Kwajalein Atoll is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Comprising 97 islands and islets, it has a land area of 6.33 square miles and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, with an area of 839 square miles. Some 13,500 Marshallese citizens live on the atoll, most of them on Ebeye Island.
The southernmost and largest island in the atoll is Kwajalein Island, with a population of about 1,000, mostly Americans with a small number of Marshall Islanders and other nationalities, all of whom require express permission from the U.S. Army to live there. Kwajalein Island houses the mission control center for the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Test Site, commonly referred to as the Reagan Test Site, which primarily functions as a test facility for U.S. missile defense and space research programs.
Roi-Namur has several radar installations and a small residential community of unaccompanied U.S. personnel who deal with missions support and radar tracking. Japanese bunkers and buildings from World War II are in good condition and preserved. Roi and Namur were originally separate islets that were joined by a causeway built predominately by Korean conscripted laborers working under the Japanese military.
This brief introduction to Kwajalein is simply meant to help focus readers who may not be familiar with this Marshalls Islands atoll, located in the north-central Pacific about 1,500 miles from Saipan, which is always directly related to Amelia Earhart, at least in this blog.
Now to the point: The Jan. 7, 2003 edition of The Kwajalein Hourglass, the weekly newsletter at the U.S. Army facility at Kwajalein, ran an article, “Did Amelia Earhart land on Kwajalein Atoll?” by Eugene C. Sims, who was stationed there as a GI in 1945 and returned to work as a civilian from 1964 to ’71, and from 1983 to ’86.
Sims recalled his youth in Oakland, California during the 1930s, and how he grew to idolize Earhart after seeing her at the local airport. When Fred Goerner’s book was published in 1966, Sims was working on Kwajalein; after reading it, he was inspired to pursue his own Earhart investigation. “I was surprised to hear them speak so openly about the white-skinned lady and man that came to Kwajalein in 1937,” Sims wrote.
An unidentified Marshallese man told Sims that as a twelve-year-old in 1937, “a large Japanese ship came into the harbor” and he saw “a white lady and man on the deck,” a rare sight in those times. Sims wrote that because Goerner had been denied access to Kwajalein in the early 1960s, “Goerner was never to learn [the] concrete proof that Amelia was on Kwajalein and Roi-Namur in 1937.”
In a future post, we’ll look at the previously unknown eyewitnesses Sims and others presented in the pages of The Kwajalein Hourglass, but today is for something different. As I’ve done before when it’s appropriate, I remind readers that I’m presenting this information for your own discernment, and am neither endorsing it or dismissing it.
In 1972 Sims was transferred to Agana, Guam, to set up a new business for Global Associates. He and his wife Betty remained on Guam for over eight years, and during that time Sims continued to learn more about the fate of Amelia Earhart. As an engineer and manager of the new business, he traveled extensively throughout Micronesia, and made weekly trips to Saipan, where he made friends with many of the island’s indigenous families. Some of them had lived on Saipan in the 1930s, and the subject of Earhart was discussed many times.
I contacted Sims in 2006 after his work in the Hourglass came to my attention, and he was happy to talk and share his findings. He also sent me a copy of the Winter 2002 Kwajaletter, a sister publication of the Hourglass, which featured a fascinating story, “The Ghost of Amelia Earhart,” that Sims wrote from his home in Coos Bay, Oregon. Following are the salient paragraphs of Sims’ article, along with the unique photo he shot on Saipan in 1973:
I found that few people wished to discuss the 1937 event of her disappearance or of her being brought to Saipan by the Japanese. My wife and I were shown various places on Saipan where Amelia allegedly had been seen. One man took me to a spot in the old cemetery where he claimed she was buried but the most interesting place we visited was the old Garapan prison used by the Japanese in the 1930s.
After the American forces recaptured Saipan in mid-1944, the old stone and steel-framed prison building was abandoned and left to decay. Cutting through the dense overgrown jungle and then stumbling over giant roots of tangatanga to gain access to the remnants of the old jail-like structure was a real effort. Our guide showed us the jail cells where Amelia and Fred were supposedly held captive. I took many pictures.
Several days later in Guam and after the photos had been developed, I was shocked to see one print of Amelia’s cell. In the rusted metal frame of the cell door stood a white ghostly figure! Was this some sort of photo misprint? I had the picture reprinted and again the ghostly outline was in evidence. I considered the ghost to be a message from Amelia and put my collection of Amelia in my locked files. What good would it do to show the picture?
At first, I reasoned the information might make a whale of a story, but then I realized maybe the data would just become more controversy about the fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. At this time I have no intention of writing anything more on the subject. My files are closed, but I still look at that ghostly picture . . . and wonder. (End of Sims story.)
Eugene C. Sims passed away in November 2013 at 86.