Rollin Reineck’s 1990s Earhart work bears fruit: Hawaii senator pledges to open secret Earhart files
Today, we’ll look at the first of two letters written in 1992 by Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye to Earhart researcher and retired Air Force Col. Rollin Reineck. This letter appeared, with much fanfare, as a “Special Newsletter” and comprised the entire November 1992 issue of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter. (Boldface and italic emphases mine throughout.)
Inouye served as a U.S. senator from 1963 until his death in 2012. A member of the Democratic Party, he was President pro tempore of the United States Senate from 2010 until his death, making him the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in American history.
Inouye, a World War II veteran who fought in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, lost his right arm to a grenade wound and received several military decorations, including the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award. Returning to Hawaii, Inouye earned a law degree, was elected to Hawaii’s territorial House of Representatives in 1953, and to the territorial Senate in 1957. When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Inouye was elected as its first member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962. Inouye never lost an election in 58 years as an elected official, and he exercised an exceptionally large influence on Hawaii politics. He died in December 2012 at age 88.
I list Inouye’s more significant bona fides because it’s important to understand this man was no lightweight public official, but a long-sitting U.S. senator and a Democrat who hefted serious weight and was a media favorite, for obvious reasons. Perhaps no other U.S. senator was as well-positioned to effect a real change in the U.S. government’s longstanding policy of stonewall and denial in the Earhart case as was Inouye.
Here’s how Prymak presented his announcement in the November 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter:
“I look forward to celebrating together on November 3rd the joy of a successful campaign honorably waged,” Inouye wrote in the letter’s key sentence, “and the beginning of a new era of accomplishment and promise for Hawaii and our nation, which will include the initiation of legislation to open the secret files relating to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.”
Undoubtedly, Prymak and his AES friends considered this letter from the Hawaii senator a gigantic breakthrough with the strong potential to open the doors to the final resolution of the Earhart “mystery,” as they all still insisted on characterizing it. Under the Inouye letter to Reineck, Prymak was uncharacteristically verbose and enthusiastic in his accompanying commentary, much of which is presented below:
Senator Daniel K. Inouye, senior senator from Hawaii, in a letter dated 28th Sept., 1992, to Colonel Rollin C. Reineck of Kailua, Hawaii, said that he plans to initiate legislation that will open the secret files concerning Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance over 55 years ago, on July 2nd, 1937.
Col. Reineck has been researching the last flight of Amelia Earhart for over 22 years. From his research, he has concluded that the answer to the Earhart mystery does not lie in the Pacific where she disappeared, but rather in the secret files in Washington, D.C. Reineck says that the senator’s action will solve the 55-year mystery.
. . . Col. Reineck believes that she was on a government mission and went down in the Marshall Islands near Mili Atoll. The Japanese picked her up and transferred her to Saipan Island, in the Marianas, and then on to Tokyo. Sometime during WW II, Earhart was moved to the Japanese internment camp at Weihsien, China.
Ten days after the war had ended, an unsigned telegram was sent through State Department channels, from the Weihsien internment camp to Amelia Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, at the Earhart/Putnam home in North Hollywood, California.
The telegram read, “Camp liberated: all well. Volumes to tell. Love to mother.” Although unsigned, Col. Reineck strongly believes that this telegram was from Amelia Earhart. His belief, comes in part, from a 1990 State Department letter to Senator Inouye that says this message was located in 1987 — by a State Department clerk, with a top secret clearance — in the National Archives among other classified Earhart documents.
Although Col. Reineck, as well as other Earhart researchers, have tried to obtain additional information from the State Department and other government agencies concerning Amelia Earhart, their efforts have not produced any results.
Because of this, Col. Reineck has twice briefed Senator Dan Inouye on the Amelia Earhart story and asked for his help in obtaining the truth as to what happened 55 years ago on July 2, 1937. Col. Reineck feels that the information is secreted away in the files in Washington, D.C., and that it will take a presidential directive to free up the information similar to the President Kennedy assassination files.
. . . Colonel Reineck says that such action will be more than welcomed by all serious Earhart researchers as it will put an end, once and for all, to the many unfounded rumors and ridiculous claims that, in the past, have led to false hopes concerning one of America’s great heroines of the 20th century.
As we can see above, little did Prymak know in November 1992 — or anytime within the near future — that the foundational document for Reineck’s approach to the Hawaii senator was itself among the “many unfounded rumors and ridiculous claims” that Prymak was so quick to reference and denounce in his late 1992 commentary.
On January 3, 2017, I posted “Weihsien Telegram: Another sensation that fizzled,” outlining the entire story that had ignited one of the louder of the Earhart false claims. To catch up or re-orient yourself with all the morbid details, please click here.
Not content with the above comments, Bill Prymak, obviously in a rare, joyful mood of celebration, next presented readers with the longest, most comprehensive biography of Col. Rollin Reineck to be found in the AES Newsletters — or anywhere else, for that matter. I present large portions of this below:
“WHO IS THIS MAN, COLONEL ROLLIN REINECK?”
Colonel Rollin C. Reineck was 17 years old when Amelia Earhart was attempting to circumnavigate the world in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra. He recalls the excitement that the trip generated and the suspense created when she was reported lost on the way to tiny Howland Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
However, Col. Reineck’s interest in the fate of Amelia Earhart really ignited when he was assigned, in January 1942, to the Army Air Corps Navigation School at Kelly Field, Texas. His class was instructed by Army Air Corps officers that had been trained by Pan American personnel.
During the celestial phase of the instruction, the students reviewed, in detail, the Amelia Earhart flight and theorized the various possibilities as to her fate. Subsequently, a training flight was scheduled to simulate the “single line of position (LOP) technique” of locating a destination. Col. Reineck modestly says, “I hit the destination area within a mile and got an A for the flight.”
Col. Reineck’s interest in Amelia Earhart’s last flight has continually grown since those cadet days of early 1942. However, the pressure of his military career kept him from getting heavily involved,. When he retired in December of 1970, Col. Reineck was able to devote more of his time to this project. He has worked closely with [former] Major Joe Gervais and more recently with Bill Prymak in trying to sort out the available evidence. Col. Reineck is not writing a book [at that time] and has never solicited a single penny to carry out his work. He says his total objective can be summed up in three words: Facts and Truth.
Col. Reineck is quick to point out that no one, as yet, has any direct evidence or sufficient circumstantial evidence to conclude what really happened on July 2nd, 1937. However, he adds that there is a tremendous amount of quality circumstantial evidence that supports the theory that Amelia Earhart was not just on a stunt flight, but was some kind of government mission and that she did survive her flight, WWII and returned to the United States after the war with a new identity as Irene Bolam.
“I strongly believe,” says Col. Reineck, “that the solution to the Earhart mystery does not lie in the Pacific where she disappeared, but in the secret files of the various departments and agencies in Washington, D.C. And until those files are declassified — by a presidential directive, similar to the JFK files — and made available to the public, the Earhart last flight and related events will remain a mystery. Possibly forever.”
. . . Colonel Reineck USAF (Ret.) is a graduate of the University of California. In January 1942 he became an Army Air Corps Navigation Cadet and [was] assigned to Kelly Field Navigation School, Texas. Upon graduation in June 1942, he went immediately overseas with the 93rd Bomb Group (B-24) as part of the 8th Air Force. He completed his first combat tour in April 1943 and was assigned as staff navigator for the Second Air Division, 8th Air Force.
In June 1944 Col. Reineck volunteered for B-29s and was assigned as chief navigator for all of the B-29s on Saipan Island, in the western Pacific. After the war, Col. Reineck completed pilot training. He subsequently served in the Strategic Air Command Hq., the Far East Air Forces Bomber Command Hq., Air Force Hq., The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pacific Air Force Hq., and the Minuteman Missile Systems Program Office. Col. Reineck also took an active part in the Korean War, but says that although he was willing to go to Vietnam, there wasn’t much of a requirement for an old colonel.
Col. Reineck’s awards include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with Four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster. Col. Reineck retired in December 1970 and now resides in Hawaii with his wife Esther. (End of Prymak’s tribute to Reineck.)
Rollin Reineck’s outstanding service record was indeed that of a true war hero — honorable, courageous and accomplished. His record of achievement in the most stressful and demanding of combat environments makes his later advocacy of some of the most far out of the fringe Earhart conspiracy ideas all the more puzzling.
In addition to Reineck’s active promotion of the Weishien telegram canard, we also see that Prymak alluded to Reineck’s devotion to the false Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth. Reineck was among the most prominent and enthusiastic of those who continued to believe in and promote Joe Gervais’ absurd idea, introduced to the public in Joe Klaas’ 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives. For much more on this unfortunate aspect of Reineck’s legacy, please click here.
In our next post we’ll see Inouye’s second letter to Reineck, as well as the actual legislation that the Hawaii senator presented to Congress.
Today we present the alleged last words of Fred Goerner, as recorded for posterity by his wife of 26 years, Merla Zellerbach. I don’t put much stock in this document, as it has little relationship to Goerner’s many outstanding contributions to Earhart research. Ravaged by cancer in 1994 at age 69, he had made several less-than-wise judgments along his long Earhart search; the most significant are discussed at length in Truth at Last. On that front, I won’t digress any further here. (Boldface emphases mine throughout; caps emphasis Goerner’s.)
However, in light of recent comments by Les Kinney, who has voiced what some of us have long suspected but were reluctant to state openly — that Goerner so hated to give other Earhart researchers credit for their important work that he would reject his own findings to undermine them — this transcript may reflect just how deeply Goerner had assimilated his seemingly dishonest rejection of the fact of Amelia Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. This was a truth he himself initially revealed to the world in his 1966 book The Search for Amelia Earhart, and is a piece of Goerner’s legacy that will doubtless remain controversial.
Among Earhart researchers, Ron Reuther knew Fred Goerner as well as anyone. Reuther had a copy of the audiotape of Goerner’s last words, which I don’t have, though I do have the transcript. “Goerner abandoned the thought that AE/FN came down near Mili,” Reuther wrote in 2001. “He recorded on the day of his death in 1994 on an audiotape that he believed they (AE/FN) came down on one of 5 small reefs SE of Howland. On the same tape he also said he still believed they were picked up by the Japanese and taken to Saipan. It would seem to me that if that were the case the Japanese ship would have gone to Saipan via the Marshalls and I have never seen any document from Fred that disputes that.” (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Merla Zellerbach, an author and columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle from 1962 to 1995, who passed away in December 2014, recalled Reuther fondly. “I remember Ron Reuther very well and was so sorry to learn of his death,” Zellerbach wrote in a 2007 e-mail. “He was a lovely man, and a tremendous help to me in cataloging Fred’s papers before we sent them off to the Nimitz Library.”
“Even at his passing at 69 in 1994, the Earhart disappearance remained uppermost in Fred’s mind,” Zellerbach told me. At his side until the end, she forwarded a text copy of his last words:
Sept. 13, 1994 — This will be my last recording, what I know and feel at this point, having worked on this subject for the Columbia Broadcasting System and as a private citizen.
There have been many books written after mine was written in 1966, alleging that the Earhart plane went down in the Marshall Islands. But I no longer believe it. I had the opportunity of visiting the Marshalls after the book was published . . . talking to Eric Sussman who came to the conclusion, as did I, that the story was muddled.
I no longer believe that Earhart was on a secret overflight mission for the US military in 1937 . . . mostly because the U.S. Navy didn’t have the money to spend on such a mission at that time, and it would have been too volatile, too highly dangerous.
I do believe, however, that Earhart did collect what is known as “white intelligence” for the military, meaning that she simply observed things during the course of her flight. It was valuable to the military. After extensive research, I came to the conclusion that the plane, containing AE and her navigator Fred Noonan, landed on one of five small reefs which lie between Howland Island and the Northern Phoenix Islands. These reefs have never been fully investigated, and I believe there’s a possibility the plane’s still there.
I do not believe in any way the recent ideas of a man named Gillespie and an outfit named “Tiger” [sic] that the plane landed in the Northern Phoenix Islands in a place called Nikumororo. This idea was originally advanced by my friend Fred Hooven. I tried to convince Fred that that island had been so occupied by so many people that there was no possibility of the plane having landed there. He finally agreed.
However the original information was sold to the public as a possibility and a great deal of money was spent to no avail to try to find the plane on Nikumororo.
There’s a lot of information to indicate that Earhart and Noonan may have been picked up by a Japanese vessel and taken into Japanese territory. There’s also the possibility that Earhart and Noonan survived the war and were rescued by US [sic] forces. Some believe Earhart was killed in an accident after she was rescued from the Japanese. Some think she returned to the US after the war. I do NOT in any way align myself with these people!
A good researcher will finally seek out and discover the truth. Admiral Nimitz urged me to continue. He had a deep, deep interest in the Earhart affair. I hope the Nimitz Museum will continue the investigation.
I wouldn’t have continued the investigation without his urging me to do so. One night I went to have dinner with him in Quarters No. 1 on Yerba Buena Island. He was writing a letter and he told me he was writing to the mother of one of the boys who disappeared with the sinking of the Indianapolis at the end of the war.
She hoped he had reached some island and somehow survived and the Admiral had to tell her that specially trained people had visited every known island in the Pacific after the war and he believed there was no chance her son was alive. He was such a sensitive, warm man.
There are a lot of kooks and crazies who come up with a new theory every day, but a final answer will be found — and the answers are somewhere in the records at Crane, Indiana. (End of recording.)
“An hour later, Fred passed away,” Zellerbach wrote.
Reuther believed Goerner’s change was due more to his longtime association and friendship with Hooven than anything Sussman told him, and that Hooven would have convinced Goerner to return to the Mili scenario if not for his death in 1985. “I should have also mentioned that Fred Hooven, after making original conclusions that Earhart came down SE of Howland, thus influencing Goerner to concur, later recalculated and changed his conclusions and determined that AE/FN came down close to Mili,” Reuther wrote. “I strongly believe Goerner would have reassessed his position and very likely would have agreed with Hooven’s final conclusion — near Mili.”
Bill Prymak agreed that Hooven later converted to Goerner’s original Mili landing scenario, and though I’ve seen nothing in black and white from Hooven, I have no reason to doubt it. A few weeks before his sudden passing in October 2007, Reuther told me he would locate and send written confirmation of Hooven’s belief in Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing. It wasn’t to be.
Reuther and Prymak were great researchers and forthright, honest men, but Goerner’s change was a vastly different matter from Hooven’s, and we have nothing to suggest that he was ever mulling a return to the original Mili scenario he described so well in the closing pages of Search.
For much more on Goerner’s change of position about where he believed Earhart landed on July 2, 1937, please see Truth at Last, pages 170-175.
Today we present Ross Game’s reply to Rollin Reineck’s October 1998 letter, in which the retired Air Force colonel and noted Earhart researcher asked him if he could shed any light on Fred Goerner inexplicably dropping his well-known conviction that Amelia Earhart had landed at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937, a belief that has long been supported by a variety of witnesses.
As was Reineck’s letter in our previous post, this one appeared in the February 1999 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. (Boldface and italic emphases mine throughout.)
Ross P. Game
Post Office Box 176
Napa, CA 94559-0176
Telephone (707) 255-4693
October 27, 1998
Dear Colonel Reineck,
I received your letter of October 24 and I hope in the next day or two, health permitting, to contact Bob Ross to arrange a meeting in the near future.
Up to the time of his death I didn’t ever get the impression from Fred Goerner that he had any doubts about the Earhart plane coming down in the Marshalls. It was known, beyond doubt, that Amelia and Fred Noonan were brought to Saipan by the Japanese. We found evidence (obtained in interviews with natives — recalling the “white woman and white man” when they were children) on Saipan and in the Marshalls and had fantastic assistance in that phase of the investigation from Catholic missionary-priests able to speak the native languages.
Jose Quintanilla, trained at the FBI Academy and head of the police on Guam, took a leave of absence to assist us. He came up with evidence identical with what we had obtained from natives of the islands.
Without exception those who recalled the “white people” were able to pick Amelia’s photo from a series of pictures spread out on the ground. When she first was brought to Saipan in 1937 she was indeed a novelty because Earhart and Noonan were the first Caucasians they’d ever seen and the woman was wearing a coat which was most unusual to the natives (her leather jacket) and had hair cut like a man.
In Washington files we learned that George Palmer Putnam was secretly brought to the Saipan gravesite after the island had been captured by U.S. Marines and the remains “secretly” removed under the direction of an intelligence officer (we even obtained his name, thanks to the CIA).
Let’s keep in touch.
Clearly the most notable aspect of Game’s letter is that he fails to answer Reineck’s question — and mine as well — about what might have caused Goerner to change his mind about where he believed Amelia Earhart landed her Electra on July 2, 1937. To this day, no substantial, or perhaps more accurately stated, acceptable reason, has surfaced to explain why Goerner decided to unceremoniously dump his formerly rock-solid belief that Amelia landed her Electra at Mili Atoll.
By 1998, when Rollin Reineck contacted him, Game was obviously far removed from his former role as a confidant to Goerner. In my inch-thick file of correspondence between Game and Goerner, the last letter, from Game to Goerner, was sent in August 1992. In none of the material does Goerner inform Game of his remarkable rejection of his original Mili belief, so succinctly stated in the close of The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Precisely when Goerner changed his mind isn’t known, but it could have been as early as 1970, when in an April 17 letter to Fred Hooven, he discussed his plans to search the area southeast of Howland and Baker Islands, and northeast of McKean Island in the Phoenix group for “a reef and sandbar which have been most recently reported in 1945 and 1954, but have never been landed upon or investigated at a distance closer than two miles.”
Game’s response to Reineck certainly leaves no doubt that he was unaware of Goerner’s change, which we can find emphatically spelled out in Goerner’s stunning April 1993 letter to J. Gordon Vaeth, in which he flatly announced, “I now can state without equivocation that I DO NOT BELIEVE THE AE ELECTRA LANDED AT MILI.” (Emphasis Goerner’s.)
For much more on this, please see Chapter VII, “Goerner’s Reversal and Devine’s Dissent,” pages 172-176 of Truth at Last.
I have nothing that indicates Reineck and Game ever “kept in touch,” after this letter from Game, though it’s entirely possible, and have no evidence that Game and Bob Ross ever got together for a meeting. Bill Prymak’s AES Newsletters, although full of information unavailable anywhere else, are far from exhaustive.
For more on G.P. Putnam’s visit to Saipan, please see pages 239-241 in Truth at Last.
The late Rollin C. Reineck was a war hero, retired Air Force colonel and an original member of the Amelia Earhart Society, whose passion for Earhart research often produced fascinating, informative work. At other times, Reineck’s penchant for the spectacular and bizarre led him into areas populated by Fred Goerner’s “lunatic fringe,” and these ill-conceived forays have somewhat tainted his reputation among Earhart researchers.
Reineck’s authorship of the dreadful Amelia Earhart Survived (Paragon Agency, 2003), his failed attempt to resurrect the long-discredited Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart myth, was a sad day for the former B-29 navigator and the clueless who signed on to that travesty.
The below letter from Reineck to Ross P. Game reflects Reineck’s better angels, and touches on the theme of our previous post, to wit: the possible location of the grave site of Amelia Earhart, and he adds two additional, more important questions, which will be addressed forthwith. It also appears to be Reineck’s first contact and introduction to Game.
Rollin C. Reineck
1127 Lauloa St.
Kailua, HI 96734
Mr. Ross P. Game 24 October 1998
Post Office Box 176
Napa, CA 94559-0176
Dear Mr. Game,
Your letter of 9 October 1998 to Mr. Bob Ross was forwarded to me for information.
I have been studying the Earhart mystery for almost 29 years, and have been a admirer of Fred Goerner for the same period. His work helped everyone get interested in the Earhart affair. Hopefully, because of his tremendous research, we’ll solve this mystery some day.
I had corresponded with Mr. Goerner on several occasions and have a large file with his answers and views on all aspects of the Earhart Story. As a side note, we both graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Although I was a few classes ahead of him.
I find your anecdote about where the Earhart remains had been placed extremely interesting. I would have guessed Arlington, just as you did. l’m glad to know that you did a thorough investigation of that possibility.
I do have a couple of questions about the Goerner thinking that perhaps you can answer for me:
First, Fred Goerner originally believed that Earhart went down in the Marshalls and was taken captive by the Japanese. They, in turn, took her to Saipan. Later in life, he seemed to reject this theory and expressed the view that she went down about 80 miles southeast of Howland. My question is, what evidence did he have to validate or substantiate that later view?
Second, I have been told that Goerner made a tape just before he died concerning Earhart. What did he say on the tape? Where is the tape now and how can I hear the tape?
I would appreciate any assistance you can provide. We’re still actively looking.
Aloha Rollin C. Reineck
Colonel USAF (Ret.)
P.S. I am not associated in any way with TIGHAR.
In our next post, we’ll see how Game responded to Reineck’s questions. Reineck passed away in 2007 at his home in Kailua, Hawaii.