Tomorrow is the seventy-fourth anniversary of the scheduled end of Amelia Earhart’s around the world flight. July 4th, 1937 she planned to end this amazing accomplishment with her landing at Oakland, California. She disappeared somewhere over the Pacific during the last leg of her flight. Twenty-seven years ago on this July weekend I was on the island of Saipan where I was told a remarkable story concerning the mystery of her disappearance.
While living on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, during my military tour I was the active Army adviser to the famous “Go for Broke”100th Battalion 442nd Regiment US Army Reserve. Then located in Waikiki, I had one of the best jobs in the Army. My wife and young son loved Hawaii and I enjoyed my job. My office window faced the beach and it was difficult at times to concentrate on my military duties. One hundred yards away was one of the most famous beaches in the world with all its distractions. During lunch I jogged along the Ala Wai Canal and returned along that famous beach. Often I would take a quick cooling rinse in the ocean before my shower and return to work.
My duties included visiting all the subordinate reserve units in the Pacific each month. Saipan was home to one of the units I advised and I explored many of the historical sites around the small island each time I visited. Suicide Cliffs, the last Japanese stronghold, and Blood Beach were places I remember well. Those journeys are for later stories.
The Lieutenant that commanded the unit on Saipan knew of my interest in history and escorted me to many of the sites of interest each time I visited. On that particular trip to Saipan he said he had a Japanese prison he wanted to show me. I had seen several sites on earlier visits but didn’t know about a prison there. We took a short drive around the former Japanese airstrip and turned off on a barely noticeable dirt road. It was rarely used and wasn’t much more than a trail. We were met by an older gentleman who had been a child during the Japanese occupation prior to World War II and who had survived throughout the intense fighting there during the invasion by our forces. The story he told was incredible.
A very short drive down the overgrown trail revealed an area devoid of trees and where he pointed out three concrete structures. They were raised concrete platforms about six feet square. Roofs were no longer over them if they had ever had roofs. I could see where iron bars had been embe dded into the platform and formed the iron cages where prisoners were held. The old man then pointed at one cage and said that was where the Japanese had imprisoned Amelia Earhart for a short time. Next to her, he said, was the cage where her navigator was imprisoned. I could only imagine the discomfort that a prisoner must have endured while held captive. I noticed upon entering the small area of the former cages that no sounds from the road penetrated this area. It was totally silent and there was a heaviness in the air that made it difficult to draw a breath. I remembered the lack of bird sounds in Guam, a nearby island, and once again I listened to the heavy silence that enshrouded us. Not only were there no bird sounds, there were no sounds at all. The experience was unnerving. His story was convincing.
We left the small prison and the old man further said that he was told that both the prisoners had been executed by the Japanese for being spies. He took us to the general area where he said the two prisoners, one female and one man, were shot and buried. He wasn’t sure of the exact spot but was sure it was within a hundred meters or so of where we stood. He was convinced that the two were Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. I’ve often wondered if this was the real story behind their fates.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan. Perhaps one day evidence will solve the mystery.