I received an email from Guam researcher Tony Gochar (see p. 263-264 Truth at Last) recently that I wasn’t expecting, about something that’s been sitting in plain sight for so long without being addressed that I had taken if for granted. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Most readers of this blog are familiar with the so-called “Truk overflight” theory, by which Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, instead of flying east toward Howland Island, first headed north to Truk Lagoon, now part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia. During World War II, Truk was Japan’s main base in the South Pacific theater, a heavily fortified base for Japanese operations against Allied forces in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, serving as the forward anchorage for the Japanese Imperial Fleet.
The long-theorized “Truk overflight,” was initially described by Fred Goerner in the final chapter of The Search for Amelia Earhart:
When Amelia and Fred took off from Lae, New Guinea, they did not fly directly toward Howland Island. They headed north to Truk in the Central Carolines. Their mission was unofficial but vital to the U.S. military: observe the number of airfields and extent of Japan’s fleet servicing facilities in the Truk complex, and prove the advantages of fields for land planes on U.S. held islands on the equator.
Flight strategy had been carefully developed during the around-the-world trip. A point-to-point speed of not more than 150 miles per hour had been maintained throughout.
In 1937, U.S. intelligence would have been extremely interested in the status of this naval base, once known to Allied forces as Japan’s “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” and Amelia might have been asked to observe and possibly even take some photos with her small, hand-held Kodak camera. The Electra would have arrived over Truk at about 7 p.m. local time, with plenty of daylight left, or so I believed the basic theory held. Of course, we have no proof that Amelia attempted to perform such a mission, but her actions during the final flight suggest something very strange was afoot, and she had two meetings with top U.S. officials during April 1937, according to Margot DeCarie, her personal secretary. (See Truth at Last for more.)
For more background on the Truk overfly theory, please see my post from Dec. 14, 2015, “Bill Prymak analyzes Earhart-as-spy theories” and Jan. 2, 2019, “Art Kennedy’s sensational Earhart claims persist: Was Amelia on mission to overfly Truk?”
Tony Gochar’s recent message, which he began with, “Just a few thoughts about the Richards Memo,” went immediately to an entirely different subject:
One of the basic thoughts I had about Earhart going to Truk to take pictures was daylight. Google Earth Pro has a feature called sunlight slider. You can locate where you are interested in daylight –Truk, pick a date (the year should not make a difference), and slide a scale which will give a time of day and the amount of sunlight at the location.
This part of the world does not have those long summer days. At 7:00 p.m. you can see almost total darkness at Truk on July 2. The other concern I had was weather. The best I could come up with is the attached Monthly Weather Review. It doesn’t cover the area of Truk, but it would if a big storm was heading across the Western Pacific. For Earhart to go to Truk is not something I take seriously.
For the other comments about Japanese radio intelligence I have a few sources. They had the capability to RDF (radio direction finding) her flight. They had the capability to listen to her broadcasts. Since I did that very kind of work in the USAF I am very certain they followed her track. I can’t describe the details of what I did, but I would have certainly listened for her. The U.S. radio direction finding stations in the Pacific followed her. I will provide details in a later email.
As we have discussed many times some of these documents are still classified and who knows when they will be declassified.
I’ve doubted little, if anything, that the experienced, detail-oriented Gochar has told me, but as a non-tech type, I found the Google Earth Pro “Sunlight Slider” a bit user-unfriendly. But William Trail, a retired Army officer, aviator and longtime contributor to this blog, soon found and sent the Sunrise and sunset times in Puluwat Atoll, Chuuk, Micronesia, which confirmed Gochar’s claim that the Sunset Slider revealed darkness at Truk on July 2 at 7 p.m.
Sunrise, sunset and twilight end, on July 2 at Puluwat Atoll, Chuuk, among other readings on the Sunrise-sunset.org site, are 5:50:52 a.m., 6:23:31 p.m., and 6:46:14 p.m. respectively, which makes it dark indeed at 7 p.m. on July 2 of any year. Further, the World Time Zone Map shows that Lae, New Guinea and Chuuk Lagoon, formerly Truk Atoll and now part of Chuuk State within the Federated States of Micronesia, are in the same time zone.
As seen in the map above, found on the now-defunct Mystery of Amelia Earhart website, created by William H. Stewart, a career military-historical cartographer and foreign-service officer in the U.S. State Department and former senior economist for the Northern Marianas, the distance from Lae to Truk is 888 nautical miles, or 1,022 statute miles, (another source says it’s 1,620 kilometers, 1,006 miles per a-kilometers-to-miles converter), but who’s quibbling? The total distance from Lae to Truck to Howland Island is 3,250 statute miles, compared with 2,556 miles when flying direct from Lae, and indeed pushes the range limits of the Electra, said to be 4,000 miles in the absence of headwinds, though that was certainly possible.
After receiving Gochar’s message, the Truk overfly theory, as I had conceived it, was suddenly on its deathbed, at least in my own mind. But before administering Last Rights, I decided to check a few more numbers, just to be sure. I was surprised to see that for a flight leaving Lae at 10 am, it would have to average 114 mph for a nine-hour trip that arrives at 7 p.m. Why had this 7 p.m. arrival time been stuck in my mind in such a sacrosanct way? I don’t know, perhaps many online conversations on the Amelia Earhart Society forum had implanted it, but I can’t find a solid reference for it, and I no longer have access to the AES website, which has been all but defunct for years.
Far more likely, the Earhart Electra would have been maintained at an average speed of 135 mph, or even 150 mph, over the trip to Truk, a speed that had been common throughout its world flight. An average of 135 mph would have covered the 1,022 miles in 7.57 hours, and put the plane over the Japanese held atoll about 5:30 p.m., with enough light to do whatever she might have been “asked” to do. A higher average speed, of course, would have brought Earhart and Fred Noonan over Truk even earlier in the day.
Like Gochar, William Trail doesn’t put much stock in Fred Goerner’s 1966 theory. “I understand that it must remain a possibility until it can absolutely, positively be ruled out, but no, I’m not an advocate of the Truk overflight theory,” Trail wrote in an Oct. 1 email. “Flying from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island by way of Truk for the purpose of taking aerial photos would have been a very long flight that would have taxed the capabilities of crew and aircraft to the max. The potential for failure, and disaster, was great. The odds for pulling it off and getting away with it were short. There was very little room for any error, or anything to go wrong, and we know that “Murphy” always tags along on the manifest. In my opinion, there was too just much risk for too little potential reward.”
In late October 2017, Ms. Carla Henson, daughter of the late Everett Henson Jr., contacted me for the first time, completely out of the blue. You will recall Pvt. Henson, who, along with Pvt. Billy Burks, was ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate a gravesite several feet outside of the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944. This incident is chronicled in detail on pages 233-253 in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
When the pair had removed the skeletal remains of two individuals and deposited them in a large container that Henson later described as a “canister,” Henson asked Griswold what the impromptu grave-digging detail was all about. Griswold’s reply, “Have you heard of Amelia Earhart?” has echoed down through the decades and continues to reverberate among students of the Earhart disappearance.
To read more about Carla, her father and the Saipan gravesite incident in 1944, please see my Dec. 26, 2017 post, “KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga.”
Richard Bergren, 70, a retired naval flight officer with whom I once worked on a story as a Navy civilian at the Navy Internal Relations Activity in Alexandria, Va., in the late 1980s, has recently done some research that sheds more light on the 1944 search for Amelia Earhart on Saipan, and brings more insight to the Griswold, Henson and Burks saga. I thought some would be interested, and so present his findings forthwith. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“Did top doctors search for Earhart on 1944 Saipan?”
by Richard Bergren
A number of books and articles have mentioned efforts to locate and recover the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan, as well as on other Pacific Islands. Most of those attempts were “rush jobs” which were conducted with questionable expertise and methods and often under arbitrary time constraints. If any remains were actually recovered, they have yet to be officially and publicly identified as the bodies of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
Starting in July 1944 with the U.S. takeover of Saipan, and beginning again with renewed interest in the early 1960’s, excavations of potential gravesites were made based on sketchy stories, and human memories which were 25 years old. Searches for burial sites were made in areas significantly changed since 1937 and World War II.
Eyewitness stories vary widely in details, but all seem to agree that the Japanese held American aviators prisoner and that they buried more than one in the years and months prior to June 1944.
Rather than sort through and evaluate the details of the conflicting eyewitness stories, I wanted to see what might be in World War II era U.S. records regarding the recovery of aviator remains on Saipan in 1944. This was the first time that the US had access to Saipan since Amelia and Fred were declared missing.
Operation Forager began on 22 February 1944 with U.S. Navy (and later Army Air Force) air strikes carried out on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. This was in preparation for all out amphibious attacks which began the invasion of Saipan on 10 June 1944. Fighting on Saipan was savage and it continued even after the island was officially declared secure on 10 July 1944. Casualties of killed, wounded, and missing were high and the US Army hospital and graves personnel were very busy in the days which followed the fighting.
“The largest number of casualties handled over a short period of time by the Central Pacific Area general hospitals occurred following the Saipan, Guam, and Tinian battles,” according to the U.S. Army Office of Medical History, Chapter 11. These casualties were evacuated from the islands by hospital ship and landed at Kwajalein for care and transshipment to the hospitals on Oahu. These casualties numbered 2,900 during June and July of 1944.” While U.S. casualties were high, Japanese losses were much higher, totaling close to 30,000 killed on Saipan alone. As fighting continued sporadically on Saipan in mid July 1944, the invasions of Tinian and Guam had just begun.
Where do Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fit into this picture? They had gone missing on July 2 1937, seven years earlier. Exactly what intelligence the U.S. government may have had prior to the 1944 capture of Saipan is not publicly known, but starting in 1944, a number of Armed Forces personnel (Army, Marine Corps, and Navy) came to learn from various sources that Amelia and Fred had been imprisoned on Saipan, and had met their deaths there.
A number of books mention efforts to locate graves of Amelia and Fred, but the earliest account is probably that of Fred Goerner in his book The Search for Amelia Earhart. In it he relates the story told by Marines Everett Henson, Jr. and Billy Burks who claim that they were ordered by a Captain Griswold (USMC) in “late July or early August” 1944 to dig up two graves in or near a civilian cemetery on Saipan in an effort to find the two missing aviators. Allegedly some bones were found and taken by this Captain Griswold, with no further information regarding their final resolution or destination.
The story may be true, although vague as to exactly when and where the dig took place; unfortunately there seems to be no official resolution to the account because there was no definite confirmation that the remains were those of Amelia and/or Fred. And no information as to what was done with those alleged remains.
Remains recovery was not normally the job of the US Marine Corps. It was a task specifically assigned to the US Army Quartermaster Corps, Graves Registration Unit. In fact, the US Army had established the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan for interment of the US dead who were killed or died of wounds in the recent battle and there was a whole unit of those specially trained Army personnel on Saipan.
A number of Saipan eyewitness statements allude to the burial of “aviators” on Saipan prior to the June 10, 1944 invasion. Some of these accounts state that it was a single burial and others say there were two. Some accounts claim that it was a man and a woman who were so buried. Seldom, if ever, do those eyewitnesses identify the “aviators” by name or provide specific information regarding when or where the burial(s) took place. One Saipan witness states that he was pressed into service to bury an aviator on or about February 23 or 24, 1944. This would most likely have been a U.S. Navy pilot killed in the opening air attacks of Operation Forager.
World War II historian Ted Darcy has compiled a website featuring U.S. aviation casualties. Like many other such efforts, it is not a complete listing of casualties, but it does contain a lot of very interesting information. Through his efforts, some previously unidentified/unknown servicemen, killed in World War II, have been positively identified and returned home for burial.
One veteran so identified was Navy Lieutenant Woodie McVay, a Naval Aviator killed on Feb. 22, 1944 while flying a mission with his wingman, Lt. (junior grade) Arthur Davis off the carrier USS Yorktown. Both men were lost over Saipan and initially declared missing in action.
Here is an excerpt from Ted Darcy’s website, Pacific Wrecks, about the effort which led to the 2009 eventual identification of Lt. McVay:
On July 17, 1944 during the American occupation of Saipan, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col Richard C. Wadsworth (both U.S. Army Medical Corps) visited the Catholic Cemetery at Garapan to recover the remains of three aviators that had been reported buried there on February 23 or 24 1944. The remains were exhumed and taken to the 369th Station Hospital for an autopsy.
During that examination the following findings were made: One body was clothed in a one-piece, greenish-khaki coverall type of uniform; the buttons on the uniform contained the words “U.S. Navy”; a plain silver ring was found on the left hand; and on the underwear, marked in two places appeared the name W. L. McVay. It was determined that the injuries were caused as a result of an aircraft accident, not a war crime.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Army doctors had no records with which to compare their findings in an effort to identify this victim. The body was removed to the 27th Division Cemetery and buried as Unknown (Saipan X-35) in plot 3, row 11, grave 1132. In March 1948, these remains were moved to a mausoleum on Saipan. During October 1948, the remains were buried as an unknown at the Manila American Cemetery for “final burial” as unknown X-35 in section F, row 12, grave 2.
Lt. McVay was officially declared dead on Jan. 15, 1946. He posthumously earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart.
Through the research of Ted Darcy, it was found that the height and dental records of unknown X-35 matched with MIA/KIA McVay. The results were forwarded to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii. In February 2009, the grave in Manila was opened and the remains shipped to the Central Identification Lab, where they arrived on Feb. 25, 2009. The identification was confirmed in May 2009, and Elizabeth Huff was notified that X-35 was positively identified as her grandfather, Lt. Woodie McVay.
McVay’s remains were transported to Mobile, Ala., for internment. On July 13 2009, McVay was laid to rest at his existing memorial marker, next to his parents in the Pine Crest Cemetery at Mobile, Ala. U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings published a lengthy story on McVay by historian Bruce M. Petty in its June 2015 issue. (End of Darcy excerpt.)
I located more information on both Army Doctors, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col. Richard C. Wadsworth. Colby was the commanding officer of the 369th (Army) Station Hospital on Saipan in July 1944. Wadsworth was also a medical doctor and pathologist, possibly attached to the same command, but I have not found him on any rosters to prove that. Dr. Colby died in 1960 in San Diego, CA, and Dr. Wadsworth died in 1980 in Bangor, Maine — both after long and distinguished medical careers.
Goerner mentions an unnamed Department of Commerce person who contacted him in 1964, and suggested that an unnamed medical doctor may have taken remains to Washington D.C. Goerner associated that information with the name Griswold from his previous research and located a doctor by that name who had served on Saipan in 1944. Goerner did not specify, but he was likely an Army doctor, since it was an Army hospital on Saipan.
[Editor’s note: In a March 1968 letter to Fred Goerner, Tracy Griswold informed him that he had learned from his brother-in-law about a Major E.K. Griswold, of Santa Anna, Calif., who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II. “It is further recalled that this particular Major Griswold spent time in the Pacific during World War II,” Tracy Griswold wrote. “This becomes rather remarkable in as much as you were to1d, as I recall it, by Marine Corp headquarters that there was not another Griswold in the Pacific Theatre [sic] during World War II, in the Marine Corp. [sic] I was sure that you would want to contact this party, particularly since he is in California in the event that there might possibly be a further clue to the Saipan incident.” Nothing further is contained in Goerner’s Griswold file.]
A report by an Army medical officer on conditions in the Marianas immediately following the U.S. takeover described the huge amount of medical work being done on Saipan (see above). The hospital dealt with hundreds of surgeries and hundreds of other treatments daily — and yet the locating and disinterment of three graves by these two high ranking Army doctors took a higher precedence.
It might follow that the remains of the other two “aviators” disinterred with McVay’s body on 17 July 1944 were also buried as unknowns in the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan — and might have followed a similar documented path to Manila either as “Saipan Unknowns” or under names yet to be found. If they were NOT buried in the 27th Division Cemetery, what became of them and why?
Whether or not the other two bodies were were Amelia Earhart and/or Fred Noonan is not stated in anything I have seen to date. It is a possibility. Regardless of who those two bodies were, it seems likely that they were disinterred and autopsied by these two medical doctors on the premise that they might be Amelia and Fred.
What are the chances that these two high ranking medical officers (Colby and Wadsworth) with their credentials and qualifications would just happen to be attached to a forward area army field hospital, temporary cemetery, or refugee camp? And on their own initiative go digging up a civilian cemetery?
The July 17, 1944 disinterment and subsequent autopsy begs several questions:
– Why was it so important to send two high ranking officers to a civilian cemetery at a time when the service of medical officers was so critical? Even though Saipan had been declared “secure” a few days before, fighting was continuing, and there were thousands of wounded military and civilians to care for.
– Who ordered these disinterments?
– How was intelligence of their location obtained?
The stated purpose at the time was that they were looking for downed military aviators, yet even when evidence obtained from the grave indicated one body was that of Navy Lieutenant McVay, it was stated that the doctors did not have Navy information to compare/confirm his identity and so he was buried as an “Unknown.” Clearly they were NOT looking for him specifically, nor did they identify the other two bodies as being military aviators.
The autopsy report goes out of its way to state that Unknown X35 (McVay) died as a result of injuries received in a crash rather than due to a “war crime.” This indicates that they may have been looking for bodies of Americans taken prisoner, tortured, and killed during a war crime — perhaps by beheading?
With all of the work to be done on Saipan in the way of securing the Island, caring for the wounded, bringing in supplies, and building hospitals, roads and airports, why was this disinterment of such high importance? It is highly doubtful that the two senior medical doctors on Saipan would on their own initiative go digging in a civilian cemetery.
(Editor’s note: I’m not an expert on the location of all the cemeteries on Saipan, either in 1944 or now, but the Catholic Cemetery discussed in this piece was not the same place as the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan, as far as I can tell. Liyang was south, outside of Garapan, while the Catholic cemetery was within the city limits, according to Everett Henson Jr., Billy Burks, Anna Diaz Magofna and others who knew of these events.)
What became of the other two “aviators” disinterred at the same time as Unknown X35 (Lt. McVay)? In light of the careful cemetery record keeping of the Army Quartermaster Corps (as seen in the McVay case) it might follow that the other two bodies were also autopsied and buried in the 27th (Army) Division Cemetery as unknowns and later also transferred to Manila for reburial.
Note: There were a number (perhaps as many as 20) of U.S. Navy and Air Force aviators declared Missing in Action (MIA) during and prior to the Saipan invasion. Except for Lt. McVay, none of them have ever been recovered and identified.
It is quite possible that the other two “aviators” were also military pilots. If so, they were never identified as such.
Could it be that the two doctors had been specifically tasked to locate the bodies of Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart? (End of Richard Bergren’s piece.)
Richard Bergren retired from the U.S. Navy in 1994 after 22 years as a naval flight officer (NFO). He flew in the Lockheed P-3B Orion, the Lockheed EC-130 Hercules, and numerous types of trainer planes. Piloted Pioneer unmanned air vehicles (UAV’s) from the Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS Shreveport (LPD-12). He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University, Troy, Ala. He is a graduate of the Naval War College and took post graduate courses in Japanese, German, and history at various colleges.
He is a military historian, writer, teacher, musician and competitive rifleman. He’s married, the father of six and grandfather of 12.
The so-called Richards Memo of Nov. 1, 1938 and retired Air Force Col. Rollin Reineck’s commentary on it appeared in the July 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. I’ve always wondered why this document received so little attention. Maybe I’m missing something. Obviously, other researchers haven’t been enamored of it, and some must have found its credibility to be dubious, but Reineck was not one of them. Here then, as close to the original piece as possible, is the Richard’s Memo and Reineck’s conclusions, presented for your information and entertainment. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
FROM THE DESK OF . . . . . . . . . Rollin Reineck
The attached memorandum (following page), dated 1 November 1938, is very significant as it relates directly to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in several ways. This memo was written by Army Air Corps Colonel (before the days of the U.S. Air Force) H. H. C. Richards, who was assigned to the War Department as the Liaison Officer for the Australian Air Force. Colonel Richards sent the memo to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G-2), War Department, who was probably an Army two-or-three star general.
The purpose of the memo was to clarify a letter that had been sent to the Information Division of the Liaison Office, alleging that Amelia Earhart had been shot down by the Japanese.
Colonel Richards says that this is definitely not the case, as it is known that Miss Earhart’s transmissions were heard by Army personnel (Army Air Corps Lt. Daniel A, Cooper and Army Signal Corps Lt. Henry Lau), who were stationed at Howland Island on 2 July 1937. These officers reported that judging from the strength of the radio signals received, Earhart passed quite close to the island, some fifty miles or less. Further, the Army personnel reported that Earhart stated she was turning north, and they continued to hear her at intervals. Her signals became fainter each time received, until finally she stated she was out of gas. That was the last they heard from her.
The significance of this memorandum is as follows:
1. The memorandum was between high level, senior staff officers in the War Department about the fate of Amelia Earhart.
2. The Army personnel (officers) on Howland Island could distinguish between the volume intensity of Earhart’s voice, and make reliable judgments as to her relative distance from Howland Island.
3. It dispels the theory that Earhart ditched close to Howland Island.
4. It enhances the theory that Amelia Earhart did land or ditched some distance north of Howland Island.
Editor’s [Bill Prymak] Comment: Why is top brass still pursuing this 14 months after she went down?? Is there more to this than meets the eye? (End of AES July 1998 entry.)
In Chapter 7, “Implement Plan B” of Reineck’s 2003 book, Amelia Earhart Survived, he begins by stating that he believed that “Earhart had five to six hours of fuel remaining” when her call was heard by the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca at 0843 Howland Island local time. He goes on to discuss Earhart’s alleged statement to Gene Vidal, who claimed that Amelia told him that “if she could not locate Howland, when she was down to four hours of fuel remaining, she would turn back to the Gilbert Islands. The author believes that Earhart remembered her secret conversations at March Field in Riverside, California, with Bernard Baruch and General [Oscar] Westover that advised: when you still have sufficient fuel remaining and you haven’t yet found Howland Island, implement Plan B, the alternate plan.”
She made no mention on her communications frequencies of 3105 and 6216 kilocycles (kcs henceforth) of her intentions of what she was to do when she couldn’t find Howland. However, it is believed by this researcher that Earhart disregarded all orders and used her new high frequency discrete channel that had been activated in her transmitter for communications, to tell Howland Island that she was headed north. It is believed that this high frequency channel was secretly installed, probably while she was in Miami, before her departure. The crystal for the new high frequency was inserted in place of the vacant 500 kcs low frequency crystal. The 500 kcs crystal became useless when Earhart eliminated her trailing wire antenna and decided not to use low (500 kcs) frequency, and use only high frequency for her communications and direction finding activity.
What was this “new high frequency discrete channel” that Reineck references, and why is no evidence of it in other researchers’ work? He can’t be talking about the well-known 7500 kcs high-frequency direction finder that she reported receiving Itasca’s signals on but “couldn’t find a minimum.” Reineck writes that he believes “she used this frequency to tell personnel on Howland that she was turning north and she continued to communicate her progress until she ran out of fuel.” Reineck went on:
These key messages are not recorded in the radio logs of the Itasca or Howland Island, but were heard by Army personnel on Howland as reflected in a memo from Colonel H.H.C. Richards to the Chief of Intelligence at the War Department. It was those short messages, heard by the Japanese, that not only helped the Japanese locate Earhart after she crashed at Mili Atoll, but told the Japanese that Earhart was turning north, probably for a specific purpose. The Japanese knew at this time that Earhart was not just searching for an alternate landing site, but purposely headed for a specific site that was within the Imperial Islands of Japan. Plan “B” had been compromised, because Earhart had disregarded all orders and broken radio silence.
Reineck cites the Richards Memo as the verification that Army personnel were on Howland, specifically Army Air Corps Lt. Daniel A, Cooper and Army Signal Corps Lt. Henry Lau, but he doesn’t mention Navy Radioman 2nd Class Frank Cipriani, who was also on Howland at that time, and who was sent there by Admiral Richard Black to man the high frequency direction finder that Black had set up there. For more details on Reineck’s “Plan B” theory, see pages 103-113 of Amelia Earhart Survived.
What are we to make of Reineck’s theory, specifically as it relates to the Richards Memo? Has anyone ever seen statements from anyone on Howland that support his claims that they heard Earhart announcing that she was “turning north”? I certainly have not, but the ever-imaginative Reineck weaves an interesting scenario, one in which many of his speculations seem to fit — and we know that Earhart did land at Mili. But the Richards Memo has received scant attention from other researchers.
What do you think?
We continue with Part II of our “Earhart Research Page of Honor.” Again, this is an alphabetical list, and I make no claim that this group is complete or sacrosanct. All suggestions for additional honorees will be considered.
If you disagree with any of these selections, you’re invited to express your opinion. Please make your case cogently, succinctly and objectively, and hold the sanctimony and invective.
“Earhart Research Page of Honor” Part II
VINCENT V. LOOMIS: Former Air Force C-47 pilot Vincent V. Loomis and his wife, Georgette, traveled to the Marshalls in 1978 hoping to find the wreck of a plane Loomis saw on an uninhabited island near Ujae Atoll in 1952. Loomis didn’t find the unidentified aircraft he hoped was the Earhart Electra, but in four trips to the Marshalls he gathered considerable eyewitness and witness testimony indicating the fliers’ presence there. His 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, is the definitive tome in establishing the presence of Amelia and Fred Noonan at Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands on July 2, 1937.
Loomis went to Tokyo in 1981 seeking confirmation of statements contained in a 1949 CIA inter-office memorandum he found in National Air and Space Museum files. The G-2 intelligence document revealed the United States was extremely interested in the Earhart case, and in 1949 had asked Japan to provide any and all relevant information it possessed.
“The Japanese lied quite convincingly both in 1937 and in 1949,” Loomis wrote, “but their statements could not be proven as such until the ships’ movements were determined through research in Japan in 1981. Why did Japan lie about the role of Kamoi in the Earhart search? Though no official explanation will ever be issued, almost certainly they had the fliers in custody when they assured the United States of their cooperation in the search, and merely pretended to be engaged in a goodwill humanitarian mission.”
Loomis died on June 13, 1996 at age 75 in Pensacola, Fla. For more on his significant contributions to the search for Amelia Earhart, please click here and see pages 134-141 and 149-151 of Truth at Last.
BILL PRYMAK: Bill’s selfless contributions to our knowledge of the Earhart matter are legendary. In the erudite, largely unknown circles of Amelia Earhart research – real investigative work, not the fabricated-for-public-consumption propaganda the media has force-fed the masses since the earliest days – Bill left a lasting, indelible mark of excellence that will be always be remembered and honored by those who know and respect the truth about Amelia’s fate that he helped to establish.
Through his networking skills and Earhart expertise, Bill was able to collect, evaluate and disseminate an astonishing volume of information in an entertaining and enlightening format to the Amelia Earhart Society membership. Bill’s AES Newsletters totaled 421 letter-size pages of original Earhart research from countless sources, which he meticulously compiled and snail-mailed – at significant cost to himself — to the AES membership every few months from December 1989 to March 2000.
These priceless documents are among the most important ever produced in the search for the truth in the Earhart case, extraordinary in their variety and wealth of content – true collector’s items that will never be duplicated. Without these remarkable references, Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, would have been a far lesser book.
Founder and first president of the Amelia Earhart Society (AES) of Researchers, a giant of Earhart research and a special friend whose generosity of spirit will never be forgotten, he passed away July 30, 2014 in a Louisville, Colo., hospice. Bill had recently undergone surgery for colon cancer; he was 86.
For much more on Bill Prymak’s legacy, please click here.
PAUL RAFFORD JR.: Rafford was the “Elder Statesman” of Earhart research and the last of the original members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers.
Earhart fans will recall Rafford from Vincent V. Loomis’ 1985 book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (Random House), wherein he presented his then-current ideas about the Electra’s radio propagation capabilities and Amelia’s strange decisions during the final flight.
In 2006, Rafford’s book, Amelia Earhart’s Radio, was published by the Paragon Agency, and though it wasn’t a commercial success, it remains a gem of invaluable information unavailable anywhere else.
Rafford began his aviation career with Pan American Airways as a flight radio officer in 1940, flying with Pan Am until 1946. He worked with crew members who had flown with Fred Noonan, and talked with technicians who had worked on Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E. After a promotion with Pan Am, he continued to fly as a technical consultant before transferring to the U.S. Manned Spaceflight Program in 1963. During the early space shots he was a Pan Am project engineer in communications services at Patrick Air Force Base, and joined the team that put man on the moon. He retired from NASA in 1988.
Rafford passed away on Dec. 10, 2016 in a hospice in Rockledge, Fla., at 97. Michael Betteridge, Paul’s nephew and general manager of WTHU AM 1450, a talk radio station in Thurmont, Md., said his uncle passed peacefully with his daughter, Lynn, at his side. “We lost a great man on that day,” Betteridge said in an email.
For much more on Paul Rafford Jr.’s contributions to Earhart research, please click here.
ROLLIN C. REINECK: A war hero, retired Air Force colonel and an original, longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, Reineck’s passion for Earhart research often produced interesting, informative results. At other times, his unrestrained enthusiasm for the spectacular and bizarre led him into areas populated only by Fred Goerner’s “lunatic fringe,” and these ill-conceived forays have tainted his reputation among top Earhart researchers.
Reineck was among the most avid promoters of the notorious Weihsien Telegram, or Weihsien Speedletter, discovered in U.S. State Department archives in 1987. The unsigned telegram reads, “Camp liberated — all well — volumes to tell — love to mother.” Sent from Weihsien, north China, and dated Aug. 28, 1945, this document created a huge buzz among researchers who speculated it could have been sent by Amelia herself. In 2001, this hot potato was relegated to the dustbin of dead-end myth, when AES researcher Ron Bright definitively disproved the idea that Amelia Earhart had been confined at the Weihsien, China civilian internment camp during World War II.
Reineck’s authorship of the dreadful Amelia Earhart Survived (Paragon Agency, 2003), his unsuccessful attempt to resurrect and validate the long-discredited Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth was his greatest blunder in the Earhart arena. Reineck was among the most prominent and vociferous of those who continued to believe in and promote Joe Gervais’ absurd idea, introduced to the public in Joe Klaas’ 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives.
Incredibly, what Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais had strongly suggested in Amelia Earhart Lives, pulled from circulation 33 years earlier – that Amelia Earhart, having been held captive by the Japanese since July 1937, had returned to the United States sometime after World War II and assumed the identity of a New Jersey woman named Irene Bolam – Kailua, Hawaii’s Reineck stated as unequivocal fact.
For much more on this unfortunate aspect of Reineck’s legacy, please click here.
Reineck was a also prolific letter writer and Freedom of Information advocate, and he sometimes got real results. In March 1991, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) signed a letter written by Reineck to the Secretary of the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush, requesting that all classified material relative to the Earhart disappearance be released. For more details from my March 31, 2015 post, “Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection: What did FDR’s treasury secretary really know?” please click here.
Like Joe Klaas, Reineck was a genuine World War II hero, amassing an outstanding record as a navigator with B-24s in the 8th Air Force over Europe, and later in B-29s on Saipan, flying missions against mainland Japan. Reineck’s awards included the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster.
RON REUTHER: An original member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society, Reuther was perhaps the most cerebral and historically erudite of all. Reuther often provided previously unknown background information that brought new perspectives to heated discussions, and was known to introduce new and enlightening topics to enhance learning.
Reuther founded the Oakland Aviation Museum in 1981, directed the San Francisco Zoo from 1966 to 1973, and helped to catalog and prepare Fred Goerner’s papers for their placement at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas.
While director of the San Francisco Zoo, Mr. Reuther took a sickly baby gorilla named Koko into his home and, with his children’s help, nursed her back to health. A few months later, a Stanford psychology graduate student who had been studying the zoo’s apes asked for permission to work with Koko. Mr. Reuther agreed and the student, Penny Patterson, began a life’s work teaching American Sign Language to Koko and researching apes’ capacity for language.
In 1978, Koko gained worldwide attention and was pictured on the cover of National Geographic magazine. The cover photo was an image of Koko taking her own picture in the mirror. Koko was later featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 with a picture of her and her kitten, All Ball. At the preserve, Koko also met and interacted with a variety of celebrities including Robin Williams, Fred Rogers, Betty White, William Shatner, Flea, Leonardo DiCaprio, Peter Gabriel and Sting.
ROBERT E. WALLACK: Although he wasn’t a researcher or writer in the sense of the others on this page, Robert E. Wallack’s contributions to our knowledge of the Earhart truth are more than enough to earn him a place among them.
Wallack was the best known of all the former GIs who came forward to share their eyewitness experiences relative to the presence and death of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan after the 1987 publication of Thomas E. Devine’s Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.
I first met the amiable Wallack on the phone in 1992, as he took me back to July 1944 Saipan, when Fate intervened to change his life forever. The former Marine machine-gunner told of his hellish experience on the Saipan beach, watching helplessly as his comrades of the 29th Regiment were cut down during the early stages of the invasion, as if he was recounting the gruesome opening scene from Saving Private Ryan.
A few weeks later, as if Providence were directing him, the Marine private discovered Amelia Earhart’s briefcase, dry and in perfect condition in a blown Japanese safe, containing “official-looking papers all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the-world flight,” Wallack wrote in a notarized affidavit. “I wanted to retain this as a souvenir, but my Marine buddies insisted that it may be important and should be turned in. I went down to the beach where I encountered a naval officer and told of my discovery. He gave me a receipt for the material, and stated that it would be returned to me if it were not important. I have never seen the material since.”
His story never changed, and the outgoing veteran shared it with countless listeners including millions in a 1990 Unsolved Mysteries segment with Robert Stack, a 1994 appearance on CBS’s Eye to Eye with Connie Chung and a 2006 interview for The National Geographic Channel’s Undercover History special on Amelia Earhart
Over the years Wallack generously sent me all manner of fascinating memorabilia, including copies of his honorable discharge papers, maps of Saipan, battle photos taken during the invasion, letters from other GIs with their own stories to tell, videotapes of his TV appearances and news articles.
Robert E. Wallack passed away in a Branford, Conn., hospice on July 7, 2008, after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 83.
For much more about Wallack’s important role in the Earhart saga, please click here.
Though MARIE S. CASTRO is alive and well on Saipan at 87 despite recent health setbacks, she too occupies a unique place in the Earhart pantheon. Marie is the last living link to two of the major Saipan eyewitnesses to the presence of Earhart on Saipan, Matilde F. Arriola and Joaquina Cabrera, and she founded the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Inc. group in September 2017, determined to honor the brutal deaths of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan at the hands of the Japanese military.
To read much more about Marie S. Castro and her ongoing and significant contributions to the truth in the Earhart disappearance, please click here.
This list of unique researchers, authors and other important contributors to what is now a wealth of knowledge about the Earhart case is respectfully submitted for the information and entertainment of all. Within a week or so, I’ll combine Parts I and II and post them as one piece at the top of this blog’s front page under the heading, “In Memoriam,” so that all who visit this blog will have quick and easy access to this gallery of those who played the vital roles in bringing us the truth about the Earhart disappearance.
I don’t know why this page was so long in coming, or even why the idea finally dawned on me when it did, but the old cliché, “Better late than never,” just about covers it. Shortly after this “Earhart Research Page of Honor,” as it were, is published, I’ll also convert it into a permanent page at the top of the blog that can be seen and easily accessed by all.
Ironically, though several women have written fair to outstanding biographies of Amelia Earhart, not a single member of the fair sex can be found among the elite ranks of authors and researchers whose work, in its totality, has revealed the unvarnished Marshall Islands-Saipan truth about the wretched fates of Earhart and Fred Noonan at the hands of the pre-war Japanese military.
I can’t fully explain this phenomenon, but the nuts and bolts of genuine Earhart research have never been for the faint of heart. And lest anyone misconstrue this as an attempt to rank or evaluate the habitués of this page in any qualitative sequence, this gallery of important, deceased Earhart investigators is presented alphabetically. Their work speaks for itself, and any thorough examination of their fruits should engender a coherent understanding of their standing within this unique, distinguished group.
You may disagree with one or more of these selections, and if so, your comments are welcome. For those who think someone who belongs has been omitted, please wait until Part II has been published.
For your information and entertainment, I present the first of two parts of the “Earhart Research Page of Honor.”
“Earhart Research Page of Honor,” Part I
PAUL BRIAND JR.: Many observers of the history of investigations into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan believe that Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart is the seminal work in the genre, and all that followed sprang from the San Francisco radio-newsman’s initial Saipan forays.
But neither Goerner nor anyone else would have heard about Earhart and Noonan’s arrival at Saipan in 1937 if not for the 1960 book that started it all — Daughter of the Sky, by Paul L. Briand Jr., a Ph.D., Air Force captain (later promoted to major) and assistant professor of English at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the closing pages of Daughter of the Sky, Briand presents the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who saw Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Tanapag Harbor as an 11-year-old in the summer of 1937, as told in 1946 to Navy Dentist Casimir Sheft on Saipan. Though few were even aware of it in 1960, as the revelations in Daughter of the Sky were suppressed throughout the establishment media, Briand’s book was the spark that exploded into the true modern search for Amelia Earhart.
In 1967, the State University of New York, Oswego, appointed Briand as a full professor and he taught there until his death in 1986 at age 66. For much more on Paul Briand Jr., please click here.
THOMAS E. DEVINE: When the Lord made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold. What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know. But had I never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident (Renaissance House, 1987), I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life. I can’t imagine what it would be.
In Eyewitness, Devine, an Army postal sergeant who saw the Earhart Electra on three separate occasions on Saipan in July 1944, reached out to his fellow veterans, urging them to report their own experiences that reflected the presence and death of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in the years before the 1944 U.S. invasion. Twenty-six former GIs heard and responded to Devine’s plea, and their stunning accounts were presented for the first time in With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, our little-known 2002 book.
JOE GERVAIS: Gervais, whose important Guam and Saipan witness interviews in 1960 strongly supported Fred Goerner’s Saipan findings, was best known as the creator of the insidious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, forever immortalized along with other crackpot ideas in Joe Klaas’ infamous 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives.
Gervais was a highly decorated veteran of World War II, Korean and the Vietnam War, serving as a command pilot of B-24, B-29 and C-130 aircraft with over 16,000 hours of flight time.
The man some called “The Dean of Earhart Research,” passed away at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 26, 2005 at age 80.
For more on Joe Gervais, please click here.
FRED GOERNER: The author of the only bestseller about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart ever penned, The Search for Amelia Earhart (Doubleday and Sons, 1966), Goerner is generally considered by the informed to be history’s greatest Earhart researcher. He was certainly not without his faults, however, and made several mistakes and misjudgments along the way.
Most observers of the Earhart saga are familiar with the statement allegedly made by retired Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to 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.
Unfortunately, from the moment Time magazine ripped Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in late 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 treated as a forbidden subject by the U.S. government and nearly all establishment media, and the Earhart Truth remains a sacred cow to this day.
Fred Goerner passed away at age 69 on Sept. 13, 1994.
For much more about Fred Goerner’ remarkable achievements, as well as his less well-known blunders, please click here; also see the index of Truth at Last.
JOE KLAAS: Probably the most talented writer of all Earhart researchers, Klaas, with the guidance of his longtime friend Joe Gervais, authored the most controversial — and damaging to the truth — Earhart book of all time, Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery (McGraw-Hill, 1970).
But Klaas accomplished far more in his remarkable life than pen history’s most scandalous Earhart disappearance work. Besides Amelia Earhart Lives, Klaas wrote nine books including Maybe I’m Dead, a World War II novel; The 12 Steps to Happiness; and (anonymously) Staying Clean.
He began his World War II service by flying British Supermarine Spitfires as an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force. After Pearl Harbor, Klaas transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force and fought in the North African invasion of Morocco, as well as the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns, where he was shot down and captured by Arabs who sold him to the Nazis for $20.
Klaas spent 25 months in German prison camps, escaped to be recaptured and worked for the X-Committee that planned “The Great Escape” from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III. The camp was known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunneling and were depicted in the filmsThe Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950).
Klaas died on Feb. 25, 2016 at his home in Monterey, Calif., at 95.
For much more on Joe Klaas, please click here.
OLIVER KNAGGS: South African writer Oliver Knaggs was hired in 1979 by a film company to join Vincent V. Loomis in the Marshalls and chronicle his search. The Knaggs-Loomis connection is well known among Earhart buffs, but neither Loomis, in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, nor Knaggs, in his little-known 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: Her last flight mentioned the other by name. In Her last flight, a collector’s item known mainly to researchers, Knaggs recounts his 1979 and ’81 investigations in the Marshalls and Saipan, where his findings strongly supported those of Loomis, despite some unexplained disparities.
Knaggs returned to Mili in 1981 without Loomis and armed with a metal detector in hopes of locating the silver container that the native eyewitness Lijon had described seeing a white man bury in 1937.
Knaggs found something metallic where nothing should have naturally been buried, brought it home to South Africa and had it analyzed by the Metallurgical Department of the University of Cape Town. The results confirmed that “in section the sample revealed what is described as a pin cover, rivet and body of the hinge,” Knaggs wrote. “In general the microstructures [sic] are consistent with a fine, clean low carbon steel . . . indicating that good technology was used in its manufacture. . . . The hinge could have come from something akin to a cash box and could therefore quite easily be the canister to which Lijon had referred.”
Thus Knaggs secured his place among history’s elite Earhart researchers by finding what may well have been the only “hard evidence” yet publicly uncovered. For much more on Oliver Knaggs’ Earhart investigative work, please click here.
Special thanks to Les Kinney, who provided a biography of Knaggs that included the following:
He was born in Pretoria, South Africa on January 22, 1924. He was educated at Kearny College in Natal. Knaggs was a combat veteran of WWII, serving in the Middle East and Italy. Following the war, his writing career blossomed. His articles were published in many of South Africa’s leading magazines.
His radio dramas were regularly featured on the national SABC network. His writing credits of 30 books include Amelia Earhart: Her Last Flight, published in January 1983, 500 short stories, and thousands of magazine articles.
Knaggs died at age 68 on September 8, 1992 in Cape Town, South Africa.
DONALD KOTHERA: Kothera’s significant contributions to the Earhart legacy are among the least known and appreciated by Earhart aficionados. Kothera, a former Navy man stationed on Saipan in 1946, along with “Cleveland Group” associates Ken Matonis, John Gacek, Jack Geschke and Marty Fiorillo, made investigative trips to Saipan in 1967 and ’68, producing important new witness information.
Among them was Anna Diaz Magofna, who claimed to have witnessed the beheading of a “tall, good-looking man with [a] long nose,” a white man who was probably Fred Noonan. Through an interpreter Magofna recalled that as a seven-year-old in 1937, she watched with about five other children as two Japanese soldiers oversaw two white people digging a hole outside a cemetery.
“When the grave was dug, the tall man with the big nose, as she described him, was blindfolded and made to kneel by the grave,” author Joe Davidson wrote in Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969). “His hands were tied behind him. One of the Japanese took a Samurai sword and chopped his head off. The other one kicked him into the grave.”
Magnofa didn’t know what happened to the other white person, whom she didn’t identify as a woman. She fled after watching the beheading, but the experience haunted her for years afterward. “I still remember the American man and how they cut his head off,” she told Kothera.
Four years after Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks shared their memories of the Saipan gravesite dig Marine Captain Tracy Griswold ordered them to do in late July-early August 1944, the Cleveland Group compared the gravesite location information provided by the former Marine privates with Anna Magofna’s harrowing childhood account. The spot Magofna recalled closely corresponded to the one described by Henson and Burks, but the former Marine privates did not return to Saipan to confirm it.
In Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969), Texas veterinarian Davidson chronicled the group’s investigations, aided by thousands of feet of film shot by photographer Fiorillo. Overlooked by most researchers, Amelia Earhart Returns offers a wealth of new eyewitness information, in addition to Magofna’s.
End of Part I. Your comments are welcomed.