Tag Archives: Sasebo Harbor

“A Mysterious [Earhart] Encounter in 1945 Japan”

This story appeared in the November 1994 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and is another unique example of the strange and weird lore that has attached itself to the Earhart saga over the decades.  I will leave the rest to you, dear reader, to sort out and classify for yourself, and will forego any further introductions.  (Boldface emphasis mine unless stated; capitals and underline emphasis in original.) 

 “A Mysterious Encounter in 1945 Japan”
Excerpts taken from a tape narrated by Ralph S. Martine, on Sept. 14, 1993

At the end of WWII, our Naval unit moved from Okinawa (we had been there for the battle and all that good stuff’) to Sasebo, a naval base built in an excellent harbor in the southern part of Japan.  There we were kept aboard ship about two weeks because our commander wasn’t sure how the Japanese people would treat us.  The SEABEES and a small detachment of marines went ashore to start cleaning up the city. 

U.S. Intelligence overview of Sasebo Harbor area, April 1945.

Sasebo was originally about the size of Huntington Park in LA with 3 and 4 story buildings, but twelve of our super fortresses had leveled the entire city.  When we were allowed liberty, I wanted to see the countryside, shops, stores, even though there wasn’t anything to buy.  I wanted to see what Japan was like.  On the outskirts of Sasebo, three other sailors and I were walking up the hill into a side street of a residential district when we met 9 or 10 British sailors coming down.  They were having a great time busting in the doors and walls of the Japanese tissue-paper houses they were passing.  We jumped them, and they ran off, which was a wonder as there were only 4 of us.

When the fight was over, we were standing there and the Japanese started coming out of all these houses — seemed like a thousand, but there must have been only about 50 of them.  Men and women, were all pulling at us to see who could get us to go to their house because we had saved their property from being damaged.  We were right in front of a [Japanese] Navy Captain’s house, and because I was the tallest and biggest of our four, he won me [sic].  I went into his house, which hung out over the edge of the hill on poles like they do in California.  The city of Sasebo started right at the edge of a creek below his house. 

We sat on the porch, and he introduced me to his 8 years old daughter, and his wife.  They were both literally scared of me because they believed the propaganda that the Japanese had put out that we were monsters, and my size didn’t help that monster image.  But the Captain knew what kind of people we were because he had graduated from U.S.C. in L.A. in 1934, at or near the head of his class.  He was a naval ordinance officer, and a very nice person to talk to as he knew English better than I do.  After he graduated he went back to Japan, took his commission as a Japanese naval officer, and got married in the mid-1930s.

Sitting on his porch we could see the whole city — what was left of it — just rubble, nothing standing.  I visited him several times, bringing him toilet articles I bought in our ship’s store, and giving his wife Palmolive soap, which was the best the Navy, had.  He shared his whisky with me — sugar beet whisky, which was pretty good.  The third time I went over with more things for him, he told me he was from the base directly across the harbor from his house, which was located on the southeast side of Sasebo.  We could look westward across the water and see the naval base clearly.

In normal conversation, nothing leading up to it, he said that in one of those buildings on the base there were parts of Amelia Earhart’s plane!  (Boldface in original) He tried to tell me which building but I really didn’t understand.  This came out of the clear blue.  We had been talking about the war and the 12 super fortresses which leveled the city.  He showed me which way they flew in across the city, banked around, and went back to Guam.  They knew exactly where we were flying to and from.  In this same conversation, he also indicated that Amelia Earhart and her “mechanic” were still alive at that time and were living in a house outside of Sasebo, just up the road from the naval base.  (Boldface in original.)

We had been given orders aboard our ship that if you came in contact with any prisoners or dead bodies, you were to go immediately to Army intelligence.  I was in the Navy, but MacArthur was running the whole show, and he insisted that all intelligence go through the Army.  I told this Japanese naval officer that we were moving to the sea plane base at Yokohama, and that I wouldn’t see him again.  He bade me goodbye, and I didn’t question any more that he had said because of all the instructions we had been given by MacArthur.

This photo appeared in the July 16, 2009 issue of Stars and Stripes, in a story titled “Retired sailor’s visit to Sasebo a history lesson,” by Travis J. Tritten.  The caption reads: “Aug. 29, 1945 USS LST 1077 makes landfall at Sakibe in Sasebo in August 1945.  The peak of Mt. Akasaki rises from the haze along the horizon.”  (Photo courtesy Howard Benedict.)

We arrived in Yokohama just before Thanksgiving.  As soon as I got to Tokyo I looked for Army Intelligence which was right on the main drag, in the center of town, in a four-story building.  You could see from one side of Tokyo clear across to the other side (about 10 miles). Only a few buildings were left: most were just pieces of ruins.  The building that housed Army Intelligence was one of the few that was still intact.  I went inside and talked with the sergeant behind the desk. 

From the stripes on his arm, I could tell he had been in the service for about 12 years.  I told him my information about Amelia Earhart, and he looked at me very puzzled, with a dumb look on his face.  He asked me who this Amelia Earhart was?  I told him she was a woman aviation pilot trying to break the record flying around the world and she was lost in the Pacific, and that there was a lot of speculation that the Japanese had shot her down.  He sent me to another officer because he didn’t know what I was talking about.  I went to 5 or 6 different officers in Army Intelligence, and NOT ONE OF THESE MEN EVER HEARD OF AMELIA EARHART!

These men were all Caucasians, Army, looked like Americans, and everything else looked proper to me.  But not one of them knew who AE was!  I couldn’t believe it.  You could not have lived in the continental part of the United States without knowing who AE was, and to be older than me at the time you couldn’t have done it.  The Army Sergeant couldn’t have had 12 years in the service at that time without knowing who she was.  I was on some jungle islands in tile Pacific, and the natives knew who she was.  They didn’t have newspaper, radios, or any communications, but they still knew who AE was!  And these men in Army Intelligence did not know, or they played dumb (which is normal for any intelligence agency), and I don’t believe they looked into the matter whatsoever.  They just dropped it because it was 600 miles away to the south of Tokyo.

I read about the AE Society in Colorado, in “Omni” magazine.  As much as I’d love to meet with you all, it looks like I won’t be able to make it to the convention in California.  However, I decided to tell my story to you this way, and I would be glad to talk with any of you on the phone, or if you are in my area of Oregon.  God Bless and take care.

(Ralph Martine resides at 18625 East Burnside, Lot 6, Portland, Oregon, 97233; phone: 503-492-xxxx.)

Ralph S. Martine passed away in January 2012 in Portland, Ore., at age 84.  I’ve seen nothing else relative this story, which ranks among the strangest Earhart yarns I’ve ever read.

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