Bill Prymak’s ’97 Marshalls witnesses, Conclusion

Today we conclude our two-part look at Bill Prymak’s 1997 investigative foray to the Marshall Islands, as seen in the May 1997 issue of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters  (Boldface and italic emphases are both Prymak’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Prymak’s.)

We begin with an interview with Teresa Amaron, the little-known daughter of the best known of all the Marshalls witnesses, Bilimon Amaron.  Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas does the honors.

“INTERVIEWING THE NATIVE WITNESSES”
by Bill Prymak (Continued)

TERESA AMARON
interviewed by Joe Klaas

In 1937, Bilimon Amaron was a 17-year-old medical assistant for the Japanese Navy, and treated injuries of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at the Japanese seaplane base on Jaluit Atoll.  His University of Hawaii graduate daughter, Teresa Amaron, stated this on the last day of the AES expedition, Jan. 29 to Feb. 10, 1997.

“He told me the same thing he told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak in 1991,” confirmed Ms. Amaron, Judicial Clerk in the Marshall Islands Federal Courthouse. Many people knew it at the time. A tall, thin woman flying around the world, and her co-pilot or something like that, crashed at Mili Atoll.  They were brought to Jaluit on a Japanese ship.  My father was taken to the ship to treat their minor injuries.  They were brought to him in custody by two Japanese guards. He saw their broken airplane on the back of the ship.  Nobody knew at the time who they were, but they obviously were Amelia Earhart and her navigator.  Later that night, the ship left with them in custody.”

Bilimon Amaron, whose eyewitness account is widely considered to be the most important of the Marshall Islands witnesses, relaxes in the recreation room of his home in the Marshalls capital of Majuro, circa 1989, with his guest John Prymak.  As a Japanese hospital corpsman in 1937 Jaluit, Amaron’s ship-board treatment of an injured white man, surely Fred Noonan, accompanied by an American woman the crewmen called “Meel-ya,” is legendary among the Marshallese.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Bilimon Amaron’s brother at Jabor and other survivors of his generation, verified the story, adding to the long list of more than 60 eyewitnesses quoted by name in AMELIA EARHART LIVES and since, who saw Amelia Earhart alive and at Mili Atoll, Jaluit and Saipan.  Not one eyewitness has ever reported seeing her or her Lockheed 10E Electra anywhere near the Phoenix Islands southeast of Howland Island where my 1970 book mistakenly speculated she might have landed.  I was wrong, and so is anyone else under that illusion.

Those who said Amelia Earhart went down in the Marshalls include Bill Van Dusen; her mother, Amy Otis Earhart; Adm. Chester W. Nimitz; Adm. Richard B. Black; Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell; Fred Goerner; Oliver Knaggs; Vincent V. Loomis; Queen Bosket Diklan, of Mili Atoll; Lt. Col. Joseph C. Wright; Randall Brink; Robert H. Myers; Capt. George Carrington; Jim Donahue; Lockheed Historian Roy Blay; John and Dwight Heine, who saw her at Jaluit [Editor’s note: No evidence for this claim]; Marshallese President Kabua Kabua; Oscar DeBrum; and more. 

In addition, 60 people have related that they saw her in 1937 at Saipan.  [Editor’s note:  Technically speaking, we do not have anywhere near 60 eyewitnesses from 1937 Saipan on record, though it’s possible that many or more could have seen her at or near the Kobayashi Royakan Hotel while she was kept there.  An unknown number of eyewitnesses feared Japanese reprisals, even long after the war.]

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And last is the tale of two delightful elderly women weaving floor mats while sitting on the grass in the shade of a shack on JABOR. Joe Gervais and I had just come from the home of a native too feeble to tell us of the happenings in 1937.  We were told, this man knew.Knew what? was never tested.  His eyes told us he had a story to tell, but the voice, and the body, just couldn’t make it.

As we passed these two pleasant, older women, my eyes fixed upon the feet of one of the ladies.  Her toes were anchoring three palm fibers leading up to her nimble fingers as she created a masterpiece of weaving; but it was her story that captured our attention.  Both women were well into their seventies, and had been on JALUIT before the war.  They aptly described Bilimon and how he treated two “American pilot spies” several years before the war.  But what made this interview so memorable was that even though no Japanese ships were discussed, one of the gals looked me in the eye (the older natives rarely do that!)and stated, “It was not the Koshu . . .  IT WAS KAMOI.”  KAMOI, she kept repeating, and I just thought it was extraordinary for an old Marshallese woman to remember the name of an obscure Japanese boat unless its presence connected with a very special event in her life many years ago.  Very strange.

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Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron’s Majuro home in 1991.

“THE CREDIBILITY OF THE WITNESSES”

How credible are these witnesses interviewed during our latest trip to Jaluit?  To discredit these people, you’d have to brand them as liars, embellishers, storytellers, fabricators, or worse.  The Marshallese are kind, simple, loving people that really don’t have it in their makeup to lie to their (1) priests, (2) schoolteachers, (3) local government officials or (4) the interpreters who translate their experiences to visiting researchers.

I can’t imagine BILIMON AMARON, in failing health and dying, lying to his brother and daughter about his experience that he began telling to Matson Shipping Lines officials in the late 1940’s  . . . a story he had never wavered on thru all the years.

Why are Chamorro natives of Saipan, a thousand miles distant, describing the same wounds to an American man accompanying an American lady pilot, who were seen on Saipan in 1937, the same wounds as described by Bilimon Amaron?  Why did Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, USN, in charge of Saipan during the 1960’s, state that Earhart & Noonan went down in the Marshalls and were brought to Saipan?  Why does every serious researcher — GERVAIS, KLAAS, GOERNER, LOOMIS, BRENNAN, KNAGGS, totally believe in the natives’ experiences, while the armchair critics who never set foot on these islands continue to [attempt to] debunk these witnesses?  Why does the U.S. government repudiate their statements?

Yes, statements do vary, and witnesses sometimes contradict other witnesses.  But considering the deleterious and noxious effect 60 years has on one’s memory, variations will manifest themselves.  For example, the half-dozen or so witnesses interviewed on Jaluit have stated:

Lady pilot went down between Jaluit and Mili;
Lady pilot went down between the Gilberts and Mili;
Lady pilot went down between Ebon and Mili;
Lady pilot went down between Arno and Mili.                                                   

The small print that came with this map states, “This map of Jaluit Atoll is the Sketch Survey from the Japanese Government Chart of 1928, and from the United States Government Charts to 1984. With later corrections to 1987. . . Natural Scale 1:204,100 (at Lat 6″00′) Projection — Mercator.”

But everybody states that BILIMON AMARON was called out to treat Noonan’s wounds.  And the locus of all touchdown areas is MILI.  All witness experiences are told to researchers from memory; there is no written word, no photograph.

Why the ceaseless and incessant denial by the U.S. Government?  Why all the official secrecy about the Earhart Flight? Let me put forth one possible rationalization:  Suppose that the Navy had been monitoring the Japanese communications and ship movements in the Pacific sufficiently to have learned, or at least to have gotten a pretty good idea, that the Japanese had abducted Earhart and Noonan.  What could they have done?

They could not have taken action short of a military intervention to recover the flyers, and they could not have announced the fact (even if they were certain of it) without revealing the extent of their coverage of Japanese communications and operations, and therefore, their source of knowledge.  It would also have raised an enormous storm of protest and indignation, as well as being a national humiliation that we could ill afford, if we did not take bold action to recover the flyers.  It could also be that we were pretty sure, but not sure enough to raise an international incident about it.

This would explain all the secrecy, the strident insistence that the messages received from the plane were all hoaxes, and the equally strident insistence that the plane had fallen into the sea.  It would explain the tampering with the ITASCA log to readone-half hour of fuel left,the male/chauvinistic references to Earhart sounding hysterical,etc.  Since no such policy could have been decided without White House consultation, it would even explain the White House interest in the situation.  (End of Bill Prymak’s 1997 “Interviewing the Native Witnesses.”)

“Interviewing the Native Witnesses” is not all Prymak produced in the wake of his 1997 trip to the Marshall Islands.  Already seen on this blog is “An interview with Marshalls icon Robert Reimers: ‘Everyone knew’ of AE’s landing, tycoon said; yet to be published here is a photo essay devoted to the “The Great Naval Seaplane Base at Emidj,” which we’ll get to at some point. 

10 responses

  1. Sorry guys, your ALL wrong about an important fact about Bilimon, he wasn’t 17. I just hate to mess up my own best narrative…and can see all the emails coming now…

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    1. Teresa Amaron apparently got Bilimon’s age wrong in her interview with Joe Klaas, or perhaps he turned 17 after administering to Fred Noonan when he met Amelia Earhart and Noonan on the deck of a Japanese ship that most believe was the Koshu. On page 146 of Truth at Last, you will find Bilimon’s own statement, recorded by Bill Prymak, Joe Gervais and John Prymak, in December 1989 at Bilimon’s home in Majuro:

      “In July 1937, I was residing on Jaluit, site of major Japanese naval base, working as sixteen-year-old medical corpsman for naval hospital. One day, at mid-morning, Japanese navy tender ship comes to harbor and the chief naval doctor takes me on board the ship. Crew and officers were in naval uniforms. Sitting in deck chair was American woman, and sitting on hatch cover was thin American man with wounds.”

      Whether Bilimon was 16 or 17, it is a distinction without a difference.

      Mike C.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well that may be part of the problem. All my witnesses I have spoken to I check their age, and if they were not 12 at the time, or they had older brothers that may have drafted or messed with the story, I took the story with a grain of salt. This is not the first story I have proven impossible. I have actually challenged Marshallese elders with facts like this and gotten the correct story.

        On that date in 1937 Bilimon was 13 years old. I have the records, Death Certificate, Social Security docs, and his birth record will be on file in Japan, BTW.

        With that said, he was no medic in 1937 at 13. Maybe not even at 16. He would have been a “candystriper” kind of aid or helper or whatever. YOU KNOW the Japanese have this herarchy of rank and age and education, and a half caste doesnt get to be a Medical Aid at 13. Now with his fathers influenece, he may have been a helped a real doctor or a real aid, and his story may be 100% correct, but his age may also taint the credibility of his story.

        Now I am still a believer, ya just cant make this stuff up…as the vast majority of the other “witnesses” have done. He is surely witness “0”. But I have always wondered why nobody has ever checked his age. Just a fact to drop in there. Sorry to mess with the often repeated “Facts” that simply aren’t correct. Prove me wrong. Unless you can pull the Japanese files at the Japanese Ministry of Health and Environment and prove it yourself, my research, my records, show he was 13 on that date.

        Thus to me, I wish I had spoken to him myself with my detective nature and seen if there were flaws. I am still a believer, but wish the NEXT witness as older and better.
        Dont yell too loud, ponder.

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      2. With this statement, you’re calling Prymak, Gervais, and the many other researchers who sat with Bilimon liars or incompetent boobs. It’s either that, or you’re calling Bilimon himself a liar.

        You say you have the records, so it would not be difficult to scan the appropriate documents and send them here so that the good readers of this blog can “ponder” the truth as you present it. Your claim, by itself and without supporting evidence, is only annoying and meaningless, and the only thing I will “ponder” is why it took you so long to come out with this information that so contradicts what so many others have found.

        Put up or shut up, in other words, and if you tell us you’re saving the documents until someone offers you money or notoriety for producing them, or offer any other lame excuse for failing to back up your boast, I will be sorely tempted to ask you to refrain from any further comments on this blog.

        Mike

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      3. Matt.

        Several hours have passed since my response to you, below, and I’m now in receipt of what appears to be Bilimon Amaron’s Marshall Islands death certificate, because you have sent it to me. His name appears as “Amram,” which isn’t new, as it appears that Bilimon himself Anglicized the spelling at some point that isn’t very important right now.

        What is extremely important is that the certificate presents his date of birth as September 8, 1923, and his date of death as Jan. 24, 1994. If correct, this makes Bilimon 13 years old on July 2, 1937, and is most definitively a distinction WITH a difference.

        Much more to come on this, of course. I appreciate you sending this, and it appears you have indeed “put up” something tangible to support your claim about Bilimon.

        Mike

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      4. Incredible Matt. So please inform us, with your detective skills, where Bilimon was born, his training, if any, as a “medic” and why Robert Reimers himself said we should all believe Bilimon’s story of aiding Amelia and Fred in Jaluit. So RR statement to Bill is BS?

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      5. A death certificate does not establish a date of birth. Only a date of death, maybe. The info on a death certificate is not guaranteed to be accurate. The data usually comes from medical personnel who are fallible humans; possibly lazy, incompetent, or deliberately covering up their own mistakes. I would take Amaron at his word concerning his age at the time. His statement regarding the aircraft on the after deck of the ship (Koshu) I know to be almost certainly true.

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  2. I think Prymak condensed the reasoning behind the cover up pretty succintly. i know in retrospect it seems cruel, but at that time the US was not ready to get into it with the Japanese. Why is it still a cover up after so many years- I think as Mike has indicated, partially to preserve FDR’s reputation, and maybe because powers that bethink most people don’t really give a damn any more.

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  3. I disagree that people don’t give a damn anymore. AE will always be a part of American history, so people do care. People may not care so much about many of the unknown victims of the Titanic, but they still care about the Titanic history.

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  4. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    If you judge only by the rude, crude, snarky, and disrespectful comments to online news items about Amelia Earhart it’s very easy to conclude that the vast amount of people don’t care anymore. However, given the amount of news articles, publications, TV documentaries/specials, etc., I believe there is still a great deal of genuine interest.

    All best,

    William

    Like

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