Even casual students of the Earhart disappearance have heard and read about the photos of Amelia and Fred Noonan allegedly found on Saipan during and after the June 15-July 9, 1944 Battle of Saipan. I’ve heard the wistful regrets that none of these photos have ever publicly surfaced, and have shared in the disappointment of those who believe things would be different if we just had one of these photos that show so clearly that Amelia Earhart was a prisoner of the Japanese. (Boldface mine throughout; italics Goerner’s.)
Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, assigned to the Army’s 106th Infantry Regiment on Saipan, was among the first of the former American servicemen to contact Fred Goerner during his early Saipan investigations. In 1961, Kanna told Goerner that as platoon sergeant of his intelligence unit on Saipan, his duty was “to insure [sic] that we would take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.” One prisoner captured in an area designated as Tank Valley had “a photo of Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield,” Kanna wrote. The photo was forwarded up the chain of command, and when questioned, the Japanese captive “stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion and subsequently he felt that both of them had been executed,” according to Kanna.
He provided Goerner the names of three men who had served as interpreters for his unit. Goerner located only one of them, Richard Moritsugu, in Honolulu, whose voice “quavered and broke” on the phone when Goerner asked about Saipan and Sergeant Kanna. Moritsugu told Goerner he had no desire to discuss the war.
Robert Kinley, of Norfolk, Va., served with the 2nd Marine Division during the invasion and claimed he saw a photo of Earhart with a Japanese officer that he believed was taken on Saipan. Kinley said he was clearing a house of booby traps near a graveyard when the picture was found tacked to a wall. A Japanese mortar shell exploded nearby moments later, tearing away part of his chest. He lost the photo at that point and couldn’t remember if it was destroyed in the explosion or taken by one of the medics who attended him. Kinley wrote that the photo “showed Amelia standing in an open field with a Japanese soldier wearing some kind of combat or fatigue cap with a single star in its center.”
Sometime after the 1966 release of The Search for Amelia Earhart, Marine Col. Donald R. Kennedy, commandant of the 12th Marine Corps District, told Goerner he came into possession of photographs in Japan in 1945 that showed Earhart in Japanese custody. “He [Kennedy] says he turned them over to [General Douglas] MacArthur’s Intelligence Headquarters,” Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1969. “Marine Corps G-2 is now trying to trace what happened to the photographs after Kennedy turned them over.” Kennedy attempted “to get clearance from USMC Headquarters before he could go on record,” Goerner told Theodore Barreaux 19 years later. “After eighteen months, he got the clearance but with the proviso that this did not represent official USMC position.” Kennedy’s file contains nothing else of significance, so something must have derailed Kennedy from pursuing the matter further, a common occurrence in the Earhart search.
Just as Robert Kinley contacted Goerner about seeing a photo of Earhart on Saipan, Stanley F. Serzan, of Orange City, Fla., was among several veterans who told Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident about seeing photos of one or both of the fliers. Serzan, a member of the 4th Marine Division on Saipan and a retired Bayonne, New Jersey, police officer, said one of his fellow Marines found a number of photos of Earhart and Noonan while searching a dead Japanese soldier. “I will never forget seeing those pictures of Amelia Earhart,” wrote Serzan, who died in 1995:
There were several Japanese officers with her and she certainly looked in good health. . . . The one picture I do recall to mind was one where Fred was standing sort of behind a Japanese officer to his right, and next was Amelia and then two more Japanese officers. There were other pictures of her and an officer alone and she was in sort of a fly jacket—and half a dozen others I don’t remember. All were taken outdoors—no buildings in sight. Trees in background. Fred appeared much taller than Japanese. I wish I had been able to get one of those pictures. When leaving Hawaii to come back to the mainland, we were told to get rid of the souvenirs because we would have to pay a duty. We threw tons of stuff away and we never were searched. We could have killed for being lied to like that.
Jerome Steigmann, of Phoenix, a longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, sent Devine information provided by Frank Howard, of Pueblo, Colo. Howard told Steigmann that he was in the first wave of Marines to hit the beach on Saipan, and later “a buddy found two photographs in a Jap Officer’s outpost they had just captured . . . one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers,” Howard wrote. The below drawing by Howard appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, with the following narrative from Howard:
There were two photos, one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers. In one picture, the Naval officers must have left, as only the Army officers remained and Fred Noonan had his jacket off and had laid it on his lap, so it must have been a hot day, as the soldiers and officers were in short white-sleeved shirts, as was Amelia and Fred. The soldiers also had those curtain type sun shade cloths behind their necks, but they had those wrappings around their legs. Amelia and Fred seemed very tired and the day must have been at high noon. Amelia was wearing “jodhpurs” trousers with cuffs, and Fred dark trousers with cuffs. My buddy was killed in action, and I never saw the photos again. I enclose a sketch as best as I remember.
Another Amelia Earhart Society member, Col. Rollin Reineck (U.S. Air Force, retired), received a letter from Dale Chandler, a former radioman aboard the USS Rocky Mount (AGC-3), the flagship for the Joint Expeditionary Force attacking Saipan, Guam and Tinian in June-July, 1944. The following also appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter:
One afternoon in early July 1944, I was going to my shift in the radio room, and on the way I met one of the ship’s photographers. I asked him if I could see some of the photos of the invasion. He showed me a photograph of a man and a woman among other photos in a shoe box found in a captured Jap Officer’s billet. I could not tell who they were, but the photographer stated that they were Amelia Earhart and her “pilot” (sic). He further stated that it proved they were on Saipan in 1937, and not lost at sea. The photo was taken in front of the building where he had found the photograph. He said the building where the photo was taken was in the background, but was now partially destroyed by shellfire but parts of the building still standing were easy to recognize. I was 12 years old when the Earhart disappearance took place, and I assumed she was dead, lost at sea.
The snapshot was taken on the side of the building, and facing the camera she was on the left. She was wearing a kaiki (sic) jacket, breeches and a wrapping around her, below her knees. No hat. He was on her left wearing a dark jacket and pants, white shirt, no tie and his hat cocked on the side of his head. The photo went to CIC, now the CIA.
All of this information is true and accurate.
Nothing more is presented in the AES Newsletters about Chandler’s claim.
Joseph Garofalo, a former Seabee and Saipan veteran, claimed to have found a photo of Earhart in the wallet of a dead Japanese soldier. In a letter to Devine, Garofalo, of the Bronx, New York wrote that he “searched a dead Jap officer and it was in his wallet along with a picture of his family.” Garofalo continued:
As best I can remember the photo fit on the inside of the Jap officer’s wallet, it was in black and white, with sort of a sepia finish, which looked faded. It was about the third week after we landed [on Saipan]. Many of my buddies had seen the picture at that time. As you face the photo, Amelia Earhart was standing on the left-hand side, wearing pants and the shirt she was wearing had short sleeves, it was probably khaki; she looked very haggard and thin. The Jap officer was on the right wearing the traditional short visor cap and leggings. She seemed a few inches taller than the Jap. It has been 49 years ago, the description of the picture is still in my mind, and I consider it accurate.
None of the priceless photos Saipan veterans reported seeing have publicly surfaced. For years Devine tried to obtain a photo of Earhart an ex-GI claimed he found on Saipan in 1944. The man told Devine that a Japanese officer, a woman, and two children were standing with Earhart in the photo, which he gave to a friend along with other personal items after being wounded. Devine offered the man $10,000, but the trail dried up when the man, who had entered a veterans hospital, stopped responding to his correspondence.
In another near miss, Virginia Ward, of Waterbury, Conn., told Devine that her two cousins, Marines who were both badly wounded on Saipan, brought back photos of Earhart they found there. Both died within two years of their return to the states, and Ward never found the photos.
For much more on the substantial oral histories of American military veterans and their knowledge of Amelia Earhart on Saipan, please see Chapter IX, “Saipan Veterans Come Forward,” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, pages 180-204.
Greetings to All:
All of these various servicemen — from different branches, serving in different capacities, all in the Saipan AO — telling essentially the SAME story is something that cannot be ignored, passed off as coincidence, or disregarded as fabrication. Taken all together, the individual stories become compelling evidence. And it lends much credence to the Marshall Islanders’ testimony.
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Don’t you know they’re only “The Greatest Generation” when we want to invoke their memory to rev up the country for more war?
You are spot on, sir. Unfortunately, in today’s culture that cynical attitude is all too common.
The words that Frank Howard was referring to wasn’t jud spurs, but jodphurs, the wide upper legs pants that Amelia wore in several photos during her flying career. They were worn by Japanese officers at times too, especially cavalry officers in the Japanese Army.
Thanks Woody, didn’t make sense to me when I posted it because the spelling was wrong. The correct spelling is jodhpurs. Will fix right away.
Obviously, so maddening that all this evidence has disappeared. But as you have stated, Mike, maybe even that would not convince the powers that be to reopen this case and come clean. So frustrating.
Mike – *Great post & drawing of Amelia & Fred’s captivity, in the hands of the Japanese. Now let me get this straight, Frank Howard described this scene, but drawn by T. Gervais 3-17-86 The actual picture was taken in front of the building, where he had found the photo.
I’m curious to know what these *symbols/signs mean on the front of the building?
This smaller building to the left, I wonder what that was used for? Entrance area? We see two guards sitting besides Amelia & Fred, which means this was serious stuff and obviously they were under close watch. We don’t know if Amelia & Fred were smiling or being held against their will, the latter most obvious. The fact that there is a Army Officer standing near a Naval Officer, gives us more insight, to the *truth of this scene.
What did the Japanese have to gain from this photograph? MUCH and even more proof, of American meddling, in their territory.
This article also reveals, MacArthur’s knowledge of Amelia Earhart’s presence on Saipan. I wonder, if Douglas MacArthur’s present day family, have any stories to share?
Frank Howard did the drawing, according to my information. The scratched-out area on the bottom right should be disregarded. Joe Gervais was not involved in this one.
I too am curious about the meaning of those Japanese characters in Frank Howard’s drawing. As they were drawn from his recollection of a briefly viewed photograph, and Howard presumably did not read, speak, nor write the Japanese language, do they have any meaning at all? Or, are they simply the artist’s interpretation to convey the idea that some sort of Japanese writing was there? Even with a chart of Japanese kanji/kana symbols, I think it would be very difficult for someone not fluent in the Japanese language to translate accurately.
As for what General Douglas MacArthur may, or many not, have known about AE and FN on Saipan, who knows? It would seem that he kept whatever he knew strictly to himself. I’d also be willing to bet that, if Gen. MacArthur came into possession of any AE related Japanese material during the occupation of Japan he kept it for his own purposes, made sure it was destroyed, or sent it to the deepest, darkest, most secure archive in the U.S. Government.
I agree that these examples of pictures discovered of AE and Fred in Japanese custody certainly demonstrate they were heldcaptive by the Japs whether they were picked up on Mili or some other island or shoal.
The recent controversy of Bilimon’s birth certificate makes me wonder if the birth certificate in question where Bilimon was supposedly born in 1923 was it? was a forgery by the disinformation folks, maybe the same crew that produced Obama”s most likely forged Hawaii birth certificate? Even experts can’t tell for certain these are forgeries so if the disnformation people can pay Ballard to go on a cockamamie search of Nikumaroro why not spend a small fraction of that kind of money to produce a bogus birth certificate?
Another random thought; Admiral Yamamoto predicted the Japs would lose the war he even gave a timeline of events that proved to be more or less correct. He was overruled. Whether he was aware of FDR’s plot to get Japan in the war with an attck on Pearl Harbor, I don’t know. Did he know he was getting into a trap? Then he gets shot down over New Britain. Was he set up by other Japanese who wanted him out of the way (like Forrestal)?Curiously he was in a 2 engine Betty bomber. Was his plane wreck ever found on New Britain? Is it possible the metal tag from AE’s plane was stuck on one of the engines from AE’s plane?Or her actual engine was in the Betty bomber? This sounds far out but no father out than AE’s plane wrecked on New Britain. Let me know where my thinking might have gone wrong.
The plane wreck was found in the jungle the next day, as well as Yamamoto’s body (Operation Vengeance-Wikipedia).
One of the Navy’s OP-20 G’s listening units captured an encrypted Japanese message giving Yamamoto’s flight plan. U.S. planes were given the arriving coordinates and waited for the Betty Bomber.
These were the same OP-20 G listening stations that routinely captured Japanese military radio traffic in 1937. In my opinion, Op-20 G had captured Japanese intercepts relating to Earhart and her later relocation to Saipan. None of the Japanese intercepts from pre-war II have been released except for those involving the Pearl Harbor Hearings. I wonder why?
The Japanese had no need to duplicate Earhart’s plane and engine design. They had legally purchased a Lockheed Electra Model 10 in 1936. They also built over 200 more sophisticated Model 14’s from licenses approved by the U.S. Government.
To expand on what Tom and Les have said, you may want to read Carroll V. Glines’ book, “Attack on Yamamoto” as well as Burke Davis’ “Get Yamamoto.”
It was a brilliant mission, very fascinating; and the aftermath may quite well be characterized by the phrase “Loose lips might sink ships”.
Flying nearly 500 miles (actually 446 miles) at low level, out of sight of land, at 200 mph, and maintaining radio silence to successfully reach the target intercept point precisely and on time was quite a feat in the age before GPS. Few today have any real idea. It was, indeed, brilliant.
Re: Yamamoto’s death:
First of all, Yamamoto, having spent a few years as a Naval Attache in the U.S. during the early 1920s was well aware of U.S. industrial capability and knew Japan could not fight a prolonged war with the U.S.
But Prime Minister Tojo believed otherwise and convinced Emperor Hirohito that U.S. Navy presence at Pearl Harbor was an obstacle to Japan’s plans to dominate the Pacific region. Furthermore, he believed the U.S. would sue for peace after a devastating surprise attack and destruction of the entire U.S. Pacific fleet.
Yamamoto was promoted to Admiral of the Japanese fleet and given orders by Tojo (with the Emperor’s concurrence) to plan and carry out an attack on Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto complied despite his misgivings. He knew Japan could “run wild and win victory after victory in the first six to twelve months, but if the war continues after that, there would be no expectation of success.”
You have to understand something about the Japanese mind: After the devastating defeat at Midway and loss of all aircraft carriers, Yamamoto knew he could no longer guarantee a war victory for Japan. Failure to fulfill the promise of war victory for the Emperor was unthinkable and would mean a MAJOR LOSS OF FACE for Yamamoto. He had no choice but to commit suicide. So, he allowed his Pacific tour itinerary to be transmitted using an outdated coded (knowing the U.S. could decipher the message), allow his plane to be intercepted and shot down in an elegant way of committing suicide while giving the appearance that he died honorably in battle at the hands of the enemy.
You are absolutely correct regarding Admiral Yamamoto’s recognition of the industrial might of the United States stemming from his time as a naval attache in Washington, DC.
Regarding Hideki Tojo, the conception and initial planning for what would become Operation HAWAII — the attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base (and specifically targeting the U.S. Pacific Fleet carriers) and associated installations on Oahu — began with the Imperial Navy in January 1941, while Fumimaro Konoe was Prime Minister. Tojo would not become Prime Minister until 18 October 1941, just a little over a month before the Kido Butai sortied from Hitokappu Bay en route to Hawaii.
The idea that a compromised code was used to facilitate an honorable death in battle for Yamamoto is, quite frankly, ludicrous. If Yamamoto had been inclined to commit ritual suicide or, more precisely, “sokotsu-shi” (for the reasons of a feeling of guilt because of one’s own inadequacy, from imprudent or reckless behavior, or from failing to fulfill one’s duty to a superior — in this case, the Emperor), he would have done so immediately following the Japanese defeat at Midway. Admiral Kusaka quashed any ideas of suicide among his staff and prevailed upon Admiral Nagumo not to do it. Likewise, Yamamoto accepted their apologies and did not insist on suicide. Suffering from low morale, nervous exhaustion, as well as parasites (worms), Yamamoto’s staff kept a close watch on their commander. Later, the Emperor while speaking of the defeat and losses at Midway would tell Yamamoto that “these things are expected in battle.” Taking these things into consideration, I do not see Yamamoto contriving to commit suicide by allowing himself to be shot down on a visit to New Britain 10 months after Midway. It’s too far fetched, has too many single points of failure to be operationally sound, and just doesn’t make sense. I suspect the Japan Times article you cite is simply a Japanese revisionist interpretation of history.
By the way, the article refers to the U.S. Army Air Corps. That organization became the U.S. Army Air Forces on 20 June 1941 — long before Operation VENGEANCE — the mission to kill Yamamoto.
I don’t doubt that Earhart and Noonan landed at Mili Atoll and the Japanese military captured and took them to Saipan, interrogated them and later executed them. It’s an intriguing story.
It’s interesting and curious that no documents and photos of Earhart/Noonan on Saipan exist except anecdotal accounts.
I can only surmise that the Japanese systematically destroyed all prewar documents and photos by the time the U.S. invaded Saipan and any surviving documents and photos found by the U.S. that contained any reference to Earhart/Noonan were destroyed pursuant to Roosevelt orders to cover up their presence on the island.
But the curious part is why photos of Earhart were among dead or captured Japanese soldiers/officers’ personal belongings. Was Earhart a “pinup girl”? I can understand a Japanese soldier carrying a photo of Japanese girlfriend, wife, family or even a geisha girl. But a HAKUJIN (meaning white, non-Japanese) woman? Unlikely. And I don’t think Japanese soldiers were the souveneir hounds that American GIs were.
Although they probably should have, the Japanese did not destroy all prewar documents and photos by the time the U.S. invaded Saipan. Please see “Amelia Earhart: The Truth At Last” (2nd Edition), Chapter IX, pages 181 through 184 for U.S. Marine Private First Class Robert E. Wallack’s account of finding Amelia Earhart’s briefcase in a blown Japanese safe. In short, Wallack’s find — “a brown leather attache case with a large handle and a flip lock” that contained “official-looking papers all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits, and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the-world flight” — was dutifully turned over to a naval officer, who issued a receipt to Wallack and was never seen by him again.
“Buy the curious part is why photos of Earhart were among dead or captured Japanese soldiers/officers’ personal belongings.”
Amelia was the most famous person most of those guys would ever meet even if they survived the war. Japanese people like to take photos. Actually, I believe it’s really that they like to play with nifty gadgets like cameras and if they have one then they have to make pictures to justify the expenditure.
Those photos would prove that Amelia and Fred were treated reasonably well until something changed. At some point the Japanese must have realized that they had been “had” and unfortunately took it out on Amelia and Fred. Big mis-take.
I agree with CDA until his last sentence after the “and.”. No, I don’t believethe Japs “took it out” on Amelia and Fred. This post about the Japs having pictures of her Has stuck in my mind. I have been trying for days to come up with a coherent comment. I wrote several paragraphs and somehow I hit a wrong key and erased everything. Those paragraphs were wrong. I keep thinking there has to be a good reason why they would have her picture. I think there is such a reason.
First, is there any proof they treated them badly? Any eyewitnesses? What is the evidence that they were held in Garapan prison? (Yes I know I should re-read TTAL) I’m not claiming they weren’t at some point, but I believe they were treated quite well for a long time.Wasn’t AE held at a hotel for a while?
Here’s what I’m getting at. I’m not saying the Japs were saints. They were growing a little empire in the Pacific they believed they were entitled to. Yes, they wanted to take over China. Of course the USA didn’t like that idea. FDR’s grandfather Delano had his business in China and made a fortune in the opium trade. This was probably still going on when the Japanese attempted to move in. So here we have the real power in the USA fixing to finish up what they had missed out on in WW1. Sort of the New World Order kind of people. They were unhappy withthe results of WW1 but now they had the isolationist strong faction who were also unhappy with WW1 where the USA had gained very little and they did not want to be duped into another war as Wilson had done. So the Faction that controlled FDR needed a powerful incentive to start another war. Along came Amelia. Amelia and Eleanor Roosevelt were buddies. Consequently, with her visits to the White House Amelia learned what was afoot.
She learned what we all can learn in the book “Day of Deceit.” Which was suckering Japan into a war by means of goading them into it. Amelia (and Eleanor maybe) did not approve. Through Putnam Amelia became acquainted with leading anti-war anti-MIC people. So FDR sets Amelia up with her stunt flight. Was she directed to fly over the Marshalls? I don’t know, maybe. But there was so little to see, what, like a seaplane base? I think nothing of any importance to WW2. So what if the Japs had a few small
military bases there, that was part of FDR’s larger plan.
Mind you, I’m not saying FDR himself thought this all up.This required the influence of a large group of very powerful people who stood to gain immensely from this grand plan. So Amelia decides to throw a monkey wrench into it. Somehow she contrives to get Noonan as her navigator because he is willing to go along with this. Where Manning would not. Amelia and Fred land in Japanese territory and soon enough warn the Japs what is going on. Of course the Japs treat them well. She is taken to Saipan or maybe this is where she actually landed in the first place.
The Japs don’t really know how seriously to take her. Of course FDR’s men say she disobeyed orders. Maybe they suspected what she was up to. But somehow Tojo and the emperor decide to go to war. The Japanese on Saipan know the story. She is a heroine to them. Why not keep her picture in their wallet? Perhaps she landed at Aslito Field and that is why her plane sits there. Of course the Japs would keep it there. After the US invasion maybe she was still there. Maybe she and Fred got sick and died. Maybe US military had to “take care” of them and/or “disappear” them and their plane. Forrestal knew all about it and where their grave was located. He had to be taken care of, too. FDR was willing to kill 3,000 men at Pearl Harbor to get the war going. What did he care about Amelia and Fred? Nothing. Maybe he didn’t even like Amelia because she was buddies with Eleanor.
Anyway this version makes some sense to me where mainstream speculations do not . JUst my opinion, mind you.