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.   

Thomas E. Devine, circa 1987, about the time that Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident was published and about four years before I met him in person and spent the day with him at his West Haven, Conn., home in early February 1991.

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 wason 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 mysteryattested.  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 EarhartFollowing 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 Devine, “With Our Own Eyes,” published in 2002.

Thomas E. Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, changed my life in ways I never could have dreamed.

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 LastIn 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 has to do it.  I know Amelia and Fred appreciate it, wherever they are.

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12 responses

  1. Eddie Williams | Reply

    Very Good Write up MIke.

    I just hear of a guy from Tenn ( RAY ALEXANDER) who did a lot of research on AE here in the 80’s. (Have you heard of him?)

    I hope to meet him when he returns to Saipan in Sept,

    R/ Ed

    Like

    1. Ed,

      Thanks, haven’t met Ray Alexander, and if he did a lot of research on Amelia, he hasn’t published in anywhere that it would show up on a Google or Amazon search.

      Send him to the blog!

      Mike

      Like

  2. Nice article Mike. The 20th century was rife with coverups including the pre-knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack, JFK assassination, Alien/UFO aerial phenomenon. The AE disappearance and cover up belong among the top 4. The problem is the public has been conditioned to not accept truth until the Government says it’s true! They assume a consensus is needed for truth. Stay strong. We appreciate your work!

    Like

  3. Mike hits this one out of the ball park! Little did Mike know the HISTORY of the *TRUTH he was making. Too many of these earlier researchers pooped out, fouled balls and only got to 2nd base. Mike paid closer attention, kept his eyes on the ball and hit the *TRUTH out where it belonged!

    Sure we have those like Fred Goerner, Thomas Devine, Loomis and others who contributed great research, but none of these individuals had the ability to take it further as Mike has. Broaden the underlying facts, point out the errors, expose the frauds, enhance the information and communicate in a wider scope. He’s brought more information to light, injected thought provoking perspectives and answered questions as none others have. Congratulations Mike on your superb work and continued success in the Truth, you’ve pointed out for all to see & read.

    Doug Mills

    Like

  4. David Atchason | Reply

    Your article is much appreciated. I got into the AE mystery by following the TIGHAR forum where I became a troll then finally doing my own research which led me to believe that Gillespie’s Niku theory was ridiculous. I was even contemplating visiting Nonouti Island in the Gilberts because I saw a wrecked plane in the water offshore on Google Earth. Before I did, I read your book and learned what the real truth was. Not the whole truth, but enough to learn what happened to AE and Fred.

    I just happened to discover on my Google Drive that you had sent me “With Our Own Eyes” and I proceeded to read most of it. Now I understand much better your relationship with Devine and his story of seeing AE’s plane on Saipan became much more convincing. Of course the reason that the Japs would fix up her damaged plane and bring it to Saipan where it apparently just sat is a mystery in itself. The Americans then actually flying it before destroying it is also a little bizarre. What was the point?

    Not a week goes by that I don’t find on my Google News Feed some TIGHAR news release or some other cockamamie theory about AE. The government apparently thinks that even I am important enough to be bombarded by anti-TTAL propaganda. Kind of creepy to me, but they are succeeding in keeping the truth from the public. When you and maybe one or two others are gone there will be no one to carry on the fight. That’s when Crashed and Sank will become the gospel truth in every child’s history book. In the meantime Amelia and Fred are thankful that somebody cares about them.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Mike,

    Your amazing posting of 29 May 19 was a peek into the past that none of us would have known but for your willingness to take the time to share an important part of your personal, and perhaps, painful history.

    I try to put myself in your shoes and wonder if I could have survived 12 years-and-counting of tedious research and the blood & sweat of writing, only to have many of my findings ignored or rejected by a phony and dishonest establishment media … and government.

    But you and the truth about AE have survived, bringing along a few of us on your team as ardent supporters of what you have discovered, uncovered, and presented in such a professional manner that only the self-serving, self-blinded establishment could contest.

    Unfortunately for the historical record, when you slay a sacred cow, which you have done successfully, then the owners of that holy and hollow bovine take offense. That’s good, for at least you have their attention. But since their attention-span is so brief when it comes to facts, evidence, and truth, it seems to take more time than one lifespan to counter their distortions, delusions, and calculated deceit.

    But you have cracked the armor of Goliath with your truth-stones, and we not only cheer you on, but we volunteer to help you in the battle.

    I join Doug, David, Dion, and others is adding my sincere “Thank You” for this brief trip into the past. You have my undying admiration and appreciation for your life-saving contribution to the Amelia Story. Stay strong . . . for truth will prevail.

    Calvin

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  6. William H. Trail | Reply

    While you live, tell truth, and shame the devil!
    Henry IV, Part I, Act III, scene 1.

    All best,

    William

    Like

  7. Carol Anne Wilson | Reply

    I must strongly disagree with your characterization of Dick Strippel’s 1972 “Amelia Earhart: The Myth and the Reality.” It seems that you’ve judged his research, done more than 45 years ago, by today’s standards, without considering the massive effort it took back then to gather, digest and process information. However, much of the deep research done by Strippel (my father) still stands solid today, with most of the hype about Amelia centering on sensational theories that still aren’t corroborated by hard evidence. Perhaps the Nautilus will find something to support one of the many stories out there (it is now located at Howland Island 9/3/19), perhaps not. I’m not a Gillespie supporter. I do believe you to be as passionate about your Amelia research as was my father — who was by no means a “Navy apologist” as you allege. Insults and name-calling don’t lend credence to your work. You may think me biased… but I strongly stand by my father’s analysis. It’s apparent you simply don’t like his book because it doesn’t support your Amelia theory.

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    1. Thanks Carol, for your loyal but unenlightened opinion. I suggest you read Truth at Last and join those of us who can easily discern the truth that’s been lying in plain sight from even before your father’s book was published. If you’ve already read TAL and continue to retain your erroneous ideas, there’s simply no hope for you. (Readers can see my passing reference to Dick Stripple’s Amelia Earhart: The Myth and the Reality on p. 319 of TAL.)

      MC

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      1. Carol Anne Wilson

        Thank you for your revealing response. It’s been my experience that individuals who resort to ad hominems reveal they are without an intellectual answer.

        Like

      2. Just as I thought, you are hopeless. Please go away now and haunt someone else’s house.

        MC

        Like

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