Since the Feb. 7 publication of Junhan B. Todiño’s Marianas Variety story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan,” much has been written about the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Committee’s plans to build a memorial to Amelia at the Saipan International Airport.
Most of the vocal opposition to the monument is coming from the younger people of Saipan, many of whom have lost contact with their past, and have been subjected to historical revisionism and U.S. establishment propaganda on a grand scale about the facts surrounding Amelia Earhart’s presence on the island in the pre-war years.
Marie S.C. Castro, 84, is not among Saipan’s historically challenged, however. In fact, some of the most compelling evidence attesting to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan can be found in her fine 2013 autobiography, Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII.
Recently Marie kindly sent me a copy of Without a Penny, and I read it eagerly. Marie isn’t a trained journalist or professional writer, but this deficit seems to enhance rather than detract from the impact of this moving account of her life. “It’s written with great love and deep feeling for those you’ve met along the way of your amazing life,” I wrote to Marie. “Thank you so much for sending it; it’s truly a precious chronicle of yours and Saipan’s history.”
Despite enduring hardships under the tyrannical rule of the Japanese during the years leading to the June 1944 U.S. invasion of Saipan and the liberation of its Chamorro residents, nowhere in Without a Penny will you find the slightest a hint of the self-pitying, blame-casting or victim-status seeking rhetoric that has become so common in today’s “social media,” “snowflake” culture.
“The Chamorros had no rights, our peaceful way of life on our island was gone under the Japanese,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “We were under constant fear of anything. The Japanese civilians knew what went on, we the locals knew nothing about it. The Japanese considered us third class citizens. They took over the land, cultivated it for their own good. We had no authority whatsoever. . . . When you walk on the street, look straight forward, do not turn sideways, or else you would become a suspect. Mike, even after the war, people were hesitant to say anything. Thanks to the Americans we became again like human beings. We are at peace now.”
One of the most poignant passages in Without a Penny is Marie’s description of her family’s terrifying ordeal during the American shelling and bombing of Saipan, which resulted in many unfortunate and unintended civilian casualties, as well as traumatic memories for the survivors.
“After we were liberated by the American Marines in 1944 . . . we were so thankful to the Americans,” Marie wrote in an email. “I was 11 years old then and I thought someday I will do something on my own to thank the Americans.”
She was a professed Catholic nun for 17 years, from 1954 until her resignation in 1971. “It was the time when I really examined what was I meant to be in this world,” Marie wrote. “I wanted to do more. I prayed hard to God to lead me in my decision. I believed it was the right thing to do. I resigned from religious life. I will commit my life in education to thank the American Marines in 1944.”
She remained in Kansas City, teaching in the public schools, retired in 1989 and became involved in other community service organizations, finally returning to Saipan in October 2016. “Considering the 50 years in Kansas City,” Marie wrote, “I felt that I have given a productive life for 50 years. Now I am involved with a challenging undertaking with the Amelia Earhart project, to erect an AE Memorial Monument.”
These and other notable chapters of a life well lived can be found in Without a Penny. Right now, Marie is fully engaged in the effort to erect the Earhart Memorial Monument; indications are that it could be a long and bitter struggle, and not a penny will come from the local or federal government, which has a vested interest in the memorial project’s failure.
Marie, the vice president of the memorial committee and the driving force behind the initiative to build the monument, told Saipan Rotarians about her interview in 1983 with Matilde F. Arriola who, Castro said, met Earhart when she being held on Saipan following her disappearance in early July 1937. According to Matilde, Earhart died of dysentery. “There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan,” Marie said.
“Since I came back home,” Marie wrote in a Feb. 18 email, “I had an urge [to do] something dating back to 1937 . . . Amelia Earhart’s fate. On Feb. 2/ 2017, I approached Congressman Barcinas about my idea of building a Memorial Monument for Amelia Earhart here on Saipan to celebrate her 80th year. All our elders who witnessed the American woman pilot’s presence here on Saipan are long gone; however, in 1983 I interviewed a local woman [Matilde F. Arriola] who had personal contacts with Amelia Earhart in 1937, who was living next door from the political detainee hotel called the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel. [Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas (the former Matilde Fausto Ariola), see pages 102-103 of Truth at Last.] I want to pursue the Monument for Amelia Earhart and finalize the biggest lingering unsolved mystery of the 20th Century. . . . What is holding us now is funding. We need $200 thousand for the project.”
If Marie is correct that all the Saipan elders who were eyewitnesses to Earhart’s presence are gone, and no evidence contradicts this, Marie’s personal connection to Matilde F. Arriola and other eyewitnesses, including Joaquina M. Cabrera, who washed Amelia’s laundry and whose account was also made famous by Fred Goerner in his 1966 bestseller The Search For Amelia Earhart (see pages 101-102 TAL), she is the strongest link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage now living, a role she deeply embraces.
“Matilde and her family had personal contacts with the American woman pilot,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “The mother knew English and spoke with AE, Matilde, Consolacion her sister and Mariono her brother, they all communicated with Amelia [Editor’s note: None spoke English, according to interviews with Fred Goerner and others.] Matilde was 24 years [old] in 1937. The political detainee was next door from her house. Matilde was a student at the Sisters of the Mercedarian school in Garapan at the time.”
The passages from Marie’s book about her encounters with Matilde Arriola are too important to paraphrase, so I reproduce them here:
Evidently Amelia Earhart was found by the Japanese after she crashed somewhere within or near what may have been the Japanese Mandated Micronesian Islands [Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands], and was subsequently taken to Saipan, which also lay within the Mandated area.
The story of the famous American pilot was secretly known by a few men and women who were conscripted by the Japanese and worked for the Japanese government. However, they had no knowledge of the lady pilot’s plight. On a beautiful morning in the late ’50’s my Aunt, Sister Remedios, and I came upon our friend Matilde F. Ariola, who was working in her yard in Chalan Kanoa. Our conversation immediately turned to the subject of Amelia Earhart’s fate. Taking us into her confidence, Matilde related a story of having met a stranger who lived next door at the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel.
On a subsequent meeting, Matilde continued, the slender American woman, who wore a short hair style, gave Matilde’s younger sister Consolacion a ring with a while stone, set in a crown mounting. Unfortunately Consolacion was wounded during the war and fell very ill. Before she died of her wounds she gave the ring to Matilde who wore it until after the war. The ring with a white stone remained in her possession during and after the war and was eventually given to her niece Trinidad. Sometime later Trinidad had a stroke. I had an opportunity to visit her and mentioned the ring her Aunt Matilde had given her. Suddenly, she appeared cheerful and in good spirits as she described the ring. However, the ring did not fit well on her finger and she sadly admitted that she had lost it somewhere around the house.
Time passes quickly and it was during one of my yearly visits to Saipan in 1983 that I once again had the opportunity to visit with my good friend Matilde. The occasion was a friendly gathering in Garapan, attended by many old friends. In a private conversation with Matilde we rehashed the subject once again: The lady pilot who remains still undiscovered. During our conversation Matilde told me that she had received from Amelia Earhart a small diary in early days [sic] titled “Aviator” that contained many, many numbers, no explanations were offered.
Matilde kept the little diary until it was accidentally lost during the war. Sadly, no trace of the diary was ever found by Matilde. It wasn’t until after the war, upon seeing a picture of Amelia Earhart, that she was identified by Matilde as the stranger who had given her the diary.
After having heard the story of Matilde and the item she received from the woman pilot during the Japanese occupation, the Chamorro law enforcement officers whom I knew did not divulge any information they had at the time for fear of enemy reprisals. Even after the liberation of Saipan, those individuals who possibly knew what happened to Amelia Earhart in Saipan refused to speak.
The residents in Saipan who had previously seen the “lady pilot,” all described her as having worn a man’s outfit and short hair style. Women who had seen the lady pilot, after having been shown photos of several women including Amelia Earhart, correctly identified Amelia Earhart. Upon their identification the question was, would Amelia Earhart’s disappearance still remain a mystery? (End of section from Without a Penny.)
“During the Japanese period, there was no running water,” Marie wrote in a recent email. “The toilet was outside. When Amelia needed the facility she had to go outside to use the restroom. She would stop by Matilde’s house and would peep in to see if someone was around to talk to. One day Matilde gave Amelia a cooked breadfruit, Amelia took it and tasted it. At another time while Matilde was doing her geography homework Amelia helped Matilde on her homework. Amelia took the pencil from Matilde’s hand and wrote something however Matilde did not understand what AE wrote, Matilde didn’t know English at the time. She conversed using signs. Consolacion received a ring from AE. Mariono spoke to AE.
“One day Matilde noticed that the lady was ill, pale and used the facility too often that day,” Marie went on. “That was the last day she saw her. The next day the care taker came to Matilde’s house and asked for black material. Matilde’s father, Tun Felipe, was a tailor. Matilde’s father asked the caretaker why she needed black material she said, ‘Kookoo died, the American pilot.’ She continued, ‘amoeba.’ She didn’t know the lady’s name and called her ‘Kookoo.’ Amelia died of dysentery disease.” Matilde died in 1996, at age 83.
Opponents of the Earhart Memorial Monument label accounts like Matilde’s and dozens of others from eyewitnesses and others with knowledge as “anecdotal,” proving nothing. But when one considers these, and then adds those of U.S. flag officers such as Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Navy’s most revered wartime leader in the Pacific; Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the Marine Corps during World War II; and Gen. Graves Erskine, a brigadier general on Saipan during the 1944 invasion and second in command of the entire land operation, all attesting to the presence and death of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan, these accounts begin to add up to far more than mere anecdotes. As Marie told the Rotarians in early February, “There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan.” You decide, but please do so only after you know more about the real facts about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, facts that can be found everywhere you look on this blog.
A shorter, gentler version of this story appeared in the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety under the headline, “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past.” As I said in the opening of this post, massive opposition to the proposed Earhart memorial is endemic on Saipan, and nowhere is it worse than in the brainwashed and propagandized Facebook crowd, where this story garnered a total of just four “Likes.” I could consider this a badge of honor, but I’d much prefer that more were in favor of building this long-overdue monument to Earhart at the place of her death. Far too many on Saipan are dead against it.
Ed Williams, 67, a retired Merchant Marine (Military Sealift Command) radio electronics officer who’s lived and worked in many capacities on Saipan since 2004, recently painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground there. “Marie is such a sweet soul,” Williams wrote in a March 21 email. “But not many locals are interested in anything but beer and betel nut. I would say 1 percent of the locals are on the same page as Marie.” Williams, whose father was an Army medic who served on Guam, Saipan and Tinian, where he saw Enola Gay land and actually guarded the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, is doing all he can on Saipan to educate the locals about Earhart’s tragic end there, but he’s a distinct minority.
Williams’ appraisal sadly mirrors that of former Navy civilian archeologist Jennings Bunn, who spent 14 years on Guam and several months on Saipan during the Typhoon Soudelor in 2015. “From what I saw in Saipan, it is over run by Chinese and Koreans, and the local folks aren’t real interested in ‘Haole’ [defined here as a white person who is not a native Chamorro] history,” Bunn wrote in a recent email. “My experience on Guam was that the local Chamorro knows very little about their own history, and few really care.”
Today we conclude Fred Goerner’s 1964 Argosy magazine feature story, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.” When we left Part III, former Navy men Eugene Bogan and Charles Toole had contacted Goerner and shared their mutual wartime experiences in the Marshall Islands that pointed to Amelia Earhart’s presence there, launching Goerner’s Marshalls investigations, which were much briefer and less productive than his Saipan research.
We open the final part of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” as Goerner is contacted by another World War II veteran, this one from Saipan, who has some fascinating information to share:
Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, has worked seventeen years in a responsible position for the New York Telephone Company. In 1944, Kanna was sergeant of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 106th Infantry, 27th Division, during the assault on Saipan. Kanna’s duty was to take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.
“On Saipan, we captured one particular prisoner near an area designated as ‘Tank Valley,’ ” wrote Kanna. “This prisoner had in his possession a picture showing the late Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield. Assuming the picture of the aircraft to be of value, it was forwarded through channels to the S-2 intelligence officer. But more important, on questioning of this prisoner by one of our Nisei interpreters, he stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion, and subsequently, he felt both of them had been executed. From time to time, I have told these facts to associates, who finally have convinced me to write.”
Kanna went on to list three Nisei interpreters who served with his unit during that period: Richard Moritsugu, William Nuno and Roy Higashi.
I have located and spoken personally with both Moritsugu and Nuno. Moritsugu, now living near Honolulu, is unwilling to discuss his part in the Saipan invasion. Nuno lives in Pasadena, California, and indicates that he was not with Kanna that day in 1944. I found Roy Higashi just three days ago. He is living in Seattle, Washington, and almost seemed to be expecting my call. He said he had something to tell me, but would rather do it in person. Higashi is bringing his family to San Francisco on vacation, and will contact me on arrival. I’m sorry I cannot include his information in this article because of the publication deadline.
Robert Kinley of Norfolk, Virginia, was a demolition man with the Second Marine Division. Pushing inland from Red Beach One, his squad came upon a house near a small cemetery. Kinley went inside to clear it of any booby traps. On a wall, he found “a picture of Miss Earhart and a Japanese officer. The picture was made in an open field, showing only a background of hills. The officer wore a fatigue cap with one star in the center.” Kinley says he took the picture with him, but everything was lost in July 1944, when he was wounded.
Robert Kinley then added a bit of provocative information. “The Japanese had a command post in a tunnel next to the house where I found the picture. My demolition team closed up the tunnel. You might be able to find more pictures or records in the tunnel.
Kinley sent along a map showing the location of the house, tunnel and graveyard. It coincides almost perfectly with the area Devine was shown by the Okinawan woman.
In September 1962, I went back to Saipan for the third time, but I had to do it on my own time and money. KCBS wasn’t uninterested, but there’s a limit to financial soundness in making assignments. I couldn’t drop it, though; there was just too much to go on, and no one in official places had been able to satisfactorily answer any of the many questions raised by the investigation.
Fearing that I might have become prejudiced, I took along Ross Game, the editor of the Napa, California Register, consulting editor to the nineteen Scripts’ newspapers in the West and Secretary for the Associated Press on the Pacific Coast. We picked up Captain Joe Quintanilla, Chief of Police of Guam, and his detective-lieutenant, Edward Camacho, and took them along, too.
Things had changed in one year. My, had they changed! Commander Bridwell was gone; the Navy was gone; Mr. Schmitz was gone – and NTTU was gone. I should say NTTU were gone, since there were eleven of them.
The fence gates were open, and we went in. Commander Bridwell and the Naval Administration Unit had been a front for one of the most elaborate spy schools in the history of this or perhaps any country. The faculty consisted of civilian professors of espionage, the very same men whom I had addressed that night at the club. It’s hard to imagine the impact of coming out of the jungle and discovering a modern town of ninety two- and three-bedroom houses with concrete roofs, typhoon-proof and modern in every respect even to modern landscaping; a modern apartment house for the single members of the faculty; a library, snack bar, barber shop and theater-auditorium. Seven of the NTTU training facilities were located on the north end of the island and four on the east. For the spy-school student, there were sturdy, concrete barracks at each site and other concrete buildings in which classes were held.
For ten years, the students were flown into Kagman Field at night, taken in buses with the shades drawn to any of the eleven areas, trained in techniques of spying and a very specialized brand of guerrilla jungle warfare. Most of them never knew where it was they were being trained. When their courses were completed, they were dispatched on any one of a thousand missions, penetrating through or parachuting behind Communist lines. Nationalist Chinese, Vietnamese, and men from other areas were brought to Saipan, trained and then assigned.
Where did the NTTU go? Why did they go?
I can’t answer the first. I don’t know that I want to.
The second has to do with the focus of international attention the Earhart story placed on Saipan twice within two years, but more importantly, the United Nations inspection team for the Trust Territory of the Pacific gave Commander Bridwell and the Navy bad marks in 1961 for the administration of Saipan. They had done too much rather than too little for the people of Saipan. It was out of line with what the Department of Interior was doing for the rest of the people of the Pacific area. I don’t believe the UN team even knew about the NTTU. They probably got the same trip to Bridwell’s quarters I did. In any case, when the history of the post-World War II struggle between East and West is finally written, I’m sure Saipan and NTTU will be prominently mentioned.
We did some more excavation around the perimeter of the cemetery; this time outside the northern end, but found nothing. We needed Devine to show us the spot, but permission was still being denied to him. We did find where the house Kinley had entered once stood, and we found a huge mound which must be the command post he speaks of. It would be, of course, a major and expensive earth-moving job to open it up.
Ross Game, Captain Quintanilla, Eddie Camacho, Father Sylvan and I went back over every piece of testimony, and even managed to turn up some new leads. The consensus: They were more convinced than I. Two American flyers, a man and a woman, bearing an almost unmistakable resemblance to Earhart and Noonan had indeed been brought to Saipan by the Japanese in 1937.
The most important event of the third expedition came one morning at the mission house. One Jesus De Leon Guerrero, a native Saipanese, came to see me. Father Sylvan served as interpreter. Guerrero proposed a trade. He had been collecting scrap from the war for years and had a mountainous pile. If I would arrange a Japanese ship to come to Saipan to pick up his scrap, he would give me the conclusive answer to the mystery of the two American flyers.
I remembered several Navy and Department of the Interior people telling me that U.S. policy was that no Japanese ships were permitted to enter the former mandated islands.
I couldn’t have changed that policy if I had wanted to, which I didn’t. No story can be bought without being tainted. I told Guerrero, through Father Sylvan, that if he had anything to say to me, he’d better say it now. There would be no deal. Guerrero blinked, turned on his heel and walked out of the mission. The most striking thing about the whole conversation was that I recognized Guerrero. He was the native who had been in my Quonset that rainy night the year before. Father Sylvan told me later that the rest of the natives fear Guerrero. Before and during the war, Guerrero worked with the Japanese military police.
The trip in ’62 produced another vital piece of information. Ross and I went down into the Marshall Islands, and found Elieu [Jibambam]. Elieu teaches at the Trust Territory school at Majuro. He tells exactly the same story he told to Bogan and Toole in ’44. The American flyers landed near Ailinglaplap in 1937.
And now, as you read this, I’ll once more be on Saipan. There is one important difference this time. Thomas Devine is with me. After nearly a four-year effort, permission has finally been granted for him to enter the island.
Why has such an effort been necessary? What about Japan? This long after the war, wouldn’t she be willing to admit an incident involving two white flyers?
The answer is no. It involves far more than the detention of Earhart and Noonan. Japan has categorically denied building military facilities in the mandated islands prior to Pearl Harbor. In the war crimes trials in Tokyo in 1946 and ’47, Japan stated, “The airfields and fortifications in the mandated islands were for cultural purposes and for aiding fishermen to locate schools of fish.” It is obvious that Japan cannot admit an incident involving two American flyers before the war without also admitting a far graver sin – the necessity for covering up their activities in the mandates. If Japan ever concedes that the islands were used for military purposes, it will represent a violation of the League of Nations Mandate, a breach of international law, a most serious loss of face and the loss of the last chance to get the islands back.
Is there any other way to clear up the mystery, through extant records perhaps?
I don’t know. The records that might shed light upon this matter seem beyond our reach. According to the United States Navy, Army and other departments of the Government, the following have been declared “missing, destroyed, or returned to Japan”:
- Twenty-two tons of Japanese records captured on Saipan, which were never interpreted.
- The radio logs of Commander Bridwell’s four United states logistics vessels.
- Records of a physical examination of both Earhart and Noonan, including dental charts made by Navy Chief Pharmacist Mate Harry S. George, in Alameda, in the year 1937.
- The large bulk of Naval intelligence records for the Pacific from 1937 to 1941.
In spite of the fact that the Navy sent the carrier [USS] Lexington to Howland Island in 1937 and spent some $4,000,000 in a fruitless search, their official position today, at least to CBS and the Scripps’ League newspapers, is that “the Earhart-Noonan disappearance is a civilian matter. There has been and is no reason for this Department to make an investigation.”
Bridwell told me an ONI man conducted an investigation in 1960 after my first visit, and the testimony could not be shaken. The Navy maintains there has been no investigation at all. As recently as four months ago, Captain James Dowdell, now Deputy Chief of Naval Information in Washington, vehemently denied to Ross Game that the Navy was withholding any information, and indicated that the Navy hadn’t conducted any investigation. Yet, just two months ago, the U.S. State Department stated in a letter to me, “The State Department does have a limited amount of information about the Earhart matter which is Classified, but the Navy Department has informed us that they conducted a complete investigation in 1960, and there’s nothing to the conjecture that Earhart and Noonan met their end on Saipan.”
(Editor’s note: Goerner was shown part or all of the then-classified 1960 ONI report in April 1963, and he commented briefly on its contents on pages 236 and 307 of The Search for Amelia Earhart, First Edition. Based on the publication date (January 1964) of this article, he clearly had seen the classified report in plenty of time to mention it here. Why he didn’t disclose this fact in this article is unknown to this observer.)
As I said earlier in this article, I can’t really blame the Navy Department for its evasiveness. The Navy was fronting, at any cost, for the CIA, and it’s going to be a wee bit embarrassing, at the very least, to clear the record now.
Were Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on a spy mission in 1937? I simply haven’t the space to begin that discussion here. Let me simply say that those “two American fliers’ on Saipan are I believe, the key to an even more incredible story: The twenty years in the Pacific before Pearl Harbor and the bitter battle between departments of our Government over what to do about the Japanese mandated islands.
There are many who say that the enigma of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan is best left untold. “Embarrassment of Japan at this time would not be wise,” they say. “What good can it do to rake over old coals?”
My answer is a simple one. With most Americans, the individual still counts. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fought a battle for most of their lives against the sea and the elements, not against men bent on war. We orbit men around our earth and turn our eyes to the stars and what may lie beyond because of the courage and contribution of such as Earhart and Noonan.
If they won their greatest victory only to become the first casualties of World War II, the world should know. Honor for them is long overdue.
When all is considered, a single question remains: If the two white flyers on Saipan before the war were not Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, who were they?
Within the next few days, we may know the answer. (End of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”)
Readers should note that this article well summarized the state of Goerner’s Earhart research in late 1963, before his fourth trip to Saipan in December 1963. Some of Goerner’s most important findings and ideas would undergo radical changes in the coming years, and long before his death in 1994, he would actually renounce his belief in Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. In future posts I will endeavor to flesh out as much of these small mysteries as I can.