We’ve seen the account of Ted Burris, a federal employee on Kwajalein in 1965, who was told by an old Marshallese man of the nearly certain presence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan near Ebeye Island in 1937. In today’s post we return to the vaults of the Amelia Earhart Society to examine more evidence of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Marshall Islands landfall.
Reverend Joseph C. Wright, a Presbyterian minister from Gulfport, Mississippi, was an Air Force major on temporary duty at Guam in the spring of 1967. Writing to Fred Goerner in July 1967, Wright recalled that while visiting his brother-in-law on Majuro Atoll, he and a Majuro-based missionary made a “field trip” to Mili Atoll, 80 miles away.
The inset paragraphs, edited slightly for clarity, are taken from Wright’s letter to Goerner, and appeared in the July 1998 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.
I am a member of the Air Force, S.A.C., in a B-52 Unit that just recently returned from a six months TDY [temporary duty] in Guam. While there I had the great fortune to wrangle myself a 10 day leave to visit Majuro in the Marshalls. My brother-in-law is principal of the High Schools there, and in addition I knew an Assembly of God Missionary, Sam Sasser, who, with his family have been living there for over five years. It was an act of God (or Providence) that allowed me to make the contacts that we were able to, which was part of a Grecian Odyssey in itself.
Our Trust Territory aircraft arrived in Majuro on a Wednesday morning, 26 April 1967, a few hours after the klunker [sic] vessel, the Mieco Queen, had departed for a supposedly five-day field trip to Mili Atoll. Sasser, a native sailor, and myself elected to take a 14 ft, 40 hp motor boat across 15 miles of stormy ocean late in the afternoon to try to catch the “Queen” at Arno Atoll that evening. After 3 tries at “jumping the reef,” we successfully got into the rolling ocean swells and after four tough hours (no life vests) caught the vessel at 8:00 P.M. that night.
With rough weather and a breakdown aboard the ship, we extended to almost three weeks. The trip to Mili was tremendous, and the discoveries were even more exciting. They hadn’t seen half a dozen white people in over 25 years! The missionary effort was tremendous, and on Mili Island itself, which had been completely bombed out in WWII, we explored war wreckage that had been completely untouched since the War.
All kinds of Betty bombers, fighters, and the most exciting – a wrecked American P-38. I identified it, and recovered his little brass radio call sign dash panel plate — the guy turned out to be quite a hero, which is another story, and which I intend to follow through and identify.
During the voyage, Wright met Captain Leonard deBrum, “master of the vessel, Mieco Queen,” who told him of three people on a Mili island who might have information about the Earhart mystery. Wright’s letter to Goerner continues:
But the most thrilling discovery was to locate the specific island that Amelia Earhart crashed on. Yes, it is circumstantial evidence, but here is the story: I became good friends with Capt. Leonard de Brum, the master of the vessel, Mieco Queen, and himself [sic] is quite an exciting legend in the Marshalls. We discussed the Earhart mystery, and I let him read the concluding chapters of your book. Yes, he had heard rumors of the lady American flyer, but didn’t pay much attention, or put much stock in them. It had been so many years ago. So he referred Sasser and myself to three aged people on a particular island in the Mili Atoll.
On Enajet Island, Wright asked an old man if he remembered an American airplane landing in the area many years ago.
Thru the interpreter I asked him if “many years ago do you remember an American airplane being in this part of the world.” Keep in mind that this old guy hasn’t even seen white people in many years. He puzzled and remembered by “so and so dying, somebody else getting married, having babies, etc. – then went on, “yes, it was thirty years ago, and I remember very well now, because the person from the airplane was not a man, but a lady with man’s clothes and man’s haircut.
“Also she had a man with her with white cloth around his head,” he continued. . . . . “But we could not be curious. It was in Japan times and they were very hard people. One woman would not cooperate and they cut off her head . . . but the story was that these people had papers and hid them in a hollow hole of a May tree. In a couple of days the Japs came and took the two people away, and also the wreckage.”
Several months later, Wright sent Goerner two photos of the old man, and with the help of Dirk Ballendorf, a Peace Corps official on Saipan, the native was identified as Lammorro, then living on Mili Island. No further contact with Lammorro was ever reported. Wright’s story was published in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald on July 3, 1992.
Joseph Wright’s report enhances the likelihood that the American fliers were taken to Kwajalein Atoll soon after their July 2 disappearance. In their 2001 essay, “Next Stop Kwajalein,” published only on the AES Website, Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas and Joe Gervais speculated that some Marshall Islands reports of a plane landing on the water were not, as most assumed, sightings of Earhart’s Electra, but of a Japanese seaplane with the American fliers aboard. The authors’ analysis focused on Burris’ account, and “Next Stop Kwajalein” will be the subject of a future post.