“Daughter of the Sky” began true search for Earhart

Now that the establishment’s latest phony effort to find Amelia Earhart’s plane as far away as possible from where it’s buried on Saipan has ended, I think a review of the true history of the search for Amelia is appropriate.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)

Most informed observers of the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan believe that Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart is the seminal work in the genre, and all that followed sprang from the San Francisco radio-newsman’s initial Saipan forays.  But neither Goerner nor anyone else would have ever heard about Earhart and Noonan’s arrival at Saipan in 1937 if not for the 1960 book that started it all — Daughter of the Sky, by Paul L. Briand, Jr., a Ph.D., captain (later promoted to major) and assistant professor of English at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

I never met Briand, who was born in 1920 and died in 1986, to ask him definitively, but it appears that Daughter of the Sky was conceived and written as another Earhart biography, this one by an aviation expert and co-editor of The Sound of Wings (not the biography by Mary Lovell), an anthology of flying literature published in 1957.  We must assume, based on its presentation, that as the book neared completion, Briand was informed of new material that he shoehorned into Daughter’s closing pages, information that changed everything about the Earhart disappearance.  

Since few readers have a copy of Daughter of the Sky, I think it’s instructive to re-present its closing pages, for those interested in something more substantial than the latest failed searches and incoherent dispatches about native bones found and lost on a central Pacific atoll circa 1940.

Paul L. Briand Jr., author of the 1960 book that launched the modern search for Amelia Earhart, Daughter of the Sky (Duell, Sloan and Pierce), circa 1959.  Photo taken from book jacket.

In the last of its three parts, “The Last Flight,” Daughter of the Sky distinguished itself from all previous Earhart literature.  In its next-to-last chapter, The Fog of Rumors,” an apparently unconvinced Briand introduced the “great rumor” that Earhart and Noonan had been prisoners of the Japanese, attributing this idealargelyto the 1943 Hollywood film Flight for Freedom, a red herring starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray, and speculation by Dr. M.L. Brittain of Georgia Tech, who had been onboard USS Lexington during the Earhart search, that the fliers became prisoners of the Japanese. 

Here Briand presented some helpful information as well, noting Amy Otis Earhart’s claim that her daughter was on a secret government mission and that she was captured by the Japanese, but writing that Mrs. Earhart had no official basis for making such as statement.  For more on that story, please click here.  Briand also cited the March 1944 Associated Press article, “Putnam Flight Yarn Revived,” by Eugene Burns that introduced the fishing boat pickup and Marshall Islands landing scenario that Elieu Jibambam had initially shared with Navy Lieutenants Eugene T. Bogan, Bill Bauer and Jimmy Toole (see Truth at Last pages 130-131).  Burns’ story was buried in newspapers where it appeared at all, and was largely ignored.

Astute readers will note several discrepancies in Briand’s narrative of Josephine Blanco’s eyewitness account as reported by Navy dentist Casimir R. Sheft to him and later findings by Fred Goerner and others; after all, the book was published in 1960, so we’re talking circa 1959 that Briand was made privy to Sheft’s revelations. 

Very little of substance was known at that time, but the  key event, Josephine’s 1937 sighting of the American fliers at Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor, is presented in stark detail by the Air Force Academy English professor as Sheft related it to him, and thus the true modern search for Amelia Earhart was quietly launched.  Very few were even aware of it, as the revelations in Daughter of the Sky were suppressed throughout the establishment media.  Following are the closing pages of Paul Briand Jr.’s Daughter of the Sky.

9. “The Light of Fact: A Mystery Solved?”

Two additional events, however, separate in time and both involving Amelia Earhart — but heretofore never interrelated — do fit together in a logical and revealing pattern.  All the pieces of the puzzle are not available, but there are enough of them to form a discernible picture.

At the end of World War II Jacqueline Cochran, then head of the WASPS, the famous organization of women ferry pilots, was asked by General Hap Arnold to go to Tokyo and investigate the role that Japanese women had played in aviation during the war.  While she was in Imperial Air Force Headquarters Miss Cochran noticed that there were numerous files on American aviation notables — and many filed on Amelia Earhart.

These documents since that time have mysteriously disappeared.  They are not in the official custody of the United States Government, or any of its departments, services, or agencies; nor do they seem to be in the possession of the Japanese Government.  (All captured documents, those of historical importance having been copied on microfilm, have been returned to Tokyo.  No AE files were discovered among the captured materials.)  Nevertheless, these files seem to indicate that the Japanese had more than a normal interest in Amelia Earhart, because of another event that happened, curiously, again in the Marianas.  This new evidence has never before been made public.

Dr. Casimir Sheft and Josephine Blanco, far right, Saipan, circa 1946. It was Josephine’s childhood memory of seeing Amelia Earhart’s arrival at Tanapag Harbor as told to Sheft when she worked for the Navy dentist on Saipan that ignited the true modern search for Amelia Earhart.

At the end of the war on the island of Saipan a Navy dentist worked with his assistant, a native girl named Josephine Blanco.  It was 1946.  Dr. Casimir R. Sheft, now practicing in New Jersey, was taking a break between appointments and talking with a fellow dentist.  During the conversation Dr. Sheft casually mentioned the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and speculated about whether the famous flier could have ended her flight in the Marianas, and possibly near Saipan, for he had read somewhere that the Marines had found AE’s flight log during the invasion (actually, it had been the photograph album).  Suddenly his dental assistant, Josephine, broke in: She had seen an American woman flier many years ago — nine or ten — on Saipan, when she was a little girl.  The American woman wore khaki clothes and had hair cut like a man. . . .

Josephine Blanco, now Mrs. Maximo Akiyama, and living in California with her husband and their young son, was witness to an incident which is as incredible as it is enlightening,

In the summer of 1937 Josephine was riding her bicycle toward Tanapag Harbor. She was taking her Japanese brother-in-law, J.Y. Matsumoto, his lunch, and was hurrying along because it was nearly twelve o’clock.

That summer she had just finished Japanese grammar school, where she had gone for the last five years, ever since she was seven years old.  In March she had celebrated her eleventh birthday, and now she could begin Catholic school.  She was looking forward to studying with the Spanish missionary sisters.  Father Tadzio had hoped that someday Josephine, too, like some of the other Chamorro native girls in the Marianas, would answer Gods call and become a native sister.

Josephine had a special pass to the Japanese military area near the harbor. Not even Japanese civilians were admitted to the area unless they carried the proper credentials. The young girl rode up to the gate, stopped her bicycle, and presented her pass. The guard allowed her into the restricted area.

On the way to meet her brother-in-law, Josephine heard an airplane flying overhead. She looked up and saw a silver two-engine plane. The plane seemed to be in trouble, for it came down low, headed out into the harbor, and belly-landed on the water.

It was not until she met her brother-in-law that Josephine discovered whom it was that had crash landed in the harbor.

“The American woman,” everyone was saying, greatly excited. “Come and see the American woman.” Josephine and her brother in-law joined the knot of people who gathered to watch.

She saw the American woman standing next to a tall man wearing a short-sleeved sports shirt, and was surprised because the woman was not dressed as a woman usually dressed. Instead of a dress, the American woman wore a man’s shirt and trousers; and instead of long hair, she wore her hair cut short, like a man. The faces of the man and woman were white and drawn, as if they were sick.

The American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her were led away by the Japanese soldiers.  The fliers were taken to a clearing in the woods.  Shots rang out.  The soldiers returned alone.  (Editor’s note: No evidence has ever surfaced that supports the fliers being shot so soon after their arrival on Saipan.  Some evidence exists that Amelia was shot much later, but none suggests that Fred Noonan was ever shot.)

This is the photo of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, undated, that appeared in the 1960 book Daughter of the Sky.  Josephine had moved from Saipan to San Mateo, Calif., in the mid-1950s with husband Maximo, who accompanied Fred Goerner in June 1960 on Goerner’s first investigation on Saipan.

Mrs. Akiyama has affirmed, after identifying a photograph of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan taken on the world flight, that the couple was unquestionably the same man and woman she and her brother-in-law had seen on Saipan: the clothes were different, but the woman’s haircut was unmistakable.

Josephine Blanco’s story, which is basically the same one she told Dr. Sheft in Saipan, is most probably true.  It is extremely unlikely this native girl could have invented her story.  If she had, then for what purpose?  If for profit or gain, she had, for more than ten years after the American invasion, the opportunity to capitalize on her sensational news.

As an eleven-year-old girl, Josephine of course had no idea of the significance of what she had seen other than it was indeed an American woman she had seen.  Dr. Sheft has never doubted her story, and for many years he has hoped that a thorough re-examination of the facts would be made.  They were.

Amelia Earhart could have ended her flight around the world at Saipan,  If she were indeed headed for Howland Island, however, she somehow made an error of about 100° in reading her compass.

(Editor’s note: The following scenario, in which Briand has the Electra and its crew reaching Saipan directly from Lae, is typical of the wild speculation that characterized the early days following the public release of Josephine’s Earhart sighting, and is included here only because it, too, is part of Briand’s closing chapter.) 

It means that all during the night of July 2, beginning after sundown at 5:55 p.m., Fred Noonan was not able to get a fix from the stars to determine his position.  And if, after fourteen hours out from Lae, he looked down and saw a chain of islands, he would have determined that he was on course and over the Gilbert Islands; but if AE had turned north while he was napping, and he had still awakened in time to see islands, they would have been, not the Gilberts as he might have thought, but the Caroline Islands — exactly the same distance away but in the wrong direction. 

By somehow departing from her course, and making the tremendous error of steering north and west instead of east — as she had done once before on the world flight, when she had turned north to St. Louis instead of south to Dakar, overriding Fred’s directions, after the flight across the South Atlantic — AE would have found herself after twenty hours of flying time somewhere along the chain of islands that marks the Marianas.

What began as another of hundreds of garden-variety biographies of Amelia Earhart became the 1960 book that ignited the modern search for the lost fliers.  In the final chapter of Daughter of the Sky, the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama was introduced, which led to Fred Goerner’s four early 1960s Saipan investigations and his 1966 bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart.

Her last report, at 8:45 a.m., gave her line of position at 157-337.  The Navy’s search satisfied judgments that the line was not a radio line, for the areas northwest and southeast from Howland were thoroughly investigated.  One hundred fifty-seven-337, therefore, was undoubtedly a sun line.

Near Howland, at position 01° 00′ North Latitude and 177° 20′ West Latitude, on July 3, 1937, the bearing of the sun was 66° from the north point at 7:00 a.m., Howland time.  The sun line, therefore, would have been 156-336.

Near Saipan, at position 13° 00′ North Latitude and 153° 00′ East Longitude, at 5:00 a.m., Saipan time, the sun was 64° from the north point.  A sun line there would have been 154-334.

If Noonan had thought he was close to Howland when he shot his last sun line, his geographical point of reference — used for computing and plotting his observation — would obviously have been close to Howland.  If he had actually been close to Saipan, however, the relative position of the sun would still have been almost the same: 64° from the north point near Saipan, as opposed to 66° from the north point near Howland.  But his observation, when computed and plotted on his chart, would have shown him to be the same number of miles from his geographical point of reference.

An experienced navigator with trust in his abilities such as Noonan would have tended to believe that either his observations or his computations were somehow wrong.  He would not have thought, at least immediately, that he was some 2,600 miles off course.  If AE had been pressing him for a position to radio to the Itasca, he might have, in agonies of doubt, merely given her the line of position, which he could be sure of, but not the geographical point of reference, because he could now no longer determine that point with certainty.  This possibility would explain the irregularity of Amelia having transmitted the line of position without the necessary point of reference.

On the basis of these determinations, therefore, there is strong support for believing in Josephine Blanco’s story.

The Navy gave Amelia until about noon before she would go down.  It was at noontime that Josephine saw the two-motored plane ditch in Tanapag Harbor.

The Navy’s final conclusion was that Amelia had ended her flight somewhere north and west.  Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were seen by two eyewitnesses north and west of Howland on Saipan.  At that time of the year the American woman and her tall male companion could have been none other than AE and Fred Noonan.

In 1937 on Saipan, according to Maximo and Josephine Akiyama, the Japanese military did not hesitate to kill anyone.  Japanese civilian or Chamorro native, whom they suspected of supping on their illegal fortifications.

Japanese officialdom maintaining an enigmatic silence (the Japanese Embassy in Washington knows nothing of the Earhart case, nor does Dr. John Young of Georgetown University, who examined captured Japanese documents for the American Government) concerning the disappearance of the two fliers, it may be idle to speculate upon the final fate of Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart.  The evidence, however, justifies at least one tenable conclusion.

When Josephine Blanco saw the twin-engined silver plane, Amelia and Fred had been flying for twenty-six consecutive hours and for 4,000 futile miles.  The sight of the island that was Saipan must have cheered the fliers with renewed hope for safety, and for life itself.

When they survived the crash landing in Tanapag Harbor only to be taken into custody as spies, their joy must have turned to inexplicable bitterness: they had been saved not for life, but for death before a Japanese firing squad.

With the exception of a few details, this headline from the San Mateo Times of July 1, 1960, is as true today as it was then.

For Amelia, who once had said to her husband, I don’t want to go; but when I do, I’d like to go in my plane — quickly,the last word of her wish must have struck her now with sudden and ironic force.

Yet, as she had so often before, Amelia Earhart must have met this challenge with stubborn self-control and resolute courage.  For here at last was her unmistakable, but irrefutable, fate.

Thus ended Daughter of the Sky.  Though it was riddled with erroneous conclusions and wild speculation, its most important feature, Josephine Blanco’s eyewitness sighting of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan in the summer of 1937, was quite real — and this reality launched the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.  

Few, and mainly those who read this blog regularly, know about the vital role that San Mateo Times reporter Linwood Day played in the earliest days of the Earhart investigation, newly launched by virtue of the blockbuster revelations in Daughter of the Sky.  Day’s Earhart series reached its zenith on July 1, 1960, when the Times front page announced in 100-point headlines, all caps, “AMELIA EARHART MYSTERY IS SOLVED.” 

Fred Goerner was already on Saipan in the midst of his first witness investigation, and in six years his book, The Search for Amelia Earhart, would sell more than 400,000 copies, only to be trashed by Time magazine as a work that “barely hangs together.”  The rest is history.

8 responses

  1. Alastair Robertson | Reply

    Interesting, but how does this tie in with the reports of radio transmissions from AE received several days after the crash? Whilst I have always believed that AE ended up in Saipan this report seems too convenient and does not altogether accord with other reports.

    Like

    1. You must be new to this blog, Mr. Robertson. There’s 194 other posts comprising upward of half-a-million words, and another half million in comments. Could you not have done a subject search before you sent such a snarky comment that reflects only your own shortsightedness?

      MC

      Like

  2. If you buy the most recent version of the book it is summarily trashed in the Epilogue by Steve Chadde (see prior comments “Recent Earhart stories aim to confuse and deceive”).

    Like

  3. Interesting how any documentation concerning this flight “Mysteriously” disappears- photos, personal items, log books,etc. Anything turned over to the military establishment. In any case, thank you Mr. Briand for igniting the search.

    Like

  4. Alastair,

    I don’t believe that it is a case of Captain Briand’s book being “too convenient” so much as that it is too basic. Mike makes a good point. “Daughter of the Sky” gives every appearance of starting out as just a biography, but with newly discovered, very important, yet limited information “shoehorned” in to use Mike’s term, or “tacked on” at the end. Remember, this book is fairly short at only 230 pages, and that includes the index, bibliography, and acknowledgements.

    Captain Briand may not have even been cognizant of the post-loss radio transmissions to which you refer. In fact, they are what I consider a whole separate area of narrow specialization in the wide world of Amelia Earhart research. Also, keep in mind, as it was first published in 1960, this book was presumably written in 1958-59. There was no internet to use for research, and what limited information there was, was hard to find. Imagine what Captain Briand might have done with the tools and resources available today.

    All best,

    William

    Like

    1. William,

      Thanks for taking the time to say what I should have said earlier. Sometimes, and it does seem more often these days, I simply lack the patience to deal with annoying comments. Your help is always greatly appreciated.

      Best,
      Mike

      Like

  5. Alastair Robertson | Reply

    Hi William, many thanks for your helpful comment. I was not trying to be “snarky” just trying to understand how the reported stories of the radio transmission match this interesting account. To be clear, I do believe that AE was captured by the Japanese and that there is a conspiracy to hide the truth. Perhaps not as informed as I should be before asking the question. Sorry about that.
    Alastair

    Like

  6. Greetings to All:

    For anyone who’s interested, I found a link to the Guide to the Paul L. Briand Papers achieved at his alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. So far, I haven’t had time to delve into it, but from a cursory look at the contents list the collection contains, among other things, Briand’s letters, correspondence, notes, drafts, etc. related to “Daughter of the Sky.”

    https://www.library.unh.edu/find/archives/collections/paul-briand-papers-1920-1986

    All best,

    William

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: