Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart” Part I: Was 1984 Orbis retrospective published anywhere?
Nobody realized it then, but from the moment Time magazine ripped Fred Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in 1966 as a book that “barely hangs together,” the sad truth about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s miserable deaths on Saipan in Japanese captivity was thenceforth treated as a forbidden subject by the U.S. corporate media.
By 1984 things were even worse, and speaking of Amelia Earhart and Saipan in the same sentence was reserved for paranoid conspiracy theorists, fringe nuts, like this writer, who were shunned by polite society. The establishment had long circled its wagons around this sacred cow, and still has no intention of admitting a truth that would destroy the grand, well-crafted legacy of Democrat icon Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Until recently I believed that Fred Goerner’s fine 1984 retrospective, “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” had appeared in a British publication called Orbis magazine, and stated so in Truth at Last. But now I find there was no Orbis magazine in 1984. Orbis Publishing Ltd. was a United Kingdom-based publisher of books and partworks (a new term for me). The company was founded in 1970 and changed its name to De Agostini UK Ltd. in 1999.
It was apparently for Orbis that Goerner penned this piece, but I can’t determine where it actually appeared in Britain — or if it appeared at all. I’ve searched online in vain for any British or American magazine, newspaper or periodical and found nothing that remotely resembles this relatively unknown 9,300-word summary of the most important evidence supporting the Marshalls-Saipan truth at the time. I found it in the Goerner Collection files at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, several years ago, and for true Fred Goerner fans and Earhart aficionados, this is a special treat, unavailable to the public anywhere until now.
Following is the first of three parts, virtually unedited from the original, of “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” by Fred Goerner for ORBIS Publishing, England.
“IN SEARCH OF AMELIA EARHART”
by Fred Goerner
Amelia Earhart carefully taxied her Lockheed Electra 10-E twin-engine airliner to the takeoff stand at the Lae, New Guinea 3,000 feet runway. Behind the cockpit in the main cabin was Captain Frederick Noonan. He had secured all loose items and cinched tight the safety belts attached to his navigator’s chair.
It was July 2, 1937. Amelia and Fred had often acknowledged that this would be the most difficult and dangerous part of their well-publicized around-the-world flight.
Their course would take them over an expanse of Pacific Ocean never flown before: 2,556 miles, mostly over open water, bound for tiny Howland Island, a three-quarter by one-half-mile fleck of land just north of the equator where the U.S. Navy, Army Air Corps and Interior Departments had recently scratched out a rudimentary airfield.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard had each provided a plane guard vessel. The Navy’s USS Ontario (AT-13) would be stationed in the open sea at the flight’s midpoint and the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca would anchor near Howland Island. Each would try to assist with communications and both could serve as rescue ships should Earhart and Noonan have to attempt an emergency landing on the ocean.
Perhaps the most dangerous and difficult aspect of the endeavor would be the takeoff. the plane was grossly overloaded with 1050 gallons of 86 octane fuel together with 50 gallons of 100 octane gas to provide extra power to the twin 550 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines for initial lift.
Amelia had practiced such takeoffs at the Lockheed field in Burbank, California, but this was the first time during the world flight she would have to test what she had learned. She remembered all too clearly the nearly disastrous crash they had experienced on the attempted takeoff from Honolulu three months earlier. Carrying only 900 gallons of fuel, the Electra had begun to swerve on the takeoff run. The plane lurched to the left, then the nose began to come right. Amelia had overcorrected by pulling back on the left engine throttle, and “The Flying Laboratory” as she called her plane, careened into a vicious ground-loop, collapsing the landing gear. The Electra had come to a stop in a shower of sparks. Good fortune still followed her and those who flew with her.
Despite the gasoline sprayed along the runway, there was no fire and no one had been injured; however, Captain Harry Manning, one of the two navigators, decided he had risked his life enough in the interests of Amelia Earhart and returned to his sea command, leaving only Fred Noonan to help Amelia find her way around the world.
It was exactly 10 a.m. New Guinea time as the Electra spun into takeoff position. The bright controllable-pitch Hamilton Standard props whirled by the powerful Wasp engines chewed great holes in the air as Amelia checked the rpm’s and magnetos, sending a hurricane blasting back against the vibrating 55-foot wingspan. Satisfied with the performance of both engines, Amelia throttled back. The Guinea Airways mechanics had done a thorough job in making “The Flying Laboratory” as airworthy as possible. A brief test flight with light fuel load the day before had established the quality of their work.
Amelia stared down the runway for a moment. Had they figured everything? She thought so. The air temperature and humidity matched the wind direction and velocity to provide the necessary lift given the weight of the aircraft and the length of runway. She and Fred had unloaded every ounce of personal baggage that could be spared. Even a few pounds could be crucial.
She once again checked the power and fuel mixture settings that had been given her by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson of Lockheed Aircraft. “You must use every foot of the runway you can,” he had said. “Hold it down to the last second. With that load, you must have the airspeed or its all over!”
After the Honolulu crackup, Johnson had repeatedly tutored Amelia in heavy-load takeoffs at the Burbank field, using an Electra similar to hers. At one point the look-alike Electra had wandered off the runway and into a ditch. The weight in that aircraft, however, had been iron bars, not gasoline.
With a smooth, positive motion, Amelia pushed both throttles forward to full open, slipped the brakes, and the Electra began to lumber forward. The roar of the engines claimed the attention of a small band of spectators at the Guinea Airways’ hangars. The group included J.A. Collopy, District Superintendent of Civil Aviation for the Territory Of New Guinea; Harry Balfour, senior radio operator at the Lae Aerodrome; and technicians and pilots of Guinea Airways.
Collopy would later write in his official report to the Civil aviation Board:
“The takeoff was hair-raising as after taking every yard of the 1,000 yard runway from the northwest end of the aerodrome towards the sea, the aircraft had not left the ground 50 yards from the end of the runway. When it did leave it sank away but was by this time over the sea. It continued to sink to about five or six feet above the water and had not climbed to more than 100 feet before it disappeared from sight. It was obvious the aircraft was well handled and pilots of Guinea airways were loud in their praise of the takeoff with such an overload.”
Collopy detailed the amount of gas aboard the Electra, the repairs accomplished at Lae and concluded the report with his own feeling that the weak link in the flight was the lack of expert knowledge of radio on the part of Earhart and Noonan. He deplored the fact that their Morse code sending was very slow and that they both preferred to use voice telephone. “Mr. Noonan told me that he was not a bit anxious about the flight to Howland Island and was quite confident that he would have little difficulty in locating it. I do think that had an expert radio operator been included in the crew the conclusion might have been different.”
A few minutes after the Electra disappeared from the sight of Lae, radio operator Harry Balfour received a long awaited weather forecast for the Earhart flight from the U.S. Navy Fleet Air Base at Pearl Harbor. The message had been routed through American Samoa and Suva, Fiji. As Amelia and Fred would be flying dead reckoning most of the day and night, it was vitally important that they know the wind directions so navigational corrections could be made for drift.
At 10:22 a.m., 11:22 a.m. and 12:22 p.m., Balfour transmitted the information by radiophone on Earhart’s daytime frequency, 6210 kilocycles:
“PARTLY CLOUDY SKIES WITH DANGEROUS RAIN SQUALLS ABOUT 300 MILES EAST OF LAE. SCATTERED HEAVY SHOWERS REST OF ROUTE. WINDS EAST SOUTHEAST ABOUT 25 KNOTS TO ONTARIO. THEN EAST TO NORTHEAST ABOUT 20 KNOTS TO HOWLAND.”
Balfour heard no acknowledgment from Earhart, but assumed she had gotten the message and had simply been too busy to reply. At approximately 3 p.m. Lae time, Amelia’s voice came through Balfour’s receiver, clear and unhurried. The plane was flying at 10,000 feet, but she was going to reduce altitude because of thick banks of cumulus clouds ahead.
Then at 5:20 p.m., she broke through again on 6210 kilocycles to announce they were currently at 7,000 feet and making 150 knots speed. The position reported was latitude 4 degrees 33 minutes South, longitude 159 degrees 06 minutes East, a point about 785 miles out from Lae and almost directly on course. The true ground speed was only about 111 knots, indicating the Electra was indeed bucking the headwinds mentioned in the U.S. Navy weather forecast. Earhart closed the broadcast by stating her next report would be on 3105 kilocycles, her nighttime frequency.
Balfour radioed back that her signal was coming through strong and she should continue to use 6210. Amelia again did not acknowledge, and Balfour heard nothing more.
To 34-year-old U.S. Navy Lt. Horace Blakeslee, the assignment as commanding officer and navigator of USS Ontario (AT-13) was both fascination and frustration. Ontario, a single screw seagoing tug launched in 1912, was the U.S. Navy’s only remaining coal-burning vessel, and serving as a plane guard ship for the Earhart flight stretched her capabilities to the maximum, In fact, Ontario was no longer considered fit for patrol duty and had been delegated the official yacht of the U.S. Navy Governor of American Samoa.
To make the more than 1,200-mile voyage to the mid-point of the projected Earhart flight, remain on plane guard station for as much as two weeks and then return to the U.S. Navy Station at Tutuila, Samoa, Blakeslee fully loaded Ontario’s coal bunkers and piled a reserve supply on her decks.
By the time Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, Blakeslee and his crew had already been steaming up and down a small portion of Earhart’s announced flight path for 10 days. Consumption of coal and water was reaching a critical point.
Blakeslee had no illusions that two-way communication between Earhart and Ontario could be established. The Electra had no low-frequency broadcast capability and the Ontario no high-frequency equipment. The Ontario was to broadcast the letter ‘N’ on 400 kilocycles with the ship’s call letters repeated at the end of each minute. With a low-frequency receiver, Earhart presumably could estimate her distance from Ontario by strength of signal. Her direction finder, restricted to high frequency signals, would be of no use to home on Ontario.
With Earhart’s 5:20 p.m. reported position, the Electra was due over Ontario at approximately 10 p.m. Ontario time. Blakeslee recalls (and is substantiated by Ontario‘s official log) that at 10 p.m. the weather consisted of scattered cumulus clouds moving from the east-northeast and occasional showers. One of the watch officers believed he heard the sound of an approaching aircraft a few minutes after 10 p.m. and the Ontario searchlight swept the sky.
By 1 a.m. the overcast had become complete and heavy rain squalls were buffeting Ontario. Blakeslee radioed for and received permission to return to base. The old ship barely made it, “scraping the bottoms of the coal bunkers.”
At the same time as the men of Ontario believed the Earhart plane to be passing overhead, the radio operator of the Nauru Island station to the north copied Amelia saying, “A ship in sight ahead.”
The 250-foot Coast Guard Cutter USS Itasca steamed slowly by Howland Island, barely keeping way. The radio room was fully manned, and a satellite station ashore on Howland housing a new and highly secret high-frequency radio direction finder was ready for action as well.
The Itasca ‘s Captain, [Cmdr.] Warner Thompson, was not a happy man, however. He and the Coast Guard had the responsibility for assisting the Earhart plane to a safe landing at Howland, but he was now convinced that Itasca was being denied important information where the night was concerned. Try as he would Thompson could not find out exactly what frequencies Earhart was going to use or even the range of her direction finding equipment.
Thompson was also not pleased with a number of persons he felt were looking over his shoulder aboard ship. There was Richard Blackburn Black, the Department of Interior representative who had arranged with the Navy and Army for construction of the Howland airfield and who was billed as Earhart’s personal representative. It was Black who had brought the hush-hush high-frequency direction finder aboard Itasca, and who had wanted to bring along a U.S. Navy radio expert to operate the apparatus. Thompson had flatly refused to use a Navy man on a Coast Guard ship, but under pressure had finally permitted a Navy radioman second class named Frank Cipriani to be trained in Hawaii in the use of the equipment.
Also aboard were several U.S. army and U.S. Army Air Corps representatives along with the reporters from Associated Press and United Press. They all had their own interests and needs, none of which, Thompson felt, aided in the task of guiding the Earhart plane to a safe landfall.
The Itasca radio room was crowded by midnight. The wire service correspondents jockeyed for position with the Army men. Coast Guard radiomen William Galten and Thomas O’Hare along with Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts hovered over the transmitters and receivers.
It was a long wait. Earhart’s voice did not break through the static on 3105 kilocycles until 0245, and then all that could be clearly understood was “CLOUDY WEATHER . . . CLOUDY” an hour later at 0345, her voice was heard again saying “ITASCA FROM EARHART. ITASCA BROADCAST ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR AND HALF-HOUR — REPEAT-BROADCAST ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR AND HALF-HOUR. . . . OVERCAST”.
The Itasca operators transmitted on 3105 asking Earhart to send on 500 kilocycles so the ship’s low frequency direction finder could get a fix on her. Obviously no one on Itasca knew that Earhart did not have the equipment to broadcast on 500 kilocycles.
Another long wait, and then at 0453 Amelia’s voice was recognized again but the signals were unreadable. The first real sense of worry began to permeate the radio room. At 0512, Earhart’s voice again. This time much clearer: “WANT BEARINGS ON 3105 KILOCYCLES ON HOUR. WILL WHISTLE IN MICROPHONE.”
The only high-frequency direction finder available that could take a bearing on 3105 kilocycles was the Navy set ashore on Howland, and there the Coast Guard operator Cipriani was in a sweat. Earhart wasn’t staying on the air long enough for him to get a fix. The whistling into the mike helped, but it was too short as well. Another important factor was also disturbing Cipriani. The wet-cell batteries that powered the direction finder were beginning to run down. He could only pray that they would last long enough to give Earhart a proper heading.
Amelia broke in again three minutes later at 0515, this time only saying “ABOUT 200 MILES OUT.” Again she whistled briefly into her microphone. Another half-hour dragged by, and then again Earhart’s voice, this time with a note of pleading. “PLEASE TAKE A BEARING ON US AND REPORT IN HALF-HOUR. I WILL MAKE NOISE IN MICROPHONE. ABOUT 100 MILES OUT.” Still more whistling. On Howland, Cipriani made a note on his log: “Her carrier is completely modulated. I cannot get a bearing.”
Nothing further from Earhart until 0730. Her voice was becoming heavy with concern. “WE MUST BE ON YOU BUT CANNOT SEE YOU BUT GAS IS RUNNING LOW. HAVE BEEN UNABLE TO REACH YOU BY RADIO. WE ARE FLYING AT 1,000 FEET.”
The atmosphere in the Itasca radio room was heavy with alarm. The operators redoubled their efforts, still pleading with Amelia to transmit on 500 kilocycles.
At 0757, still on 3105 kilocycles, Amelia’s voice filled the radio room at the clearest level yet. “WE ARE CIRCLING BUT CANNOT SEE ISLAND. CANNOT HEAR YOU. GO AHEAD ON 7500 KILOCYCLES ON LONG COUNT EITHER NOW OR ON SCHEDULE TIME OF HALF-HOUR”
The Itasca operators looked at each other in amazement. Now Earhart was trying to use her own direction finder, but none of them had any idea it ranged to 7500 kilocycles. Quickly the Itasca transmitter began to pour forth a stream of letter “A’s” on the suggested frequency.
Almost immediately, at 0803, Amelia replied, “WE RECEIVED YOUR SIGNALS BUT UNABLE TO GET MINIMUM. PLEASE TAKE BEARING ON US AND ANSWER ON 3105 KILOCYCLES.” This time she made long dashes by depressing the microphone button, but still the Howland direction finder could not get a bearing. Cipriani shook his head in desperation. The batteries were almost completely discharged.
Forty miserable minutes dragged by in the Itasca radio room. Frustration etched every face. as one of the operators would later say, “It was like not being able to reach a friend who was falling over a cliff.”
At 0843, an Earhart voice that some would later call frantic blurted, “WE ARE ON THE LINE OF POSITION 157 DASH 337. WILL REPEAT THIS MESSAGE ON 6210 KILOCYCLES. WE ARE NOW RUNNING NORTH AND SOUTH.”
Amelia was switching to her daytime frequency. Itasca‘s operators immediately monitored 6210 kilocycles but were greeted with nothing but static. An hour wore by. Still nothing. Some of the men went on deck and gazed up at the morning sky, hoping a miracle would bring Earhart and Noonan into sight. The horizon was empty save a weather front of cumulus clouds many miles to the northwest.
Warner Thompson, Itasca‘s captain, waited until 10:30 a.m., then radioed Honolulu that the Earhart plane was probably down at sea and he was going to begin a search operation.
Search, indeed. But where? What did “157-337” mean? It probably was a sun line that Noonan had been able to shoot just before Earhart’s last radio transmission. But a sun line was no good without a reference point. The plane could be anywhere along 2,000 miles of that sun line. On a compass reciprocal “157-337” could represent a southeast to northwest line through
Howland Island itself. Thompson reasoned that the weather front to the northwest might have prevented Earhart and Noonan from seeing Howland, so he would search that area first.
The disappearance took every headline in America along with most of the rest of the world. George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s husband who was waiting in Oakland, Calif., was stunned, but he believed in his wife’s resourcefulness and he believed in her luck.
Noonan’s wife, Mary Bea (Martinelli), told the press she was confident her Fred and Amelia would be rescued. She had married Fred Noonan just three weeks before the around-the-world flight began.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had made the arrangements for U.S. Government cooperation with the flight, immediately ordered the American battleship USS Colorado which was on a summer reserve training cruise near the Hawaiian Islands to proceed at top speed to the Howland Island area to assist with the search. Colorado carried three catapult observation planes that could cover wide areas of ocean.
Amelia’s had been literally a flight into yesterday. Because of the International Date Line, she and Fred Noonan had taken off from Lae, New Guinea, at 10 a.m. July 2, and the had vanished sometime after 8:43 a.m., July 2, Howland Island time.
On the evening of July 3, 1937, President Roosevelt, after consultation with the Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Adm. William D. Leahy, ordered the Navy aircraft carrier USS Lexington and three U.S. Navy destroyers to proceed from the west coast of the United States to the vicinity of Howland Island to augment the search. (End of Part I of Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart.”)
Even casual observers of the Earhart saga are familiar with the statement allegedly made by Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, then retired but still bound by classified information laws, to Fred Goerner in late March 1965, just before the radio newsman left San Francisco to interview Marine Commandant Gen. Wallace M. Greene at his Pentagon headquarters in Arlington, Va. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him.
Only the most cynical accused Goerner of fabricating Nimitz’s statement, while some ignored it completely, but we’ve had only Goerner’s word that Nimitz shared this blockbuster secret with him. However, another iconic World War II hero, Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1944 to 1947, actually put a similar statement in writing — not once, but in two letters he wrote in response to the indefatigable Goerner, still hot on the Earhart case.
These letters, first reported in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, are reproduced here for the first time. Vandegrift’s first letter, of May 10, 1971, was typed in all upper case, while his second, of Aug. 10 1971, was handwritten, but otherwise they are unedited. I do not have Goerner’s initial letter to Vandegrift, which prompted his response.
10 May 1971
Frederick Allan Goerner
Twenty-Four Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California 94118
My Dear Mr. Goerner,
In reply to your letter of 6 April, relative to the rumors in reference to the way Miss Earhart met her death, I’m sorry I can’t help you in any way.
I heard the rumor during the South Pacific campaign, particularly the one in Saipan, but when I tried to investigate I found nothing to substantiate the charges made. I have no doubt that Miss Earhart met her death in that area because that has been substantiated. But how and why I have no information. I’m sorry that I can’t be of more help.
General USMC (Ret.)
9 June 1971
General, USMC (Ret.)
720 ELDORADO Lane
DELRAY BEACH, Florida 33444
Dear General Vandegrift
I was most grateful to receive your recent communication containing response to my questions concerning the fate of Miss Amelia Earhart.
As I wish to quote from your comments, I want to make absolutely sure that the implications of those comments is clearly defined and no false conclusions are reached.
You mentioned that you had received information which alleged that Miss Earhart had been on Saipan, and you added, “I have no doubt Miss Earhart met her death in that area because that has been substantiated. But how and why I have no information.”
Did you mean that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart had been on Saipan and had died on Saipan, but it was not determined how and why she died?
If that is the correct interpretation, it would be most helpful to know how it was substantiated that Miss Earhart had been on Saipan and had met her death there. Were her remains recovered or was documentation to that fact uncovered?
I thank you very much for your gracious attention to this letter. I shall look forward to your comments with tremendous interest.
With respect and admiration, I am,
Frederick Allan Goerner
24 Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, California
P.S. For your convenience, I am enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
720 Eldorado Lane
Delray Beach, Florida
10 August 1971
24 Presidio Terrace
San Francisco, Calif.
Dear Mr. Goerner:
Please pardon my delay in answering your letter of June. In the meantime, I have been in the hospital and have not felt too well since my return.
In writing to you, I did not realize that you wanted to quote my remarks about Miss Earhart and I would rather that you would not.
General Tommy Watson, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the assault on Saipan and stayed on that island after the fall of Okinawa, on one of my seven visits of inspection of his division told me that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan. That is the total knowledge that I have of this incident.
Having known General Watson many years, I naturally accept this information as being correct. General Watson I’m sorry to say, died some years ago and therefore cannot be contacted.
I am sorry if my remarks misled you but I cannot add anything more to this report.
General, USMC (Ret.)
Vandegrift’s Aug. 10, 1971 letter was written in longhand by an unknown party, possibly his second wife, Kathryn Henson Vandegrift, who was still alive at the time. The general must have been ill at the time, as his signature was shaky and bore no resemblance to the rest of the document; he died two years later. Like Nimitz and Gen. Graves Erskine, two other major flag officers who revealed the truth to Goerner in clandestine ways, the general must have wanted to encourage Goerner, though he was still sworn to silence in the top-secret case.
Vandegrift’s claimed source for his information, former Lt. Gen. Thomas E. “Terrible Tommy” Watson, died in 1966, and this could be why Vandegrift shared the truth with Goerner as he did. The letter could be technically considered hearsay, and he probably assumed it would afford him a level of protection against any ramifications if his disclosure became known.
With a distinguished career that culminated in his selection as the Marine Corps’ first four-star general, who could possibly question Vandegrift’s credibility? He was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his actions at Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands in 1942, honors that conferred upon its bearer the gravest moral responsibilities. Undeniably, in that bygone era, long before the modern-day corruption that has stained even our esteemed Marine Corps, the word of a Medal of Honor recipient who also led the world’s greatest fighting force was as good as gold. Moreover, Vandegrift had nothing tangible to gain from telling Goerner the truth, and he had no self-interested reason to do so.
Vandegrift’s claim that his “total knowledge” about Earhart’s death on Saipan was limited to the brief statement he attributed to Watson could not have been true. A three-star general in July 1944, Vandegrift had been commandant of the Marine Corps since Jan. 1 of that year. Watson, as commander of the 2nd Marine Division on Saipan—wherein Lt. Col. Wallace E. Greene performed as operations officer—was at the tip of the spear in the top-secret operation to destroy the Electra, charged with its successful execution by a chain of command that included Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal and beyond to the commander-in-chief.
In the highly unlikely event that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s orders to destroy the Electra had not passed through Vandegrift, he would have been fully briefed by Watson about the operation immediately upon their next meeting, if not sooner. Goerner’s reply to Vandegrift’s August 1971 contained two pointed questions:
●Did General Watson communicate to you HOW it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart had met her death on Saipan?
●Did General Watson indicate whether or not the human remains of Miss Earhart or her navigator had been recovered?7
Goerner’s query was returned undated, with “No” handwritten after each question, signed again by Vandegrift in a trembling hand. Goerner’s file on Vandegrift ends with a brief November 1971 note to Goerner, thanking him for sending a copy of The Search for Amelia Earhart, wishing him “every success in the publication and sale of this book,” and promising to have it read to him as soon as he returned from the hospital. Vandegrift died on May 8, 1973.
In late 1970, Mrs. Michiko Sugita told the Japan Times that Japanese military police shot Amelia Earhart as a spy on Saipan in 1937. The story, headlined “Japanese Woman Says Police Executed Amelia on Saipan,” was released by the Tokyo office of United Press International on November 12:
Sugita’s account is the only known witness report from a Japanese national that directly corroborates Earhart’s presence on Saipan in 1937. Thomas E. Devine eventually obtained Sugita’s address from the director of Asian services for the Tokyo bureau of UPI, and they shared a friendly but brief correspondence that ended suddenly and without explanation. In an Aug. 12, 1971 letter, Sugita described her childhood in the Caroline Islands where her father was chief of police, and on Saipan when he was promoted to district chief.
Sugita recalled that she was made aware of Earhart on Saipan at “the time of the China Incident: the Pacific War had yet to be declared,” which was early to mid-July 1937, correlating perfectly with the date of Earhart’s disappearance. Because Mrs. Ann Devine destroyed the entire collection of Devine’s papers only days after his death in 2003, I have only a copy of Sugita’s original letter to Devine, translated from Japanese. First published in Devine’s 1987 book, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, following is Sugita’s letter, slightly edited for clarity. My copy has no salutation, and begins thusly:
I hasten to inform you that I received your letter with a great deal of surprise. How did you ever succeed in obtaining my address? I wonder. It must have taken you lots of patience to have been in search for it as long as ten months.
My Personal History and the Circumstances Surrounding the Amelia Incident
I was born in Tokyo and at the age of two moved to Ponape Island. My father [Mikio Suzuki] was then transferred to the island to serve as Police Chief. Later we moved from Ponape to Yaluta and finally settled at Saipan. I spent the next 12 years or so (including the time spent in the U.S. Military compound) on the Saipan Island. Since you indicated your desire to find out the details of the story of Amelia, I will relate the following account to you.
It was still the time of the China Incident: the Pacific War had yet to be declared. [Editor’s note: Sugita was undoubtedly referring to the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, July 7 to July 9, 1937, which is often used as the marker for the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.] During that period we invited to our home some members of MPs for a sake party, and it was on this occasion when I heard their conversation on this topic. From what I heard, Amelia’s plane was forced to land due to some mechanical failure on her way to the Truk Island, and she was arrested then.
She was suspected of and charged with spy activities in the region and sent to Saipan where her execution took place. Meanwhile U.S. Navy was engaged in search for her and her plane. I recall seeing some U.S. Naval ships in the far distance with the aid of binoculars. This incident was kept a secret within the Police Department and the high officials of both Navy and Army. At the time there was a great deal of influx of soldiers into Saipan to prepare for the out coming war. My father was quite busy all the time and often out of the house. For the nature of my father’s occupation we knew a number of officers and MPs, and many of them had opportunities to visit our home for parties . . . etc.
On one of these occasions MPs were saying, “Amelia was so beautiful and fine a person that she did not deserve the execution.” Yet I was told by my father not to mention any part of the conversation outside the family so that until now I had never told this to anyone. The fate and place of her execution was never made clear to me even by my father. I recall my father’s words: “Since she came here to carry on her duties as spy, it cannot be helped that she be executed. But on the contrary the Geneva Convention rules against the killing of P.O.W. under any circumstances, which makes it hard to understand the course of action taken by the Military.”
I was young then (enrolled in Saipan Public High School for girls) and used to chat with my sister about Amelia — that she must have been an incredible character to fly all the way from America. The sister herself took her life in 1944 when Saipan was taken by the Americans.
Starting in October of 1944 I was engaged in hospital work for two years at U.S. General Hospital No. 148.
I understand that you were a sergeant stationed at Aslito Airfield, and you must know how difficult it was for us to live in the military compound as prisoners. On that airfield, we, the girls, used to work almost every day, picking up rocks and grass and leveling the ground for the sake of country — or was it for the United States? It’s just part of my memory now.
My reply to your questions numbered 1 and 2 in your letter.
It was speculated here last spring that Amelia had lived in the court of the Royal Family and that she was released in return for the favor of having the Emperor not guilty of any war crimes. As I inquired further into this matter, it was discovered that the person named Amelia, who said to be living in the U.S., was an imposter. [Editor’s note: Because of the approximate date of this letter, circa 1970, Sugita could only have been referring to the Irene Bolam fiasco.]
Some German journalist visited me to borrow the photograph related to this matter and carelessly misplaced it. It then took almost 40 days to get it back to me. This photo [of Sugita?] is as precious as our family treasure, and I can only send you a copy of it upon receipt of the payment.
And please let me know what your occupation is.
My father was “poisoned to death” at the U.S. Public (General?) Hospital on October 10, 1944 when the U.S. took over Saipan. This was perhaps because he had served in the Police Department.
The above is to the best of my knowledge what happened surrounding the incident of Amelia. I do hope to hear from you further upon this matter.
P.S. It was difficult and too a while to have your letter translated in Japanese. Please pardon the delay in my reply. It would be helpful if you could write in Japanese next time.
Post Scriptum No. 2.
I shall add here parts I’ve failed to include in my letter.
In response to your question whether I attended the Second National Nippon School: by the time I was graduated from primary school, the war was not in progress and the school in which I was enrolled was simply called GARAPAN-PONTAM Primary School. I spent six years there and then proceeded to attend Saipan High School for girls from which I graduated in March of 1944. At that time the war was well into the last stage.
Another thing to jot down. I am in possession of a few photos of myself which were taken during this period. Also kept are the picture of my family and that of my father in uniform photographed along with the members of the Police Dept. All these were given to me by friends and, needless to say, are my treasure. I have only once corresponded with you and am not sure if I should (let you use them). As I explained to you the case of a German journalist, carelessness has caused a great deal of anxiety on my part. Should you wish to use them, however, it would be possible for me to send you a copy of each photo. Please let me hear from you on this in your next letter.
By the way the postage on the last letter was short by about 20 cents.
This has certainly become a long letter.
Take care and goodbye,
Michiko Sugita’s letters to Devine ceased sometime in the mid-1970s, and Devine’s were returned with the notation, “No such person, unknown.” Devine asked UPI in Tokyo to help locate Sugita, but received no response; a few researchers have also tried to locate her without success. It appears that the Japanese government may have reached out to silence and “disappear” a voice of truth from 1937 Saipan—a singular, courageous woman whose fortitude in the face of her nation’s denials should never be forgotten.
Joe Klaas, who passed away earlier this year, is best known for his authorship of the notorious Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery, the 1970 book that introduced Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart and forever cast a shadow on the credibility of all Earhart research, further driving the truth into the tiny corner it now inhabits, largely ignored, if not ridiculed by the mainstream media, entrenched in its longtime refusal to acknowledge the truth in the Earhart disappearance.
But Klaas didn’t create the Irene Bolam travesty. His fellow Air Force officer and friend, Joe Gervais, wove the Bolam fiction out of whole cloth and his Earhart-addled imagination. Klaas, the author of 11 other books, served mainly as Gervais’ personal stenographer during the creation of Amelia Earhart Lives, though he might have questioned Gervais’ absurd Bolam claim a bit more assiduously before he wrote a book and exposed himself to ridicule from nearly every corner of the Earhart research community, as well as much of the reading public.
None of that is relevant to the following essay, however, written by Klaas in 2001 and posted on the website of the Amelia Earhart Society. In “Next Stop Kwajalein,” Klaas takes the available eyewitness and witness testimony and crafts a plausible version of the events surrounding the delivery of Amelia and Fred Noonan by the Japanese, from stops at Jaluit and Kwajalein, to their final destination at Saipan.
Several aspects of the scenarios laid out by Klaas, such his belief, based on statements made by Mrs. Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, that Amelia was allowed to broadcast by captors or that the fliers may have been taken to Japan, are clearly false or highly doubtful, and are not endorsed by this writer, but have not been edited out of Klaas’ narrative, which I present for your entertainment and discernment.
“Next Stop Kwajalein” by Joe Klaas with Joe Gervais
Four years prior to the three weeks of media frenzy triggered by the 1970 suggestion in Amelia Earhart Lives that the supposedly dead flying heroine might be alive in New Jersey, Fred Goerner, whose The Search for Amelia Earhart deduced she had died of dysentery or was executed on Saipan, wrote to her sister, Muriel Morrissey, in West Medford, Massachusetts.
“I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years,” Goerner told Earhart’s sibling on Aug. 31, 1966. “He said, ‘It (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.’ The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that his knowledge was documented in Washington. He also said several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.”
What “strong reasons for not wanting the information made public” short of their being assassinated by our own government would motivate the endless cover-up of the fact that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were still alive after July 2,1937?
“Even when we investigators join together in The Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, and The [Yahoo!] Earhart Group on the internet, those who’ve been out here spend so much energy picking each other’s evidence apart,” I said to Joe Gervais aboard a 95-foot boat anchored off a bomb-dented concrete relic of a seaplane ramp in Imiej harbor at Jaluit, “we look only at how one another’s interviews with islanders don’t agree.”
It was Joe’s seventeenth trip to Pacific islands in search of Amelia Earhart. Ten of us aboard the 1997 AES expedition led by Bill Prymak disagreed 10 different ways.
“To hell with the differences!” I complained. “Why don’t we focus on only those details which match?”
I told Joe that when we got home I would follow five decades of conflicting interviews from dot-to-dot to determine only the ways they agree on Amelia Earhart’s after death journey from across the 1937 pre-war Pacific until now.
“To hell with inconsistencies that lead nowhere!” I griped. “Let’s see only where we all match will take us.”
1937 residents of Jaluit and Majuro atolls said they heard the white woman pilot named “Meel-ya” and her flying companion with knee and head injuries were taken by Japanese ship to Saipan in the Mariana Islands where the Emperor’s South Sea Islands military governor was in command. Others said they took her first to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan.
“After I treated the man’s knee with paraply,” Bilimon Amaron told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak, “I overheard Japanese nearby say the ship was going to leave Jaluit to go to Kwajalein. I remembered that because I had relatives on Kwajalein. From there it would maybe go to Truk and on to Saipan.”
Majuro Attorney John Heine, who clearly remembered seeing the flyers in custody at Jaluit after their prematurely reported deaths, also believed that “after the ship left Jaluit, it went to Kwajalein, then on to Truk and Saipan.” From there, according to what he was told by his missionary parents, whom the Japanese at Jaluit later beheaded as spies, “he thought the ship would later go to Japan.”
Heine told Joe and Bill a simultaneous event at his school enabled him to place the crash and departure for Kwajalein in “the middle of July 1937.”
Marshall Islanders Tomaki Mayazo and Lotan Jack told Fred Goerner in the 60s that the woman flyer and her companion “were taken to Kwajalein on their way to Saipan.” In The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner reported that four Likiep Island residents of Kwajalein, Edward and Bonjo Capelli, and two men known only as Jajock and Biki told Navy Chief Petty Officer J.F. Kelleher, stationed on Kwajalein in 1946, that a man and a woman who crashed a plane in the Marshalls “were brought to Kwajalein.”
Ted Burris, a 1965 government employee on Kwajalein, volunteered as neighborhood commissioner for the Aloha Council, Boy Scouts of America. He set out to establish Scouting three islands-north of Kwajalein on Ebeye [Island]. In January 1997 he informed members of the AES that while waiting for a boat back to his workplace one night his interpreter, Onisimum Cappelle, introduced him to an old man who had met two Americans there “five years before the war” even though “the Japanese had closed the Marshall Islands to foreigners in the late ’20s.”
The war reached the Marshalls in 1942, so “five years before” meant 1937, when Earhart and Noonan vanished.
“How did you meet the Americans before the war?” Burris asked the old man.
“Well, I didn’t exactly meet them,” he said. “But I did bring them in.”
“Bring them in? I don’t understand. What happened?”
“A plane landed on the water,” he said. “A big plane.”
“Come. I show you.”
They walked to the south end of the perimeter road where there were two A-frame houses with a line of coconut trees.
“You see those trees?” the old man asked. “The plane was exactly in line with them.”
“How far out?”
“About a hundred yards from the land.”
“What happened then?”
“Two people got out. A man and a woman. The Captain made me take my boat out and pick them up. I didn’t talk to them.”
“The boss. The Japanese officer. The Captain took them away. I never saw them again. He said they were spies.”
Arrival of the boat to take Burris to nearby Kwajalein ended the conversation.
All who heard the story, including Burris, jumped to the conclusion that the plane was Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E, not a very “big plane” in comparison to Japanese flying boats that occasionally landed there. They assumed that was where she had actually crashed.
But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there. Aircraft with landing gear are seldom said to have “landed on the water.” They would normally have been said to have “crashed into the water” or “ditched in the water.” Not that they had “landed on the water.”
One simple question, “Did the plane land or crash?” might have cleared that up, but apparently assumption overcame curiosity, and that question was never asked.
Jaluit and Kwajalein had something in common. In 1936 a concrete seaplane ramp was built at Kwajalein in addition to its already existing airstrip for land planes. Land planes and seaplanes used two different Kwajalein facilities.
A year later in 1937 at Saipan, a concrete seaplane ramp was under construction to augment an air strip already used only by land planes. Had a flying boat ever before made a water landing at Saipan? It’s a good question.
Isn’t it more likely that, unbeknown to the Marshallese at Jaluit, instead of taking Earhart and Noonan to Kwajalein aboard ship on the Koshu, they changed plans and flew them there in a flying boat which would match the old man’s memory of “a big plane” which “landed on the water”?
To understand what an eyewitness meant, might it not be a good idea to take what they said literally? Going a step further, would it not be possible that natives of Saipan, who might only have previously seen planes touch down on their one airstrip, might mistakenly think a flying boat landing in Garapan Harbor was a land plane crashing into water off-shore?
How would the Japanese Captain be able to tell the old man “they were spies” if they hadn’t arrived from Jaluit already accused of espionage?
“None of this registered with me in particular until a couple of years later when I had moved to another assignment on Roi Namur (also in the Kwajalein group),” Burris said. “The Island Manager there was Frank Serafini. I mentioned the story the old man had told me.”
“Let me tell you a few things.” Frank went to his desk and took out a letter from a Navy Commander, whose name Burris couldn’t remember after thirty years. “He was with Navy Intelligence during the war, and was attached to the 4th Marines when they invaded Roi-Namur. He went in with the first wave on Roi. His specific task was to look for evidence that Amelia Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan, had been there!”
“Why here?” Burris asked.
“Because Roi had the only airfield on the atoll at that time,” Frank said. “If the Japs were going to take them anyplace from Kwajalein Atoll, they had to come through here!”
“Did he find anything?”
“Here, read this letter.” He pointed to a place on its second page: “I was rummaging through a pile of debris in a corner of the burned-out main hanger,” the writer said, when I came across a blue leatherette map case. It was empty. But it had the letters AE embossed on it in gold. They were here all right!”
“What did the Commander do with the map case?” Burris asked.
“He said he turned it over to Naval Intelligence. He doesn’t know what happened to it after that.”
“Does anybody know about this?” asked Burris. “Why would they keep such a thing secret?”
“Because even now the Navy doesn’t want to admit they had anything to do with spying against the Japanese before the war.”
When Burris heard about a plane with two American spies aboard landing 100-yards off-shore at Kwajalein, he naturally assumed it was Earhart’s land plane.
But couldn’t a twin-engine Japanese seaplane have “landed in the water” at Kwajalein, from which they were then flown to Saipan where the Japanese pilot landed alongside the beach?
As reported in both Goerner’s book and mine, Josephine Akiyama watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water at Saipan and “saw the American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her . . . led away by the Japanese soldiers.”
At first, those who heard her story assumed it was Amelia Earhart’s plane.
All of us who heard eyewitness reports from Kwajalein or Saipan made the same mistake. We all wanted so hard to find the Earhart plane, we assumed any aircraft that came down with her aboard was hers. At both Saipan and Kwajalein we were wrong. She and Noonan were aboard all right in both places, not as pilot and navigator, but as captured spies!
Wouldn’t it be more logical to deduce from eyewitness reports that Earhart and Noonan were flown from Kwajalein Atoll in a seaplane which made no attempt to land on Saipan’s completed airstrip, but instead “belly landed” along a beach in Garapan Harbor?
“None of it can be true!” objected a radio engineer at a 1998 gathering in Aspen, Colorado. “Those islanders made it all up!”
“What makes you think that?” I gasped.
“Because it’s all predicated from the start on her originally ditching into the water at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937 and then sending out a bunch of so-called radio signals for three days. That could never have happened.”
“Because if she went down in the water, she couldn’t have broadcast at all. Her transmitter was incapable of broadcasting from the water.”
No one thought to ask a radio engineer how he would have made a radio work if he crashed in the water off a strange island in the middle of the Pacific. In such a matter of life and death, wouldn’t a radio engineer figure out some way to make a transmitter broadcast from a downed airplane still afloat in salt water?
Absolutely impossible! Without a bigger source of power than the battery aboard that Lockheed 10E aircraft, I was assured by three other experts I consulted, there was no way it could happen! Without the extra power provided by the engines operating, she could not have broadcast from in the water!
And yet the messages existed, logged by professional radio operators all across the Pacific so they can be read to this day. AES President Bill Prymak sent me a copy of actual loggings of her radio calls for help. Remember, she was supposed to have died the morning of July 2,1937. (Editor’s note: For a lengthy discussion of the alleged “post-loss messages,” please see Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Chapter III, “The Search and the Radio Signals.”)
Here were 30 distress call broadcasts recorded on paper as actually heard by experienced operators at twelve different radio stations from one side of the Pacific to the other. . . . Beginning on July 3, 1937, 12 experienced operators at official radio stations thousands of miles apart across the vast Pacific heard and logged 30 distress messages they identified as Earhart’s for three days after she supposedly crashed and drowned on July 2, 1937.
Since these 30 distress signals were obviously heard as logged by 12 of the most highly trained and experienced radio operators across the Pacific, how could she have sent them if her radio transmitter could not possibly operate from her plane sitting in the water at Mili Atoll?
Could Amelia Earhart’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart, give us a simple clue as to how her daughter managed to transmit these “impossible” broadcasts? Was Mother Earhart, from sources of information peculiarly available to her, in possession of knowledge withheld from the public that would explain how her daughter was able to send all these messages for help?
“I know she was permitted to broadcast to Washington from the Marshalls,” Amelia’s mother told the Los Angeles Times on July 25, 1949, and then does she give us the answer? . . . “because the officials on the island where she was taken — I can’t remember the name of it — believed she was merely a trans-ocean flier in distress. But Tokyo had a different opinion of her significance in the area. She was taken to Japan.”
Is it not rather clear from Mother Earhart’s inside information that Amelia Earhart was rescued as a celebrity by the Japanese on Mili Atoll? Wouldn’t the Japanese on that island permit the famous American flyers to use their island transmitter to call for help for three days?
Isn’t it obvious that if it were impossible for her to transmit messages from the water, she must have done so from the land? And wasn’t a Japanese transmitter the only way that could have been done? And wouldn’t the messages suddenly stop when Tokyo ordered the Mili Atoll Japanese outpost, through channels, to quit sending her distress broadcasts and arrest Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan for espionage?
“I am certain that Amelia’s voice was recognized in the radio broadcast from the Marshalls to the capitol,” Earhart’s mother told The Los Angeles Times and later repeated in a letter to Earhart’s flying instructor, Neta Snook.
“I have kept quiet through the years, but certainly this could hurt no one now.”
“That’s quite a stretch,” Joe Gervais said in awe when I explained how all of us had mistaken Japanese planes for hers, and seaplanes landing on the water for her land plane crashing at sea. It may seem a stretch to those who want to believe Earhart and Noonan drowned at sea near Howland Island on July 2,1937.
“All Earhart hunters have been so busy challenging differences in eyewitness reports each of us gathered,” I sighed, “we became blind to all the many points we agree on, where the truth may finally be found.” “Well,” Joe exhaled slowly. “If we’re gonna quit sneering at one another’s versions of what happened, and connect dot-to-dot to what’ll crack one of the biggest cover-ups in American history, we’d best not be afraid to stretch!”
Next stop for prisoners Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was by land plane or flying boat to Saipan, it makes small difference which. There on Saipan, more witnesses than were talked to on all other islands combined remembered seeing them alive.
They were in custody as spies!
(End of “Next Stop Kwajalein.”)
Two years before Klaas and Gervais collaborated on “Next Stop Kwajalein,” Klaas advanced a scenario that differed from the seaplane-landing-on-Saipan situation they proposed in 2001. In a 1999 e-mail to Rollin Reineck, Bill Prymak and others, Klaas reviewed the Ted Burris account and insisted it wasn’t a seaplane that landed in Tanapag Harbor:
This incident has too long been thought to be a false report that Earhart’s Lockheed 10E crashed off Kwajalein. But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there or ditched there. Planes with landing gear don’t land “on the water.” What “landed” Earhart and Noonan “on the water” off Kwajalein was obviously a seaplane from Jaluit. . . . Nobody ever said there was a crash at Kwajalein.
Earhart and Noonan were then flown by land plane from Kwajalein to Saipan, where its pilot got into trouble. [Italics mine.] Josephine Akiyama, the very first witness in the Earhart mystery, watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water along a beach. She “saw the American woman who looked like a man, and the tall man with her, led away by the Japanese soldiers.”
We must never assume every twin-engined aircraft in the Pacific had to be the Earhart Plane to be significant. We don’t need Darwin to find the missing link from Howland to Mili to Kwajalein to Saipan. Keep it simple and follow facts in sequence to the truth. Above all, let’s start believing our witnesses. Why would they lie?
I asked Klaas if he could explain his differing visions of Earhart’s arrival at Saipan, suggesting that a land-based aircraft might indeed be most likely in the Tanapag Harbor-landing scenario. “Very well could be,” Klaas told me in a September 2007 email.
“However, I do believe it was a seaplane that landed in the water at Kwajalein, according to the man who picked her up there and rowed her ashore. There was a landing field there at that time. A lot of people jumped to the conclusion that she had crashed into the water there, according to witnesses. However that was only because the native who picked her up said the plane had landed in the water, obviously flown there from Majuro. She could very well have been transferred to a land plane there [at Kwajalein] after that and have been flown in it on to Saipan, where a lot of us at first mistook as she and Noonan crashing on the beach in her own plane. It was obviously a Japanese aircraft, however.”
So despite the many witnesses who reported that they saw a woman flier who could only have been Amelia Earhart in the Marshalls and later on Saipan, how she reached Saipan from Kwajalein is a major question that lingers. Was it a land plane or a seaplane that took the doomed fliers to their final destination?
Henry “Harry” Evans Maude, an anthropologist and British Colonial Service officer, is well known to many with even a passing knowledge of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. In October 1937, Maude visited Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, and other islands in the Phoenix Group with associate Eric Bevington, and saw nothing related to Earhart, Noonan or Electra NR 16020 only 100 days after their loss. Maude and Bevington’s non-findings have always flown directly in the face of the phony claims of Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR, as we all know.
Maude, whose 1968 book, Of Islands and Men: Studies in Pacific History recounts his three visits to Gardner between 1937 and 1939, and several others in subsequent years, wrote to Gillespie in 1990 to express his wonder at all the Earhart-at-Nikumaroro noise Gillespie was making in the international media. In his letter, below, Maude respectfully questioned Gillespie’s theory that the fliers must have died of starvation or dehydration shortly after crash-landing on a reef. I think it’s appropriate to remind readers about the early days of the Nikumaroro farce, so that they can better understand just how badly they’ve been misled by Gillespie, and by our dependably dishonest media, who have been protecting the Earhart myth for nearly 80 years.
42/11 Namatjira drive,
Weston, A.C.T. 2611,
4 May, 1990
Dr [sic] Richard E. Gillespie,
Executive Director, TIGHAR,
1121 Arundel Drive,
Dr. Dr Gillespie,
Sorry about the delay in replying to your letter of 15 March. Blindness is not helping me to cope with the correspondence, as it means that I cannot see what I am typing so I must ask you to excuse the numerous errors. Things will be, I hope, a lot better when my new gadgets arrive from the Royal Blind Society, who are truly marvelous people. At 83 one cannot afford to give up, or one dies very rapidly, so I have a book just published, one at the publisher and one on the eve of completion.
I must admit that the sensational reports in the press on your recent expedition to Nikumaroro were greeted with a good deal of incredulity and mirth: an Irish magistrate working for New Zealand embarking on a rowing boat from the Phoenix Islands for Fiji and clutching a sacking bag full of bones. “Such stuff as dreams are made on [sic].”
Our opinion was not changed by the arrival a bit later of an article called “Tracing Amelia’s footsteps” in a Journal entitled This World. To comment on some of the statements in this gem of journalese would take pages.
I am bound to say, however, that my strictures do not apply to your own article entitled “Bones” for here you have detailed the earlier versions of the Nikumaroro story, which appeared in the newspapers, but end with a critical appraisal which I find unexceptional except for one or two minor points.
Dr D.C.M. Macpherson was our best friend (I speak for my wife, Honor, as well as myself). We came out from England together in 1929 and our close friendship continued until he died. I visited him frequently when we were both lonely in Suva during the war: his wife lived in Scotland and mine was evacuated to Rotorua when the Japanese were expected. I find it difficult to underestimate therefore, why he never once, in our interminable reminiscences, spoke of [Gerald B.] Gallagher’s “Bones.” Incidentally, Mac was the Assistant Director of Medical Services for the Colony of Fiji and not Chief Pathologist for the Western Pacific High Commission.
Gallagher was presumably an Irishman by descent. as you are, but he was English to his fingertips. I doubt if he had ever been to Ireland; his mother lived in England and his brother was a Clergyman in the Church of England.
I took a prospecting group of Gilbertese to Gardner Atoll, where we stayed from 13-16 October 1937, our task being to explore the island thoroughly, dig wells and evaluate its potential for colonization. It seems curious that nobody saw anything worth reporting when going round the island so recently after Earhart’s landing, or on my subsequent visits to land the first settlers, and later still to see how they were getting on and arrange with them to return to the Gilberts and bring back their wives and children.
You might think it advisable before embarking on your second expedition to send someone reliable to interview any ex-Nikumaroro settlers now resident in the Solomon Islands. With any luck he ought to obtain some information of value; and it is possible that he might even find someone who remembered where the bones were buried. For a reasonable recompense he might even be induced to accompany the expedition and point out where to dig.
“What baffles me is why Amelia Earhart or her companion should have died. There was plenty of food on the atoll, any amount of fish on the reef and in the lagoon, and coconuts to drink or eat on the ground or on the trees. The succulent leaves of the boi (Portulaca) makes a very nutritious vegetable salad and can be sucked for moisture. The mtea [sic], the ruku and the wao are also, I believe, growing wild on the atoll. The water is brackish, but drinkable for a period in an emergency. The climate of Nikumaroro is excellent, despite Linda Puig [author of “Tracing Amelia’s footsteps”]; not hot like Enderbury and indeed cooler than some of the Gilberts, where I lived for some 20 years and found the temperature delightful.
One wonders too why, as she apparently sent radio messages for three days, she did not say where she was. Presumably she had a chart. Taking all factors into account it would seem that if Earhart and companion crash-landed on the Nikumaroro reef one was killed on landing and the other too injured to do more than send a few messages before dying.
I enclose a copy of some historical notes on Nikumaroro which I wrote in the late 1930s or early 1940s. You will see from these that the skeleton found on the atoll if pre-1937 was almost certainly that of a Polynesian man, as Goerner states, for the islanders known to have resided there were Polynesian workers from Niue Island. I also send a list of documentation of the early days of the Settlement Scheme, including a number of letters from Gallagher, in case you want to check everything for a mention of a skeleton (or bones). The only correspondence we went to the Resident Commissioner on Ocean Island, for transmission to the W.P.H.C. [Western Pacific High Commission] and eventually to London were formal Progress Reports, thus what you were looking for would not be among the material in the Colonial Officer archives, but might quite possibly be contained in one of Gallagher’s chatty letters — which were anything but formal.
This Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme material is in the archives of the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, 5001, and the archivist in charge is Susan Woodburn. Access is restricted.
Writing to Fred Goerner more than a year later, Maude was a bit less reserved in appraising Gillespie’s claims. “You ask what I think of all the TIGHAR razzmatazz: I regard it as bull, to use an Australian term,” Maude told Goerner. “Gardner is such a small atoll and was inhabited for so long that every inch of the place must have been walked over many times; anything out of the ordinary would have been reported and be on record.”
Educated at Jesus College, Cambridge, Harry Maude spent the years 1929-1948 working as a civil servant and administrator in various Pacific Islands, in particular the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, and as Resident Commissioner from 1946 to 1949. His many years spent on Pacific islands in various stages of development apparently were of great benefit to Maude, who died at age 100, on Nov. 4, 2006.