Amaron’s death certificate sparks new questions

A stunning revelation in the form of an official Republic of the Marshall Islands death certificate for Bilimon Amaron has inspired, at least for now, new questions about the document’s birth date accuracy and how it would reflect upon the story so often told by the Marshall Islands legendary Earhart eyewitness.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout, caps emphasis Matt Holly’s.)

Bilimon, who died in 1994, according to his death certificate (see close below for more), told many researchers over the years that during the summer of 1937, while employed by the Japanese as a 16-year-old medical corpsman at the hospital on Jabor, he was summoned to a Japanese Navy tender ship to treat an American flier’s wounds.  While there, Amaron treated an American man accompanied by a white female pilot, who could only have been Amelia Earhart, for minor head and knee wounds.  A twin-engine silver airplane with a broken wing was attached to the stern of the ship, and almost certainly was the Earhart Electra 10E, NR 16020.  More than once I’ve called Bilimon’s eyewitness account the “cornerstone of the Marshalls Islands landing scenario.”

In December 1989, Joe Gervais, Bill Prymak, and his son John traveled to the Marshalls to hear Amaron’s eyewitness account at his Majuro home:

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.

. . . Japanese officer then take me rear of ship and show me their airplane silver, two motors, with left wing broken.  Airplane still in sling on back of ship. I know Japanese airplanes. This airplane was new to me—not Japanese.  This airplane on back of ship very shiny like silver—propellers had only two blades.  Crew called lady, “Meel-ya—Meel-ya.”  She dressed in dark skirt, white blouse and kerchief around neck. American man blue eyes, thin mustache, skinny, both very tired but in good health. Japanese officer tell me ship go to Saipan.

Amaron’s age at the time of his encounter with the fliers at Jaluit harbor, based on his account to numerous researchers, has always been accepted as 16; his sister Teresa told Bill Prymak in 1997 that Bilimon was 17But now Matt Holly, 65, an American, longtime Marshall Islands resident and researcher who accompanied Vincent V. Loomis to Mili Atoll in 1979 and in 1997 brought Bill Prymak and his group to Jaluit, has found what appears to be an official Marshall Islands document that challenges that concept.  In a Feb. 28 comment to this blog, Holly, the “Boss” at Marshall Islands Aquatics since 1981, wrote, “On that date [July 2] 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.”

My initial skepticism upon seeing this statement, so at odds with all we’ve read about Bilimon Amaron, compelled me to immediately challenge Holly to present evidence to support this heretofore unknown idea, toput up or shut up, as extraordinary claims always require extraordinary evidence.  Holly surprised me by doing just that. 

“I found this [death certificate] late last year, and had the RMI [Republic of the Marshall Islands] Social Security Manager verify the information as THE record on file,” Holly, who says his main focus is on missing-in-action World War II military personnel, wrote in a Feb. 28 email.  Period.  No other documents.  I am not in this to make money Mike, and I knew if I published this information a world of trauma would occur.  I’m a details kind of guy, and the details generally wander off toward the truth.

“I also believe his story to be true, but at 13 his age makes everything suspect,” Holly continued.  “I am currently researching the requirements for IJN [Imperial Japanese Navy] Medics, and basically, they didn’t teach locals anything.  Zero.  They brought their own Japanese medical people.  The local Government’ doctors, being Marshallese, did teach skill sets to many younger medics’ to go to assorted outer islands, as basically, medicine in 1937 was pretty raw.  This custom is followed today, as many medics are taught here and go to the outer islands.  But this was a local Marshallese thing I am sure the Japanese helped develop.  But so far, no ‘book’ on how to teach the Marshallese to be a Japanese medical assistant exists, or any reference to this.  But I am digging deeper.

Bilimon Amaron, whose eyewitness account is widely considered to be the most important of the Marshall Islands witnesses, in the recreation room of his home in the Marshalls capital of Majuro, circa 1989, with Bill Prymak.  As a Japanese-born hospital corpsman in 1937 Jaluit, Amaron’s shipboard 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.)

The notion that Bilimon could have been a mere 13 years old when he treated Fred Noonan’s knee injury at Jaluit wasn’t new to noted researcher Les Kinney, well known to readers of this blog, who flatly rejects the idea.

Several years ago, while working with [Marshalls researcher] Karen Earnshaw, she obtained thedelayedbirth certificate for Bilimon Amran [sic] which gave a date of birth as you described,Kinney told me in a Feb. 28 email. However, these birth certificates were based upon guess work.  Since this is such an important issue, and at that time, we were attempting to interview Odar Lani, we made some inquiries.”  Kinney went on:

Odar Lani said Bilimon was about three years older.  Odar was born in January 1922 and said through his son, “Bilimon Amram [sic], a few years older than my Dad, told him once that he went to one of those Japanese boat and there on it was Amelia Earhart dining with those Japanese.  But my Dad says he did not believe any of it because at that time he was 16 and a labor for those Japanese and should have known about it already.” 

Amran’s [sic] daughter and brother also indicated Bilimon was about 17 when these events happened. During Jim Crowder’s interview with Bilimon in 1970, (first known interview of Bilimon), Bilimon said he was about 17 at the time. A guesstimate birth certificate leading to a death certificate probably is irrelevant but will fuel the fire to say Bilimon was lying – which I categorically do not believe he was lying.

Karen Earnshaw, who co-authored a a 2015 profile of Bilimon for the Daily Mail, is currently in Hawaii; when I sent her an email asking about the birth certificate Kinney referenced, she said he she wasn’t able to access her Earhart files.  She wasn’t sure that she had Bilimon’s birth certificate, but would let me know when she got back to her home in Majuro sometime in May.

I had never heard of Odar Lani before Les Kinney introduced his name into his response to Holly’s claim, and it’s not found in any Earhart disappearance books.  On one of my early trips to Majuro, I had planned to travel to Jaluit where Odar Lani had lived since the Japanese times,Kinney added.  Odar had been the station manager for the Marshallese Airlines.  The weekly flight over to Jaluit was delayed.  I never had a chance to interview Odar as the next time I was in the Marshalls, he was in a hospital in Honolulu.  I could have talked to him on my way back from Majuro  in Honolulu.  I didn’t and regret that.  What I found interesting was Odar describes Bilamon seeing Earhart dining on board ship with the Japanese.  At that moment in time, this seems perfectly plausible and well within the realm of possibility.  I am quite certain that in the early days of her discovery at Mili by the Japanese, she was treated with respect.”

“There is nothing ‘delayed’ about the DC [death certificate],” Holly, a 1979 graduate of San Diego State (Bachelor’s in Business Administration, Political Science and Marine Studies) shot back in response to Kinney’s Feb. 28 message.  Delayed birth or death certificates here, by the way, must say delayed upon them, and are typically done for outer island folks.  It was based upon MISSA (MI Social Security) documents filed years ago with their agency.  Now that being said, sure an error could have occurred years ago, and compounded over the years.  There is no way to prove or disprove a change in those facts here today, period.  So it is what it is, another document, but it does raise more questions.”

According to Matt Holly, this photo of him at Arlington National Cemetery in July 2009 appeared sometime in early 2010 in The Marshall Islands Journal

Holly had more to add about the elusive (to me at least) Odar Lani:

I love Odar Lani.  Almost every bit of info he really knew about was correct.  But he was notorious for filling in the blanks when he didn’t know the answer, as he is a proud man who is the “expert” on everything Jaluit.  His sister 3 years older and was an even better source of info since she had an attitude when I questioned her.   A ship was bombed by the U.S. forces and set afire, and we wondered if it sank in the lagoon, [and] she say it put to sea thru the main channel while still on fire. . . BUT, I never questioned her about Bilimon’s age or any AE tales.

Bilimon’s place of birth has been generally held and reported to be Japan, but he spent most of his life in the Marshalls, where he was a respected and prosperous Majuro businessman for many years.  Holly has a different take on Bilimon’s birth, and the death certificate he offers as evidence for a 13-year-old Bilimon seems to support him, listing his place of birth as Marshalls Islands.

“Bilimon was born in Jaluit I believe, not Japan,” Holly wrote in a March 3 email. I don’t think he spent much time in Japan at all, and now wonder where he lived during the war years.  I have a MUSTER ROLL somewhere of EVERY Japanese person sent home at the end of the war.  I must find this and take a look.  Also makes sense, born in Jaluit and stayed there . . . [though] his records may be available in Japan, as many other Marshallese born in the Marshalls from 1918/9 to 1942/44’ish have been located there.

Bilimon’s father was Japanese, which may well have been the factor that allowed him access to the Japanese ship where he met Earhart and Noonan.  The fact that Bilimon was a half caste makes other issues, as I would presume this would preclude him from medical training, but may have allowed him medical training, Holly wrote. 

The clan of his mother may also be important.  His father may have held some power.  So this is hard to determine where he fit in.  More research.  This is where the age becomes important, as if 13, he would have still been in school, period.  If 14 later that year, he may have been free to enroll in some medical training.  But even at 16, or even 17, as a newbie AND a half caste, I am concerned he may have embellished himself into becoming an aid or medic or assistant or something working for the Japanese Navy.  He may have not been such, or a mere medic in training. . . . Again, I do believe his story.  I simply challenge the idea that a 13-16- year-old kid, from my understanding of Japanese culture at that moment in Jaluit,  was involved in or with the IJN medical world.  THIS IS WHAT I NEED TO PROVE TO help verify HIS story.

Paul Amaron, a schoolteacher, confirmed his brother’s experience in a written statement and 1997 interview with Bill Prymak.  Bilimon told his brother that the American man was slightly injured, but the woman was neat, calm, with no injuries, Prymak wrote. Both were taken to Kwajalein and then to Saipan.” 

Just before Bilimon died in 1996, he told his family to “be sure to tell Joe and Bill, and the rest who asked about Amelia that my story is true,” Paul told Prymak.  And why does either Paul Amaron or Prymak cite Bilimon’s death date as 1996, in contrast to the Marshall Islands death certificate produced by Matt Holly, which lists it as Jan. 24, 1994 in two boxes?  Was this simply an oversight by Prymak, or is the Marshalls death certificate deficient in its most important function?

So that’s where we stand at the moment — with a questionable birth date listed on Bilimon Amaron’s death certificate, and with Paul Amaron’s reported statement to Bill Prymak, Bilimon’s date of death can be justifiably questioned as well.

Giff Johnson, Marshall Islands Journal editor, has not responded to my email asking if Bilimon’s obituary was published by his paper and available it its archives.   An online search of the Marshall Islands Journal archives failed to produce anything. 

For much more on Bilimon’s account, see pages 144-149 in Truth at Last, or do a search on his name on this blog.

16 responses

  1. Interesting revelation. Personally, I agree with Matt, that a young boy, whatever the exact age might be, is not at all likely to be termed a “medic” by either the IJN or the Marshallese in those years. Embellishment is the key word. I really want to see real evidence that Boy Bilimon even saw AE and Fred. Looks like a dud, and I am no longer a believer of Boy Bilimon. As for the Odar character…a deeper rabbit hole!

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    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      Mike,

      Yes, it’s “interesting,” but not “significant.” It’s certainly not a monumental discovery that changes everything. I for one am not ready to abandon Bilimon Amaron and consign him to the ash heap of discredited history. Color me not convinced.

      There are other angles to consider here. For instance, was Bilimon big for his age? What level of maturity and intelligence did he display? Did he show any special aptitude or have other qualities that would have made him a stand out from the other Marshallese that caused the Japanese to take notice and put him under their wing so to speak? Yes, Bilimon was half-caste, which meant he was at least half-Japanese. Could that have put him in even a modicum of better standing above the rest of the native Marshallese people? What was the relationship, if any, between Bilimon’s Japanese father and the Japanese doctors? Was there a personal factor here?

      Sure, the title of “medic” could have been simply an honorific that was embellished, and over time and telling became a permanent fixture of the Bilimon story. The medic title could also have been a cruel in-joke among the notoriously racist and bigoted Japanese at the expense of their earnest, talented, intelligent, mature-for-his-age, half-caste helper. For all we know, that’s why the Japanese sent Bilimon and not a “real” Japanese medic or doctor to assess and treat the Americans — as a subtle insult. It’s quite possible that they didn’t consider the round-eye, gaijin American’s injuries worth the time, trouble, and effort of a Japanese doctor or medic. Who knows for sure? And, that’s my entire point. There’s always more to a person’s life story than pieces of official paper on file at the local Hall of Records. There’s always a deeper human back story, a human angle that needs to be vetted out to complete the full picture of a person’s life.

      I’m sure the great Earhart researchers of the past — such as Bill Prymak, Joe Gervais, Joe Klaas, Vincent V. Loomis, et. al. — most certainly took the “human angle” of the Bilimon Amaron story well into account. These men were smart and saavy, not easily misled fools or dupes. Ditto the extant, contemporary researchers, such as Mike Campbell, Les Kinney and others, to include us long-time, avid students of the the Earhart saga.

      Bottom line: Bilimon Amaron’s story (reaffirmed by him on his deathbed) falls into the category of you just can’t make this stuff up. By every account, Bilimon was a simple, straightforward man — not given to pride, arrogance, or braggadocio. He wasn’t out for fame or gain. I believe Bilimon’s story. If I am ever clearly proved wrong in my belief on this issue I will publicly acknowledge my error. Until then, I’m standing pat.

      All best,

      William

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      1. I get your reasoning William, but until there is more objective (versus subjective) evidence that Bilimon “treated”, “aided”, “dined with”, etc., its all speculation that he was in her presence. For those who have been to the Marshalls and spent any amount of time hanging out with the people, you likely come to realize their boastful pride. They are going to carry a story told to them over the years by their elders. They have their unique customs and “outsiders”, no matter how skilled they are as “researchers”, are not likely to root out the real truth as to what really happened on Jaluit. Why all the focus on Boy Bilimon? Why not shift the focus on who else might have been with Bilimon? Who were the supervising “medics” that would have accompanied Bilimon? Surely he did not go alone. Can anyone find these others? That is a much harder task. Just maybe, these “researchers” have already tried.

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    2. William H. Trail | Reply

      Mike,

      I too would like more objective evidence. I think we all would. No argument there. I also recognize that you have a better insight into the Marshallese people than those of us who haven’t visited there and interacted with them one-on-one. All I’m saying is that I’m not ready to totally trash Bilimon Amaron’s story based solely on his date of birth as recorded in this newly presented death certificate. For all we know at this point a simple clerical error in recording Bilimon’s DOB could have been made on the death certificate. How does this date, September 8, 1923 compare to other documents?

      All best,

      William

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      1. William,

        Right now we have no other “official” documents, but we have a mountain of oral history, which can’t simply be dismissed because one doesn’t agree with it for whatever reason. We also have what appears to be an incorrect date of death, 1994 vice the commonly accepted 1996, as reported by his brother, on this allegedly official Marshall Islands death certificate.

        I’ve sent an email to the editor of the Marshall Islands Journal to see if he can provide the obituary that should have been published for Bilimon. A search of the archives on their site produces nothing at all. The editor, one Giff Johnson, has not responded, and I will be surprised if he does. Will of course update the post if he actually replies with something tangible.

        Mike

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  2. Maybe I am naive, but I believe him and think he was mistaken about his age. Furthermore, what would he have to gain concerning his encounter? Researchers sought him out, not the other way around. He certainly did not profit monetarily, and I am sure the general public en mass has never heard of him. He certainly was not a household name. Plus, he has witnesses to his truthfulness that back up his story. I guess we will have to see.

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  3. David Atchason | Reply

    It is curious that certain details of the AE story as we have come to understand them from TTAL and this blog may not be quite as unquestionable as I have assumed. I recent months I have found myself racking my brain to explain some detail of the story and then I say why do that when the detail is subject to at least questioning. My first thought with today’s post is that maybe it is true that the Japanese at first were very kind to Amelia and Fred and only later imprisoned them. Something happened to change their attitude.

    So maybe the picture on the pier is real? That maybe they were treated well at first the same as the shipwreck people? I am still puzzled that the Japs having rescued/captured an American hero would conceal that fact and imprison them on Saipan? What was the purpose of that? They could have made a big issue accusing her of spying or they could have made themselves our to be kind and heartwarming rescuers of te pair. But apparently they did neither. I don’t get it is all I can say. So I have kind of turned off my thinking about all these details when the “dtail” might not be what it seems.

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  4. No one has ever responded to my simple question: If AE crashed on Mili Atoll, what was her actual destination? No one seems to want to answer this question because she didn’t have enough fuel to land at another non Japanese site.

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    1. Her official destination, of course, was Howland Island. She landed at Mili. Was Mili her “actual destination”? Possibly, but we’ll never know for sure, unless someone decides to release the secret files. Mili might have been her best choice, under the circumstances she found herself in, or maybe it was part of an ill-conceived plan. For if Mili was her “actual destination,” whoever conceived of this plan was worse than a moron. It caused her death.

      MC

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  5. brightaway@aol.com | Reply

    Mike, 

    A clue to Amran’s date of birth may be with the company Micronesia Inter Ocean line Inc, that had headquarters in San Francisco and a branch on Saipan (or Majuro). I corresponded with a director of the Co, Mr. Robert Sarnia, then located in Tokyo, Japan, a person familiar with Amran.

    In 20001 he sent me a photo of Bilimon dated 1969 from the annual report of the Co. Amran was  a director of the company residing then in Majuro. He was familiar with the published stories of Amran’s role, but could not add any details or other information. (He did believe that Amran was about 5’8″) If someone could follow up on Saipan with this company, if still in existence, the company employment records surely would reflect a date of birth. It is surprising that none of the researcher dug into Amran’s past, background, education, training, dates  of assignments, etc. I do have couple of legal  cases re landownership, with Amran as the Plaintiff.

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    1. Thanks Ron. An initial google search is not helpful, but suggests that Micronesia Interocean Lines is defunct.

      Mike

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      1. I’m curious what Fukiko Aoki has stated, if anything, about Bilimon in her 2 books on AE? They are in Japanese and no English versions are available. Has anyone gotten emails from her on this subject? From what I’ve read, Aoki does not believe AE and Fred went through the Marshalls and died on Saipan. In her own Biography (aokifukiko.com), she says she traveled to the US in 1984, I assume to interview Fred Goerner. Should we trust what she writes or says about AE?

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      2. Come on, Mike! I interviewed Aoki in 2007 and wrote extensively about her work in TAL. She was a practiced propagandist for the Japanese agenda throughout. See the index at the back of the book and start re-reading. She was never a friend of the truth.

        Mike

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      3. Yes, will reread that section. I did a search on your blog to see what new information you or others may have posted. Yes, she is a propagandist and a never-Trumper as are most NY Elites. Thanks Mike for the reminder.

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  6. Sure wouldn’t put much faith in the date of birth on the death certificate when the date of death itself is in question only 20+ years hence. An “official” date of birth may have been made up when Bilimon applied for a driving license, social security, insurance, etc. Also would not presume that Bilimon was a medic in the sense that term connotes with the U.S. and other western armed forces. More likely a medical assistant for a local doctor. His job may have been to carry the doctor’s medical bag and assist with minor procedures. The doctor may have been knocking back shots of sake with the ship’s skipper while Bilimon patched up Fred.

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  7. One point for consideration is the accuracy of the information on the death certificate itself. Record keeping in remote places at the beginning of the 20th Century was often patchy at best and not as efficient as it was for example in London.

    As a result, many people from these places did not know there precise date of birth and so when asked many years later gave an approximate date. I have seen many examples where only limited information is supplied, for example the year and country, sometimes just the country.

    It is quite possible that Bilimon’s death certificate gives just such an approximation. On this basis, the death certificate taken in isolation and its suggestion that he was only 13 years old at the time is not conclusive evidence that his eye witness account is to be disbelieved.

    Further investigation into the record keeping undertaken in the Marshalls at the time would help, for example was it compulsory to register births, marriages and deaths.

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