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 Jr.’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 Amelia 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. Schlesinger 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 US 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’s 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.