The late Rollin C. Reineck was a war hero, retired Air Force colonel and a longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, whose passion for Earhart research often produced interesting, informative pieces, one of which you are about to read. At other times, Reineck’s 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 somewhat tainted his reputation among Earhart researchers.
Reineck’s authorship of the dreadful Amelia Earhart Survived (Paragon Agency, 2003), his unsuccessful attempt to resurrect and validate the long-discredited Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart myth, was unarguably his greatest blunder in the Earhart arena. But that story is for another day.
During World War II, Reineck’s consistently outstanding performance as a B-29 navigator earned this brave patriot decorations such as the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Bronze Star, as well as numerous commendations while flying missions in both the European and Pacific theaters, over the Mediterranean, Africa and against Japan from the recently captured Aslito Airfield on Saipan in early 1945.
Reineck served for 30 years in his distinguished Air Force career, and for 15 years volunteered for the Red Cross whenever he could. Rollin Reineck’s “Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection” appeared in the January 1997 edition issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, and as best as I can determine was written sometime in 1996. Forthwith is his Morgenthau piece, with additional comments to follow.
“Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection”
Why all the mystery about what happened to Amelia Earhart? A good question without a good answer. However, there was one person, more than anyone else, who probably knew the answer as to what happened on the fateful day in early July, 1937. That one person was Henry Morgenthau Jr., the secretary of the treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Henry Morgenthau was the son of a well-respected Jewish banker who had been the American Ambassador to Turkey. Mr. Morgenthau Jr. first met Franklin Roosevelt at the outbreak of World War I. He had bought a thousand acre farm near the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park in upstate New York, and had become a gentleman farmer. Over the years Henry became one of Franklin’s closest friends and his wife became an even closer friend to Eleanor. When Roosevelt became the Governor of New York, Henry was brought into the state administration where he was very effective.
Subsequently, when Roosevelt moved to the White House, Henry followed. Within a year after that he became Secretary of the Treasury, and one of Roosevelt’s most trusted friends. He was often given extra departmental jobs which he accomplished with notable efficiency. He gave the president unswerving loyalty and in return the president gave him power and influence as a trusted counselor. Indeed, so close, the Morgenthaus often seemed to be members of the Roosevelts’ immediate family – a status greatly envied by Mr. Morgenthau’s colleagues.
In the dark days before World War II, when Japan was overrunning China, it was Morgenthau who arranged for a $100 million loan to the Chinese government for the FLYING TIGER Operations. The Flying Tigers were a group of so-called volunteers (mostly Americans) that provided badly needed air support to the Chinese leader Generalissimo Chang Kai Shek in his war against the Japanese.
There are many researchers who feel, as I do, that Morgenthau held the financial as well as operational control over the Amelia Earhart-around-the-world adventure in 1937. Although there is little documentation of the Morgenthau effort in support of Amelia Earhart, there is one file that sheds a great deal of light as to the extent of the Morgenthau involvement.
I am speaking here of the relatively recent discovery in President Roosevelt’s Hyde Park Library of a document relating to the Earhart episode. This document is a recorded memo (Dictaphone) between the then Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr., and Mrs. Malvina Thompson Scheider, better known as “Tommy,” who was Mrs. Roosevelt’s personal secretary.
This document first appeared in a book about Amelia Earhart titled My Courageous Sister written by Muriel Morrissey, Amelia’s sister and Carol L. Osborne, noted Earhart researcher. The book was published in 1987. Since that time researchers have puzzled over the complete meaning of the memo’s contents. Today, it ranks as one of the most compelling pieces of circumstantial evidence we have in our search for the truth about the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart. The memo is unclassified and was probably overlooked when they screened the Morgenthau files that were to be made public and put in the Hyde Park Library. To date, it is the only document concerning Earhart in his archival material.
In the way of background, on April 26, 1938, Paul Mantz (stunt pilot and technical advisor for Amelia Earhart), wrote to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and asked that she use her influence to obtain for him the “Official Report” of the Itasca relating to the flight of Amelia Earhart from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island. Mr. Mantz explained that he was told by the Coast Guard that the official report could not be released except through certain channels. In other words, the Roosevelt administration, for reasons unknown even today, had put a clamp on the release of information relating to the flight and disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
Mrs. Roosevelt sent the Mantz letter to Henry Morgenthau with a note that said, “Now here comes this letter. . . . I do not know whether you can send the man these documents. Let me know whatever your decision may be.” Mrs. Roosevelt signed the letter, “Affectionately, E.R.” A clear inference can be drawn from Mrs. Roosevelt’s note that there was a veil of secrecy surrounding the Earhart disappearance and that Morgenthau would know what could and could not be released. Whatever Morgenthau decided, Eleanor wanted to know.
On the morning of May 13, 1938, Morgenthau placed a telephone call to Eleanor Roosevelt. Malvina Thompson “Tommy“ Scheider, Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary, answered the phone. The following is a direct quote of [Morgenthau’s side of the] conversation.
“Hello, Tommy (Malvina Scheider). How are you? This letter that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote me about trying to ge the report on Amelia Earhart. Now, I’ve been given a verbal report. If we’re going to release this, it’s just going to smear the whole reputation of Amelia Earhart, and my . . .
“Yes, I mean if we give it to this one man we’ve got to make it public; we can’t let one man see it. And if we ever release the report of the Itasca on Amelia Earhart, any reputation she’s got is gone, because – and I’d like to – I’d really like to return this to you.
(Continuing) “Now. I know what the Navy did, I know what the Itasca did. And I know how Amelia Earhart absolutely disregarded all orders, and if we ever release this thing, good-by Amelia Earhart’s reputation. Now, really – because if we give the access to one, we have to give it to all. And my advice is that – and if the President ever heard that somebody questioned that the Navy hadn’t made the proper search, after what those boys went through. I think they searched, as I remember it, 50,000 square miles, and even one of those planes was out, and the boys just burnt themselves out physically and even other way searching for her.
“And if – I mean I think he’d get terribly angry if somebody, because they just went the limit, and so did the Coast Guard. And we have the report of all those wireless messages and everything else, what that woman – happened to her the last few minutes. I hope – I’ve just got to never make it public. I mean, O.K. Well, still if she wants it, I’ll tell her. I mean what happened. It isn’t a very nice story. Well, yes. There isn’t anything additional to something like that. You think up a good one. Thank you.” (Conversation ends.)
(To Chauncy) “Just send it back.”
(Morgenthau) “I mean we tried – people want us to search again those islands, after what we have gone through. You (Gibbons) know the story, don’t you?”
(Gibbons) “We have evidence that the thing is all over, sure. Terrible. It would be awful to make it public.“
Looking at just the substantive words in the memo, here is what it says:
“Now, I’ve been given a verbal report.”
“If we’re going to release this, it’s just going to smear the reputation of Amelia Earhart.”
“If we give it to this one man we’ve got to make it public.”
“We can’t let one man see it.”
“If we ever release the report of the Itasca on Amelia Earhart, any reputation she’s got is gone.”
“I know now Amelia Earhart disregarded all orders.”
“If we ever release this thing, good-bye Amelia Earhart’s reputation.”
“If we give access to one, we have to give it to all.”
“We have the report of all those wireless messages and everything else.”
“What that woman – happened to her the last few minutes.”
“I hope I’ve just got to never make it public.”
“If she wants it, I’ll tell her – I mean what happened.”
“It isn’t a very nice story.”
“There isn’t anything additional to something like that.”
“People want us to search again those islands.”
“We have evidence that the thing is all over, sure. Terrible.” (Gibbons)
“It would be awful to make it public.” (Gibbons)
On July 5, 1938, Mr. Morgenthau sent a memo to Eleanor Roosevelt and said, “We have found it possible to send Mr. Mantz a copy of the log of the ITASCA, which I think will supply him all the data he asked for in his letter.” Mr. Morgenthau is telling Eleanor Roosevelt that he has made the radio log palatable for public consumption. It is obvious that he did this by deleting or changing portions of the log that would be damaging to Earhart’s reputation and by deleting portions of the log that may have told what ORDERS Earhart has disregarded.
From the recorded conversation, it is more than obvious that there were additional wireless messages and related information released to Mr. Morgenthau, but never released to the public. For instance, there is nothing at all in the log of the Itasca that has been released that “would ruin her reputation.” Or what orders she disregarded. Nor is there anything in the released log that would indicate “what happened to her in the last few minutes.” Or why, “It isn’t a very nice story.” The log of the Itasca has obviously been expurgated and changed.
The suspect portion of the radio log that was released is the void of communications that runs from 0800 hours to 0840 hours (Howland Island Time). This void comes only 20 minutes after Earhart declared that her fuel was running low. It would seem to me, as an experienced Air Force pilot with a great deal of over water time, that the 40 minute void should have been filled with pleas for help, position reports and an indication of intentions. Perhaps it was. We may never know.
For several years I have tried to get additional information from various sources which would supplement the Morgenthau memo. I felt that there should be other information in the Morgenthau files that would add more insight relating to what he might have known and have recorded. Toward this goal, Senator [Daniel Kahikina] Akaka of Hawaii on March of 1991, signed a letter, that I had prepared, to Mr. Nicholas F. Brody, Secretary of the Treasury under President Bush. The letter reads in part as follows:
“Colonel Reineck advised me that other researchers who are colleagues of his, namely Mr. Merrill D. Magley (deceased) and Mr. John F. Luttrell, have tried through the normal Freedom of Information Act channels to obtain additional information from your department without success. This is true even though they had pinpointed box containers T-33A and T-33B in the basement of the Treasury Department behind a locked metal wire cage as the Henry Morgenthau Jr. files for 1937 and 1938. One of your personnel, Ms. Karen Cameron described the material as relating to Amelia Earhart, but denied access on the basis of it being classified Top Secret.
“I would like to request that your Department retrieve from your files, wherever they may be, all the classified information concerning Miss Earhart’s last flight. When this is assembled, please contact my office so that I can make arrangements for its review.”
(Editor’s note: Senator Akaka’s effort was met with the typical government stonewalling that has characterized virtually all efforts to penetrate the airtight national security apparatus that surrounds and protects the truth in the Earhart case. In one of the more cogent sections of Amelia Earhart Survived [p. 152-153], Reineck briefly discussed the Treasury Department’s response to Akaka’s formal request:
This letter stayed on Secretary Brady’s desk for ten days without any apparent action. He then sent a memo to Senator Akaka, that said in effect, the Morgenthau files have been sent to the National Archives. This had the impact of putting a tree in the middle of a forest for safe keeping. It worked; we have never been able to find the Morgenthau files. Why Secretary Brady was unwilling to work with Senator Akaka is unknown. It is just one more example of the government’s refusal to cooperate in any way in trying to find an answer to the question of what happened to Amelia Earhart. End of Editor’s note.)
In September of this year (1996), I sent a letter to the Commandant of the Coast Guard and requested a copy of the unexpurgated, official report, including the radio log of the Coast Guard cutter Itasca as it related to the flight of Amelia Earhart on 2 July 1937. I cited the Presidential Directive #12958, dated 17 April 1995, concerning the automatic declassification of documents that are more than 25 years old, as authority. The Coast Guard Commandant advised me that all documents relating to that event were in the National Archives.
With the name of a contact for Coast Guard material in the National Archives, I again requested the original, unexpurgated log of the Itasca. Again I was told that no such document exists in their files. However, they did send me a copy of an index of material that they had relating to Earhart and the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca. Although much of the information in the index is familiar, I did send for some documents that may offer some new light.
Why all the mystery about what happened to Amelia Earhart? It is my judgment Morgenthau knew what happened to Amelia Earhart from “a verbal report and all those wireless messages and everything else.” But, he put a cap on the release of all information about her shortly after she disappeared. I believe he took that action to protect the reputation of Amelia Earhart from that day forward so that people of the world would remember her as a beautiful and courageous young lady who was willing to challenge the concept of a man’s world and would live on as a legend for all to love and admire.
On January 6, 1935, Amelia Earhart planted a Banyan tree in Hilo, Hawaii. (Earhart was in Hawaii preparing for her flight to Oakland.) On August 12, 1937, Secretary of the Treasury for President Franklin Roosevelt, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., planted a Banyan tree next to the Earhart tree. They are there today on Banyan Tree Drive, Hilo, Hawaii. (End of “Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection.”)
Rollin Reineck’s longtime devotion to the Earhart case notwithstanding, I can’t agree with all his conclusions relative to Henry Morgenthau’s phone conversation with Malvina Thompson “Tommy” Scheider. Plenty of room exists for varying interpretations of his statements, and without having Mrs. Scheider’s side of it, we can never know for sure exactly what these two were really saying.
Though much about this “Dictaphone” recording remains unknown, I have no doubts about two points relative to it. First, despite the treasury secretary’s thrice-repeated concern about the “reputation of Amelia Earhart” and how he wanted to protect it, his concern was solely focused on the reputation of his boss, FDR, and how public knowledge of the truth in the Earhart matter would affect his political future. Secondly, by May 1938 if not much earlier, Morgenthau was fully aware of Earhart’s captivity on Saipan and her possible death in Japanese hands. Based on Morgenthau’s comments to Scheider, many of which make little or no sense without Scheider’s replies, it’s difficult to believe that she had been brought into the small circle of those who knew all of the ghastly truth, which would have been so deadly to the Roosevelt administration’s future, though of course she may have been. How can we know?
Perhaps the most important question arising from the Morgenthau-Scheider phone conversation is this: What did Morgenthau mean when he said, “Amelia Earhart absolutely disregarded all orders”? Whose orders? To do what? And how did she disregard them? Some have attempted to explain Morgenthau’s reference to Earhart’s “disregard for orders” as her failure to follow the planned radio schedule and protocols between her and Itasca, but if that was the case, why all the secrecy on Morgenthau’s part?
And what are we to make of Morgenthau’s reference to “all those wireless messages”? Is he referring to some or all of the alleged “post-loss” radio messages that some believe came from Earhart in her downed Electra?
In his aforementioned book, Amelia Earhart Survived, Reineck continued his discussion of the Morgenthau transcript, and makes several huge assumptions about Earhart’s actions during her flight from Lae to Howland Island. Reineck tells us, without citing any sources, that be believes Earhart “disregarded all orders” by breaking radio silence and telling Itasca that “she was turning north,” in direct contravention of her prearranged “PLAN B,“ to be initiated if she failed to locate Howland Island. Although the idea that Earhart may have turned northward toward Mili Atoll, where she did indeed land, is very plausible, Reineck’s concoction — out of thin air — of PLAN B, and his convoluted, bizarre discussion in arriving at this conclusion would leave most readers completely dazed and confused.
Similarly, Reineck cites no sources for his assertion that “it is a documented fact that he [Morgenthau] did travel from Washington, D.C. to Hawaii and did have a private discussion with Commander Thompson . . . on 29 July 1937.” After he points out that such a trip would have taken about 10 days at that time, Reineck asks “what could be so terribly important that a top level Presidential cabinet officer had to be away from his duties in Washington for almost a month, to personally see the Commander of the Itasca.“ Reineck makes Morgenthau’s Hawaii trip seem quite sinister and conspiratorial, and alleges that, “as a cover story, [Morgenthau] said that this trip to Hawaii was a vacation for him and his wife.” Again, Reineck offered no sources for his contentions, some of which I included in my discussion of the Morgenthau matter in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last without noticing that Reineck had not sourced his Morgenthau claims.
As I often do these days when I’m stuck or need expert advice on an Earhart question, I asked researcher Les Kinney for this take on the Morgenthau transcript and Rollin Reineck’s ideas about it. “Now, regarding the sinister overtones of Morgenthau’s travel to Hawaii,” Kinney wrote in an email, “it’s all bunk. Morgenthau had been planning a vacation to Hawaii for some time. His family went along and he stayed there for about a month. FDR sends him a note and says I am glad you are enjoying yourself, etc. Morgenthau talks of various things he and his family were doing while on vacation (I have all this).
“There is no mention of official business,” Kinney continued. “In other words, Morgenthau was on a planned vacation that had been pre-arranged. There was nothing sinister about the trip as Reineck suggests. Morgenthau certainly did not travel to Hawaii just to interview Thompson. Because Morgenthau was head of the Treasury Department, and the Coast Guard was in the Treasury Department, no doubt he might have paid a visit to the CO of the Coast Guard District in Honolulu. Did Morgenthau specifically wish to meet privately with Thompson? I don’t know, and I have searched long and hard to find a record of this meeting to no avail.”
Finally, I don’t share Reineck’s certainty that “Mr. Morgenthau is telling Eleanor Roosevelt that he has made the radio log palatable for public consumption . . . by deleting or changing portions of the log that would be damaging to Earhart’s reputation and by deleting portions of the log that may have told what ORDERS Earhart has disregarded.” Although Morgenthau did imply this might have occurred in his memo to Eleanor, does any other credible evidence exist that supports Reineck’s belief that the original logs of the Itasca were “expurgated or changed” by government censors?
Itasca Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts kept the first three pages of the original flight log until his death in 1974, and these pages reflect the same 40-minute gap in communications from Earhart. Neither Bellarts nor anyone else in the radio room ever reported that the cutter’s radio logs had been tampered with. Two other logs, the Itasca deck log and Howland Island Detachment radio log, have long been questioned, but for reasons far less ominous than upper-echelon censorship of information that would have revealed Earhart’s actions during her alleged final moments.
Again, without Malvina Scheider’s half of her conversation with Henry Morgenthau to fill in the blanks, we can only continue to speculate about why Morgenthau said, “It isn’t a very nice story,” or what Stephen B. Gibbons, assistant treasury secretary, meant when he told his boss, “We have evidence that the thing is all over, sure. Terrible. It would be awful to make it public.”
Your comments are welcomed.