An interview with Marshalls icon Robert Reimers: “Everyone knew” of AE’s landing, tycoon said

Once again we dip into the archives of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters to present another of  the late Bill Prymak’s invaluable contributions to Earhart research, an interview with the legendary Robert Reimers just a year before his death in 1998.  Without Prymak’s efforts, the voice of this well-known Marshallese entrepreneur would likely never have been heard outside of his beloved islands. The following piece appeared in the May 1997 issue of the AES Newsletters, and is presented for your information and entertainment, as always.

INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT REIMERS by Bill Prymak

The passengers queuing up at the Majuro International Airport for the Air Micronesia flight to Honolulu were getting restless. The flight was already one hour late, there were no seat reservations, the plane was overbooked (as usual) and the terminal was crowded and hot.

Quite inconspicuously, but with obvious authority, an elderly couple (the man deeply tanned and spry), were ushered to the head of the line and escorted to the airplane. Not feeling slighted, but curious, I asked one of the airport security men who the couple was.

With great reverence he whispered, “Why that is our Mr. Robert Reimers, with his wife.”

Robert Reimers, founder, CEO, and genius behind the sprawling Robert Reimers Enterprises, Inc. (RRE as it is known), has hotels, shopping centers, hardware stores, travel agents, and dive boat operations at Majuro. And flung across the vast length and breadth of the Marshall Islands, RRE owns perimeter hotels, fuel depots, stores and nearly every commercial enterprise that exists on the outer atolls and islands. He is number ONE. Even his address: P.O. Box 1, Majuro, Marshall Islands, tells you of his station. 

Robert Reimers, the top businessman in the Marshall Islands in 1991, told Bill Prymak that the Mili Atoll landing of Amelia Earhart in 1937 was common knowledge among his people. Reimers passed away in 1998.

Robert Reimers, the top businessman in the Marshall Islands in 1991, told Bill Prymak that the Mili Atoll landing of Amelia Earhart in 1937 was common knowledge among his people. Reimers passed away in 1998.

This man, I said to myself, has got to be interviewed!!

Once we were aboard and seated on the plane, I was able to finagle Mr. Reimers’ grandson into swapping seats with me, and for the next three hours I had a fascinating insight to one of the most powerful and influential men in the whole Marshall Islands. My interview:

 AES: Mr. Reimers, we just came back from Jaluit . . . do you personally know much about the Island?

 REIMERS: Bill, I was born at Jabor (Ed. Note: main island and town at Jaluit Atoll), in 1909, and was raised there until 1935, when our family moved to Likiep Atoll. Tourists never visit Jaluit; what made you go there?

AES: Some of my group had been there before. We wanted to see the children again, and we were looking for additional information on Amelia Earhart.

REIMERS:  Ah, yes, the Earhart woman . . . why are you Americans still looking for her and her airplane?

AES:  Mr. Reimers, she has never been found, and her sister, still living, and other family have been searching for so many years . . . they deserve to know.

REIMERS: Ah yes, family.  I know family very well; do you know I have eleven children and sixty-seven grandkids?

AESThat is remarkable. We have observed that family ties are very strong in the outer islands. Can you tell me some of your experiences with the Japanese before Word War II?

REIMERS: The Germans had made Jaluit their commercial headquarters before WWI, but you’re not interested in events that far back. When the Japanese Navy kicked out the Germans, they sealed the (Marshall) Islands to all foreigners. Those very few Americans and other foreign nationals that did sneak under the curtain were shown only what the Japanese wanted them to see, and that was very little. About 1930, I had established myself with the Japanese as a responsible trader, and I did much commerce with them right up until and through WWII. I even supplied them with construction materials and local labor for their island projects.

AES: In what kind of “projects” were you involved?

REIMERS: Well, before 1935, it was mainly commercial and communication facilities: harbor dredging; wharves; docks; hospitals; and big, tall radio towers. But after 1935, the Japanese began some military projects like the airfields at Wotje and Maloelap. I had a good business relationship with them. But after 1936, they began bringing in foreign construction laborers, and conditions got worse for my local people.

AES: When did construction work begin at Emidj?

In June of 1946 Dr. Leonard Mason snapped this shot of Robert Reimers standing on the stern of an outrigger canoe with two friends as they sailed across the lagoon, probably at Kwajalein.

In June of 1946 Dr. Leonard Mason snapped this shot of Robert Reimers standing on the stern of an outrigger canoe with two friends as they sailed across the lagoon, probably at Kwajalein.

REIMERS: Emidj was a very secret place, and even my local people had little access to this area. I was one of the few Marshallese allowed in because I delivered construction materials regularly.  Jabor docks were built in 1936, and the seaplane ramps and docks for the naval base at Emidj were started about the same time. My shipping records were all taken by the Japanese when the great war started, but I am sure of the dates I just mentioned. Military construction projects at Mili did not start until 1940.

AES: What hospital facilities were available in 1937 at Jaluit?

REIMERS: The Japanese converted the old German hospital at Jabor to a very small medical facility, and at Emidj they built a hospital because so many workers, mostly Korean, were there working on the concrete phase of the seaplane naval base.

******************************

A meal break was taken at this point, so I had time to reflect on what he had stated so far. Mr. Reimers has a remarkable memory, and perfect command of the English language. At first glance, and after listening to him, you’d swear he was only sixty or so. His wife, hearing the conversation but not participating, obviously understood every word, with her smiles, nods, and concurrence to her husband’s words. Without any doubt, this man was telling it as it indeed happened. When everyone finished their meal, we continued:

AES: Many of your people that we interviewed at Jabor and Emidj, notably the elders, speak of the brutality of the Japanese against your people during the war years. They described how for the theft of a coconut, a head was severed . . . how Emidj became the execution center for both Allied prisoners of war, and the local population. Can you comment on this tragic chapter in your country’s history?

REIMERS: Remember, Mr. Bill, I called Likiep Atoll my home during the war period, but I was conscripted by the Japanese military to continue my supply lines of materials to their many island bases. And some of my travels took me back to Jabor. Emidj was very secretive, but the stories you hear today from the elders ring true. I must add that towards the end of the war, when things were going badly for the Japanese, my people feared for their lives, and fled to unoccupied islands to escape what they expected as mass slaughter for those who stayed. These times were very bad for the Marshallese . . . the elders remember as I do.

AES: In July of 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator disappeared, and the Western world did not hear from them again. Can you help me, and her family, with any information you may have regarding the possibility of her being down in your islands?

REIMERS:  It was widely known throughout the Islands by both Japanese and Marshallese that a Japanese fishing boat first found them and their airplane near Mili. They then transferred them to a bigger boat. They were brought to Jabor, where Bilimon [Amaron] treated them. Oscar deBrum, and the Carl Heine family (including the boys), were living there and knew of this. They were then taken to Kwajalein and from there to Truk and then Saipan. There was no mystery . . . everybody knew it!

AES: But Mr. Reimers, the Japanese strongly denied seeing the two American aviators. They even sent airplanes and ships out to search for her. How can this be?

REIMERS: Even in 1937, an intrusion in these islands was a very serious offense. And in the case of Earhart, a woman pilot, great cover and secrecy was placed upon them by the Japanese. But, of course, these are our islands. And my people — even in their fear — proved very resourceful knowing about such things.

AES: Did you personally know Bilimon, and the Heine family?

REIMERS: I knew Bilimon very well, and rest easy if you worry about his story of treating the two Americans. You will never fmd a more honest man. You know, of course, he died last year. He was a good man. And the Heine family . . .  John and Dwight’s parents were executed during the war. I grew up with them, and they were the finest missionary people I had ever met. John and Dwight knew about the Americans, but would never talk much.

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron's Majuro home in 1991.

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with the famed Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron’s Majuro home in 1991.

AES: Researchers like Joe Gervais, sitting across the aisle, have visited your islands several times. Even as far back as 1960, he made several trips to SAIPAN where he met the same curtain of silence. Do the natives not care, or are they still fearful of the Japanese?

REIMERS: It is difficult for Americans to understand the fright and fear of my people during the war. At any moment the Japanese could come smashing into your house and take away any possession you may have, and then march you off to prison—or even worse. After the war, these fears did not die easily. There are some old timers who still think the Japanese might come back. It would not be wise to discuss things deemed secret during the great war. People saw so much killing, they may say, “Why the big fuss over one lady flyer? We saw thousands die!”

AES: Ah, but Amelia was special to the American people.

******************************

I could hear the 727’s engines power back for descent, and Mr. Reimers’ eyes told me the interview was concluded. After expressing my deepest gratitude, I wished him well, and told him our group would come back again to his Islands.

“Don’t forget,” he chided with a parting smile, “call me, and I’ll  find the right boat you. Maybe one of mine will do the job. Good Luck! Find your Amelia.”

POSTMORTEM THOUGHTS:  Three hours with Mr. Reimers certainly taught me a great deal more about the man and his country than the above highlights reveal. Here was a man of intense pride, unquestioned integrity, and now in his mid-eighties, a very private person. I kept imagining what it would be like, to be at his side in the mid-thirties, sailing with his men and boats between the islands, dealing with the Japanese as they prepared for their inevitable confrontation with America. Couldn’t we magically just once turn that clock back, only for a day, to be with Bilimon that summer morning in Jabor, 1937, and truly see the cast of characters that played out that historic event? Oh, my kingdom for a camera, and all I ask for is only one photograph. (End of Prymak article.)

Robert Reimers died on Sept. 27, 1998; his wife Lupe followed on July 23, 2000. They are survived by seven children: Richard (Kietel), Francis (Teruo), Vincent, Ramsey, Minna, Ronnie and Reico; and hundreds of grand-, greatgrand and great-greatgrandchildren. For more information on the life of Robert Reimers, please click here. 

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16 responses

  1. After reading this material about the iconic, Marshall Islands businessman, Robert Reimer; I was disappointed by his almost disregard or lack of *interest in Amelia Earhart. Mr. Reimers seemed more interested in his own family & business ventures. Yes he does shed light into the Japanese control & build up of the island; but tells us nothing more, than the FEARS invoked by the Japanese and the islanders inability to do anything about it.

    As we can see, Mr. Reimers was a busy guy and far more concerned about $$$$$$$$$$$$$ than the fate of the most FAMOUS, FEMALE PILOT in the world – *Amelia Earhart.

    I WISH Robert Reimer’s family all the BEST, with their ventures & successes in the Marshall Islands and their CLAM SHELL company. Unfortunately I am no fan of clams but more of an Earhart connoisseur….

    Doug

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    1. Doug, I can easily understand Reimers’ perspective, in seemingly minimizing Earhart’s disappearance and the [not] mystery. As a successful businessman and pretty much local “royalty” (a la Trump), he assuredly was always tending to business. Plus he had slyly learned over the decades to “MYOB” when it came to asking or even discussing topics the Japanese had clearly posted as off limits. I can imagine him saying the same things to his native employees and acquaintances – “One woman pilot disappears – what is the fuss about? We have more pressing things to consider for our own lives and families. Avoid idle gossip!”

      For me it is humbling to consider how the local Marshallese community knows about what happened (not just to Earhart but also many other issues we never touch on in this blog) and just accepts it as historical truth, without reacting from a wider or more longevous frame of reference. From the interview as quoted, he is not comparing her disappearance and capture by the Japanese to anything and not really making light of either. It just happened. Along with many, many other things that are probably best to leave in the past and not discuss, especially with “strangers” from other cultures. Our own Native Americans have the same attitude when asked specific questions by people from other cultures about historical fact in the American southwest and west.

      Part of our fervor related to Earhart and her demise stems from the persistent dismissal and cover up maintained to this day. With all due respect, I think we fans on Mike’s blog long to see this Truth in the clear glare of public revelation. At the same time, she was just one person, albeit one person with sizable credits and a remarkable life and history up until at least July 1937. And, in my opinion, a woman who was treated brutally by the self-interested Japanese and with outrageous disrespect and cold disinterest from the leader(s) of her own country. Add to this the self-promoting and cartoonish efforts of TIGHAR et al., who use Earhart’s name and legacy to fill their own pockets and steal a minute here and there in the much over-rated spotlight provided by lack luster media types, and I agree entirely with your sentiment: her final demise is definitely worth the effort to explain and verify.

      Like

    2. As a Marshallese, I feel the need to say something regarding to your post. First off, I feel bad for Amelia Earhart and her disappearance. But like Robert R. said, “Why the big fuss over one lady flyer? We saw thousands die!” Sure, Mr. Reimers did benefit during that time but he did it out necessity. Would you done the same if you had families starving and scared?

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      1. Jr,
        Thanks for your comment. Reimers’ comment to Bill Prymak was strictly rhetorical, as he was certainly smart enough to understand “what the big fuss” was about Amelia. The “big fuss,” Jr, is that the American establishment, ie the government and media, continue to tell the public the Earhart disappearance is still “a great aviation mystery” and shows no indication of EVER telling the truth about her true fate.

        Along with this lie comes all manner of outrage, not least of which is the continuing spectacle of Ric Gillespie of TIGHAR enriching himself with fat paychecks every other year as he returns to Nikumaroro to pretend to be looking for the Earhart plane. Are you serious, Jr, asking “what’s the big fuss”?

        I urge you to purchase and read Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, which will answer this question in spades.

        Mike C.

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  2. Mike, what a wonderful find in your Prymak material! Considering Reimers’ stature locally and background, this is yet another added to a long list of indisputable witnesses to the Truth you and your fans have come to embrace.

    Do people like Gillespie just think all these dozens of individuals whose transcripted interviews you have just MADE ALL THIS UP?????? Shame on them.

    Mike, your research and willingness to share his kind of info (here in this article) is so very appreciated by so many of us. Thanks so much!

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  3. wolfspecter –

    The only place we will ever see the *TRUTH publicized is Mike’s blog. We know, it will never be made public, on the major networks.

    To Mr. Reimers and some of his friends, Amelia Earhart was someone they hardly knew. Maybe this is why, he didn’t much care? My dispute was their disregard towards a woman. What a backward culture & mindset these people really were – the Japanese. It took a world war and the loss of thousands of lives to advance these buffoons. Then again look at our social media and the buffoons who run networks, are we no better?

    Thanks wolfspector for your *thoughts & *compliments.
    Doug

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    1. Doug, our species has really messed it all up. If we could sit down over chips and salsa, I would bend your ear for a couple hours! I am disheartened every day by the pointless and contagious cruelty, disrespect, and evil I see and hear about. Not just to people, mind you, but to innocent animals and the environment. Every day that passes leaves me feeling even more apart from others. These are sad times indeed. Thank you for all your comments I have read here on Mike’s blog – you are obviously not caught up in the current tidal wave of ignorance and sadism.

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  4. Wolfspecter –

    This MASSIVE COVER -UP of Amelia Earhart by our media and it’s masquerade of these TIGHAR expeditions; leaves the general public, brainwashed in this never ending search & mystery. It plays so well on television and even more with movies. Generation after generation has fallen pry to this FALSE SHOW.

    Let those of us, who know the *TRUTH & the FACTS, continue in our crusade to *educate, inform & enlighten a new generation. May this disguise that has been perpetrated for the last 77 years be unmasked, unvoiced, unplugged once and for all.

    Thanks for your *insight, *intelligence and *crusade in the *TRUTH.
    Doug

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    1. AMEN!!!! 🙂

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  5. Mike, since the mainstream media tends to discount the “Truth” and all the research and eye witness accounts that support it. Would approaching some deep pocket Hollywood types that have a major passion for aviation be a way to produce a documentary or feature film on “The Truth at Last”. If the entire AE issue was brought to the big screen, it would be impossible for the mainstream media not to acknowledge the research. Not as a story about AE’s life but the story of what you and others have uncovered, and the almost certain US government and Japanese cover up. I am in the aviation business and know for a fact that there are many people with the resources to bring the “Holy Grail” of the aviation to a truthful end. AE and FN deserve this from us and we should demand the truth as a caring nation.

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    1. From your lips to God’s ears, Skip! Your question is an old and obvious one, but nevertheless deserves to be asked again and again. You can imagine how I feel every time establishment trash like “Amelia,” with Richard Gere and Hillary Swank comes out, and was a complete bomb, BTW. Clearly, Hollywood is dominated by the liberal establishment’s mores, and always has been. Rich Martini, a lower-tier Hollywood writer-director, has been trying to get funding for his script, EARHART, which presents the truth as we know it, for many years without success. If you want an example of how Hollywood’s elites are in bed with the U.S. government, you can’t find a better one than the Earhart case.

      I was contacted several months ago by feminist icon Camille Paglia, who expressed an interest, but thought the problem with the Earhart disappearance was an incompetent and lazy media who had never properly investigated the case. After I explained to her that there’s far more involved, and she ordered and apparently read Truth at Last, I never heard from her again. The resistance to the truth in the Earhart case is overwhelming, which is why I call this story perhaps the most despised in American history. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this, and my experience with the American media during the past three years firmly bears it out. Thousands have ignored my queries!

      Mike

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  6. Mike:

    I took a group of Earhart researchers to Mili Atoll earlier this year, thanks to money put up by Parker Aerospace. The ‘Eroch’ on Mili told me that when his grandfather was ‘Eroch’ back in 1937, the Japanese went around to several neighboring islands and brought back 40 of the strongest men and boys they could find, then took them to the small island where Amelia and Fred landed their ockheed Electra on a reef. The islands were forced to help the Japanese move Amelia’s Electra off the reef and across one end of a small island, so they could put the aircraft onto a small barge in the lagoon.

    He said they filled the barge with water, so it would sit lower down in the water, which would make it easier for the Japanese soldiers and island laborers to wrestle the heavy twin-engine plane onto the barge. Water was then pumped out of the barge, making it sit higher in the water, before towing it out into the ocean and put onto a Japanese ship. Then, Amelia, Fred and the Electra were taken to Jaluit Atoll, Kwajalein Atoll and finally over to Saipan. As you know, I filmed Oscar deBrum, Bilimon, Lotan Jack and others. They all tell the same story that was related by Robert Reimers, whom I met, but didn’t film, on Majuro in the late 70’s, or early 80’s. But let me get back to this year’s trip to Mili.

    The way the Japanese were able to move the Electra off the reef at low tide and across one end of the small island was by putting down narrow gauge railroad tracks, then placed at least three ‘dolly’s’ on the tracks, then lifted the plane onto the small ‘dolly’s’, which made it easier for them to push and slide the heavy plane, as they slowly moved it across one end of the small island and onto the waiting barge in the lagoon. If you know where to look on Google Earth, you can still see coral heads that the Japanese had to move in the lagoon, to open up a space that was wide enough for them to get the barge close to the beach. You’re also able to see on one end of this small island, where the Japanese cut down all the coconut trees and brush the width of the Lockheed Electra, so it would make it easier for them to lay down the narrow gauge tracks and slide the place across the island.

    I know they used at least three ‘dolly’s’ because while on our Mili Expedition we found the remains of three of the ‘dolly’s (two on land and one in the water). We had metal detectors with us and discovered multiple aluminum aircraft parts (some of them we had to dig for 12-inches below the surface) which we brought back to Parker for scientific analysis. Amelia and Fred did not come down on the large island of Mili. They came down on a much smaller island some thirty miles across the lagoon.

    While visiting Mili, and speaking with the ‘Eroch’, we found the remains of a Japanese Zero, a Japanese Betty Bomber and also a Japanese VAL. Aluminum was removed from each of these aircraft and brought back to the States, so Parker scientists could compare the aluminum we found on the small island, with WWII aluminum we recovered from the Japanese Zero, Betty Bomber and Val.

    Parker scientist have reported that the aluminum we found was pre-WWII aluminum, but I have not received official word yet,that what we did find came from Amelia’s Lockheed Electra.

    Mike Harris

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    1. Thanks for this excellent summary, Mike. If you’ve read this blog in recent months, you know that Dick Spink has been keeping us updated on the latest regarding the artifacts he found in his several trips to the Endrikens since 2011, including the one you were involved with. Without specific serial numbers, there cannot be any smoking guns claimed with any credibility, even though I would also bet that the parts must have come from the Electra. Nobody in the media wants to hear that they “likely” or “probably” came from the Earhart bird. They hate the truth so much that any fair coverage of it is a complete longshot. I’ve written extensively about the establishment’s contempt for the truth, and I believe you have a PDF of Truth at Last.

      Like

    2. Fascinating details, Mike – this story adds so much more credence to the version of Earhart’s and Noonan’s final days. Please share further results about the scientific tests on the aluminum!

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  7. To Skip –
    I have written, mailed letters & sent Mike’s – [Truth at Last cards] to numerous Hollywood acters, including Matt Damon. NONE have bothered to e-mail, reply back, nor contact Mike Campbell. This tells me the (scope to which Hollywood & our government works).

    Hollywood would not dare to cross or tarnish FDR’S legacy nor expose Franklin Roosevelt’s secrets, blunders or mIsHaPs; now would they? This would be a very foolish movie to make and one they would REGRET……..(this is why it will always be kept in the closet) That’s all folks!
    Doug

    Like

  8. I not only heard the story of Earhart crashing off Milli, I was shown the cell in which she and her navigator were held on Saipan and the area where the locals say their unmarked graves are. When I lived in Majuro, I met a Saipanese woman who said her father took food to the pair in jail. He told her that Amelia died of dysentery and the navigator was beheaded shortly after.
    I also had lunch with the woman who wrote the book about the search for Amelia that was turned into a movie. She is absolutely adamant that the stories about Milli and Saipan are incorrect and that her plane went down east of the Marshalls. There is evidence that seems to prove that but I’ll always believe she crashed off Milli.

    Like

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