Navy’s 1988 assignment to write newspaper feature, Devine’s letter spark 31-year Earhart journey
Occasionally I’m asked how my preoccupation — some might call it an “obsession” — with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, now in its 31st year, began, sometimes in tones that victims of rare, terminal diseases might hear when questioned by the insensitive. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
In March 1987, I left active duty in San Diego after nine years working in radio and newspapers as an enlisted Navy journalist, confident that a good civilian job was just around the corner. But the radio stations in the Southern California area weren’t impressed, and so I returned to my hometown Washington, D.C. area, where I found employment as the sports editor of a small Northern Virginia weekly newspaper.
After a brief but intense stint with the paper, where the pay was low and the hours long, I was fortunate to find more lucrative and stable employment — though not in sports writing, my preference and strength — and returned to the Navy as a civilian writer with the Navy Internal Relations Activity, in Rosslyn, Va., as assistant editor at Navy Editor Service (now defunct). The NES was a monthly publication that was sent to all U.S. Navy and Marine Corps ships and shore stations for use in their local publications. The stories focused on Navy and Marine news and policies, but occasionally I was asked to write about less mundane subjects.
In late March 1988, just a few months after re-joining the Navy, so to speak, such an opportunity arose, when I was tasked to write a story about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart for the odd occasion of the upcoming 51st anniversary of her last flight. Much later, the irony of a Navy civilian employee and former sailor writing about an event that was so intimately connected to the Navy in so many ways — both overt and covert — eventually struck me, but at the time my knowledge of the big picture in the Earhart travesty was nonexistent.
To research the story, I read the only four books on the Earhart disappearance available at the Washington Navy Yard Library, now the Naval History & Heritage Command. In order, these were Amelia Earhart Lives, by Joe Klaas, the 1970 sensation that burned brightly and briefly before Irene Bolam filed suit for defamation against the publisher of that scandalous tome; Amelia Earhart; The Myth and the Reality (1972) by Dick Strippel, a Navy apologist whose fish-wrapper simply restated the official Navy-Coast Guard crashed-and-sank finding, as it was already beginning to wear thin; Vincent V. Loomis’ Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (1985), the best collection and presentation of evidence for Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing ever; and Thomas E. Devine’s 1987 opus, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, the former Army postal sergeant’s eyewitness account of his amazing experience on 1944 Saipan. There, Devine, along with at least a few dozen other GIs, witnessed the presence and destruction of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, a key event in one of the greatest cover-ups of the 20th century.
I was captivated from the very first pages of Amelia Earhart Lives, swept up in the Earhart saga for reasons I couldn’t even explain to myself. And upon finishing Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, the only Earhart book ever written by an eyewitness, I found Devine’s address and sent him a copy of my story’s first draft, along with a letter expressing my interest and admiration for his book, not really expecting him to reply,
I don’t have a copy of my first letter to Devine, but when I received his April 7 reply, below, I was elated, despite the fact that he wasn’t exactly bubbling over with praise for my initial effort. In retrospect, he was more tolerant and polite than I would have been, considering his long and contentious involvement with the Earhart story:
My April 12 response needs little introduction, but I assured Devine that I was “on your team” in all this, and that his letter had moved me to make some adjustments to my original draft. Following are the first three paragraphs:
Devine replied right away, and in his April 16 response he informed me that Eyewitness “was published to disseminate my own eyewitness involvement in this matter, and to counteract much misinformation already published.” After discussing a few of the problems he had with my story, including “misinformation” from Vincent V. Loomis and Fred Goerner’s books, he closed by writing, “Mike, I do appreciate your interest in this very serious matter, and would be pleased to acquire the report when it is released.”
Here’s the lead of the six-page story published in the May 1988 issue of Navy Editor Service, not available online:
The story presented the views of Klaas, Strippel, Devine and Loomis, was among the most popular I wrote during my two years at Navy Editor Service, and was published in countless Navy and Marine Corps newspapers and other publications. My Earhart education was in its infancy in 1988, as my reference to the disappearance as a great “mystery” attested. But I had already become another victim of “Earhart fever,” thanks in part to Devine’s letter, which meant so much to me and helped to cement my resolve to learn as much as possible about this captivating story.
Thus began a 15-year correspondence that lasted until just a few months before Devine’s death in September 2003 at age 88, and which resulted in the 2002 book that we co-authored, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart. Following is the review I wrote for Eyewitness on Amazon.com in December 2012:
Thomas E. Devine’s “Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident” joined the ranks of Fred Goerner’s 1966 bestseller “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” Paul Briand Jr.’s “Daughter of the Sky” (1960) and Vincent V. Loomis’ “Amelia Earhart: The Final Story” (1985) as one of the most important works ever written on the Earhart disappearance the moment it was published in 1987 by a small Colorado publisher. By 1987 the truth about Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s presence and deaths on Saipan was being blacked out in almost every corner of the mass media, and thus this book was largely suppressed and sold less than 4,000 copies; compare that to the over 400,000 that Goerner’s book sold in 1966, when the government and media establishment were caught unprepared to deal with the truth that Goerner discovered on Saipan.
As a result of Devine’s call for Saipan veterans to come forward to support his eyewitness experience on Saipan that established Earhart’s presence there, more than two-dozen former soldiers, Marines and sailors called and wrote to Devine, and their accounts are presented for the first time in the book I wrote in cooperation with him, “With Our Own Eyes,” published in 2002.
Ten years later, “Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last” (2012) presents many stunning new findings, eyewitness accounts and analysis, and never-before-published revelations from unimpeachable sources including famed U.S. military generals and iconic San Francisco newsman Fred Goerner’s files that reveal the truth about Amelia Earhart’s death on Saipan, as well as the sacred-cow status of this matter within the U.S. government. “Truth at Last” explodes the popular myths that Amelia Earhart’s Electra, NR 16020 crashed and sank in the waters off Howland Island on July 2, 1937, or landed on the reef of Nikumaroro Atoll, where the hapless fliers perished soon thereafter of thirst and/or starvation, which has become the most popular falsehood ever perpetuated about Earhart’s fate.
Without Devine’s book, this writer may never have become engaged in the more than 20 years of intense research that went into the production of “Truth at Last,” which presents the most comprehensive case ever for the Saipan destiny of Earhart and Noonan. Anyone remotely interested in the Earhart disappearance would be wise to purchase “Eyewitness” before supplies run out. It is a book for the ages, firmly in the line of truth established by Briand and Goerner in the early 1960s. (End Amazon review.)
My Amazon review of Eyewitness focused on the positive aspects of Devine’s book and its vital connection to the creation of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. In itself, Devine’s Saipan experience as an eyewitness to the Earhart Electra’s presence and destruction was more than enough to recommend Eyewitness as an extremely important piece of the Earhart saga.
But Devine was never content with what he had learned “with his own eyes” on Saipan; instead, he claimed expertise in areas about which he knew nothing, and eventually I realized that the man I thought was the world’s leading Earhart expert had feet of clay.
For example, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the fliers’ Mili Atoll landing, Devine refused to consider it, insisting that Amelia flew directly from Lae, New Guinea to Saipan, an unthinkable 90-degree error. He attributed this to an imaginary injury on takeoff to Fred Noonan that left him unable to navigate or even communicate with Amelia from the earliest moments of the flight.
To my knowledge, no researcher has ever joined Devine in this delusion, and his obstinate refusal to take off his blinders and see the Marshall Islands truth isolated and reduced him to a sad, solitary figure for which the Earhart research community — in itself a small, diverse group of eccentric characters who, for the most part, are no longer with us — had little use. For more on Devine and his tunnel vision regarding Earhart’s Marshall Islands landing, please see Truth at Last pages 176-178.
Devine’s errors weren’t limited to his ideas about how the Electra reached Saipan. His claim that James Vincent Forrestal, secretary of the Navy in 1944, was personally present on Saipan when the Earhart plane was destroyed in July 1944, has also been shown to be false. Worse, Devine resorted to fabricating evidence to support this claim. I won’t elaborate here on that unfortunate chapter of my relationship with him, but those interested can find all the unhappy details in Truth at Last, pages 210-215.
Devine’s failings were significant and self-imposed, but without his generosity and willingness to share his findings with me over the 15 years of our association — I wish I could say “friendship“ — I would never have begun my own search for Amelia Earhart. I’ll forever cherish Devine’s 714-page unpublished manuscript, “Bring Me Home,” which he gave me in June 2001, when it seemed he wouldn’t live another day.
I sometimes ask the audiences I address at my infrequent presentations, “Who has ever aspired to become an Earhart researcher? Can you imagine your son or daughter telling you that they’ve decided to devote their lives to studying and solving the ‘Earhart mystery’? You’d probably send them to a psychiatrist or some other mental health professional as soon as possible.” At that, a few politely laugh, but most just look at me blankly.
It’s lonely, frustrating work, but it’s real, and somebody should do it. I know Amelia and Fred appreciate it, wherever they are.
Committee elects Castro new AEMMI president, Declares 10 reasons for Saipan Earhart Monument
The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Inc. Committee held a new election on Saipan March 28. Marie S. Castro, the beating heart of the AEMMI, without whom the movement would not exist, was named the new president, with former Secretary Frances Sablan moving up to the vice president post. Manny Borja is the treasurer and Evelyna Shoda takes over as secretary. Manuel F. Borja, Carlos Shoda, Oscar Camacho, Chailang Palacios, Bruce Bateman and Donald C. Barcinas, former president, round out the new board of directors.
Created in September 2017 as Marie’s inspired brainchild, the AEMMI has not been fondly embraced by the locals on Saipan. Although the Marianas Variety has supported the grass-roots initiative with several stories about Marie and her wealth of Earhart-related experience that have been faithfully noted on this blog, it’s painfully clear that the vast majority of the citizens of Saipan are determined to oppose the monument.
The unpleasant evidence reflecting what one reader of this blog has dubbed the “militant ignorance” of the Saipan locals — which runs depressingly parallel to the thoroughly propagandized U.S. populace — is on display in the comments sections that follow each of the several stories run locally, the most recent of which, “Amelia Earhart monument to help boost NMI tourism, says local author,” was published on May 13. Only a small fraction of the architect’s initial $200,000 estimate for the monument has been raised.
Undeterred, Marie, 86, refuses to surrender to the mindless crowd in her quest to achieve long-denied justice for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. She is becoming an iconic figure in the Saipan community, slowly and begrudgingly recognized for her courage and unflappable determination. Marie’s latest initiative is the identification and elucidation of 10 reasons that the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument should be built on Saipan.
Forthwith are the reasons that Marie and the AEMMI have advanced, introduced by a personal note from Marie Castro herself.
Dear Friends in the United States and our People of Saipan,
It is our desire to extend our sincere gratitude and appreciation in joining this significant, worthy cause to recognize and acknowledge the two great aviators, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. When their plane came down in the Pacific in July 1937, they were brought to Saipan by the Japanese military.
We cannot continue to deny and ignore the great courage, the unimaginable sacrifice they endured under the Japanese regime for the cause of humanity. Many reasons for building the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument are expressed loud and clear in the book Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last by Mike Campbell. Here are some that immediately suggest themselves:
Marie S. Castro
1. In 1937 Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan entered into the historical record of Saipan. Whether the fact is recognized or not, the fliers became the first American casualties of World War II. Amelia was not executed, but she contracted dysentery and was cremated. According to witnesses, Jose Sadao Tomokane attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.
2. Saipan has an obligation to recognize and give every human being the honor and respect they deserve. Although it was impossible to do such a thing under the Japanese regime, 82 years and counting is far too long for the two fliers who met their final days on Saipan soil to be honored.
3. Many of our elders saw Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in days, weeks and months following their arrival here in the summer of 1937, beginning with the well-known sighting by Josephine Blanco in summer 1937, which began the modern day search for Amelia Earhart.
4. Amelia Earhart was a pioneer in the male-dominated aviation field. She was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and was also a best-selling author who wrote about her adventures as an aviator. Among her many accomplishments, she was instrumental in forming an organization of female pilots called the Ninety-Nines. While Amelia earned the respect and admiration of people all over the world, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Amelia’s statue will inspire the daughters of the CNMI to embrace Amelia’s pioneering spirit and aspire towards fulfilling their utmost potential.
5. Saipan would become widely recognized internationally and our island’s history and culture would attract worldwide attention.
6. It is time for Saipan to take ownership of the Earhart-on-Saipan Truth and to spread that Truth not just in the region, but worldwide. The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument would focus attention on the Earhart disappearance in ways never before imagined.
7. We need to expand this idea to eventually encompass a museum, library and gift shop, as well as a research institute for worldwide Earhart researchers to come, do their work and discuss their findings. The Earhart Monument again gets this process rolling by providing a single focal point to key interest on.
8. With the proper infrastructure in place, visitors from all over the world with an interest in Amelia, her story and her “mysterious” end will come to Saipan, becoming a permanent income base for the CNMI economy. They will want to see firsthand the sites mentioned in the literature. They will buy souvenirs, paraphernalia and books commemorating their visit to Saipan, and this can add a profit center that provides funds for salaries, overhead and maintenance.
9. The Memorial Monument will be the first tangible symbol of the Earhart-on-Saipan Truth. It will become the “trademarked brand” of the Earhart saga, and the site will be instantly recognizable as the focus of Saipan’s Earhart tourism industry, with its products, attractions and services. Over the years, the museum, shop, library and research institute can grow from the first step — the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument!
10. Finally and most importantly, as international attention on Saipan and its vital historical importance as the location of the tragic deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan continues to increase, the lies, myths and endless propaganda about theories and the “Earhart Mystery” will come to an end, and the Truth will be accepted and known by all. The Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument will be revered worldwide as the ultimate shrine to the heroic sacrifices of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
To contribute to the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan, please make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950. The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee. Thank you.
Doug Mills’ Earhart sketches, balsa plane available
Doug Mills initially contacted me in March 2010 via email, full of questions and enthusiasm for the Earhart story, having read my 2002 book written with Thomas E. Devine, the little-known With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart.
Doug, 55, lives in small-town Bellaire, in northern Michigan, works as a manager at the spectacular Shanty Creek Resort and regularly paddles his kayak on nearby Torch Lake, not far from Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. He’s also an artist, and I think some of his Earhart-related work is worthy of posting here, in case anyone might be interested in purchasing any or all of these one-of-a-kind pieces at a very inexpensive price. They’re all framed in my office.
Doug Mills can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and will work with anyone interested. I won’t list prices here, but these pieces are far below what would be considered “market price” for such sketches. In other words, they are dirt cheap! He’s not set up for credit cards, but your check will be much appreciated. The sketches and plane below speak for themselves, are great conversation pieces and are worthy of your attention.