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FEATURE: Marie Castro reveals previously unpublished Earhart eyewitness accounts

IN the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety, my post about Marie S.C. Castro appeared under the headline, “Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past.”

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From left, Mrs. Amparo Deleon Guerrero Aldan, Marie S.C. Castro and David M. Sablan.  Photo courtesy of Marie S.C. Castro

The story presented Marie’s accounts of her experiences with Matilde Arriola, one of the best known of the Saipan eyewitnesses, introduced by Fred Goerner in his 1966 bestseller, “The Search for Amelia Earhart.”  When I wrote,If Marie is correct that all the Saipan elders who were eyewitnesses to Earhart’s presence are gone...she is the strongest link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage now living, little did I realize the understatement that really was.

Marie, 85, is the prime mover and leading light of the grass-roots movement to erect the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument at the Saipan International Airport.  She is likely the repository of other, still undiscovered witness accounts attesting to the presence and death of Amelia and Fred Noonan on Saipan following their July 2, 1937 disappearance.  I feel truly blessed to be associated with this unique woman, and recently she sent me a photo that seems to capture the human essence of the situation there.

The man in the picture is David M. Sablan,Marie (center) wrote when she sent me this photo in early May 2018.  The woman in red is Mrs. Amparo DLG [Deleon Guerrero] Aldan, my classmate in the 3rd grade in Japanese school before WWII.  Her brother, Pedro Deleon Guerrero and my cousin’s husband Joaquin Seman came to my house one evening to visit in 1945.  The conversation was all about Amelia Earhart. I heard them describing what Amelia wore when they saw her. In our culture, a woman should wear a dress not a man’s outfit.

Marie also confirmed that Mrs. Aldan’s husband, the late Frank Aldan, was related to one of Fred Goerner’s thirteen original witnesses in “Search,” the dentist Dr. Manuel Aldan.

David M. Sablan is a well-known local citizen who founded the Rotary Club of Saipan in 1968, and in 2017 published his autobiography, “A Degree of Success Through Curiosity: True Story of a Young Boy Eager to Learn and Find His Calling in Life.”  According to its description on Amazon.com, the book is his account of living under the Japanese regime before and during WWII on a remote Pacific island, who grew up under hardship but made something positive out of his life.”

Marie’s second-person revelations of Pedro Deleon Guerrero and Joaquin Seman have not been published anywhere before. Pedro Deleon Guerrero’s name was new to me, but he might have been related to Jesús Deleon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, who collaborated with the Japanese police during the war, an enforcer whose job was tokeep the rest of the natives in line and his methods hadn’t been gentle,according to Goerner.  Joaquin Seman was mentioned by Goerner, but Marie’s account cites an entirely different scenario than Goerner’s.

Newly revealed evidence supports Earhart’s cremation

An even more compelling story came just a few days later.  In a May 11 email, Marie ended discussion of a relatively mundane subject, and out of the blue she introduced another previously unpublished piece of the ever-continuing Earhart saga:

I have the photo of Mr. Tomokane,Marie wrote. “He told his wife one day the reason for coming home late. He attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.  Mrs. Tomokane and Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes were neighbors during the Japanese time.  They often visited with one another.  Dolores, daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, heard their conversation about the cremation of an American woman pilot.  These two wives were the only individuals who knew secretly about the cremation of Amelia through Mr. Tomokane.

Had it not been for the daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, who heard the conversation of the two wives,Marie continued,we would have never known about Mr. Tomokane’s interesting day.  And David M. Sablan, after I showed the PP [power point presentation] at my house last month, he got up after the presentation and told the group that he heard about Amelia being cremated according to Mr. Tomokane.”

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Undated photo of Mr. Tomokane, surrounded by family members.  Photo courtesy of Marie Castro

This was all brand new to me, and Tomokane’s name has also never been seen in any Earhart literature, to my knowledge.  One of the true mysteries in the Earhart saga is how Amelia died and how her remains were treated.  Was she shot, as Josephine Blanco and Michiko Sugita were told as children, and Mrs. Nieves Cabrera Blas later told Buddy Brennan in 1983, or did she die of dysentery, as Matilde Arriola, Joaquina Arriola, José Pangelinan and others were told by Japanese officers?  Was she buried or cremated?  A variety of witness evidence supports each contention, but none is conclusive.

I devoted an entire chapter of “Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last” to the compelling accounts of Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks, Marine privates who told Fred Goerner and others that they were ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate skeletal remains outside a native cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944, remains Griswold indicated were those of Amelia Earhart.  Who did the Marines really dig up?  Was it Amelia and Fred, as Griswold told the Marine privates in 1944, or was the captain mistaken about the gravesite?  We may never know for sure.

In answer to several questions about this new revelation, later on May 11, Marie replied that she had wondered why Mr. Tomokane wasn’t questioned by Fred Goerner during his early 1960s visits to Saipan.

Remember that Mr. Tomokane was Japanese himself,Marie wrote.  We don’t know how loyal he was to his Emperor.  I went to his house to talk to him or anyone in the family a few months after I came back from the States in December 2016.  I learned that the only child living today is the youngest son, Mitch Tomokane.  He is suffering from a bad heart problem.

My first question to Mitch,” Marie went on, was, do you know how your father came to Saipan?  Answer: He came from Japan as an agricultural instructor during the Japanese era.  He stayed on Saipan, got married and built his family.  When did he die? He died in 1956 on Saipan.  Another interesting thing was the location of the house today.  The house Mitch is living today is just very close to the Japanese crematory.  The only remains of the crematory is the base of the crematory statue.

So Mr. Tomokane, who may well have been an eyewitness to the cremation of Amelia Earhart, died four years before Goerner arrived on Saipan.  “I was a [Catholic] nun then, here on Saipan,Marie recalled.  “Saipan was still strictly under U.S. Navy control.  I remember from reading his book that he had a problem trying to enter Saipan because it was used by the CIA and the Navy Technical Training Unit.”

Who knows what other little gems Marie is harboring in her still-nimble mind, which might require only slight prodding to pour forth more recollections of the days when many Earhart eyewitnesses were alive and well on Saipan, when it was commonly known and accepted that the great American lady flier had met her untimely end there. 

Amelia Earhart Presentation  on June 12

A special video presentation, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last,” will be held at the American Memorial Park auditorium on June 12 at 7 p.m.  Admission is free and all are invited. 

Please consider making a donation to the planned Amelia Earhart Memorial on Saipan. You can make your tax-deductible check payable to:  Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950.  Everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee, suitable for framing.  Thank you for your generosity.

Mike Campbell is the author of “Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.” His blog is www.EarhartTruth.com.