Cemetery as unknowns and later also transferred to Manila for reburial.
Note: There were a number (perhaps as many as 20) of U.S. Navy and Army Air Force aviators declared Missing in Action (MIA) during and prior to the Saipan invasion. Except for Lt. McVay, none of them have ever been recovered and identified.
It is quite possible that the other two “aviators” were also military pilots. If so, they were never identified as such.
Could it be that the two doctors had been specifically tasked to locate the bodies of Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart? (End of Richard Bergren’s piece.)
Richard Bergren retired from the U.S. Navy in 1994 after 22 years as a naval flight officer (NFO). He flew in the Lockheed P-3B Orion, the Lockheed EC-130 Hercules, and numerous types of trainer planes. Piloted Pioneer unmanned air vehicles (UAV’s) from the Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS Shreveport (LPD-12). He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University, Troy, Ala. He is a graduate of the Naval War College and took postgraduate courses in Japanese, German, and history at various colleges.
He is a military historian, writer, teacher, musician and competitive rifleman. He’s married, the father of six and grandfather of 12.
July is Amelia Earhart’s month. She was born into a respected family of Midwestern gentry on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, and, along with her two-years-younger sister, Muriel, or “Pidge,” she enjoyed a near-idyllic childhood despite a father who liked his booze so much that Amelia became a lifetime teetotaler.
Eighty-three years ago, on July 2, 1937, Amelia “disappeared” while on an open-ocean flight to Howland Island in the central Pacific, and instead landed off Barre Island at Mili Atoll in the Japanese controlled Marshall Islands, about 830 miles to the northwest. Soon she and Fred Noonan, her navigator, were picked up by the Japanese and taken to Saipan, where they suffered lonely, wretched deaths at the hands of the bloodthirsty prewar Japanese military.
During her brief 40 years, Amelia Earhart became a household name in an era filled with a “War to End all Wars” that would soon be eclipsed by a worse one, and more larger-than-life personalities than anyone can name anymore.
From Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh, to John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone, on to Adolph Hitler, “Uncle Joe” Stalin, Winston Churchill and FDR, the times were defined by heroes and villains whose lives — even as chronicled by primitive radio and newspapers — were of a magnitude unimagined by today’s Millennials, rooted in their Internet-based virtual realities.
Though it’s impossible to compare the relative star-power of the giants of the first half of the 20th century, it’s fair to say that few if any stirred the public imagination like Amelia Earhart. Attractive, down-to-earth, principled, courageous beyond measure, Amelia was loved and admired by everyone with a pulse, and she carved out a unique niche in history that will forever be hers alone.
This year, as we approach the Ides of July, we pause to reflect, remember and pay our respects to this great American, regardless of the fact that nothing of significance in Amelia’s cause has happened during the past year. For more background, I invite you to read July 2, 2018: 81 years of lies in the Earhart case; July 2, 2019, AE’s last flight anniversary arrives without change; and last year’s July 24 post, For Amelia Earhart, it’s Happy Birthday No. 122!
For the past three decades everything the public sees, hears or reads are the lies of those who seek to profit on blatant falsehoods about the “Great Aviation Mystery,” while the truth has been lying in plain sight, available to all who seek it.
Amelia’s life and legacy is rarely celebrated down here anymore, and when it is, it’s usually in some approved, sanitized version, lacking in its most important aspect. For the past three decades everything the public sees, hears or reads are the lies of those who seek to profit on blatant falsehoods about the “Great Aviation Mystery,” while the truth has been lying in plain sight, available to all who seek it.
On the banks of the Missouri River in truth-averse Atchison, Kansas, where Amy Otis Earhart brought Amelia into the world, the locals present a yearly Amelia Earhart Festival during the week commemorating her birth. These galas are populated by herds of the ignorant, who flock to Atchison, where the “Great Aviation Mystery” is celebrated annually, as well as to the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, where the official lies are recirculated to tourists daily.
It’s only a small stretch to believe that among the benighted at these Atchison shindigs, some actually imagine that, just maybe, Amelia is still flying around out there in the timeless ether, searching endlessly for a way back to 1937 Howland Island — an eternal, romantic enigma, forever lost in mystery. This is a popular myth among the most gullible, and in Atchison, where anything but the despised “Japanese Capture Theory” is permissible, it’s a plausible idea. Most of the clueless, well propagandized by the mainstream media, wonder only whether Amelia crashed and sank off Howland Island or landed on Nikumaroro, where she starved to death, along with navigator Fred Noonan, on an atoll teeming with natural food and water sources.
Considering our current national crises, it’s not surprising that Atchison’s 2020 Amelia Earhart festival has been cancelled, since everything else has been scratched as well. Moreover, thanks to the politically driven insanity spawned by the national Covid-19 lockdown, as well as the Black Lives Matter and “social justice demonstrations,” better defined as riots, there’s no room in the headlines for another phony Earhart search, one good thing amid the chaos we’re enduring. Talk about finding silver linings.
During the past year, the only news about Amelia Earhart, as usual, was the fake kind, the pre-fabricated, shiny object that our media constantly produces. The big difference was that ocean explorer Robert Ballard took center stage, rather than the long-discredited Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR. Soon after this new boondoggle was announced, “NatGeo, Ballard in new phony Earhart “search,’ ” my only question was why someone like Ballard would participate in such a dishonest charade, and what he thought he could gain. I’m still wondering.
Armed with another grandiose title, the doomed search, dubbed “Expedition Amelia,” was filmed by the consistently unreliable National Geographic for airing in late October. As always with these bogus Nikumaroro time-wasters, you had to do a real search to find any news about Ballard’s failure.
“‘Tantalizing clue’ marks end of Amelia Earhart expedition,” National Geographic timidly informed readers in its Aug. 26 eulogy. “While the location of the aviator’s plane remains elusive, an artifact re-discovered after 80 years may spark new avenues of inquiry,” the subhead cunningly adds. My post the following day, “Ballard’s Earhart search fails; anyone surprised?” has the details if you’re interested in revisiting another forgettable footnote of the Earhart saga.
During the run-up to the airing of “Expedition Amelia,” the New York Times, another bastion of deceit, may have been the only mainstream outlet to urge everyone to watch the Oct. 20 NatGeo two-hour special, besides NatGeo itself. “Robert Ballard’s expedition to a remote island in the South Pacific found no evidence of the vanished aviator’s plane, but the explorer and his crew haven’t given up,” Julie Cohn wrote in the Times story, “The Amelia Earhart Mystery Stays Down in the Deep.” Of course not, especially when there’s more money to be made and ignorant sheeple to “educate” about the great Amelia Earhart “mystery.”
Finally, on Oct. 20, 2019, the over-hyped and unnecessary National Geographic Channel’s latest two-hour travelogue, “Expedition Amelia,” aired to the nation, bringing another Earhart disinformation operation to a merciful close. For much more, including extensive reviews by William Trail and David Atchason, longtime Earhart aficionados and contributors to this blog, please see my Oct. 22, 2019 post, “NatGeo’s “Expedition Amelia”: Dead on Arrival.”
Marie S. Castro and the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument
As you can see, 2019 was not a good year for the Earhart truth. We must return to early 2018 to find anything positive, with the announcement that appeared in the Feb. 7 Marianas Variety, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan” (no longer available in the Marianas Variety archives that now only go back to 2019). You can refresh yourself on the details by reading my March 2, 2018 post, “Finally, some good Earhart news from Saipan.”
The group is the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Inc. (AEMMI). Its founder and burning light, President Marie S. Castro, 87, is the sole reason for the AEMMI’s existence. Marie is the last living link to Amelia Earhart’s presence and death on Saipan, having known and interviewed eyewitnesses Matilde Arriola and Joaquina Cabrera. For more details or just to catch up, see my April 2, 2018 post, “Marie Castro: Iron link to Saipan’s forgotten history”and “Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts,”published May 18.
Some of the most compelling evidence attesting to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan can be found in Marie’s moving 2013 autobiography, WITHOUT A PENNY IN MY POCKET: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After World War II. In Without a Penny Marie also describes her family’s terrifying ordeal during the American shelling and bombing of Saipan, which resulted in many tragic 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 in Kansas City 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 in an email, “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.”
Unlike most of us, who take on the toughest fights of our lives when we’re young, strong and in our prime, Marie is spending her Golden Years engaged in the most daunting challenge of her already overly-productive existence — erecting a monument to Amelia Earhart on the island where she met her tragic, untimely end.
Most of the opposition to the monument has come from Saipan’s younger generations. Like most Americans under 50, they’re ignorant about their own past and have been subjected to constant historical revisionism and U.S. establishment propaganda about the facts surrounding Amelia Earhart’s presence on the island in the pre-war years. The politics on Saipan are overwhelmingly stacked against the Earhart truth — even worse than in the United States, if that’s even possible — and it appears only a miracle will save the Earhart Memorial Monument project. Unsurprisingly, not a word about Marie or the AEMMI has been uttered by a single American media organization.
“Saipan, a little speck on the map, became the resting place for an American first woman heroine, Amelia Earhart,” Marie wrote in a July 4 email. “We formed an Organization called the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Feb. 2017, to place a statue of Amelia Earhart commemorating her presence and tragic end on Saipan in 1937. Finally, President Trump, the 45th president acknowledges the greatest woman of the 20th century [in his recent announcement that he will establish a National Garden” of heroes that will include Earhart]. Mike, we are desperate to finance this project; we need . . . support from the U.S. Maybe this is the time to get some help.”
Here this fine soul displays her penchant for serious understatement. We greatly appreciate the support of the kind few who’ve stepped up to help, but it’s a small fraction of what’s needed to make this monument a reality. The financial problems are one thing, but the politics are equally bad, with Saipan and Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas officials constantly avoiding a final decision about the location of the monument, which is a moot point without the money to pay for it.
As I said, a miracle is needed. Are you listening Up There, Amelia?
Even casual students of the Earhart disappearance have heard and read about the photos of Amelia and Fred Noonan allegedly found on Saipan during and after the June 15-July 9, 1944 Battle of Saipan. I’ve heard the wistful regrets that none of these photos have ever publicly surfaced, and have shared in the disappointment of those who believe things would be different if we just had one of these photos that show so clearly that Amelia Earhart was a prisoner of the Japanese. (Boldface mine throughout; italics Goerner’s.)
Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, assigned to the Army’s 106th Infantry Regiment on Saipan, was among the first of the former American servicemen to contact Fred Goerner during his early Saipan investigations. In 1961, Kanna told Goerner that as platoon sergeant of his intelligence unit on Saipan, his duty was “to insure [sic] that we would take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.” One prisoner captured in an area designated as Tank Valley had “a photo of Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield,” Kanna wrote. The photo was forwarded up the chain of command, and when questioned, the Japanese captive “stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion and subsequently he felt that both of them had been executed,” according to Kanna.
He provided Goerner the names of three men who had served as interpreters for his unit. Goerner located only one of them, Richard Moritsugu, in Honolulu, whose voice “quavered and broke” on the phone when Goerner asked about Saipan and Sergeant Kanna. Moritsugu told Goerner he had no desire to discuss the war.
Robert Kinley, of Norfolk, Va., served with the 2nd Marine Division during the invasion and claimed he saw a photo of Earhart with a Japanese officer that he believed was taken on Saipan. Kinley said he was clearing a house of booby traps near a graveyard when the picture was found tacked to a wall. A Japanese mortar shell exploded nearby moments later, tearing away part of his chest. He lost the photo at that point and couldn’t remember if it was destroyed in the explosion or taken by one of the medics who attended him. Kinley wrote that the photo “showed Amelia standing in an open field with a Japanese soldier wearing some kind of combat or fatigue cap with a single star in its center.”
Sometime after the 1966 release of The Search for Amelia Earhart, Marine Col. Donald R. Kennedy, commandant of the 12th Marine Corps District, told Goerner he came into possession of photographs in Japan in 1945 that showed Earhart in Japanese custody. “He [Kennedy] says he turned them over to [General Douglas] MacArthur’s Intelligence Headquarters,” Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1969. “Marine Corps G-2 is now trying to trace what happened to the photographs after Kennedy turned them over.” Kennedy attempted “to get clearance from USMC Headquarters before he could go on record,” Goerner told Theodore Barreaux 19 years later. “After eighteen months, he got the clearance but with the proviso that this did not represent official USMC position.” Kennedy’s file contains nothing else of significance, so something must have derailed Kennedy from pursuing the matter further, a common occurrence in the Earhart search.
Just as Robert Kinley contacted Goerner about seeing a photo of Earhart on Saipan, Stanley F. Serzan, of Orange City, Fla., was among several veterans who told Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident about seeing photos of one or both of the fliers. Serzan, a member of the 4th Marine Division on Saipan and a retired Bayonne, New Jersey, police officer, said one of his fellow Marines found a number of photos of Earhart and Noonan while searching a dead Japanese soldier. “I will never forget seeing those pictures of Amelia Earhart,” wrote Serzan, who died in 1995:
There were several Japanese officers with her and she certainly looked in good health. . . . The one picture I do recall to mind was one where Fred was standing sort of behind a Japanese officer to his right, and next was Amelia and then two more Japanese officers. There were other pictures of her and an officer alone and she was in sort of a fly jacket—and half a dozen others I don’t remember. All were taken outdoors—no buildings in sight. Trees in background. Fred appeared much taller than Japanese. I wish I had been able to get one of those pictures. When leaving Hawaii to come back to the mainland, we were told to get rid of the souvenirs because we would have to pay a duty. We threw tons of stuff away and we never were searched. We could have killed for being lied to like that.
Jerome Steigmann, of Phoenix, a longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, sent Devine information provided by Frank Howard, of Pueblo, Colo. Howard told Steigmann that he was in the first wave of Marines to hit the beach on Saipan, and later “a buddy found two photographs in a Jap Officer’s outpost they had just captured . . . one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers,” Howard wrote. The below drawing by Howard appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, with the following narrative from Howard:
There were two photos, one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers. In one picture, the Naval officers must have left, as only the Army officers remained and Fred Noonan had his jacket off and had laid it on his lap, so it must have been a hot day, as the soldiers and officers were in short white-sleeved shirts, as was Amelia and Fred. The soldiers also had those curtain type sun shade cloths behind their necks, but they had those wrappings around their legs. Amelia and Fred seemed very tired and the day must have been at high noon. Amelia was wearing “jodhpurs” trousers with cuffs, and Fred dark trousers with cuffs. My buddy was killed in action, and I never saw the photos again. I enclose a sketch as best as I remember.
Another Amelia Earhart Society member, Col. Rollin Reineck (U.S. Air Force, retired), received a letter from Dale Chandler, a former radioman aboard the USS Rocky Mount (AGC-3), the flagship for the Joint Expeditionary Force attacking Saipan, Guam and Tinian in June-July, 1944. The following also appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter:
One afternoon in early July 1944, I was going to my shift in the radio room, and on the way I met one of the ship’s photographers. I asked him if I could see some of the photos of the invasion. He showed me a photograph of a man and a woman among other photos in a shoe box found in a captured Jap Officer’s billet. I could not tell who they were, but the photographer stated that they were Amelia Earhart and her “pilot” (sic). He further stated that it proved they were on Saipan in 1937, and not lost at sea. The photo was taken in front of the building where he had found the photograph. He said the building where the photo was taken was in the background, but was now partially destroyed by shellfire but parts of the building still standing were easy to recognize. I was 12 years old when the Earhart disappearance took place, and I assumed she was dead, lost at sea.
The snapshot was taken on the side of the building, and facing the camera she was on the left. She was wearing a kaiki (sic) jacket, breeches and a wrapping around her, below her knees. No hat. He was on her left wearing a dark jacket and pants, white shirt, no tie and his hat cocked on the side of his head. The photo went to CIC, now the CIA.
All of this information is true and accurate.
Nothing more is presented in the AES Newsletters about Chandler’s claim.
Joseph Garofalo, a former Seabee and Saipan veteran, claimed to have found a photo of Earhart in the wallet of a dead Japanese soldier. In a letter to Devine, Garofalo, of the Bronx, New York wrote that he “searched a dead Jap officer and it was in his wallet along with a picture of his family.” Garofalo continued:
As best I can remember the photo fit on the inside of the Jap officer’s wallet, it was in black and white, with sort of a sepia finish, which looked faded. It was about the third week after we landed [on Saipan]. Many of my buddies had seen the picture at that time. As you face the photo, Amelia Earhart was standing on the left-hand side, wearing pants and the shirt she was wearing had short sleeves, it was probably khaki; she looked very haggard and thin. The Jap officer was on the right wearing the traditional short visor cap and leggings. She seemed a few inches taller than the Jap. It has been 49 years ago, the description of the picture is still in my mind, and I consider it accurate.
None of the priceless photos Saipan veterans reported seeing have publicly surfaced. For years Devine tried to obtain a photo of Earhart an ex-GI claimed he found on Saipan in 1944. The man told Devine that a Japanese officer, a woman, and two children were standing with Earhart in the photo, which he gave to a friend along with other personal items after being wounded. Devine offered the man $10,000, but the trail dried up when the man, who had entered a veterans hospital, stopped responding to his correspondence.
In another near miss, Virginia Ward, of Waterbury, Conn., told Devine that her two cousins, Marines who were both badly wounded on Saipan, brought back photos of Earhart they found there. Both died within two years of their return to the states, and Ward never found the photos.
For much more on the substantial oral histories of American military veterans and their knowledge of Amelia Earhart on Saipan, please see Chapter IX, “Saipan Veterans Come Forward,” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, pages 180-204.