I don’t know why this page was so long in coming, or even why the idea finally dawned on me when it did, but the old cliché, “Better late than never,” just about covers it. Shortly after this “Earhart Research Page of Honor,” as it were, is published, I’ll also convert it into a permanent page at the top of the blog that can be seen and easily accessed by all.
Ironically, though several women have written fair to outstanding biographies of Amelia Earhart, not a single member of the fair sex can be found among the elite ranks of authors and researchers whose work, in its totality, has revealed the unvarnished Marshall Islands-Saipan truth about the wretched fates of Earhart and Fred Noonan at the hands of the pre-war Japanese military.
I can’t fully explain this phenomenon, but the nuts and bolts of genuine Earhart research have never been for the faint of heart. And lest anyone misconstrue this as an attempt to rank or evaluate the habitués of this page in any qualitative sequence, this gallery of important, deceased Earhart investigators is presented alphabetically. Their work speaks for itself, and any thorough examination of their fruits should engender a coherent understanding of their standing within this unique, distinguished group.
You may disagree with one or more of these selections, and if so, your comments are welcome. For those who think someone who belongs has been omitted, please wait until Part II has been published.
For your information and entertainment, I present the first of two parts of the “Earhart Research Page of Honor.”
“Earhart Research Page of Honor,” Part I
PAUL BRIAND JR.: Many observers of the history of investigations into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan believe that Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart is the seminal work in the genre, and all that followed sprang from the San Francisco radio-newsman’s initial Saipan forays.
But neither Goerner nor anyone else would have heard about Earhart and Noonan’s arrival at Saipan in 1937 if not for the 1960 book that started it all — Daughter of the Sky, by Paul L. Briand Jr., a Ph.D., Air Force captain (later promoted to major) and assistant professor of English at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In the closing pages of Daughter of the Sky, Briand presents the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who saw Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Tanapag Harbor as an 11-year-old in the summer of 1937, as told in 1946 to Navy Dentist Casimir Sheft on Saipan. Though few were even aware of it in 1960, as the revelations in Daughter of the Sky were suppressed throughout the establishment media, Briand’s book was the spark that exploded into the true modern search for Amelia Earhart.
In 1967, the State University of New York, Oswego, appointed Briand as a full professor and he taught there until his death in 1986 at age 66. For much more on Paul Briand Jr., please click here.
THOMAS E. DEVINE: When the Lord made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold. What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know. But had I never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident (Renaissance House, 1987), I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life. I can’t imagine what it would be.
In Eyewitness, Devine, an Army postal sergeant who saw the Earhart Electra on three separate occasions on Saipan in July 1944, reached out to his fellow veterans, urging them to report their own experiences that reflected the presence and death of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in the years before the 1944 U.S. invasion. Twenty-six former GIs heard and responded to Devine’s plea, and their stunning accounts were presented for the first time in With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart, our little-known 2002 book.
JOE GERVAIS: Gervais, whose important Guam and Saipan witness interviews in 1960 strongly supported Fred Goerner’s Saipan findings, was best known as the creator of the insidious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, forever immortalized along with other crackpot ideas in Joe Klaas’ infamous 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives.
Gervais was a highly decorated veteran of World War II, Korean and the Vietnam War, serving as a command pilot of B-24, B-29 and C-130 aircraft with over 16,000 hours of flight time.
The man some called “The Dean of Earhart Research,” passed away at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 26, 2005 at age 80.
For more on Joe Gervais, please click here.
FRED GOERNER: The author of the only bestseller about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart ever penned, The Search for Amelia Earhart (Doubleday and Sons, 1966), Goerner is generally considered by the informed to be history’s greatest Earhart researcher. He was certainly not without his faults, however, and made several mistakes and misjudgments along the way.
Most observers of the Earhart saga are familiar with the statement allegedly made by retired Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to Goerner in late March 1965, just before the radio newsman left San Francisco to interview Marine Commandant Gen. Wallace M. Greene at his Pentagon headquarters in Arlington, Va. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him.
Unfortunately, from the moment Time magazine ripped Goerner’s bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart in late 1966 as a book that “barely hangs together,” the sad truth about Amelia and Fred Noonan’s miserable deaths on Saipan in Japanese captivity was treated as a forbidden subject by the U.S. government and nearly all establishment media, and the Earhart Truth remains a sacred cow to this day.
Fred Goerner passed away at age 69 on Sept. 13, 1994.
For much more about Fred Goerner’ remarkable achievements, as well as his less well-known blunders, please click here; also see the index of Truth at Last.
JOE KLAAS: Probably the most talented writer of all Earhart researchers, Klaas, with the guidance of his longtime friend Joe Gervais, authored the most controversial — and damaging to the truth — Earhart book of all time, Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery (McGraw-Hill, 1970).
But Klaas accomplished far more in his remarkable life than pen history’s most scandalous Earhart disappearance work. Besides Amelia Earhart Lives, Klaas wrote nine books including Maybe I’m Dead, a World War II novel; The 12 Steps to Happiness; and (anonymously) Staying Clean.
He began his World War II service by flying British Supermarine Spitfires as an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force. After Pearl Harbor, Klaas transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force and fought in the North African invasion of Morocco, as well as the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns, where he was shot down and captured by Arabs who sold him to the Nazis for $20.
Klaas spent 25 months in German prison camps, escaped to be recaptured and worked for the X-Committee that planned “The Great Escape” from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III. The camp was known for two famous prisoner escapes that took place there by tunneling and were depicted in the filmsThe Great Escape (1963) and The Wooden Horse (1950).
Klaas died on Feb. 25, 2016 at his home in Monterey, Calif., at 95.
For much more on Joe Klaas, please click here.
OLIVER KNAGGS: South African writer Oliver Knaggs was hired in 1979 by a film company to join Vincent V. Loomis in the Marshalls and chronicle his search. The Knaggs-Loomis connection is well known among Earhart buffs, but neither Loomis, in Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, nor Knaggs, in his little-known 1983 book, Amelia Earhart: Her last flight mentioned the other by name. In Her last flight, a collector’s item known mainly to researchers, Knaggs recounts his 1979 and ’81 investigations in the Marshalls and Saipan, where his findings strongly supported those of Loomis, despite some unexplained disparities.
Knaggs returned to Mili in 1981 without Loomis and armed with a metal detector in hopes of locating the silver container that the native eyewitness Lijon had described seeing a white man bury in 1937.
Knaggs found something metallic where nothing should have naturally been buried, brought it home to South Africa and had it analyzed by the Metallurgical Department of the University of Cape Town. The results confirmed that “in section the sample revealed what is described as a pin cover, rivet and body of the hinge,” Knaggs wrote. “In general the microstructures [sic] are consistent with a fine, clean low carbon steel . . . indicating that good technology was used in its manufacture. . . . The hinge could have come from something akin to a cash box and could therefore quite easily be the canister to which Lijon had referred.”
Thus Knaggs secured his place among history’s elite Earhart researchers by finding what may well have been the only “hard evidence” yet publicly uncovered. For much more on Oliver Knaggs’ Earhart investigative work, please click here.
Special thanks to Les Kinney, who provided a biography of Knaggs that included the following:
He was born in Pretoria, South Africa on January 22, 1924. He was educated at Kearny College in Natal. Knaggs was a combat veteran of WWII, serving in the Middle East and Italy. Following the war, his writing career blossomed. His articles were published in many of South Africa’s leading magazines.
His radio dramas were regularly featured on the national SABC network. His writing credits of 30 books include Amelia Earhart: Her Last Flight, published in January 1983, 500 short stories, and thousands of magazine articles.
Knaggs died at age 68 on September 8, 1992 in Cape Town, South Africa.
DONALD KOTHERA: Kothera’s significant contributions to the Earhart legacy are among the least known and appreciated by Earhart aficionados. Kothera, a former Navy man stationed on Saipan in 1946, along with “Cleveland Group” associates Ken Matonis, John Gacek, Jack Geschke and Marty Fiorillo, made investigative trips to Saipan in 1967 and ’68, producing important new witness information.
Among them was Anna Diaz Magofna, who claimed to have witnessed the beheading of a “tall, good-looking man with [a] long nose,” a white man who was probably Fred Noonan. Through an interpreter Magofna recalled that as a seven-year-old in 1937, she watched with about five other children as two Japanese soldiers oversaw two white people digging a hole outside a cemetery.
“When the grave was dug, the tall man with the big nose, as she described him, was blindfolded and made to kneel by the grave,” author Joe Davidson wrote in Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969). “His hands were tied behind him. One of the Japanese took a Samurai sword and chopped his head off. The other one kicked him into the grave.”
Magnofa didn’t know what happened to the other white person, whom she didn’t identify as a woman. She fled after watching the beheading, but the experience haunted her for years afterward. “I still remember the American man and how they cut his head off,” she told Kothera.
Four years after Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks shared their memories of the Saipan gravesite dig Marine Captain Tracy Griswold ordered them to do in late July-early August 1944, the Cleveland Group compared the gravesite location information provided by the former Marine privates with Anna Magofna’s harrowing childhood account. The spot Magofna recalled closely corresponded to the one described by Henson and Burks, but the former Marine privates did not return to Saipan to confirm it.
In Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan (First Edition 1969), Texas veterinarian Davidson chronicled the group’s investigations, aided by thousands of feet of film shot by photographer Fiorillo. Overlooked by most researchers, Amelia Earhart Returns offers a wealth of new eyewitness information, in addition to Magofna’s.
End of Part I. Your comments are welcomed.