SAIPAN – The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Association on Saturday commemorated the 124th birthday of the most famous female aviator in history. The event was held at the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Museum.
“Today is the birthday of Amelia Earhart,” former nun, retired educator and local author Marie Soledad Camacho Castro said. “She was born in 1897, and this is the fourth year that I’m promoting her story on Saipan because this is where (two pieces of) evidence of her final days were found," she added.
In 1983, she said, she interviewed Matilde F. Arriola who was among the local residents who had personal contact with Earhart on Saipan.
Castro said Arriola lived next door from where Earhart was detained by the Japanese in the years before World War II.
In July 1937, while trying to complete a circumnavigational flight of the globe, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean. Earhart was part of the Purdue University faculty, and in July 1936, she acquired the new Lockheed Electra airplane she called her “Flying Laboratory.” It was purchased with funds from the Purdue Research Foundation, the university stated.
At the time the Northern Marianas was administered by Japan.
Castro said Matilde Arriola told her that every time Earhart would use the restroom that was outside the detention building, she would stop by the house of Arriola whose mother could speak English.
Matilde Arriola also recounted that Earhart once helped a young girl with her homework in geography, Castro said.
“Those are some of the recollections I had from an interview with Matilde. I know the name of Matilde's mother, Josefa. She was from Guam. And Matilde's father was Felipe,” Castro added.
Castro became a nun when she left Saipan and moved to Pohnpei during her younger years. She later came back to Saipan before heading to the U.S. where she was a teacher for 25 years.
One of the guests during Saturday’s event was Sen. Edith Deleon Guerrero who said that the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument is something that she supports.
Earhart’s history, Deleon Guerrero said, is important for the people of the CNMI.
At the museum, the senator saw a picture of an elderly woman who was washing what many believed were Earhart’s clothes.
Castro said the woman washing the clothes was the mother of one of Deleon Guerrero's aunts.
“I remember that old lady,” the senator said. “It warms my heart to see that picture. So that only confirms our connection to Amelia Earhart. I feel that we need to support the (memorial) project,” the senator added.
Eddie Williams, a U.S. merchant marine, also attended the commemoration at the museum.
In 1969, he said, he heard about the story of Earhart on Saipan from his superior, Gunner Kurt Proper.
Williams said Proper believed the pilot died of dysentery on the island.
A significant event
In her remarks, Castro said: “I believe that any unusual or significant event that took place on land, either political or non-political, pleasant or unpleasant, should be recorded in the history of that place. Or do we continue to sit and ignore such a significant event on Saipan?”
Castro said most people on Saipan are not aware of the story of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan.
“Perhaps a few have read stories written about Amelia’s plane that…disappeared,” she added. “But the death and disappearance of Earhart and Noonan were not a mystery — the true evidence is found here on Saipan. Our elders’ accounts of what they had witnessed regarding the two fliers' presence on Saipan were extremely significant and were true accounts.”
Josephine Blanco Akiyama was the first CHamoru woman who saw Earhart and Noonan at Tanapag Harbor, Castro said.
She also noted the visit to Saipan in 1960 of a known San Francisco radio newsman, Fred Goerner, who interviewed 200 CHamorus about Earhart and Noonan.
A few of the witnesses interviewed by Goerner, Castro said, all described seeing an American woman with “short hair and wearing a man’s outfit.”
Castro said she has also personally interviewed individuals who reportedly had close contact with Earhart: “Matilde F. Arriola and her sister, Joaquina M. Cabrera, who had washed Earhart’s clothes. And Jose Sadao Tomokane who attended the cremation of Earhart.”
In 2019, Castro’s group proposed the construction of an Amelia Earhart memorial monument on Saipan.
The CNMI museum area could be a possible site for the monument, she said on Saturday.
Castro is also the author of “Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII,” and “My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy” with Mike Campbell.