Today we return to the matter of the “one-way” phone conversation between Henry Morgenthau Jr., U.S. treasury secretary and confidante of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Malvina Thompson “Tommy” Scheider, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, on the morning of May 13, 1938. Via Dictaphone, we have long had Morgenthau’s side of this conversation, which is interesting indeed. The document first appeared in the 1987 book Amelia: My Courageous Sister, by Muriel Earhart Morrissey, Amelia’s younger sister, and researcher Carol L. Osborne.
The late Col. Rollin Reineck’s distinguished Air Force career spanned 30 years, and his work is well known to readers of this blog. The mercurial Reineck served with great distinction as a B-29 navigator flying from Saipan in action against mainland Japan. In his Earhart work, Reineck was at times brilliant, at others less than coherent (see my Dec. 29, 2015 series of posts, starting with “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV”).
During a patch of clarity, Reineck wrote at length about the Morgenthau incident in a piece titled “Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection,” which appeared in the January 1997 edition issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. “Today, it ranks as one of the most compelling pieces of circumstantial evidence we have in our search for the truth about the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart,” Reineck wrote. “The memo is unclassified and was probably overlooked when they screened the Morgenthau files that were to be made public and put in the Hyde Park Library. To date, it is the only document concerning Earhart in his archival material. . . . [T]here was one person, more than anyone else, who probably knew the answer as to what happened on the fateful day in early July, 1937. That one person was Henry Morgenthau Jr., the secretary of the treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
My own take on the Morgenthau phone conversation, “Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection: What did FDR’s treasury secretary really know?” appeared on this blog on March 31, 2015. The below letter from Joe Gervais to Bill Prymak was presented in the October 1999 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Boldface, italic and caps emphasis both mine and in original AES Newsletter article.
EDITOR’S [Prymak] NOTE: The following reveals that secret papers relating to the Earhart mystery, are still cached in the basement of the US TREASURY DEPARTMENT, labelled “TOP SECRET” after 62 years! Why can’t the papers be released? Do we need to send Harrison Ford or Rambo to retrieve these papers’? Are these papers being denied because they could damage US-Japanese relations? Far Fetched? Read and judge for yourself.
Reference the below page of Senator [Daniel] Akaka’s report of March 1991. Gervais, [Randall] Brink, [John] Luttrell, [Dean] Magley, [Rollin] Reineck, Senator [Daniel] Inouye, and Senator Akaka have all been denied access to those 12 boxes. This cover-up by the executive branch of government is similar to the [President Dwight D.] Eisenhower/Gary Powers affair. This is a case of international magnitude between the U.S. and Japan. We have received no help from our ambassadors to Japan, such as [Edwin] Reischouer, [Douglas] McArthur [II], [Michael J.] Mansfield, [Walter F.] Mondale, etc. Why not put this on the Internet?
[Below is from Sen. Daniel Akaka’s (D-Hawaii) March 1991 report]
Senator Henry Morgenthau Jr.:
I’ve been given a verbal report. If we’re going to release this it’s just going to smear the whole reputation of Amelia Earhart. . . . and if we ever release the report of the ITASCA on Amelia Earhart, any reputation she has is gone. . . . and I know now Amelia Earhart disregarded all orders. . . . What happened to her the last few minutes. I hope I’ve just got to never make it public . . . I mean what happened. It isn’t a very nice story. . . . And, we have the report of all those wireless messages and everything else.
After reading the referenced memo of Secretary Morgenthau and comparing it with what we know today about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, I can certainly understand Col. Reineck’s assertion that there is a great deal more Amelia Earhart material in Secretary Morgenthau’s files or in the Treasury Department that has not been released and is still being withheld from the public.
In this regard, I also understand why Col. Reineck believes it is strange that of all the Henry Morgenthau, Jr. papers in the F.D.R. library at Hyde Park, only this one — albeit very significant, makes any reference to Amelia Earhart. Col. Reineck wonders whether this material was somehow accidentally overlooked when the Secretary’s papers were screened for public release by the government.
Col. Reineck advised me that other researchers who are colleagues of his, namely, Mr. Merrill D. Magley and Mr. John F. Luttrell, have tried through the normal “Freedom of Information Act” channels to obtain additional information from your department without success. This is true, Col. Reineck informed me, even though they had pin-pointed box containers T-33A and T-33B in the basement of the Treasury Department behind a locked metal wire cage as the Henry Morgenthau, Jr. files for 1937 and 1938. One of your personnel, Ms. Karen Cameron, described the material as relating to Amelia Earhart, but denied access on the basis of its being classified “TOP SECRET.” (End of Akaka report.)
As I said in my March 31, 2015 presentation, plenty of room exists for different interpretations of Morgenthau’s statements as recorded on the Dictaphone. Without having Mrs. Scheider’s side of it, we can never know for sure exactly what these two were really saying.
I have no doubts about two points relative to it, however. First, despite the treasury secretary’s thrice-repeated concern about the “reputation of Amelia Earhart” and how he wanted to protect it, I am convinced that Morgenthau cared only about the reputation of his boss, FDR, and how public knowledge of the truth in the Earhart matter would affect FDR’s political future.
Secondly, by May 1938 if not much earlier, Morgenthau was fully aware of Earhart’s captivity on Saipan and her probable if not certain death in Japanese hands. Based on Morgenthau’s comments to Scheider, many of which make little or no sense without Scheider’s replies, it’s difficult to believe that she was among the few who had been brought into the small circle of those who knew the unhappy truth, which would have been so deadly to FDR and his administration’s future.
Perhaps the most important question arising from the Morgenthau-Scheider phone conversation is this: What did Morgenthau mean when he said, “Amelia Earhart absolutely disregarded all orders”? Whose orders? To do what? And how did she disregard them? Some have attempted to explain Morgenthau’s reference to Earhart’s “disregard for orders” as her failure to follow the planned radio schedule and protocols between her and Itasca, but if that was the case, why all the secrecy on Morgenthau’s part?
And what are we to make of Morgenthau’s reference to “all those wireless messages”? Is he referring to some or all of the alleged “post-loss” radio messages that some believe came from Earhart in her downed Electra? Or others that remain undiscovered in top-secret files?