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Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past

SINCE the Feb. 7 publication of Junhan B. Todiño’s story, “Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan,” much has been written, pro and con, about the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Committee’s plans to build a memorial to Amelia Earhart at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport.



Much of the opposition to the monument is coming from the younger people of Saipan, many of whom have lost contact with their past, and who’ve been subjected to historical revisionism on a grand scale about the facts surrounding Amelia Earhart’s  presence on the island in the prewar 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 Fred Noonan, her navigator, on Saipan can be found in her 2013 autobiography, “Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII.”  

Marie S.C. Castro holds a copy of her autobiography, “Without a Penny in My Pocket, My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII,” as she speaks on Feb. 6 to Saipan Rotarians about the personal accounts she’s heard about Amelia Earhart’s presence and death on Saipan.  Photo by Junhan B. Todiño/ Marianas VarietyMarie S.C. Castro holds a copy of her autobiography, “Without a Penny in My Pocket, My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII,” as she speaks on Feb. 6 to Saipan Rotarians about the personal accounts she’s heard about Amelia Earhart’s presence and death on Saipan. Photo by Junhan B. Todiño/ Marianas Variety

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 one find the slightest hint of self-pity, finger pointing or other such rhetoric that’s become common in today’s social media culture, not only in America but across the globe.  

“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 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. “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.”

Marie remained in Kansas City, teaching in the public schools, retired in 1989 and became deeply involved in community service organizations, returning to Saipan for good 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.”

An undated photo of a young Marie S.C. Castro, which appears on the back cover of her autobiography, “Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After World War II.”  Photo courtesy of Marie S.C. CastroAn undated photo of a young Marie S.C. Castro, which appears on the back cover of her autobiography, “Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After World War II.” Photo courtesy of Marie S.C. Castro
In early February, as the vice president of the memorial committee and the driving force behind the initiative to build the monument, Marie told Saipan Rotarians about her interview in 1983 with Matilde F. Arriola who, she said, met Earhart when she was being held on Saipan following her disappearance in early July 1937.   According to Matilde and many others, Earhart died of dysentery while in Japanese captivity on Saipan “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... [concerning] Amelia Earhart’s fate. On Feb. 2, 2017, I approached Rep. [Donald C.] Barcinas building a Memorial Monument for Amelia Earhart here on Saipan.   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 in the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel.  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, Marie’s personal connection to Matilde F. Arriola and other eyewitnesses, including Joaquina M. Cabrera, who washed Amelia’s laundry and whose account was made famous in Fred Goerner’s 1966 bestseller “The Search For Amelia Earhart,” she is the strongest living link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage, 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. [None of the children spoke English, according to interviews with Fred Goerner and others.]  Matilde was 24 years [old] in 1937.  The political detainee [Amelia Earhart] 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 white 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.

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“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 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?”

“One day Matilde noticed that the lady was ill, pale and used the facility too often that day,” Marie wrote.  “That was the last day she saw her.  The next day the caretaker 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 passed away in 1996, at 83.

Opponents of the Earhart Memorial Monument like to call accounts like Matilde’s and dozens of others from witnesses 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 most revered U.S. leader in the Pacific war; 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, 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 the facts about the Earhart case.

To contribute to the proposed Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan, 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.  All donors will receive a letter of appreciation from the Saipan Memorial Committee.  

Mike Campbell is the author of  “Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.” For more information, go to www.EarhartTruth.com