Today we take another look at the pioneering work of author Paul L. Briand Jr., whose findings revealed in his 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, sparked the true modern search for Amelia Earhart. Written in 1966, as far as I know, “Requiem for Amelia” is Briand’s last published piece; it’s an excellent summary of everything he learned in the years since Daughter of the Sky was published in 1960.
“Requiem for Amelia” is a succinct summation of the evidence presented by the original Saipan witnesses, based on the interviews done by Fred Goerner and the “Operation Earhart” duo of Air Force officers Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960, following closely in Goerner’s heels, and presented to America by Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966) and Joe Klaas’ Amelia Earhart Lives (1970).
“Requiem” comes to us courtesy of Broad Cove Media and Paul Briand (no suffix), the son of Paul L. Briand Jr., who “started the freelance business through Broad Cove Media in 2008 after retiring from the Seacoast Media Group of newspapers that includes the Portsmouth Herald and Foster’s Daily Democrat.” Thus I assume the editor’s note below was written by Paul Briand. Boldface emphasis is mine throughout; capitalization emphasis is Briand’s. We begin Briand’s story with a note from the editor, possibly Paul Briand, though it’s not possible to know for sure:
Editor’s note: “Requiem for Amelia” was written in 1966 as a follow-up to Paul L. Briand Jr.’s 1960 Amelia Earhart biography, Daughter of the Sky. It was written as Briand was about to retire as a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. He was allowed to view the official Navy file on Earhart provided that this manuscript be reviewed for military security, which it was in February 1967. Briand died in 1986, still in pursuit of the truth behind Earhart’s disappearance.
“REQUIEM FOR AMELIA” (Part I of Two)
By Paul L. Briand, Jr.
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“That’s it. There is no rest.”
“No. That’s all there is.”
It was November 1, 1966. I had just finished reading the official Navy file on Amelia Earhart, and I wanted my theories confirmed. I had been waiting to see the file for more than five years, convinced that its pages had hidden for almost thirty years the secret to the mysterious disappearance of the famous flier. I was allowed to see the file as a scholar who would then submit his manuscript for clearance. It is a privilege allowed any scholar, writer or reporter working with official material.
According to the evidence in the file, Amelia Earhart was not on a spy mission for the United States Government when she disappeared in 1937. For years I had been convinced that she was. The findings in the official file also revealed that if Amelia ended her flight on Saipan, she did by accident and not by plan. I was cheered by this because it supported the conclusion in my biography about Amelia Earhart, Daughter of the Sky, published in April 1960. My evidence in the book was slight, however, based as it was on the eye-witness testimony of a Chamorro native girl who later married and emigrated to San Mateo, California.
But her testimony was so startling — that AE had crash-landed on Saipan, was taken prisoner by the Japanese, and later was executed as a spy — it appeared on the front pages of newspapers all over the country . One of the papers was the San Mateo Times, which featured the local tie-in with Josephine Blanco Akiyama, my native girl. It was this story that CBS Correspondent Fred Goerner ran with to best sellerdom six years later in his book, The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart had been America’s greatest woman flier. In 1928 she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger; in 1932 she flew across the Atlantic again, this time alone; in 1933 she broke her own transcontinental speed record from California to New Jersey; in 1935 she conquered part of the Pacific, from Hawaii to California. Not satisfied with these accomplishments, however, she wanted to face the one great challenge which remained … the world. She made her plans to girdle it at the equator, a 29,000 mile flight. No one had done it before. Not even Lindbergh.
In May of 1937 Ame1ia Earhart set out on her world flight from Miami. With her in the twin engine Lockheed Electra was one of the best navigators available, a pioneer from the Pan American flights to the Orient, Fred Noonan. By July, after flying 22,000 miles in forty days, they had reached Lae, New Guinea, the last stop before Howland Island, Hawaii, and home. Of these legs, the most difficult was the 2,556 miles to Howland, a tiny speck of island amid an eternity of ocean. To reach it, the navigation would have to be perfect.
The fliers never reached their destination. Although the Coast Guard cutter Itasca had been anchored off Howland to help beam them in, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were lost somewhere over a possible area of 450,000 miles in the South Pacific.
The Navy ordered a search. For a sixteen-day period Navy and Coast Guard ships, including at one time or another the aircraft carrier Lexington with its full complement of 63 planes, the battleship Colorado, the four destroyers Perkins, Cushing, Lamson, and Drayton, the minesweeper Swan, and the cutter Itasca, searched the Pacific where her plane could have been lost. Not a trace of the fliers was turned up. The world was stunned.
One of the great mysteries of the century remained unsolved, until in April of 1960, when it was first suggested in my Earhart biography Daughter of the Sky that the flier crash-landed on Saipan and was executed as a spy.
Amelia Earhart was lost and I had looked for her. I looked for her in 1957 and 1958 while conducting research for my book. I looked for her in 1960 and 1961 while two officer-colleagues of mine conducted investigations on Saipan and Guam. I looked for her again, most recently, this year in Washington, D. C., because I was convinced after almost ten years of research that her whereabouts were hidden in a government vault marked SECRET. During the summer of 1960, two Air Force officers stationed on Okinawa, Captains Joseph A. Gervais and Robert S. Dinger, read my book, wanted to believe my conclusion, but suggested that I needed more supporting evidence. I agreed.
We formed “Operation Earhart” and they went to Saipan and Guam to see what they could find. They interviewed 72 people, most of them natives who corroborated my testimony from Josephine Blanco. Gervais and Dinger also uncovered information to indicate that AE’s flight to Saipan was not accidental but deliberate, that she was on a spy mission. The evidence gathered by the captains, however, was immediately put under a security clamp by the U. S. Air Force in the Far East until it could be checked. Later, Gervais and Dinger took leave and brought their findings to me at the Air Force Academy. I wrote the story and submitted it to the Department of Defense for clearance in February 1961. I had decided later, on this title: “ONE LIFE FOR HER COUNTRY: The Last Days of Amelia Earhart.”
Then, because President Eisenhower was on a trip to the Far East and had cancelled a visit to Tokyo because of student riots, the Department of Defense denied clearance to the manuscript on the grounds that its contents would jeopardize Japanese–American relations. But I was convinced, nevertheless, that my conclusions about Amelia Earhart on Saipan were correct and that she must have been on a planned spy mission for her government.
I was silenced and I did not know what to do. In the spring of 1961 Arthur M. Sch1esinger Jr. came to the Air Force Academy to be the guest speaker at its annual Assembly. I prevailed on two officer colleagues to intercede with him on my behalf.
At Mr. Schlesinger’s suggestion, I wrote him a memo. Trying to help me, he wrote to Rudolph A. Winnacker, official historian of the Department of Defense. Mr. Winnacker, also trying to help, wrote in turn to the Army, Navy, and Air Force historians. They responded, but with no encouragement. The Navy answer was to the point: “ . . . the files contain nothing to indicate Amelia Earhart was a spy or that she was known or suspected to have landed on Saipan . . . ”
During the summer of 1961, Ambassador [Douglas, nephew of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who became the commander of the Allied occupation of Japan immediately after World War II] MacArthur in Tokyo was queried by the Secretary of State, Christian Herter, concerning Amelia Earhart. In his preliminary report on July 15, MacArthur said an initial search of Japanese files “has uncovered no indications Amelia Earhart was executed by the Japanese.” Then he added: “CHECK WILL BE CONTINUED, HOWEVER, AND GOJ (GOVERNMENT OF JAPAN) HAS LOCATED EIGHT PERSONS WHO MIGHT HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF CASE. THESE INCLUDE ADMIRAL HOSHINA AND FOUR FORMER STAFF MEMBERS CONCERNED WITH SAIPAN AREA; GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL NOW WORKING WITH FONOFF; MEMBER OF FORMER JAPANESE NAVAL LIAISON MISSION IN SAIPAN; AND CAPTAIN OF JAPANESE WARSHIP KOSHU WHICH SEARCHED FOR EARHART IN COLLABORATION WITH U S NAVY IN 1937.”
But on August 10, message number 445, at 3 p.m., he reported: “FOREIGN OFFICE INFORMS US GOJ HAS COMPLETED EXHAUSTIVE INVESTIGATION WHICH REVEALED NO BASIS WHATSOEVER FOR RUMOR JAPANESE EXECUTED AMELIA EARHART ON SAIPAN IN 1937. ALL AVAILABLE JAPANESE RECORDS SEARCHED AND ALL FORMER OFFICERS AND OFFICIALS CONTACTED (REFTEL) DURING COURSE INVESTIGATION. MACARTHUR”
Unfortunately for me, neither the Schlesinger-Winnacker correspondence, nor the MacArthur-Herter interchange, was shown to me; moreover, Mr. Schlesinger did not answer my memo to him — but he doubtlessly thought the Air Force would — which it did not. On November 21, 1961, after the supposed bones of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been found on Saipan by Fred Goerner, my manuscript was finally cleared by the Department of Defense for publication. The bones, however, proved to be those of Orientals, and there wasn’t a publisher in America interested in my story — not unless I had concrete proof-positive information, which didn’t have. Nor has anyone since.
Perhaps the most interesting document in the official file is an exhaustive report, a Navy investigative report [known to readers of this blog as the ONI Report] on the alleged location of Amelia Earhart’s grave. Compiled in November 1960, it is nine pages long and has a number of supporting documents, most of them photos of the Chamorran cemetery and surrounding area taken by Thomas E. Devine, from Connecticut, who had claimed he knew the location of the Earhart grave. Devine had written to me in the summer of 1960, telling me his story; but I was not interested. My Captains Gervais and Dinger had already written to me, telling me they had found the “one and only gravesite” of Amelia Earhart.
Here is the reporting official’s [ONI Special Agent Joseph M. Patton] synopsis:
Request was made for the evaluation of and comment on information furnished by Thomas E. DEVINE, who claimed that he had been told where Subject’s (Amelia Earhart’s) grave was located on Saipan, M.I. Enclosures (1) through (9) were furnished by DEVINE and their locations were described by DEVINE. Investigation at Saipan, M.I., developed that the location of enclosure (9) was erroneous as described by DEVINE. The building was located in Camp Susupe, several miles from the walk on fishing dock as mentioned by DEVINE. The Chamorran woman seen in enclosure (9) was in Camp Susupe and did not need rounding up. In 1937 the location shown in enclosure (9) was farm land under cultivation by the BLANCO family.
No evidence was disclosed by this investigation that Subject landed an airplane on Saipan. Mrs. Antonia BLANCO stated that her daughter (Josephine, the same who had furnished me with the conclusion for “Daughter of the Sky”) claimed to have seen a white woman of Subject’s description at Saipan prior to WW II. Mr. Jesus SALAS said he had overheard Japanese military people talking about the crash of Subject’s plane at Jaluit Atoll, in the Marshall Islands; and Mr. Jose VILLA-GOMEZ said that he overheard a similar conversation.
Some of the testimony in the report itself was very startling to me: Native guards during Japanese rule “stated they had known of no plane crash in Tanapag until the Military planes fell there during the bombing raids in 1944.” It refuted what I had learned from Gervais and Dinger. As startling is a copy of a letter from the civilian administrator, Saipan, to the Navy liaison officer to the trust territory high commissioner:
Now to the police. We contacted all presently available men who were policemen in 1937. None of them knew anything concerning the alleged incident. Next, we contacted all persons who were remembered as being jail wardens in 1937. Still no news of Amelia. Next, to Dr. Jose TORRES who worked in the Japanese hospital. Again no news. Jesus GUERRERO, a detective for the Japanese Government. No knowledge. Next, talked to Saipanese labor foremen who were in charge of labor gangs in the Garapan-Tanapag Harbor area. Again no soap.
Incredibly, the testimony of all these people as reported in the official file does not square with the testimony gathered for me by Captains Gervais and Dinger. It was as Department of Defense historian Rudolph Winnacker had said of my findings: “. . . contrary testimony by people who might have been expected to know.”
Contrary indeed! The evidence uncovered by Captain Joseph A. Gervais and Captain Robert S. Dinger in the summer of 1960 fully corroborates the story of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, first presented in Daughter of the Sky, in which the Saipan native girl saw a twin-engine silver plane fly overhead and crash land at Tanapag Harbor, about noon time one summer day in 1937. From the plane emerged two fliers, one of them a woman. Josephine, who later identified the fliers as Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart, learned later that they had died. Who is telling the truth and to whom?
Here my evidence: While Josephine Blanco was bicycling toward the Japanese installation with her brother-in-law’s lunch and looked up to see Amelia’s Electra fly over low and crash, other Chamorro natives witnessed the same event at the same time.
One was Josephine’s brother-in-law, J. Y. Matsumoto. Having been found and interviewed by Gervais and Dinger, he acknowledged that the incident was one that both he and Josephine witnessed, just as Mrs. Akiyama has related it. He confirmed that he did see the plane crash, that two Americans were apprehended, and that one of them was a woman.
Another Saipan native was Thomas [“Buko”] Blas, then 45, a construction worker at the time, who had just started to eat his lunch. As he sat looking out over Tanapag Harbor, Blas heard a plane overhead; looking up, he saw that it was very low, then watched with fright as it hit the tops of trees edging the Sadog Tasi area, pitch down out of control, and crash land on the beach 100 feet in front of him, very close to the Japanese Chico Naval Air Base.
Blas clearly remembers that the plane was two-motored, aluminum- colored, and had no Japanese markings. Many other workers, coming from all directions, gathered at the scene. Barred from getting too close to the plane by Japanese Navy personnel, Blas nevertheless saw that one of the pilots was lying face down on the ground, apparently injured, and that the other pilot had climbed out of the plane to help him.
Japanese officers and soldiers, however, kept the pilots separated, pushing and shoving the standing one away from the one lying on the ground, even knocking him down with the butt of a rifle. The injured one turned on his back, and as he tried to get up a Japanese soldier placed a bayonet at his throat.
Then a surprising thing happened. Blas could see that the fliers were certainly not Japanese; they looked more like Europeans, more like Americans because of their light coloring.
The Japanese, rather than search the pilots for concealed weapons, quickly stripped them and to their amazement, and embarrassment, one of the pilots, naked and undeniable, was a woman. Greatly disturbed, the Japanese quickly dressed the woman and the man; then with considerable irritability, they loudly complained that the poor Americans had no more men pilots and now had to use women for their military aircraft.
Blas said that both fliers wore flying jackets and well-washed khaki trousers, and that the woman wore a long-sleeved black shirt. But to his surprise, the woman had her hair cut short just like the man. The Japanese now took many photographs of the crash scene and the pilots. Then they dismissed all the workers in the Chico area, telling them to go home immediately. (End of “Requiem” Part I.)
Jesus Guerrero, the detective for the Japanese Government briefly referenced in a letter “from the civilian administrator, Saipan, to the Navy liaison officer to the trust territory high commissioner,” was in fact Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, a sinister character who collaborated with the Japanese police during the war, an enforcer whose job was to “keep the rest of the natives in line and his methods hadn’t been gentle,” Fred Goerner wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Many Saipanese said Guerrero was the man who could best answer his questions about events before and during the war, and Goerner had more than one unpleasant encounter with the surly Chamorro, whom he described as a “tough, bitter, hate-filled man who looks his reputation.” Goerner used the pseudonyms Francisco Galvan and Kobei for Guerrero in Search, but Guerrero was named correctly by Joe Klaas in Amelia Earhart Lives and by Thomas E. Devine in Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.
In my Nov. 2, 2018 post, “Did Earhart crash on purpose in Hawaii takeoff?,” we saw Fred Goerner’s Aug. 7, 1992 letter to Ron Reuther, in which Goerner discussed the sensational claims of Art Kennedy, an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s. Kennedy claimed Amelia Earhart told him that she was ordered by unnamed government officials to crash her Electra on purpose during her March 20 takeoff from Luke Field in Hawaii, which aborted her first world-flight attempt.
Kennedy said Earhart told him she followed that directive “and did it the only way she knew how.” According to Kennedy, she said “a lot depended on my keeping quiet about what I’d seen because she was going on a special mission that had to look like a routine attempt to go around the world. She said, ‘Can you imagine me being a spy?’ then she sort of tittered and added, ‘I never said that!’ ” So wrote Art Kennedy in his 1992 autobiography, High Times, Keeping ‘em Flying.
“With respect to the Kennedy comments about Earhart, the proverbial grain of salt applies,” Goerner wrote in his August 1992 letter to Reuther. [Please see my Jan. 2, 2019 post, “Art Kennedy’s sensational Earhart claims persist: Was Amelia on mission to overfly Truk?”]
Reuther, who founded the Western Aerospace Museum, was a revered, original member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society, and had apparently been a close friend of Goerner. Reuther was unique among the elite of the aviation establishment in his support for the Marshalls Islands-Saipan truth in the Earhart disappearance, but these are mere footnotes in an impressive list his memorable achievements.
He was also a noted naturalist who curated and directed the Micke Grove Zoo (Lodi, Calif.), the Cleveland Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Philadelphia Zoo. As director of the San Francisco Zoo, Reuther was instrumental in the creation of an amazingly successful project to teach the world-famous, now deceased gorilla Koko sign language. Following is Goerner’s follow-up 1992 letter to Reuther. All boldface emphasis is mine; capitalization emphasis is Goerner’s.
Today we present Goerner’s follow-up letter to Reuther, in which he briefly addresses one of several phony claims made by Robert H. Myers in his stranger-than-fiction 1985 book, Stand By To Die.
September 29, 1992
Mr. Ron Reuther
1014 Delaware Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
In further study of Reuther communications, I realize that I have not replied to your comments regarding Earhart author, Robert H. Myers.
Mr. Myers perfectly represents the totally irresponsible weirdo fringe which has been omnipresent in the Earhart matter since 1937.
I believe many of these people (including Mr. Myers) to be unstable, desperately grasping anything which will offer them identity and concocting total fiction to support their bogus claims.
With respect to Mr. Myers, I submit on classic example (of several hundred I could offer into evidence) of Myers’ outright fabrications.
Attached are copies of pages from two books. One is page 102 from Myers’ 1985 book titled STAND BY TO DIE [full title: Stand By To Die: The Disappearance, Rescue, and Return of Amelia Earhart]. The second is page 182 of James Sinclair’s 1978 book WINGS OF GOLD [full title: Wings of Gold: How the Aeroplane Developed New Guinea].
Myers maintains he met Eric Chater (he spells it ChaRter) while he (Myers) was in the military in 1943 during World War II.
The problem with that particular claim is that Eric Chater (who was the General Manager of Guinea Airways and who, together with his wife, hosted Earhart during her stay at Lae in 1937) was killed in a bizarre accident in October 1941 at the Lae, New Guinea airfield.
When I called this and other egregious distortions and untruths to the attention of Barbara Wiley, who ghosted STAND BY TO DIE, Wiley acknowledged to me that she had reached the conclusion (after having finished the writing of the book) that Myers was a liar some of the time, but she STILL believed Myers MUST have met Earhart as a boy sometime before the around-the-world flight began. Whew. What an aroma!
By the way, that IS Eric Chater (and his wife) with AE and Noonan in the photo on page 102 of STAND BY TO DIE. Photos of the Chaters, the Jouberts and Jacobs taken at Lae, New Guinea before the takeoff 2 July 1937 have been widely published and are readily available to any author. That has been Myers’ tactic: Use a photo or some item of accepted truth and then attach any piece of fiction onto them.
The same applies to Mr. Donohue and his [nearly unreadable] AE AND THE BRITISH CONNECTION [full title: The Earhart Disappearance: The British Connection]. He has used photos and benign basic research and stitched the wildest kind of fiction to them and it is without ANY proof or ANY reference to source.
Gillespie is much more subtle and sophisticated in his manipulation of the known facts, and he has clearly been more successful in gaining media acceptance than either Myers or Donohue, but it is truly amazing the number of persons who write to me of their belief in the creations of Myers and Donohue, to say nothing of Gervais, Klaas, Prymak, Reineck, Gillespie, Willi, Gannon, Wade, Loomis, Rafford and Brennan — to mention only a few.
The correctness of the Barnum thesis is therewith established.
Merla joins in sending the usual large collection of good regards and best wishes to you and yours.
P.S. Again, Ron, please, if you will, treat the above as privileged information. I don’t wish to see my comments turning up in someone else’s article or book.
Fred Goerner passed away in September 1994 at age 69, and is far beyond caring whether his missive to Ron Reuther is published on this blog. I never had the privilege of meeting Ron Reuther in person, but he was always cordial to me in our correspondence, sending me pieces of helpful information and once kindly telling me that I was a “good researcher,” when I’ve never had any such illusions. He passed away in 2007, and along with AES founder Bill Prymak, was among the most respected and influential of all the original AES members.
Finally, “Expedition Amelia” is in our rear-views, and today we present Part II of “The Jaluit Report,” Bill Prymak’s account of his November 1990 trip to Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands with Joe Gervais, infamous as the creator of the mendacious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth. “The Jaluit Report” appeared in the May 1991 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Boldface and italics emphases are mine throughout, capitalizations for emphasis are Prymak’s, and some have been edited for consistency.
“The Jaluit Report,” January 1991 (Part II of two)
by Bill Prymak and Major Joe Gervais, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)
DAY TWO ON EMIDJ: Spent the first hour with Joel who suggested we motor some ten miles further up the lagoon to visit a very old Japanese native who lived on a remote island. “TOKYO” apparently had worked on the construction phase of the seaplane base, and would surely have some interesting experiences to relate. With great apprehension (OL’ BOOM-BOOM was really gasping and belching at this stage) we chugged northward past dozens of islands . . . finally, a settlement came into view, with a beautiful white church perched just off the beach. The Pastor was amazed that any white man would chose to visit his Parish, but a ten dollar donation popped his eyes and put him at our service. Yes, Tokyo was around, back in the bush. He was frightened to have white visitors, but our Pastor soon put him at ease. He was awed at the attention bestowed, spoke no English, but our Pastor conveyed the following, acting as interpreter:
Tokyo had been brought to Emidj from Japan as a labor foreman to run concrete pouring crews. Thousands of Koreans and Marshallese were conscripted for this work, which began about 1934-’35. Several years into the work, according to Tokyo, there was a great flurry of excitement one day as the weekly barge came up from Jabor.
The barge normally carried construction materials off-loaded from the larger ships in Jabor Harbor, but on this day the barge carried no ordinary cargo. All work was suspended for the day and the entire work force was kept off base. Tokyo could see from a distance that a silver land airplane partially covered by a canvas tarp was being off-loaded by bulldozers with winches and dragged to a remote area where it was promptly fenced off and camouflaged. Tokyo stated that this event was excitedly discussed amongst the Japanese soldiers, but such talk amongst the civilian work force was forbidden, and would result in severe punishment.
Tokyo worked as foreman on. the base until the start of bombing raids, when he fled, with other Marshallese, to remote islands in the Jaluit Chain. With no family to go home to in Japan after World War II, Tokyo decided to embrace the Marshallese as his own and remain for the rest of his days. He is currently 75 (give or take a few) years old.
DAY THREE: JABOR: The BOOM-BOOM boat finally boomed out, so we decided to seek out old-timers in the village. The Mayor was still gracious and helpful. First stop: KUBANG BUNITAK, the donut baker. He’s some 75 years old, and his donut shop is something to behold: #5 bunker oil in a 55-gallon drum over a wood fire . . . and there you have it! DONUTS! Joe gave Kubang five dollars for a bag of donuts, and his eyes nearly popped out! He had never received so much money for his goods. I accidentally dropped one of the donuts: it hit the floor and bounced up to the ceiling! Joe later remarked that they would make great wheels on supermarket shopping carts!
The interview with Kubang was brief but very interesting. He had been at Jabor since 1935. “Many thousands” of Japanese soldiers and construction workers were based both at Jabot, the deep harbor, and at Emidj, the Naval seaplane base, he related. He remembered Bilimon Amaron working in the Naval Hospital and the flurry of excitement when Bilamon treated “two American flyers who were ’shot down’ near Mill Island and brought to Jabor for medical treatment and interrogation.” He further described how a strange-looking airplane was unloaded from a Naval Tender ship, put onto the Emidj barge, and disappeared from Jabor that night. Great secrecy was imposed by the military during this operation, and several Marshallese received cruel punishment for “being too close.”
Kubang went on to describe the terrible devastation rendered Jabor Island during the American bombing raids. He remembered well Carl Heine and his two sons John and Dwight. The previous Marshall Island Report describes our interview with John Heine and his witnessing the silver airplane on a barge at Jabor. (See newsletter for Mr. Heine’s interesting report re: the letter addressed to Amelia Earhart that was delivered to the Jaluit Post Office in November, 1937.)
The only white men Kubang had ever seen were the occasional contract school teachers at Jabor, and, rarely, when a sailing ship popped into the Harbor. He told us that he was delighted to share with us his experiences, as he had never talked with white visitors before. He never asked what the outside world was like . . . their simple lives seem to be self-fulfilling and pretty content.
Mr. Hatfield was next interviewed. A very soft-spoken elderly gentlemen who could communicate with us in broken English, he was the Mobil agent for the Island, and ran what passed for a country store. It was here that Joe and I found our survival rations for the week . . . Spam and beans! In discussing the Earhart issue, yes, he knew Tomaki Mayazo, the coal tender who [believed he] loaded the Kamoi. He remembered the ship hurriedly leaving port for Mili and returning a few days later to Jabor under great security and much fanfare.
Mr. Hatfield’s most interesting story was of his close relationship with a Mr. Lee, who, unfortunately for us, had died in 1987. Lee was the chief translator between the Marshallese natives and the Japanese military, and evidently commanded considerable respect and fraternized quite frequently with Japanese officers. Lee told Mr. Hatfield several times the events on the night of July 2nd, 1937, when he (Lee) was drinking heavily with some high-ranking naval officers. Suddenly one of the officers jumped out of chair, slammed his fist on the table, and boasted to Lee: “We know that the American Lady Pilot is flying over (these) islands tonight!” Joe and I were astonished to hear such a statement. Hatfield went on to relate how Lee told him of the arrival of a “huge” aircraft carrier and several destroyers that engaged in war games back in 1937 (this, incidentally, was corroborated by Capt. Alfred Parker; see Joe Klaas’s book, Amelia Earhart Lives, page 40). These war exercises were conducted at Jaluit and surrounding waters.
Mr. Hatfield concluded our interview with a startling statement: Lee told him that he had met one of the carrier pilots who, during a drinking bout, had claimed that he had shot down Amelia Earhart near Mill Atoll! Such a statement by itself may not be very credible, but I refer the reader to [T.C.] Buddy Brennan’s book Witness to the Execution (page 117) and immediately we see a hard connection. Brennan, nor Lee or Hatfield had never met before. Could Fujie Firmosa be the one and same person? Could the Akagi be the aircraft carrier seen at Jabor by several different persons?
(Editor’s note: The Akagi was shown to be in Japan’s Sasebo Navy Yard from 1935 to 1938, undergoing a major modernization. Fujie Firmosa, who, according to Buddy Brennan, told Manny Muna on Saipan that he shot down Amelia Earhart’s plane in the Marshalls while assigned to the Japanese carrier Akagi. Firmosa’s last known address was in Osaka, according to Brennan (Witness to the Execution, footnote p. 118) but he “was recently deceased” circa 1983. Further, I’m not aware of any claim by “several different persons” of seeing an aircraft carrier at Jabor. Anyone out there who can shed light in this one?]
DAY FOUR: BACK TO EMIDJ
Boom-Boom boat was dead. But somebody had another outboard, and after much ceremony and cussin’ the engine kicked into life and we were on our way. Joel, our schoolmaster friend, greeted us with the warmest smile imaginable, and the candy we had brought from the States made a great hit with the kids. We were told that an American airplane has been shot down during the February 1942 air strike, and that a native boy had recently seen it in some twenty feet of water several hundred yards off the seaplane ramp. It took some 30 minutes of trolling before I finally spotted the outline. Donning fins and snorkel gear, I made an amazing discovery: As I dove on the aircraft, it clearly turned out to be a TBF Torpedo Bomber in pristine condition. The black barrels of the twin machine guns on each wing clearly stood out in the semi-hazy water.
The aircraft had apparently pancaked into the water, nosed over, and settled in 20 feet to the bottom on its back. I was to learn later that the pilot, either Ensign R.L. Wright or Ensign W.A. Haas was still in the plane. Studying the strike reports from the Yorktown, the two pilots had radioed they were ditching together. Both to this day are [listed as] MIAs. Neither Joel, nor the other older natives had any knowledge of any person ever making an attempt to recover either parts or the remains of the pilot. It was an eerie feeling, knowing that I was the first to dive on an American military plane sequestered in the water for nearly 50 years. I plan to go back and complete my search of the aircraft.
It was sad leaving Emidj; we cemented deep bonds of friendship with natives, and promised to come back.
Parting Jabor on our final day, Mr. Hatfield had one last bit of information for us: “Capt. Fukusuke Fujita, commanding the base at Emidj during the war, wrote a book re: his experiences, and this book is in the possession of a certain Japanese restaurant owner on Majuro.” We held our breath: could this be the final clue? The undeniable clue? Landing at Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands, we did meet the restaurant owner, we did make a copy of said book; after weeks of tracking down competent translators . . . no cigar! Capt. Fujita had simply documented his post-war trips to the Islands to honor the war dead.
The long flight back to the states gave ample time for reflection. So many compelling questions begging for a rational answer need to be addressed: Exactly whose airplane was down there on the ramp at Emidj as shown on the United States Air Force pre-strike photo?
What did the bulldozers bury or push into a indefinable mass of aluminum back in 1977?
Just what did the old Japanese labor foreman see on that barge in 1937?
Why would a Japanese donut baker, who had never been interviewed before, talk of a “strange-looking” (can we read-non Japanese?) airplane being loaded onto a barge during the same period of time as the Bilamon Amaron experience?
Is this all hot smoke and sheer coincidence?
Joe and I did agree on one point: Our week at Jaluit and Emidj sure n’ hell beat laying on the beach at Fiji sipping pina coladas! (End of “The Jaluit Report.”)
Bill Prymak, along with several members of the Amelia Earhart Society, returned to Jaluit in late January 1997 and interviewed several new witnesses for the first time ever. We’ll hear from them soon.