During the course of more than 30 years of Earhart research, Bill Prymak made three investigative visits to the Marshall Islands, in 1989, ’91 and ’97, locating and interviewing many previously unknown witnesses, including the famous Bilimon Amaron in 1989, though Prymak wasn’t the first to record Bilimon’s remarkable account.
Today we begin a two-part look at Prymak’s 1997 Marshalls trip, as seen in the May 1997 issue of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. I thought readers might like more of Prymak’s original AES Newsletter format, and so the front page of the newsletter that contains today’s story is presented below. (Boldface and italic emphases are both Prymak’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Prymak’s.)
“INTERVIEWING THE NATIVE WITNESSES”
by Bill Prymak
In our quest for new material, the MARSHALL ISLANDS TRIP allowed us to reach some natives who had never been interviewed (by any researcher) before. As Margaret Meade put it so succinctly, “There was absolutely no indication that the [interviewed] natives we met were perpetuating a myth or falsely embellishing their experiences and recollections. No one put words in their mouths, led them on or enticed them with promises of gratuity in exchange for their information.”
Joe Gervais and I had previously interviewed Hatfield six years ago, at which time he described his close relationship with MR. LEE, chief translator between the Japanese and Marshallese natives. His story is well documented in the May 1991 NEWSLETTER, and it would behoove us to reread that interview. Great stuff! On this trip, he reiterated his story of how AE & FN were picked up at MILI ATOLL, and brought to JALUIT. Other pressing matters prevented us from reliving with him again his Mr. Lee experience.
Again, Mr. Tokyo is a repeat witness from the 1991 trip. See NEWSLETTER, May 1991. The six years since we saw him last have been hard on the aging man, but he did tell some new tidbits:
He reaffirmed, as several witnesses did, that BILIMON AMARON indeed was the young medic who assisted the Japanese doctor in treating two American flyers, one a woman, in 1937, aboard a Japanese vessel manned by uniformed naval personnel.
Mr. TOKYO worked on the EMIDJ SEAPLANE NAVAL BASE, and at least TWO Japanese Naval seaplanes were at the base at the time Bilimon treated the two Americans in 1937. A great many “armchair researchers” naively believed the Japanese at the War Crimes Trials, when they deliberately lied in claiming that no fortifications were built in the Mandated Islands before the war. Several other witnesses, further in this report, concur with Tokyo’s statement. He further stated that it was his belief that AE & FN went down between the GILBERT ISLANDS and MILI. Both plane and the two Americans were taken to MILI, transferred to a bigger boat, and then to JABOR, Japanese headquarters on JALUIT ATOLL, where Bilimon treated the man and saw the lady pilot.
If only we had one photo of those events in 1937 . . . but remember, the CARL HEINES were executed at EMIDJ for much less!
Mr. Caleta lives on a tiny island just north of EMIDJ called TMIET. Born in 1928, he worked as a cook for the Japanese at the Naval base during the war years. He was told by the Japanese that the carrier AKAGI and supporting naval vessels were holding war exercises at JALUIT in 1937, and one of the carrier pilots, FUJIE FIRMOSA, bragged about forcing down Earhart at MILI, where she was then picked up and brought to JALUIT. Then a Japanese flying boat flew the two Americans to KWAJALEIN.
This is one of several witnesses stating that AE did not fly her own airplane to Saipan.
The schoolteacher at EMIDJ, Mashaishi Lometo related he was raised on MILI ATOLL, and his father told him the following:
Earhart crashed at MILI, on the lagoon side, when she ran out of gas. Soldiers came to the crash site, captured the two Americans, kept them one day at MILI, and then transported them to JALUIT. Meantime, the soldiers struggled to hide the airplane with palm fronds for fear more American planes might be coming to search for her airplane.
Mr. Lometo stated that many of the old-timers on MILI, some now dead, frequently of the AMERICAN LADY PILOT incident back in 1937. Two names, NERO and LEROK, were mentioned.
If we had time, it would have been very opportunistic to travel the 85 miles to MILI with Lometo, and relive with him and the surviving elders, what they experienced in 1937.
The elderly Japanese woman, translated by her grandson, ICHIWATA LAMAE.
Lady Luck smiled upon us today! As John and Irene Bolam were leisurely walking thru Jabor village, a young Japanese lad (17 or 18 years old) stopped them to inquire about college in the USA. After a thorough, briefing by John, Ichiwata casually remarked that his 85-year-old grandmother lived on Jabor before, during and after the war, and might be a source of information.
Her husband had worked with the Japanese at EMIDJ before and during the war, and she stated that her husband had told her that a plane went down (several years before the war) between JALUIT and MILI ATOLLS. Amelia and Fred were then brought to JABOR. After JABOR, the two Americans were taken to places unknown; however, one rumor had it that they were taken to POHNPEI, and the native Chief’s daughter was allowed to see the “white woman” with her hands tied behind her back. The daughter somehow relayed this experience back to Aba at JALUIT. (POHNPEI at that time was a Japanese stopover for traffic going from JALUIT to TRUK.)
Aba also related stories of bestial atrocities the Japanese inflicted upon the local Marshallese, beating them for eating fruit from their own trees, and often beheading them as “spies.” They usually brought them to EMIDJ for execution by Samurai sword. POWs at EMIDJ suffered a similar fate, and a local Marshallese, ANUKOJ, witnessed the decapitation of three young American airmen at EMIDJ the end of July 1944. Rear Admiral MASUDA, Commander of EMIDJ, committed suicide on Oct 5, 1945, rather than face war crime trials.
This kind, gentle elderly lady simply could not have fabricated the above. She was quite honored and humbled by our visit. Her grandson later stated that she cried after we left . . . we were her first visitors outside of family in fifty years.
WOW! We didn’t even know Bilimon had a brother, and an educated English schoolteacher at that.
To briefly review, Bilimon Amaron was a much revered and deeply religious Japanese store-owner from Majuro. Since the early 1940s, he had told of his experiences of July 1937, at JALUIT, when as a medic for the Japanese Naval doctor, he was called out to a ship in the harbor manned by Japanese uniformed naval personnel. Two Americans, one a woman fitting AE’s description, were on deck, with a silver-colored (“Not Japanese”) airplane on the fantail. See Feb. 1996 AES NEWSLETTER for the complete story.
BILIMON’s experience, along with his honesty and credibility, has withstood the test of time, and this editor has always regarded him as one of the most genuine, sincere, and honorable men he has ever met. Bilimon died last year, but meeting his younger brother, PAUL, simply heaps more credence to the total AMARON experience.
PAUL AMARON, in an AES interview and a written statement, reaffirms his brother’s experience in 1937, and just before Bilimon died last year, he told his family to “be sure to tell Joe and Bill, and the rest who asked about Amelia, that my story is true.” And Bilimon, with that covenant to his family, and to the world, passed on.
Paul’s interview disclosed some interesting tidbits:
In 1937, three Japanese Naval doctors were at JABOR, and 7 were at EMIDJ. It tells you that major construction was already under way at this period in time. (See Robert Reimers Interview.)
Local natives were beheaded by the Japanese simply for eating locally grown food, with executions carried out at EMIDJ.
Bilimon told his brother that the American man was slightly injured, but the woman was neat, calm, with no injuries. Both were taken to KWAJALEIN and then to SAIPAN.
Here’s a strange twist: The hospital at EMIDJ was sealed by the Japanese and to this day has never been opened. The Japanese were known for their meticulous record keeping; wouldn’t you guess the naval doctor with Bilimon in 1937, would have recorded the spectacular event of two Americans dropping in on Jaluit aboard a Japanese naval vessel? Or at least mention the medical treatment of these two extraordinary visitors in 19377
Why can’t you just walk in? Not so simple. The hospital is buried under tons of coral debris; three torpedoes adorn the roof in mock protection; and the natives have no desire to invade a tomb filled with evil spirits, slithering creatures, booby traps and the ghoulish ghosts of men long dead. (End Part I.)