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)
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’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 that I’m aware of]; 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.]
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.
“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 1940s . . . 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 1960s, 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.
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 read “one-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.