Conclusion of Bill Prymak’s “The Jaluit Report”

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.

“Joe Gervais with donut maker Kubang Bunitak, who corroborated Bilimon Amaron and John Heine’s experiences,” wrote Bill Prymak in the original AES Newsletter photo caption of May 1991.

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 thousandsof 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.

The aircraft carrier Akagi entered service with the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1927 and took part in the opening campaigns of World War II.  Akagi was a major player in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and aided in the rapid Japanese advance across the Pacific until sunk by American dive bombers at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.  Claims of Akagi-based aircraft involvement with the downing of Amelia Earhart near Mili Atoll in July 1937 do not hold up under scrutiny.

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 ahugeaircraft 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.

At the old Emidj seaplane ramp, Joe Gervais stands in the crater of a 500-pound direct hit, incurred during one of several American bombing missions against Emidj between Feb, 1, 1942 and Oct. 6, 1944.  (Photo courtesy Bill Prymak.)

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.

EPILOGUE

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. 

 

14 responses

  1. Yes the donut maker did see Amelia’s Electra, as Bill Prymak had pointed out. Again more *evidence presented by Mike, which all add up to *Amelia’s presence there. A Foreman & donut maker seeing an unusual, shiny, aluminum, American airplane. Now if that doesn’t catch one’s attention, I don’t know what does? Even the best fictional writer couldn’t dream this one up.

    I think, what is to be learned from all this, is the secrecy in which the United States & Japan played apart of, to disguise any knowledge of Amelia Earhart’s presence in the Marshall Islands. This is the *TRUE story of Amelia Earhart.

    Doug

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  2. I don’t know what to make of these reports. It’s hard to follow all the details and eye witnesses. It seems like a plane on a barge was brought to Emidj? Where it was winched off and put somewhere never to be noticed again? Is it still there? Wasn’t Prymak interested enough to go look? I guess not. The Japanese knew her plane or some foreign plane was going to fly over Emidj that night? I believe the Japanese had a pretty good idea where AE was and were following her flight. Probably. I think Margot DeCarie knew that the whole flight would be a spy flight and plans were made when AE was “given” her plane by Purdue U. The story gets curioser and curiouser.

    I wish I could make an intelligent comment that puts all these details together, but I can’t. Captain Parker says there was an aircraft carrier and 3 destroyers at Jaluit when he was there. But it wasn’t the Akagi? Then which one could it have been? But supposedly she wasn’t “shot down” by a Jap plane or was she?

    I was watching one of those UFO shows on TV a couple nights ago and found that Phillip Klaas was a leading author of UFO debunking books. Some of the reviews were critical of his very poor research. Is he related to Joe Klaas?It’s obvious to me that Gillespie is renumerated by TPTB for his role. Now the “bones” from Nikumaroro are going to be tested to see if they are AE. The suspense is killing me.

    I have to go out to my yard and rake up leaves. Can’t seem to solve the AE mystery today. I accept she apparently landed on Mili Atoll was taken prisoner by the Japanese and was brought to Saipan where she died. The rest of the complicated story will always remain a mystery to me.

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    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      David,

      Given the number of credible eyewitness reports of Lockheed Electra 10E Special NR16020 at Aslito Airfield on Saipan in June 1944, chief among them the testimony of Thomas E. Devine, I think it was a case of Bill Prymak being smart enough not to waste his time tearing around the island looking for the Electra on Emidj. He knew it wasn’t there.

      Of course the Japanese were following AE’s flight. According to “Kaigun Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy 1887-1941” by David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie, Chapter 11, Behind the Fleet Collateral Elements of the Japanese Navy, 1937-1941, page 417, in 1937, it’s sophisticated radio direction-finding (RDF) equipment enabled the IJN to track the maneuvers of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Problem 18. No doubt, given the deteriorating relations between the United States and Imperial Japan vis-a-vis dominance in the Pacific they viewed AE’s RTW flight through/near an area they considered “their turf” as a potential threat and were tracking her flight very closely. Clearly, they had the means as well as the motivation to do so.

      Yes, Captain of the “Fijian,” English-speaking Norwegian Alfred Parker claims he saw an “aircraft carrier” accompanied by three destroyers at Jaluit in mid-April 1937. It’s well documented in TTAL. And, IJN Akagi was in Japan for a major refit at the time. I think it’s entirely reasonable that Parker really meant to say “seaplane tender” rather than “aircraft carrier.” Some days it’s tough enough for any of us to find just the right words in our own native tongue, much less a second language. The IJN seaplane tender Kamoi was documented to be at Jaluit while Parker and crew were “guests” of the Japanese.

      If by “spy flight” you mean “photo reconnaissance,” I would rule that out entirely. As I’ve opined on other occasions, it would have been a mission with too many single points of failure. That is to say, there were too many “moving parts” — things that could go wrong. There was simply too much risk for too little reward. Not the least of which would have been the political/diplomatic blowback had AE and FN been brought down in the Mandates with an airplane full of cameras. No “plausible denial” there, and therefore not a realistic possibility.

      All best,

      William

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      1. William,

        Thanks for your thoughtful message. I must take slight issue with your assertion that Capt. Alfred Parker said he saw an “aircraft carrier” at Jaluit, however. Look closely at the bottom of page 172 TAL and you will see the salient section of Goerner’s 1993 letter to J. Gordon Vaeth: “Parker testified to U.S. authorities that the Japanese seaplane carrier KAMOI had arrived at Jaluit mid-April 1937, with three supporting destroyers.”

        I think the problem is with a misunderstanding of Parker’s description of Kamoi as a “Japanese seaplane carrier,” which was slightly erroneous. Kamoi was an oiler/seaplane tender/flying boat tender of the Imperial Japanese Navy, serving from the 1920s through World War II. She was initially planned in 1920 as one of six of the oilers under the Eight-eight fleet final plan. In no way could Kamoi be accurately described as an “aircraft carrier.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_seaplane_tender_Kamoi for a photo and I’m sure you will agree that Kamoi had no resemblance to an aircraft carrier, neither was she a “seaplane carrier,” as Goerner wrote that Parker said.

        MIke

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  3. David –

    She was spotted by a number of people, from the time she landed in the Marshall’s/Barre Island. to her imprisonment on Saipan. The *F*A*C*T*S speak for themselves, as Mike always points out.

    Ric Gillespie is nothing more than a decoy/poster boy for the government’s intelligence apparatus. He’s always FRONT & CENTER in the media and why? Because the U.S. intelligent apparatus wants to keep it that way………………They continue to blind side the American public or dupe them into thinking she mysteriously disappeared. They are using Ric Gillespie as juicy bait and how they fall for his lures.

    Doug

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  4. In terms of naval nomenclature, the Imperial Japanese Navy did not diferentiate between flattops and seaplane tenders as did the U.S. Navy. The IJN referred to both the seaplane tender Kamoi (which was operating in the Caroline Islands and the southeastern atolls of the Marshalls at the time 0f the March and July flights) and the Akagi as “aircraft carriers”. The float-planes from the Kamoi staged down into the Marshalls on site survey flights and familiarization/ scouting missions. What had been heretofore default open skies above the Marshalls were by July of 1937 closed–or at least contested airspace. If the Electra entered their AOR low and slow, an accidental meeting with and being “bounced”by an IJN float-plane becomes a good bet.

    There is also a possibility that the pilot Mr.Lee overheard in Jaluit claim that he had shot down the aircraft with the two American spies and the former IJN pilot (now refering to to an identical claim made on Saipan) were one in the same individual. If the flier on Saipan flew in the Marshalls at that time he was clearly a float-plane pilot assigned to the Kamoi. The only other aircraft flying in the AOR at that time were 2-4 engined air route survey planes. And note that the IJN pilots were not clambering over each other to make such a claim.

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  5. These comments are very informative to me I’m glad I took the time to read them. One fact missing from the discussion is were any of the seaplanes armed? Could a seaplane shoot down another plane (like Amelia’s?). It seems much more likely that she was threatened somehow than that she just happened to decide to land on Mili. I doubt very much that she was out of gas, either. Now, apparently, the Japanese suspected or knew she was going to fly over the Marshalls. They were tracking her evidently. They may have been totally puzzled as to what the Americans were up to (as we are today). What would it really matter if there were sophisticated cameras on the plane? Just the fact that she was flying over the Marshalls would amount to spying.

    The Japs perhaps at first decided to go along with the innocent “lost” theory and then they changed their minds. There may have been cool heads in Japan who suspected the USA and FDR was sucking them into a war that they likely would lose. Obviously the Japs decided to keep quiet which don’t you think is odd? Spy plane or lost plane which is it? So the Japs just keep quiet and if the Americans were to announce she crashed on Mili then they would know their codes had been broken. So it was very important the Americans pretended they thought she was “lost at sea”and mounted a big search. So what conclusion can I draw from this line of reasoning? None at this time, sorry.

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    1. David,

      IJN seaplanes were indeed armed with the standard fixed and flexible weapons in the Japanese arsenal. Please see the attached for aircraft types and armament.

      http://www.combinedfleet.com/ijna/ijnaf.htm

      All best,

      William

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  6. William,

    I feel like it’s my naptime (5:35 PM) on a cold and snowy afternoon in Northern NH. My cursory reading of your info does show an armed seaplane, the Kyofu? but it looks like it was not produced until 1942, meaning that there may have been no such thing as an armed seaplane of IJN in 1937. I can go over this again but it seems like it’s of little importance, and my eyes are glazing over. It’s not my place to criticize Prymak for not hunting down the supposed wrecked airplane dragged onto Emidj after all it was 50+ years later, but it would have been nice if he could have checked on it. The excuse that it wouldn’t /couldn’t have been her plane because her plane was found at Aslito Airfield I don’t think was in his mind.

    While I’m writing, I was wondering how a non-Japanese plane could have crashed at Tanapag Harbor which contained a white man and woman who would presumably be Amelia and Fred, while about the same time Bilimon is treating white man and woman flyers at Jaluit also would have to be Amelia and Fred. How many white couples could have been flying around the Marshalls in July 1937? So one of the stories or the conclusion derived thereof is not right. How can this be? I think the Tanapag crash is treated in TTAL with some skepticism but here it’s presented as a genuine eye witness report and our Japanese Capture theory is almost all based on eyewitnesses. Is it possible that one or more reports are mistaken?

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    1. David,
      You’re really not paying attention now; it seems all the material you have to call upon is only confusing you. The plane that
      “crashed” at Tanapag was likely a spy plane that was unmarked, whether it was a seaplane or a land-based plane, that’s all. It was not the Electra. Go back to the book and see the Saipan Witnesses chapter. This time I’m not going to tell which page!

      MIke

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    2. David,

      Yes, the Kyofu is a later model floatplane fighter. However, there were pre-WWII armed seaplanes in IJN service. One example is the Kawanishi E7K2 Type 94 reconnaissance seaplane. Another is the Nakajima E8N2 Type 95 reconnaissance seaplane. A third is the Mitsubishi F1M2 Type O observation seaplane. All were armed with a combination of fixed and flexible weapons, principally the Type 92 or 97 7.7mm machine guns.

      By the way, the seaplane carrier KAMOI could accommodate 12-16 seaplanes.

      My source for this information is Mark R. Peattie’s “Sunburst The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power, 1909-1941.”

      All best,

      William

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      1. William,
        I feel like I’m just a dabbler in these matters. I was just wondering if there was a possibility AE could have actually been “shot down.” This info makes it seem like she could have been, maybe she thought that she could get away with an overflight although I’m sure she would have known there were probably armed planes in the Marshalls.

        The Electra ceiling was 19,400 ft. but the Japanese fighters and probably the Jap scout planes too had higher ceiling than that so she couldn’t have been hoping to fly higher than them. Then there is the connection that Kelly Johnson designed both the Electra and the U2 spy plane. I think that is right, but what would that mean?

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      2. David,

        AE and FN were NOT on any sort of photo reconnaissance overflight of Truk, or anywhere else in the Japanese Mandated Marshall Islands. I’m absolutely convinced of it as such a flight would not meet the critical “risk vs reward” test. It was too risky, and had too many single points of failure. Such an operation would have been far more likely to fail than to succeed. Operations are not initiated unless there is a reasonable chance of success.

        Needless to say, I don’t believe AE and FN were shot down either. Just because the Japanese had armed floatplanes in the Marshall Islands that, in theory, could have shot down the Electra doesn’t mean that it actually happened. Likewise, just because Clarence “Kelly” Johnson designed the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft doesn’t mean that the Electra 10E Special was one.

        Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

        All best,

        William

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      3. William,
        We had a great Thanksgiving, hope you did too. Spent yesterday on a 6 mile walk with my oldest son and an old friend on an icy trail. The trails usually are icy around here in Nov. until the heavy snows start falling which will be soon. I was discussing with my son how presidential candidates platforms are trolled and manipulated not by the Russians but by powerful interests to confuse their messages and get bickering and senseless arguments started. There must be a whole bureaucracy devoted to confusing the AE issue. Where would I apply for a job?

        So we have seen that an ace aviator like Rickenbacker could get lost in the Phoenix islands and his crew did not fly west to the Gilberts or morth to the Marshalls. they just ran out of gas and crashed and sank. If they hadn’t survived it would be another great mystery of the 20th century. Since I supplied the Rickenbacker story myself to “shoot down” my own argument that they (AE) couldn’t have been lost, then I suppose it’s at least possible that they were, and they could have run out of gas and landed at Mili, I just don’t happen to think that is the real story. I made a project one day of trying to figure out what time of day they landed at Mili, how many hours of flying time until then, whether they would have had any gas left by then. Could they have overflown Truk and still made it to Mili at that time? I allowed for the time zones, it took some deep thinking to get it all straight. I believe my conclusion was that they would still have gas left at Mili. So why did they land there? I don’t think they had to, that’s why I entertain the concept that they were shot down or threatened to be shot at so she landed her plane where she could. Of course, even if my calculations were right it proved nothing.

        I agree that sending Amelia equipped with latest cameras over Truk and then over the Marshalls and on to Howland Island where she would be able to drop her film off and then resume her flight to Hawaii or maybe drop the film off in Hawaii seems preposterous, For what? To count the number of warships and planes at Truk and then to check on Jaluit to see if there was a seaplane tender still there? FDR wasn’t planning an attack on Jaluit or even Truk. The war was 4 years away. Now, I believe FDR supported AE and made her flight possible but in return he wanted a little favor. What that favor was we don’t know. Was her flight meant to be a provocation all along? I think that is at least a possibility. Of course they couldn’t tip off AE because when she was captured the Japs would get that answer out of her. If she was sent to overfly the Marshalls and then on to Howland she would know if she had enough gas to do that. So she isn’t going to fly over the Marshalls knowing she is going to have to ditch the plane. So why did she land on Mili? I haven’t figured out the answer to that, but I’m working on it.

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