NatGeo’s “Expedition Amelia”: Dead on Arrival
With the Oct. 20 airing of the over-hyped and unnecessary National Geographic Channel’s two-hour special, “Expedition Amelia,” another Earhart media disinformation operation comes to a welcome close. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
The latest in a long line of bogus Earhart searches was born this past summer, with National Geographic’s July 23 announcement, “Robert Ballard found the Titanic. Can he find Amelia Earhart’s airplane?” subheaded, “Ocean explorer Robert Ballard will lead a major expedition to the remote Pacific in hopes of discovering the famed aviator’s fate.”
“It appears that after 13 fruitless trips to Nikumaroro by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR),” I wrote in my July 31 post, “NatGeo, Ballard in new phony Earhart ‘search’,” “the powers that be have finally decided to turn this tar baby over to someone who can bring real gravitas to the longstanding Earhart myths and lies. Ric Gillespie is out, Robert Ballard is in, and we can all now rest assured that the ‘Earhart Mystery’ will be solved in short order.”
“Now Robert Ballard, the man who found the Titanic, is planning to search for signs of the missing aviators,” NatGeo’s On August 7, he’ll depart from Samoa for Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island that’s part of the Micronesian nation of Kiribati. The expedition will be filmed by National Geographic for a two-hour documentary airing October 20.”
Countless mainstream media outlets covered the story, so disturbingly familiar to those of us who have followed this absurd soap opera since it began in the late 1980s with TIGHAR’s initial outrageous claims. The only difference was that a famous ocean explorer would be doing the honors, rather than the long-discredited Ric Gillespie. I wondered only why someone like Ballard would participate in such a transparent, dishonest charade, and what he thought he could gain. I’m still wondering.
When I checked a month later, nothing could be found about Ballard’s ballyhooed foray to Earhartland. As is always the case with these Nikumaroro debacles, one has to look hard to find any news about the latest failure. Finally, on Aug. 26, National Geographic was forced to come clean and admit that Ballard had come up empty, though its headline was as dishonest and misleading as its editors thought they could get away with.
“ ‘Tantalizing clue’ marks end of Amelia Earhart expedition,” NatGeo whispered, loath to admit the truth. “While the location of the aviator’s plane remains elusive, an artifact — discovered after 80 years may spark new avenues of inquiry,” their subhead cunningly added.
“In like a lion, out like a lamb,” I wrote in my Aug. 27 post, “Ballard’s Earhart search fails; anyone surprised?” “Thus ends yet another Nikumaroro-Amelia Earhart boondoggle. This time the perp was the famed Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic, but the result was the same as always, as predictable as death and taxes. Nothing related to Earhart was found, but an old lie was resurrected to keep the scam viable for future paydays.” For the rest of that post, please click here.
Next, in the run-up to the airing of “Expedition Amelia,” the New York Times, America’s bastion of truth, was the only mainstream media outlet to bite the bullet and tell everyone they should watch the Oct. 20 NatGeo two-hour special. In the Times story, “The Amelia Earhart Mystery Stays Down in the Deep,” Julie Cohn wrote, “Robert Ballard’s expedition to a remote island in the South Pacific found no evidence of the vanished aviator’s plane, but the explorer and his crew haven’t given up.” Of course not, especially when there’s more money to be made and ignorant sheeple to “educate” about the great Amelia Earhart “mystery.”
We’ve all seen these Central Pacific-Nikumaroro travelogues before, and whether it’s Ric Gillespie or the great Robert Ballard chit-chatting with his crew about Amelia with a huge tropical sunset in the background, I can’t watch any more of these canned spectacles produced only for money, ratings and confusion. On the other hand, since we’ve covered the Ballard-NatGeo charade from the start, I suppose it’s pro forma to do a review of the thrilling climax to the current deceit. I asked longtime readers David Atchason and William Trail if they would be interested in writing reviews of “Expedition Amelia,” and they’ve kindly agreed to do so.
Longtime Truth at Last supporter David Atchason, 77, of Bartlett, New Hampshire is a retired truck driver and trucking company owner, now an “accomplished old geezer mountain climber in the New Hampshire White Mountains and all over the world.” David is a self-described “connoisseur of conspiracy theories and promulgator of baseless and fevered speculations,” and has agreed to share his thoughts on “Expedition Amelia.”
“BREAKING NEWS: There is nothing new under the sun”
by David Atchason
I have to give credit to my late ex-wife for keeping me young at heart and my blood pressure elevated. That’s my fountain of youth.
I spent yesterday in anticipation of the Ballard program, checking the channel listings and my watch, waiting to start my assignment. This was to be my first writing assignment in about 57 years. Sure enough, at about 8:04, I noticed I was tuned to the wrong channel. I quickly tuned in to Ballard just in time to hear him declare, “There are several theories of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, the Japanese capture, or the theory that she returned to the USA and lived as a New Jersey housewife, but now we have to turn our attention to the only two realistic theories. She either crashed and sank or else wound up on Nikumaroro.
Wow! It was like getting hit by a spitball in the back of my head. All in one fell swoop he discredited all sane theories and made sure to include the “Irene Bolam” theory, which even the most obtuse follower of the mystery would know was wacko. I knew then I was in for a long two-hour viewing chore.
Now here comes Gillespie to spin his yarns. He was looking good, I have to say, as he should at his big moment as the “voice of reason,” so to speak. He explained how the radio messages from AE picked up at the Pan Am stations when triangulated pointed to Nikumaroro. I had never heard this stated as a certainty before, but he said it was certain. In fact, at the end of the program, Ballard indicated that you just can’t dispute that the messages came from Nikumaroro.
A lot of the program was spent gushing praise for Amelia and her relevance to empowering the women of today — in a very politically correct manner, of course. They obviously needed something to fill up the time, as there was nothing new in the program. Bevington’s “Loch Ness Monster” picture had the plane’s landing gear superimposed on the object in the water it to show that that had to be the wheel. At some point it was shown that all the Fiji records had been sent to Tarawa and there was a large collection of bones stored at Tarawa. As there might be; certainly thousands of soldiers were killed there in 1943. It was never clear whether the bones came from Fiji, but one of the skulls was said to be a woman’s, and when they had the DNA tested the results were inconclusive, as the DNA was “degraded,” whatever that was supposed to mean.
There was time spent on the new digs looking for bone fragments starring the ever popular Tom King, but nothing was found. The metal aluminum flap was presented by Ric, the freckle cream jar, it just made me want to reach out to Ric to remind him of the shoe heel, the sextant box and a few other items. It was like opening my old toy box after many years, kind of gave me a case of emotional nostalgia.
The underwater search, narrated by Ballard, might as well have been stock footage of any random underwater scene. They found a piece or two of rubbish which didn’t belong to her plane. He did say that he found the pieces from the [British freighter HMS] Norwich City shipwreck stopped at 1,300 feet, which meant her plane’s pieces would have to be above that level, so he didn’t search any farther down. He finished by declaring that the radio signals clearly showed her plane had been there; you couldn’t dispute that, so he says. Then he was off to Howland.
By then my eyes were closing as I awaited the theme song to play, and Ballard listed a couple other possibilities without declaring them unrealistic at all. One of them was, “Did she go on a spy mission and get captured by the Japanese”? Maybe I am hallucinating, but that made me think: Yes, they do know. Ballard knows, NatGeo knows, and it was like a big hint to those few of us who can think: “Yes, guys and girls, we know and you know the truth and we are not dumb. But we have to do this program because Big Brother says so, and we are getting well paid for it and we all have to make a living same as you. WE don’t believe any of this either.” There you go. (End of David Atchason review.)
William Trail is a retired U.S. Army Reserve major, federal civil servant and private pilot. He’s a longtime reader of this blog and is among the best informed of those I consider to be “friends of the truth.”
All in all, National Geographic’s “Expedition Amelia” presented no new or conclusive evidence of any kind. Japanese capture was fleetingly mentioned and immediately dismissed. Despite finding nothing, Robert Ballard maintained that the “radio evidence is compelling. . . . You can’t take that off the table.” In the end, it’s still the same old, tired, disappointing story.
Never a friend of the truth when it comes to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, National Geographic has now enlisted world renowned oceanographer and NatGeo Explorer-at-Large, Robert Ballard Ph.D., who is most famous for locating the long lost wreck of RMS Titanic in 1985, to assist in driving this thing into the mind of the world. Joining Dr. Ballard on the research vessel M/V Nautilus for the trip to Nikumaroro are archaeologist and National Geographic Fellow Dr. Fredrik T. Hiebert; executive director, Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science; Erin H. Kimmerle, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida Department of Anthropology; and former TIGHAR archaeologist-in-residence and historical novelist Thomas F. King Ph.D. Not on the actual expedition to Nikumaroro but appearing and commenting in “Expedition Amelia” are Ms. Candice Fleming, author of Amelia Lost; Tracey Jean Boisseau, Ph.D., associate professor of women’s studies at Purdue University; and last but not least Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).
In the documentary, the July 2, 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan is referred to as “a renowned mystery” and “the greatest mystery of the 20th Century.” I beg to differ. There is no “mystery” — only a seeming unwillingness to acknowledge the truth, which is supported by a tsunami of painstakingly documented credible evidence and eyewitness testimony. The truth, which is to say, Japanese Capture and Death on Saipan was stated by no less than Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, as well as Marine Generals Alexander Archer Vandegrift and Graves Blanchard Erskine.
However, Ballard comments, “There are all sorts of theories,” and “I like the Nikumaroro theory.” The Nikumaroro theory, by the way, originated in a 1982 paper, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight” by the late inventor and Earhart researcher Fred Hooven. Also known as “The Hooven Report,” it is based upon the post-loss radio transmissions attributed to Earhart and was originally named the “McKean-Gardner Island landing theory” by Hooven, who later abandoned this theory. Hooven is not mentioned once in the program, nor is he given credit for his abandoned theory, long taken up by TIGHAR as if it were the Holy Grail.
The two-hour documentary, which was narrated by Emmy and Academy Award winning actress Allison Janney, was basically a series of revolving segments. That is to say, Ballard mapping and searching the underwater terrain around Nikumaroro for the Electra, which AE presumably landed on the island and which was subsequently washed out by the tides to sink in the depths just offshore; King and Hiebert digging on the island itself; Kimmerle and Hiebert searching for the “13 Bones” among the collections of Te Umwanibong Museum and Cultural Center, Tarawa, Republic of Kirabati; and historical and Earhart biographical commentary by Ms. Fleming and Boisseau.
Also providing commentary, including showing off his so-called artifacts — a zipper pull from a jacket, an ointment pot (presumably from Dr. Berry’s Freckle Cream), a woman’s compact with traces of rouge make-up, and the (infamous) aluminum skin patch — is Gillespie, who admits that there is no provable link to Earhart.
Among the bones and bone fragments from the Te Umwanibong Museum and Cultural Center is part of a human skull, which Kimmerle examines. Skeptical of Dr. David Hoodless’ findings, Kimmerle’s research included computer-aided 3-D imaging of the partial skull, which was inconclusive. The results of DNA testing were not available for inclusion in the documentary.
Ballard and the M/V Nautilus made five passes around Nikumaroro, visually searching, surveying and mapping the underwater terrain. Nothing related to Earhart, and certainly no part of the Electra, was found. However, a crewmember’s ball cap that was lost overboard was recovered. Likewise, despite cadaver dogs alerting on the Ren tree dig site, King and his archaeological team found nothing. (King has been digging on Nikumaroro since 1989.)
The story of the recent enhancement of the Bevington Photo (the object believed to be a main gear leg from the Electra sticking up out of the water near the wreck of the S.S. Norwich City on the northwest corner of the island), which allegedly prompted the call to Ballard and served as the genesis for “Expedition Amelia,” was presented briefly, but with a whole lot less detail than was previously reported.
Although there is some debate on the subject, the quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” is generally attributed to Albert Einstein. In reviewing German author Max Nordau’s 1895 book, Degeneration, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, “I have read Max Nordau’s “Degeneration” at your request — two hundred and sixty thousand mortal words, saying the same thing over and over again. That, as you know, is the way to drive a thing into the mind of the world.” Indeed.
The same could be said of the whole so-called Nikumaroro theory, expeditions, writings, documentaries, press conferences, etc. An insane attempt to drive a thing (Nikumaroro) into the mind of the world. Now, The National Geographic Society has inflicted yet another mental assault on the susceptible, flogging the tired, worn out Nikumaroro theory on the world with this, their latest film documentary, “Expedition Amelia.” (End William Trail review.)
Sincere thanks to David Atchason and William Trail for taking the time to share their unique perspectives, which are well taken and most appreciated.
The only questions now are when the next iteration of this unending, ridiculous campaign will ensue, and if Robert Ballard, National Geographic and the Nautilus, or Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR and whatever they can scrape up will be the next designated agents of propaganda, agitprop and lies.
Incredibly, Ballard is leaving the door open to a possible return to the endlessly picked over garbage dump of Nikumaroro, as Cohn explained:
For years, many Earhart historians have been skeptical of the Nikumaroro theory. And Dr. Ballard, Ms. [Allison] Fundis [Nautilus chief operating officer] and their team’s return to the island will now depend on whether the archaeologists from the National Geographic Society came up with evidence that Earhart’s body was there.
“[E]vidence that Earhart’s body was there”? And just what kind of “evidence” would this be, and where would it come from, as if we don’t know. Will it resemble the flotsam that Dr. Richard Jantz, director emeritus of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee, has already foisted on us? You might recall Jantz, who, without ever seeing the bones discovered in 1940 on Nikumaroro, declared that Earhart’s bones were “more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99 [percent] of individuals in a large reference sample.” Jantz, a TIGHAR associate, knew better than the senior medical officer on Suva, who actually examined them and said they were “part of a skeleton of elderly male of Polynesian race, bones having been probably in sheltered position for upwards of 20 years possibly much longer,” and Dr. D.W. Hoodless, who pronounced the bones as coming from a male individual “not less than 45 and more probably older.“ For more, see “Les Kinney joins “The Truth at Last” conversation, Shreds TIGHAR’s latest false Earhart claims.”
“In 2021, the Nautilus will be in the South Pacific fulfilling a contract to map underwater American territories,” Cohn wrote in her Oct. 14 story. “That will bring the ship to the area around Howland Island, Earhart’s intended destination for refueling before her plane disappeared. Dr. Ballard and Ms. Fundis plan to make time to explore the alternate theory favored by some skeptics of the Nikumaroro hypothesis: that Earhart crashed at sea closer to Howland.”
“Alternate theory“? It is inconceivable that such an advanced, highly educated and accomplished individual as Robert Ballard is not fully aware of the mountains of evidence that attest to the truth about Amelia Earhart’s landing at Mili Atoll in the Marshalls, her subsequent pickup by the Japanese and her eventual wretched death on Saipan, along with Fred Noonan, of course. He has to know that absolutely no evidence exists to support either of the two leading “theories“ that our establishment media constantly force feeds the public.
So with Ballard’s abject rejection of the Marshalls-Saipan truth, which has been lying in plain sight for well over 60 years, the great ocean explorer has placed himself firmly on the wrong side of the Earhart matter, and in my opinion, has lost all credibility. Henceforth anything he utters publicly should be questioned by everyone with any knowledge of the truth.
This entire Robert Ballard-National Geographic travesty is a blatant insult to our intelligence and a brutal slap in the face to everyone that has trusted them to act with honesty, integrity and professionalism in their endeavors. Both should henceforth be avoided, and we can justifiably ask what else National Geographic has been lying to us about. I’ll grant you that the NatGeo’s ancient Egypt exploration and Drain the Ocean programs are interesting, but these are few compared to the endless glorification of the drug world, prisons everywhere and criminals of all stripes that now comprise so much of NatGeo’s programming, which regularly descends into the Pit to get ratings from viewers of similar proclivities.
Tony Gochar, a researcher who lives on Guam and whose contributions to Truth at Last (see pages 263, 264) were timely, valuable and much appreciated, had his own unique experience with National Geographic:
I had an unpleasant personal involvement with National Geographic. I was on a diplomatic assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Manila from 1986 until 1991. In 1987 a journalist “discovered” a tribe, Tasaday, allegedly living out of contact with the modern world in the southern Philippines for over 500 years. Totally bogus. NatGeo got involved and the truth was left in the ditch.
My local contacts instantly recognized the language the tribe was speaking as Manobo, which is the language of some tribes in the area. Did the truth overcome the excitement of a “lost tribe”? No, NatGeo published the story with never a retraction. [Former Philippines President Ferdinand] Marcos left in April, 1986, and I arrived in August. The politics were in turmoil. The Minister in charge of tribal relations was [Manuel “Manda“ Cadwallader] Elizalde, a Marcos holdover. Elizalde took about $20 million and escaped to the States. His relationship with NatGeo was based on money. How much they got from him is not known. No amount of complaints from the Embassy would sway the story. They continue to be shameless purveyors of trash.
Tony gets no argument here, and I can’t say that I look forward to National Geographic’s next Earhart production, or anything else they do where the topic is fraught with political, cultural or religious overtones. My first thought will always be that NatGeo is on the wrong side of anything sensitive or controversial. Who could blame me after this?
David Martin’s “The Ballad of Amelia Earhart”
Readers are familiar with David Martin, also known as “DC Dave,” (DCDave.com), the award-winning writer and insightful observer of the passing scene who reviewed both editions of Truth at Last, “Hillary Clinton and the Amelia Earhart Cover-up,” in August 2012 and “Amelia Earhart Truth Versus the Establishment” in May 2016.
Most recently Martin turned his lengthy, six-part 2003 presentation, “Who Killed James Forrestal?” into The Assassination of James Forrestal, published in May of this year, and selling very well despite the mainstream media’s near-total blackout of the book, which dismantles yet another of our nation’s historical sacred cows.
Those unfamiliar with the vast contents of Martin’s home page probably don’t know that he’s also an accomplished, witty and entertaining poet and lyricist. Yesterday (Oct. 11), he sent me the below, which I now present to you:
“THE BALLAD OF AMELIA EARHART”
(To the tune of…well, you know)
Amelia flew over the ocean;
Her plane “disappeared” in the sea.
We found it much later in Saipan.
Oh, move on, there’s nothing to see.
Hard facts, hard facts,
Hard facts are important to me, to me.
Hard facts, hard facts.
The truth is important to me.
The order came down to destroy it.
There are witnesses galore of the deed.
They come from that great generation,
But from the trough of the truth we don’t feed.
Hard facts, hard facts,
Hard facts are important to me, to me.
Hard facts, hard facts.
The truth is important to me
The U.S. and Japan are now allies,
In spite of that war’s genocide.
What happened to that famous woman
Is something they both want to hide.
Hard facts, hard facts,
Hard facts are important to me, to me.
Hard facts, hard facts.
The truth is important to me.
Not being the sharpest musical tool in the shed, initially I had no clue what Martin meant when he wrote, “To the tune of . . . well, you know.” The first song I thought of was Fess Parker’s 1955 popular hit, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” that was such a rage with the coonskin cap-wearing kids at that time, of whom I was one. When I tried to sing along with Martin’s words, however, it didn’t work at all.
Next, having spent most of my childhood in the Washington, D.C. area, well within listening range of the many great radio stations that played what’s now called “Doo-Wop” music, but then was more properly known as rhythm & blues, group harmony and even the more prosaic rock ‘n roll, I thought perhaps the tune Martin referenced might be the long forgotten “Ballad of a Girl and Boy” (1959), but upon further review, that was wrong too, though it was a pleasure to revisit.
Finally the answer popped into my thick skull, and I knew that Martin’s tune was “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”; this version of the old Scottish folk song was produced in 2010 by a group under the direction of Mitch Miller, who died at age 99 in July 2010. The lyrics fit perfectly; try it!
Many thanks to Dave Martin for his unique contribution to the poetics of the Earhart saga.
Prymak’s “Jaluit Report” recalls ’91 Jaluit visit, interviews of hitherto unknown Earhart witnesses
Today we return to Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters for another look at true Earhart research history. “The Jaluit Report” is Prymak’s account of his November 1990 trip to Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands with his longtime friend, the strange, unreliable researcher Joe Gervais, best known as the progenitor of the notorious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth. “The Jaluit Report” appeared in the May 1991 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter. Please understand that the words and opinions in this piece are those of the writers and others quoted, and not necessarily those of the editor. Boldface and italics emphasis is mine throughout.
“The Jaluit Report,” January 1991 (Part I of two)
by Bill Prymak and Major Joe Gervais, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)
This report summarizes the events experienced during our recent expedition to Jaluit and the great Japanese Naval Seaplane Base at Emidj, eight miles north of Jabor, the only harbor located in the Jaluit chain of islands, and where the administrative seat of Japanese Government was located prior to and during World War II.
Bill Prymak received considerable flak from the assemblage of critics out there for failing to maintain strict objectivity in the reporting of eyewitnesses interviewed during last year’s trip to Mill Atoll, so this report will simply “tell it as it happened,” with no editorializing, no personal opinions. It shall be for the reader to judge the veracity of the many eyewitness experiences related to us, and the impact these experiences may have on the Earhart Mystery. It should be noted, however, that we went so far back into the bush that many of these natives interviewed had rarely, if ever, seen a white visitor to their remote part of the Marshall Islands: none of them had ever been interviewed before, so we were fortunate indeed to visit with “uncontaminated” witnesses.
And yet, as the following report will detail, they knew of the “American Lady Spy who flew her own airplane” not from books (they have none there), not from previous visitors, not from their own government people, but they knew of the American Lady Spy relating only to a time many years ago, before the “Great War,” and always in concert with their servitude under harsh Japanese rule.
“Hey Bill, this is Joe Gervais. You gotta come down: I’ve got something important to show you, and when you see it, you’ll agree with me that we gotta take another trip to the Marshall Islands. There’s some unfinished business there.”
A typical Gervais call. Full of energy, optimism, and rarely failing to come up with a new tidbit on the Earhart mystery that has consumed the man for over thirty years.
Visiting Maj. Gervais has never been unpleasant nor without excitement; he lives in Las Vegas, and with my good fortune to own an airplane, it was a quick hop from Denver that late October, 1990. He is ever the gracious host, and his EARHART SUITE contains literally thousands of research data painstakingly procured over the past thirty years. It’s amazing how much Earhart material he has acquired that did not make his book.
Joe had photographs and spread sheets all over the table as he ushered me into the Earhart Suite. “Bill, let’s backtrack a bit: virtually every credible AE researcher has her down in the Marshall Islands, and every one of them tried to get to Jaluit, but because of time constraints, money, or logistics, none of ’em made it to Jaluit. Think about it; we have at least five sightings of what might be the Electra at Jaluit: Bilimon Amaron see it on the fantail of a Japanese naval ship; John Heine sees it on a barge [see page 156 Truth at Last] ; Oscar DeBroom reports seeing it at Jaluit; Tomaki [Mayazo, see pages 140-141 TAL for clarification], loading coal on the Kamoi, hears about the American Lady pilot and plane. And Jaluit was administrative headquarters for the Japanese long before World War II got underway. Why shouldn’t a ‘spy’ airplane be brought to Jaluit, placed on a barge for the inland water trip to a naval seaplane base under construction at that time, and far removed from prying eyes?
“Take a look at this,” Joe continued, his eyes lighting up with excitement, as he showed me classified pre-strike Target Detail Photos of Emidj, the Japanese naval seaplane base, taken by U.S. Air Force reconnaissance planes July 1943.
“My God,” I uttered, “that’s a mini Pearl Harbor down there,” as I studied the photographs. Clearly outlined were two massive concrete ramps leading into the lagoon, a main concrete apron 1,500 feet long by 360 feet wide, two enormous hangars scaling 240 feet by 160-feet wide (each!), numerous other support structures, and several giant Emily flying boats parked on the aprons.
“Study that overhead photo real hard, Bill, and see if you note anything unusual.” Joe was testing me. Besides the aforementioned ramps, hangars and airplanes, I could pick out AA guns, barracks, roads, and evidence that a tremendous amount of labor and materials had gone into this huge complex. But nothing that would precipitate an urgent trip to Las Vegas caught my eye. I looked up at Joe, plaintively, my eyes conceding defeat: “I give up — what’s so sensational down there?”
Joe whipped out a photo-enhanced copy of the recon photo and proudly placed it in front of me, pointing to what obviously was an Operations building . Behind the building, in what was apparently several years’ growth of underbrush, was a silver airplane! I was stunned! Intense magnification and scrutiny showed the object to be a twin-engined land airplane, twin tail, 55-foot wingspan, and looking just like a Lockheed Electra would look like from an overhead camera shot.
“Bill,” Joe said softly, “What the hell is a civilian land based airplane doing on a Japanese Naval Seaplane Base in the middle of a war?” I couldn’t even begin to answer, noting further on the photo that all the Jap military aircraft were clearly camouflage gray. Our attention was riveted upon a silver-looking (READ-Aluminum) airplane that just didn’t seem to belong there.
“Joe,” I asked, “when do we leave for Jaluit?”
You pay for at least three phone calls to the Marshall Islands before you finally connect with someone who might help you connect to Jaluit. And then the response to our request to visit Jaluit went something like: “Hey, mon, what for you wanna visit Jaluit? Nobody goes dere . . . dere ain’t no airport, no hotel, no beaches, no white folk . . . are you guys plannin’ on runnin’ dope or sumtin?” Finally, at no little expense, our twin-engine plane was headed southeast out of Majuro (capital of the Marshall Islands) some 115 miles down the road. It’s a big, big ocean out there.
Jaluit Atoll will never make the cover of ISLAND PARADISE MAGAZINE. It’s a scrawny looking string of very thin islands stretching some 40 miles in length and 20 miles at its widest girth. No beaches to speak of. We asked our pilot to make a low pass over Emidj for some photos; when we mentally compared our 1943 photos with the view below, we knew our work was cut out for us, as the encroaching jungle over the aprons and hangars showed a solid blanket of green.
As we approached Jabor, capital of Jaluit Atoll, I sat right seat next to the pilot; I jokingly asked if Jabor had a control tower. “We don’t even have an airstrip to land on,” complained the pilot, pointing to a narrow winding coral road. He skillfully dumped it in, however, and we were unceremoniously off loaded in front of a rusting hulk of metal vaguely resembling a beat-up pickup truck.
It had been previously arranged that the Mayor of Jabor (population some three hundred natives and thousands of chickens and pigs) would meet our flight and arrange food and lodging. But the fellow in the truck, a most agreeable chap who spoke some English, and who also happened to be the official Postmaster, advised us the Mayor was on a remote island attending a funeral, and his time or date or return was, well, “uncertain.” Mr. Johnson, our newfound Postmaster friend, took us to the Post Office to wait for the Mayor.
And then the rains came . . . in sheets like I’ve never seen before. Joe was resigned to sleeping on the P.O. desk, while I deliberated the delightful prospect of sleeping on the floor amongst all those crawling inhabitants. Suddenly Mr. Johnson remembered: school was on holiday, but one teacher remained, and might find us a bed in the teachers’ quarters. Miss Kimberly, a delightful transplant from Arkansas, saved the day for us, and proved to be a most charming hostess for the duration of our stay on Jabor.
Mayor Robert Diem was to be our guide and translator for the rest of our stay on Jaluit. His warmth, friendship and eagerness to help will be long remembered. First order of business on the first day was to get the BOOM-BOOM BOAT as they called it (didn’t Mill also have a BOOM-BOOM BOAT?) operational for the trip to Emidj, some eight miles up the lagoon. With much noise, fire and smoke by mid-morning we chugged northward and arrived some two hours later.
EMIDJ. What a great naval seaplane base this must have been. Begun in 1935 with 8,000 Korean and Marshallese labor, the enormous seaplane ramps, except for the 500-pound bomb direct hits, are today in excellent condition. The 30-foot-high bomb depository, with its 6-foot-thick walls and roof, stands as a testimony to the advanced engineering skills of the Japanese in that era. The structure today is as sound and solid as the day it was built.
Along the shore lay strewn dozens of radial engines, props, bomb carrier dollies, and rusting hulks of the machines of war. The big hangars were downed, devoured entirely by the creeping jungle. By my calculation, at least a hundred thousand tons of concrete were hand mixed to build this base.
Approximately 90 natives live on the concrete apron in tin shacks, with absolutely no visible sign of meaningful employment; the trading boat comes once a month with basic staples in exchange for the copra harvested. We were introduced to Joel, the school teacher who spoke fairly good English, and two native boys were assigned to us for initial reconnaissance work. We had previously plotted out precisely where the “aircraft in question” should locate, and as we brought in our survey lines, ground ZERO was surrounded by a solid wall of green. We were bitterly frustrated and disappointed at this turn of events, but “take heart!” we cried. This is only the first day.
Our two guides told us nothing existed at our ground ZERO, but we hacked our way to four corners of the huge hangars and were shown piles of aluminum aircraft debris that has been obviously bulldozed into one great mass. The jungle had flexed its muscles and embraced this mass of aluminum with a canopy that virtually defied penetration. We did identify several Japanese aircraft, including one huge Emily Flying Boat, but found nothing made in USA.
(Editor’s note: For those wondering about the one-winged plane that brought Gervais and Prymak to Jaluit, no trace of it was ever found.)
Crawling out of the jungle was like stepping out of a blast furnace, and nothing in the world refreshes like a cool drink of nectar out of a coconut. Joel, our schoolmaster friend told us that in 1977 the U.S. Army came in with bulldozers to deactivate any live ordinance strewn about and resettle the natives on Emidj. This was distressing news to us; it would take an army of men to cut through the jungle and mass of aluminum to affect a meaningful search for anything USA. We thanked our gracious hosts for their help and promised to return the next day. (End of Part I; witness interviews to come in Part II.)