Did top doctors search for Earhart on 1944 Saipan?

In late October 2017, Ms. Carla Henson, daughter of the late Everett Henson Jr., contacted me for the first time, completely out of the blue.  You will recall Pvt. Henson, who, along with Pvt. Billy Burks, was ordered by Marine Capt. Tracy Griswold to excavate a gravesite several feet outside of the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan in late July or early August 1944.  This incident is chronicled in detail on pages 233-253 in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)

When the pair had removed the skeletal remains of two individuals and deposited them in a large container that Henson later described as a “canister,” Henson asked Griswold what the impromptu grave-digging detail was all about.  Griswold’s reply, “Have you heard of Amelia Earhart?” has echoed down through the decades and continues to reverberate among students of the Earhart disappearance.

To read more about Carla, her father and the Saipan gravesite incident in 1944, please see my Dec. 26, 2017 post, KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga.

This photo of Maria Hortense Clark and Pvt. Everett Henson Jr., at Golden Gate Park in Oakland, Calif., was taken on May 20, 1945, the day of their marriage. “He was done with the Pacific campaigns and stationed at the Presidio teaching ROTC,” Carla Henson, their daughter, wrote.  (Photo courtesy Carla Henson.)

Richard Bergren, 70, a retired naval flight officer with whom I once worked on a story as a Navy civilian at the Navy Internal Relations Activity in Alexandria, Va., in the late 1980s, has recently done some research that sheds more light on the 1944 search for Amelia Earhart on Saipan, and brings more insight to the Griswold, Henson and Burks saga.  I thought some would be interested, and so present his findings forthwith(Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)  

“Did top doctors search for Earhart on 1944 Saipan?”
by Richard Bergren

A number of books and articles have mentioned efforts to locate and recover the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan, as well as on other Pacific Islands.  Most of those attempts were rush jobswhich were conducted with questionable expertise and methods and often under arbitrary time constraints.  If any remains were actually recovered, they have yet to be officially and publicly identified as the bodies of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

Starting in July 1944 with the U.S. takeover of Saipan, and beginning again with renewed interest in the early 1960’s, excavations of potential gravesites were made based on sketchy stories, and human memories which were 25 years old.  Searches for burial sites were made in areas significantly changed since 1937 and World War II.

Eyewitness stories vary widely in details, but all seem to agree that the Japanese held American aviators prisoner and that they buried more than one in the years and months prior to June 1944.

Rather than sort through and evaluate the details of the conflicting eyewitness stories, I wanted to see what might be in World War II era U.S. records regarding the recovery of aviator remains on Saipan in 1944.  This was the first time that the US had access to Saipan since Amelia and Fred were declared missing.

Operation Forager began on 22 February 1944 with U.S. Navy (and later Army Air Force) air strikes carried out on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.  This was in preparation for all out amphibious attacks which began the invasion of Saipan on 10 June 1944.  Fighting on Saipan was savage and it continued even after the island was officially declared secure on 10 July 1944.  Casualties of killed, wounded, and missing were high and the US Army hospital and graves personnel were very busy in the days which followed the fighting.

The largest number of casualties handled over a short period of time by the Central Pacific Area general hospitals occurred following the Saipan, Guam, and Tinian battles,according to the U.S. Army Office of Medical History, Chapter 11These casualties were evacuated from the islands by hospital ship and landed at Kwajalein for care and transshipment to the hospitals on Oahu. These casualties numbered 2,900 during June and July of 1944.”  While U.S. casualties were high, Japanese losses were much higher, totaling close to 30,000 killed on Saipan alone.  As fighting continued sporadically on Saipan in mid July 1944, the invasions of Tinian and Guam had just begun.

Fred Goerner’s early 1960s photo of the plaster angel in Liyang cemetery that served as a key landmark in locating the Devine gravesite on the outskirts of the north side of the cemetery. Everett Henson Jr., and Billy Burks also recognized it as near the spot where they excavated human remains in July 1944 under the direction of Captain Tracy Griswold.   (Photo by Fred Goerner, Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Where do Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fit into this picture?  They had gone missing on July 2 1937, seven years earlier.  Exactly what intelligence the U.S. government may have had prior to the 1944 capture of Saipan is not publicly known, but starting in 1944, a number of Armed Forces personnel (Army, Marine Corps, and Navy) came to learn from various sources that Amelia and Fred had been imprisoned on Saipan, and had met their deaths there.

A number of books mention efforts to locate graves of Amelia and Fred, but the earliest account is probably that of Fred Goerner in his book The Search for Amelia Earhart In it he relates the story told by Marines Everett Henson, Jr. and Billy Burks who claim that they were ordered by a Captain Griswold (USMC) in “late July or early August” 1944 to dig up two graves in or near a civilian cemetery on Saipan in an effort to find the two missing aviators.  Allegedly some bones were found and taken by this Captain Griswold, with no further information regarding their final resolution or destination.

The story may be true, although vague as to exactly when and where the dig took place; unfortunately there seems to be no official resolution to the account because there was no definite confirmation that the remains were those of Amelia and/or Fred.  And no information as to what was done with those alleged remains.

Remains recovery was not normally the job of the US Marine Corps.  It was a task specifically assigned to the US Army Quartermaster Corps, Graves Registration Unit.  In fact, the US Army had established the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan for interment of the US dead who were killed or died of wounds in the recent battle and there was a whole unit of those specially trained Army personnel on Saipan.

A number of Saipan eyewitness statements allude to the burial of aviators on Saipan prior to the June 10, 1944 invasion.  Some of these accounts state that it was a single burial and others say there were two.  Some accounts claim that it was a man and a woman who were so buried.  Seldom, if ever, do those eyewitnesses identify the aviators by name or provide specific information regarding when or where the burial(s) took place.  One Saipan witness states that he was pressed into service to bury an aviator on or about February 23 or 24, 1944.  This would most likely have been a U.S. Navy pilot killed in the opening air attacks of Operation Forager.

World War II historian Ted Darcy has compiled a website featuring U.S. aviation casualties.  Like many other such efforts, it is not a complete listing of casualties, but it does contain a lot of very interesting information.  Through his efforts, some previously unidentified/unknown servicemen, killed in World War II,  have been positively identified and returned home for burial.  

One veteran so identified was Navy Lieutenant Woodie McVay, a Naval Aviator killed on Feb. 22, 1944 while flying a mission with his wingman, Lt. (junior grade) Arthur Davis off the carrier USS Yorktown.  Both men were lost over Saipan and initially declared missing in action.

Here is an excerpt from Ted Darcy’s website, Pacific Wrecks, about the effort which led to the 2009 eventual identification of Lt. McVay:

On July 17, 1944 during the American occupation of Saipan, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col Richard C. Wadsworth (both U.S. Army Medical Corps) visited the Catholic Cemetery at Garapan to recover the remains of three aviators that had been reported buried there on February 23 or 24 1944.  The remains were exhumed and taken to the 369th Station Hospital for an autopsy.

During that examination the following findings were made: One body was clothed in a one-piece, greenish-khaki coverall type of uniform; the buttons on the uniform contained the words U.S. Navy; a plain silver ring was found on the left hand; and on the underwear, marked in two places appeared the name W. L. McVay.  It was determined that the injuries were caused as a result of an aircraft accident, not a war crime.

  Lt. Woody McVay posthumously earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart. 

Unfortunately, the U.S. Army doctors had no records with which to compare their findings in an effort to identify this victim.  The body was removed to the 27th Division Cemetery and buried as Unknown (Saipan X-35) in plot 3, row 11, grave 1132.  In March 1948, these remains were moved to a mausoleum on Saipan.  During October 1948, the remains were buried as an unknown at the Manila American Cemetery for final burial as unknown X-35 in section F, row 12, grave 2.

Lt. McVay was officially declared dead on Jan. 15, 1946.  He posthumously earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), Air Medal and Purple Heart. 

Through the research of Ted Darcy, it was found that the height and dental records of unknown X-35 matched with MIA/KIA McVay.  The results were forwarded to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii.  In February 2009, the grave in Manila was opened and the remains shipped to the Central Identification Lab, where they arrived on Feb. 25, 2009.  The identification was confirmed in May 2009, and Elizabeth Huff was notified that X-35 was positively identified as her grandfather, Lt. Woodie McVay.  

McVay’s remains were transported to Mobile, Ala., for internment.  On July 13 2009, McVay was laid to rest at his existing memorial marker, next to his parents in the Pine Crest Cemetery at Mobile, Ala.  U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings published a lengthy story on McVay by historian Bruce M. Petty in its June 2015 issue.  (End of Darcy excerpt.)

Undated photo of the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan.

I located more information on both Army Doctors, Col. Elliott G. Colby and Lt. Col. Richard C.  Wadsworth.  Colby was the commanding officer of the 369th (Army) Station Hospital on Saipan in July 1944. Wadsworth was also a medical doctor and pathologist, possibly attached to the same command, but I have not found him on any rosters to prove that.   Dr. Colby died in 1960 in San Diego, CA, and Dr. Wadsworth died in 1980 in Bangor, Maine — both after long and distinguished medical careers.

Goerner mentions an unnamed Department of Commerce person who contacted him in 1964, and suggested that an unnamed medical doctor may have taken remains to Washington D.C.  Goerner associated that information with the name Griswold from his previous research and located a doctor by that name who had served on Saipan in 1944.  Goerner did not specify, but he was likely an Army doctor, since it was an Army hospital on Saipan.

[Editor’s note: In a March 1968 letter to Fred Goerner, Tracy Griswold informed him that he had learned from his brother-in-law about a Major E.K. Griswold, of Santa Anna, Calif., who served in the Pacific Theater during World War II.  It is further recalled that this particular Major Griswold spent time in the Pacific during World War II,Tracy Griswold wrote.  “This becomes rather remarkable in as much as you were to1d, as I recall it, by Marine Corp headquarters that there was not another Griswold in the Pacific Theatre [sic] during World War II, in the Marine Corp. [sic]  I was sure that you would want to contact this party, particularly since he is in California in the event that there might possibly be a further clue to the Saipan incident.”  Nothing further is contained in Goerner’s Griswold file.]

A report by an Army medical officer on conditions in the Marianas immediately following the U.S. takeover described the huge amount of medical work being done on Saipan (see above).  The hospital dealt with hundreds of surgeries and hundreds of other treatments daily — and yet the locating and disinterment of three graves by these two high ranking Army doctors took a higher precedence.

It might follow that the remains of the other two aviators disinterred with McVay’s body on 17 July 1944 were also buried as unknowns in the 27th Division Cemetery on Saipan — and might have followed a similar documented path to Manila either as Saipan Unknowns” or under names yet to be found.  If they were NOT buried in the 27th Division Cemetery, what became of them and why?

This photo appeared in a Washington Times story of June 16, 2010, with the following caption: “Ted Darcy, of Fall River, Mass., is surrounded by documents on his research into the identity of soldiers missing in action from WWII, while at the National Records Center in Suitland, Md. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin).” 

Whether or not the other two bodies were were Amelia Earhart and/or Fred Noonan is not stated in anything I have seen to date.  It is a possibility.  Regardless of who those two bodies were, it seems likely that they were disinterred and autopsied by these two medical doctors on the premise that they might be Amelia and Fred.

What are the chances that these two high ranking medical officers (Colby and Wadsworth) with their credentials and qualifications would just happen to be attached to a forward area army field hospital, temporary cemetery, or refugee camp?  And on their own initiative go digging up a civilian cemetery?

The July 17, 1944 disinterment and subsequent autopsy begs several questions:

–  Why was it so important to send two high ranking officers to a civilian cemetery at a time when the service of medical officers was so critical?  Even though Saipan had been declared “secure” a few days before, fighting was continuing, and there were thousands of wounded military and civilians to care for. 

–  Who ordered these disinterments?  

–  How was intelligence of their location obtained?

The stated purpose at the time was that they were looking for downed military aviators, yet even when evidence obtained from the grave indicated one body was that of Navy Lieutenant McVay, it was stated that the doctors did not have Navy information to compare/confirm his identity and so he was buried as an Unknown.  Clearly they were NOT looking for him specifically, nor did they identify the other two bodies as being military aviators.

The autopsy report goes out of its way to state that Unknown X35 (McVay) died as a result of injuries received in a crash rather than due to a war crime.”  This indicates that they may have been looking for bodies of Americans taken prisoner, tortured, and killed during a war crime — perhaps by beheading?

Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard Bergren plays “Taps at the St. Thomas Church Cemetery in Croom, Md., on Memorial Day 2020.  Bergren, who retired in 1994 after 22 years as a naval flight officer, places flags on about 70 Veteran graves every Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  (Photo by Jackie Wheeler.) 

With all of the work to be done on Saipan in the way of securing the Island, caring for the wounded, bringing in supplies, and building hospitals, roads and airports, why was this disinterment of such high importance?  It is highly doubtful that the two senior medical doctors on Saipan would on their own initiative go digging in a civilian cemetery.

(Editor’s note:  I’m not an expert on the location of all the cemeteries on Saipan, either in 1944 or now,  but the Catholic Cemetery discussed in this piece was not the same place as the Liyang Cemetery on Saipan, as far as I can tell.  Liyang was south, outside of Garapan, while the Catholic cemetery was within the city limits, according to Everett Henson Jr., Billy Burks, Anna Diaz Magofna and others who knew of these events.)

What became of the other two aviators disinterred at the same time as Unknown X35 (Lt. McVay)?  In light of the careful cemetery record keeping of the Army Quartermaster Corps (as seen in the McVay case) it might follow that the other two bodies were also autopsied and buried in the 27th (Army) Division Cemetery as unknowns and later also transferred to Manila for reburial.  

Note:  There were a number (perhaps as many as 20) of U.S. Navy and Air Force aviators declared Missing in Action (MIA) during and prior to the Saipan invasion.  Except for Lt. McVay, none of them have ever been recovered and identified.

It is quite possible that the other two “aviators” were also military pilots.   If so, they were never identified as such.

Could it be that the two doctors had been specifically tasked to locate the bodies of Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart?  (End of Richard Bergren’s piece.)

Richard Bergren retired from the U.S. Navy in 1994 after 22 years as a naval flight officer (NFO)He flew in the Lockheed P-3B Orion, the Lockheed EC-130 Hercules, and numerous types of trainer planes.  Piloted Pioneer unmanned air vehicles (UAV’s) from the Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS Shreveport (LPD-12).  He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from Troy State University, Troy, Ala.  He is a graduate of the Naval War College and took post graduate courses in Japanese, German, and history at various colleges.

He is a military historian, writer, teacher, musician and competitive rifleman.  He’s married, the father of six and grandfather of 12.

41 responses

  1. Fascinating, but adding more mystery upon mystery- it never seems to end. Multiple burial sites and the passage of time have made this mystery almost unsolvable.

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    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      Dave,

      Getting to the full truth will be difficult, but not impossible. To borrow the tagline from “The X-Files” television series, “The Truth Is Out There.” Perseverance is the key.

      As for Captain Tracy Griswold and the exhumation of remains on Saipan, we need to know what Naval Intelligence knew at that time, and how they came to know it.

      All best,

      William

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  2. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    Marine Privates Everett Henson, Jr., and Billy Burks’ simple, straightforward account is in stark contrast to Captain Tracy Griswold, who “danced around like a shortstop after a hot ground ball,” as Fred Goerner put it. Griswold’s further dissembling, evasions, and clearly evident discomfort at being questioned about recovering the alleged remains of AE and FN on Saipan are big indicators of deception. Griswold was a man with something to hide.

    All best,

    William

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    1. William,

      You are right about Griswold….and his letter to Goerner in 1968 is almost humorous; he is implying the “other” Griswold may be the one he is looking for, yet he confirmed his own connection to the Griswold Stove Manufacturing Company (as remembered by Henson and Burks) previously to Goerner himself.

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      1. William H. Trail

        Tom,

        Griswold wasn’t fooling anybody!

        All best,

        William

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  3. A few comments in no particular order:
    The Catholic Cemetery is indeed the Liyang Cemetery.

    Woody McVey could have been identified in a matter of hours. Blame Army incompetence for this travesty.

    The two medical doctors were directed by Army JAG officers to assist them in performing autopsies and identify the remains of the aviator(s) – nothing more.

    The JAG interest was solely to determine if the Japanese were responsible for atrocities that could be used as a indictable war crime offense.

    “The other two aviators” disinterred were not Earhart and Noonan. They were naval aviators shot down during the softening of Saipan a few days before the invasion on June 15th.

    Amelia Earhart was buried outside the Liyang Cemetery about 40 yards south of where Fred Goerner was digging in 1960-61.

    Tom Devine kept getting the old cemetery near the Garapan prison confused with the Liyang Cemetery

    “There were a number (perhaps as many as 20) of U.S. Navy and Air Force aviators declared Missing in Action (MIA) during and prior to the Saipan invasion. ”
    This is the first time I have heard of these figures. I don’t believe the number 20 is correct. Its more like seven. Four came off of one plane.

    With all this said, there is a nexus here that can be used with solving the Earhart/Noonan grave dig by Burks and Henson.

    Les Kinney

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    1. Thanks Les, it’s always good when you straighten things out for us. I have just one question, about the cemeteries, because I want to be sure I’m right in any future references. And instead of having to scramble around through books for the reference, which might come from somewhere else, I’d appreciate knowing the source of your expertise. Also, is the Mount Carmel Cemetery, also known as Chalan Kanoa Cemetery, the same cemetery we’re talking about? Since I’ve never been to Saipan, I’m truly at a loss and can only repeat what I think I’ve read.

      Thanks,
      Mike

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike, I am the source of this information.
    Since 2016, I have taken four trips to Saipan, entirely related to a few interviews but primarily to identify and confirm the cemetery questions and dig up Earhart’s gravesite. I spent about 120 hours or so at the Liyang Cemetery and maybe another 25 hours at the Garapan Prison.

    The first order of business was getting the layout and trying to determine if the Kothera gravesite was the same one dug up by Burks and Henson in 1944. Using the old Kothera photographs and film, Devine and Goerner’s sketches, files I obtained at the National Archives, statements from Anna, and from information you supplied in “Amelia Earhart, The Truth at Last.” I am convinced of the exact spot where Earhart and Noonan were buried.

    It’s easy to be mistaken about the location. I made it a point to talk to several old locals, and talk to the Catholic priests about the cemeteries. Surprisingly, no one we talked to including Dave Sablan, could even recall the Liyang Cemetery, and were of little help.
    Initially, I tried to figure it out from survey maps, video from Don Kothera, and old oral histories.

    When I thought I knew the approximate location, I asked Tony Gochar if he would travel to Saipan from Guam and see if he could pinpoint it. Tony is a professional. He indeed pinpointed the cemetery and shot a bunch of photos for me. The cemetery had been abandoned sine the war. It’s now a jungle. As the elders had died, so had its location, although it was hiding almost in plain sight. Thankfully, it had not been impacted by the tremendous growth on Saipan.

    A few months later, I met Tony on Saipan and I started to view the cemetery as a crime scene location. Using the information, I previously developed, it didn’t take long to find the exact spot where Earhart and Noonan were buried.

    The Mt Carmel Cemetery is the new Catholic cemetery located near the Mt. Carmel grade and high school at Chalon Kanoa. It’s along the western shore several miles further south of the old Liyang Cemetery. The 18th Marine Regiment which included Captain Griswold, Burks, and Henson were bivouacking at Chalon Kanoa when the orders came in to find Earhart and Noonan’s grave at Liyang.

    Les Kinney

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    1. Thanks so much, Les. This is indeed impressive research and we greatly appreciate it, as well as Tony Gochar’s help. I know that the History Channel program included a short bit about your gravesite search, but they didn’t really spend much time with it. Even without the research you report now, it wasn’t too difficult to estimate that the site reported by Henson and Burks, when compared with the site described by Anna Diaz Magofna, was most probably the same one. I stated that without hesitation in Truth at Last, and you didn’t correct me then.

      Isn’t there at least one more major cemetery on Saipan?

      Mike

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    2. Les,

      Just received an email from Marie Castro, in which she says:

      Your last blog takes me back to my early childhood.

      “Concerning the Cemeteries; there were two cemeteries before WWII, the Catholic Cemetery in Garapan and Liyang Cemetery on the south. Mt. Carmel Cemetery is the present Cemetery today.

      During the Japanese Administration I believe between 1938-39, the Catholic Garapan Cemetery was removed to Liyang area out of the city limit on the southern part. People were quite disturbed of the Japanese order, however living under the Japanese authority the local people had to submit to such order and transferred their family departed remains to the Liyang Cemetery.”

      I thought I had heard that Liyang and the Catholic Cemetery were different cemeteries at one time, somewhere along the line. I think Marie’s email is helpful in that regard.

      In a new message from Marie Oct. 4, she wrote:

      “Liyang was our only cemetery after the transfer of the remains before the war. However, as far as AE and FN’s grave, I have doubts on the grave.

      When the fliers were brought to Saipan, later Fred Noonan was taken by the military vehicle no one knew whatever happened to him under the Japanese military.

      Any European or Russian living on Saipan were executed even locals who looked like Europeans were executed before the war. Those who witnessed the incident and knew about the fliers would come up with the AE and FN grave. However, I will rest on Matilde, Joaquina and Tomokane who were the closes personal witnesses.”

      Mike

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  5. Regarding the other two bodies recovered (the naval aviators as indicated by Les)….there is a document dated 8/1/44 written by Major Owen R Durham regarding an “Investigation of Atrocities” which tells their story.

    On 7/17/44 Col. Colby and Col. Wadsworth were led to the cemetery south of Garapan by four Chamorros (and several other people including a person named Neratus) to the gravesite where they buried Lt McVay on 2/23/44. Only his body was removed.

    The group was then led by Neratus to the location of the other two bodies (American flyers…both men) which were lying in the courtyard of the Garapan Jail and were covered with sand. Neratus had been a prisoner at Garapan and first saw the flyers on June 3rd or 4th. On June 13th there was an American air raid during which one of the flyers was apparently killed during the strafing (his autopsy revealed a .50 caliber projectile in his back). A leather jacket with the name “J.J. Perry” was found in his cell.

    The other flyer was taken outside with his hands tied and was partially decapitated by Kinashi (“Chief of Prison”); Neratus was told to burn the flyers bodies.

    https://www.fold3.com/image/27417345

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    1. Tom,

      Thanks, this is really getting interesting, but confusing as well, at least to me. When I click on the link left, it says I need to subscribe and won’t let me see it. Can you copy and past this 8/1/44 document you cite in your message? Would really like to see it, so I can put all these recent revelations (again, to me at least) together into a coherent picture.

      All Best,
      Mike

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      1. I was afraid of that; I will send it to you.

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    2. I could not see the linked source. Just who were Neratus and Kinashi? And what became of them? Obviously Naratus was involved if he buried the two aviators. What else did he know and say about them? Did he bury others?

      The normal procedure for Japanese murder-executions was for the victim to dig his own grave, then kneel before it blindfolded. He would then either be shot or beheaded. It was considered bad form for the executioner to require more than one swipe with his sword. This narrative sounds like a screw-up wannabe committing a murder out of rage.

      Neratus stating that he first saw the two aviator POW’s on 3 or 4 June 1944 (if he was accurate and truthful) would help to nail down possible identifications of these two men. At that point in time, the US Navy had lost only about 10 aviators. It was not until 8 June when the first of many more Naval Aviators went Missing in Action (MIA) in renewed air attacks on Saipan.

      I could not find any US Army Air Force aviators MIA over Saipan or known to be held there as POW’s, but the 7th Air Force did lose a B-25 with a crew of 7 north of Ponape on 26 March 1944. That crew was seen to have survived an ocean ditching and entering their life raft. Subsequent Search and Rescue missions failed to locate these men and it is possible that they were taken prisoner by the Japs (and potentially transported to Saipan).

      Was Kinashi in the Japanese military, or was he a civilian official in charge of the jail? Was he subsequently captured and charged with war crimes?

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  6. Les, your kind comments are greatly appreciated. The jungles in this part of the world quickly cover over the landscape. When I first got to the cemetery area I was flabbergasted to learn that the cemetery was about 50 feet from where I stopped on the dirt road. The tremendous effort of working with you in the tropical heat and humidity to locate the exact site of the burial area of Earhart and Noonan was truly a labor of love.

    Mike, thank you also for the compliment. Keep pursuing the Truth.

    Best to all, Tony

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    1. I apologize for using this forum as a message board. Tony, my email is the same, could you send me a message. I’ll fill in in on the latest.

      Les Kinney

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  7. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    On page 239 in TTAL, there is a passage which reads, “Bodies of Navy fliers? Maybe, but why would Griswold mention, of all people in the world, AE’s name to Henson and Burks?” Yes, why indeed?

    It’s as simple as Captain Griswold wanted to tell the truth.

    There is a particular method of interviewing and interrogation that holds as a basic tenet that “Everyone wants to tell the truth to everyone else.” Secrets are a burden. It is human nature for people to want to unburden themselves, to “come clean” if you will. Everyone, even the worst among us, still at some level want to be at peace with God, their fellow men, and the world. Those of us of the Catholic faith especially know the sense of peace and relief that comes from making a good confession followed by absolution.

    During the excavation of the graves, Private Henson asked Captain Griswold, “what was behind the whole thing?” and Griswold replied with a question — “Have you ever heard of Amelia Earhart?” Replying to a question with a question is usually an evasion, but this particular evasive answer also carried with it a stunning admission. Is it possible that Capt. Griswold sought to lighten his load and share the burden of his secret with not just another human being, but with men who by virtue of Griswold’s authority and their discipline Griswold knew would maintain the secret at his command? He was careful to admonish Henson and Burks to never speak of it.

    Given the nature of combat in the Pacific, could Griswold have thought that Henson and Burks might even be killed in action soon enough anyway — a sort of confession to the condemned who’d die and take the secret with them to the grave?

    I believe that Capt. Griswold rationalized that he really didn’t betray a secret entrusted to him, that he revealed nothing, but simply asked Pvt. Henson a harmless question. We all know people who think this way.

    All best,

    William

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    1. “During the excavation of the graves, Private Henson asked Captain Griswold, “what was behind the whole thing?” and Griswold replied with a question — “Have you ever heard of Amelia Earhart?” ”

      Later in life, Griswold said a lot more than that.

      Les Kinney

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      1. William H. Trail

        Les,

        From what I’ve read, Griswold was less than fully forthcoming and truthful with Fred Goerner and a number of others regarding the exhumation of remains (alleged to be AE and FN) on Saipan. I, as well as others, would appreciate hearing your take on what Griswold said in later life.

        All best,

        William

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      2. Unfortunately, I can’t. I’m trying to finish my book, I’d rather keep some surprises for it. That’s why I haven’t answered a few questions from you guys.

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      3. William H. Trail

        Les,

        Fair enough. I eagerly await your book.

        All best,

        William

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      4. Les, will the book include a follow-up on the Jabor Harbor photo?

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      5. Yes, and more evidence from the Marshall Islands.

        Les Kinney

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  8. It seems very unlikely that Judge Advocate General officers (military lawyers) would have been in a position to order (or even request) the two most senior Medical officers on Saipan to leave their hospital duties during this intense time simply to fish for evidence in the unlikely event of a trial for Saipan based Japanese officers – most of whom were dead by 17 July 1944.

    Is there any indication that such missions were carried out in other areas of the Pacific while fighting was still taking place? Digging anywhere on Saipan would have been a very dangerous business considering the amount of munitions which had been dropped there in the previous weeks. Something more than following up on a story from a Chamorro prisoner (if he was even questioned at the time) must have been the motivation for such a high level and potentially dangerous enterprise.

    The story of the burial of these three “aviators” is significant in that it shows exactly what the Japanese military DID do with enemy aviators. So it follows that if Amelia and Fred did meet their deaths on Saipan, theirs might have been a similar fate and they very likely would have been buried somewhere nearby.

    As I have stated, even if Amelia and Fred were NOT among the bodies disinterred on or around 17 July 1944, it is possible that the reason for the disinterments and autopsies were done was in an effort to find them.

    I would like to see the autopsy reports referred to – and find out what became of the other two bodies. If they were military aviators, perhaps they too could be located, identified and brought home.

    Regarding the name J. J. Berry; I had seen that name in a second hand account before I wrote the story, but could not find anyone by that name in US military casualty records -except for an enlisted sailor who died in September 1945. If the only association with that name was a flight jacket NOT found with a body, I would consider any such “identification” tenuous at best. The flight jacket style and markings would have at least indicated if it was USN or US Army Air Force. It is possible that the unknown murder victim had borrowed the jacket from a fellow aviator – or that another person left it in the jail.

    My estimate of as many as 20 aviators killed on Saipan was actually conservatively low. The published lists of aircraft losses do not often include all the specifics found in each missing aircrew report – they only state a target island or general area where the aircraft (and crew) was lost. Many who were listed as having gone missing over Saipan, may actually have ditched, crashed, or bailed out over open ocean near Saipan. Some may have bailed out over Saipan and were taken prisoner.

    There were actually over a hundred Naval Aviators lost in the air war over Saipan, Tinian, Guam and nearby Marianas Islands. They were declared Missing in Action, and by 1946, all were officially declared dead. Of all those lost, only Lt. Woodie McVay has been identified (in 2009). If remains of others were recovered, they remain unidentified.

    Records of Naval air losses exist in a number of formats and locations. Unfortunately, those records are often incomplete and confusing.

    Naval carrier based opening air attacks for Operation Forager began against Saipan and Tinian on 21 February and continued through 23 February 1944.

    During those initial February 1944 strikes, at least ten Navy men were lost (Nine over Saipan and one over Tinian). If the two unknown bodies disinterred on 17 July 1944 were actually buried as early as “23 or 24 February”, they could well be one of these aviators.

    Here is my list of those who went missing 21-23 February 1944:

    ——————————————————-

    Benjamin F. Farber, Jr. LTJG, USNR, File Number O-145307, From New York, MIA 21 February 1944, F6F-3 off USS Cowpens

    Lewis A. Matthews, Jr. Ensign, USNR, File Number O-157756, From Georgia, MIA 22 February 1944, F6F-3 off USS Essex

    Sidney W. McGurk, LTJG, USNR, File Number O-114532, From Indiana, MIA 23 February 1944, F6F-3 off USS Essex

    Robert W. Bice, Ensign, USNR File Number O-263482, From Pennsylvania, MIA 22 February 1944, F6F-3 off USS Bunker Hill

    James H. Forman, LTJG, USNR, File Number O-145957, From Mississippi, MIA 22 February 1944, F6F-3 off USS Bunker Hill. Lost over Tinian.

    Clark R. Williams, LTJG, USNR, File Number O-129995, From Michigan, MIA 22 February 1944, TBM1C off USS Essex (along with two enlisted air crewmen whose names I do not have).

    Woodie L. McVay, Jr. Lieutenant, USNR, File Number O-099808, From Alabama, MIA 22 February 1944, F6F-3 off USS Yorktown (identified 2009)

    Arthur F. Davis, LTJG, USNR, File Number O-145711, From Texas, MIA 22 February 1944, F6F-3 off USS Yorktown

    Source: https://aviationarchaeology.com/src/USN/LLFeb44.htm

    ——————————————————————-

    In the days and months which followed the Navy’s opening attacks, the US Army 7th Air Force also conducted bombing attacks on Saipan, using their long range B-24 Bombers, which carried a crew of nine.

    The war in the Pacific kept the Navy carrier force busy in other operating areas until 8 June 1944, at which time a much more aggressive campaign against the Marianas was waged. During June 1944, over 100 Naval Aviators and Navy Air Crewmen were lost in the Marianas.

    See this link for a detailed listing of losses:

    https://aviationarchaeology.com/src/USN/LLJun44.htm

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    1. I stated above that I did not have the names of the enlisted Navy Aircrewmen who went missing on 22 February 1944 along with LTJG Clark R. Williams in their TBM Avenger. I have since found them. Here was the crew which was lost. They were all declared Missing in Action at the time and after the war determined/declared to have been Killed in Action.

      LTJG Clark R. Williams WILLIAMS, 129995, Torpedo Squadron 9 (USS Essex), February 21/22, 1944, (CasCode6222), declared dead January 15, 1946.

      Eugene J. Keller, AMM1, 3004771, Torpedo Squadron 9 (USS Essex), Marianas attack, February 21/22, 1944, (CasCode6222), declared dead January 15, 1946.

      Paul T. Garrison, ARM2, 4061785, Torpedo Squadron 9 (USS Essex), Marianas attack, February 21/22, 1944, (CasCode6222), declared dead January 15, 1946.

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  9. Much has been written about Tracy Griswold (30 March 1918 – 12 January 1997) and a remains recovery mission that he is said to have directed on Saipan in 1944. According to Marines Burke and Henson, they were told by a Captain Griswold, USMC to dig in or near a cemetery and that they found some skeletal remains which were turned over to Captain Griswold. Many years later. they identified a photo of Tracy Griswold of Erie, PA as the Captain.

    As has been stated by others, Tracy Griswold admitted to having been stationed on Saipan during the time in question, but denied ever having conducted any exhumations of remains.

    Reportedly, he maintained a one and a half inch thick file on Amelia Earhart in his place of business in Erie, PA. That file would be a very interesting one to read.

    I have found some discrepancies in Tracy Griswold’s story as told in “Truth at Last” and “Search”.

    First is that the company Griswold’s family was associated with was never called “The Griswold Stove Manufacturing Company”. It had a number of different names in later years, but it was originally called “The Griswold Manufacturing Company” and they made high quality (and today collectable) cast iron products. Some of their wares were made for cooking purposes, but they did not make stoves.

    Second, it was stated that Tracy Griswold had been a Captain assigned to Intelligence with the 18th Marines, Second Division on Saipan in 1944. According to Fred Goerner, he retired from the United States Marine Corps Reserve as a Major in 1963. While, Tracy Griswold may have indeed served on Saipan in the capacity stated, he apparently did NOT retire from the USMCR. There was, however, another man named Major Edmund K. Griswold (born 1921) who retired in May 1963 from the Marine Corps Reserve and he is listed in the official Retired Officer Registers at least as l October 1978. No such record exists for Tracy Griswold.

    At some point, Tracy Griswold learned of this other Griswold, and called Goerner to suggest that he might be the person sought.

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    1. The Griswold Manufacturing Company did make stoves, albeit pots and pans were their specialty. it was a big facility, several buildings, one took up more than a city block.

      Griswold was in the 18th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, an engineering battalion. Intelligence was a peripheral duty. However he was trained as an intelligence specialist and attended intelligence schools. Most likely his unit was chosen to dig up the grave simply because it concerned well – engineering and digging, and all this occurred within the 2nd Marine Division.

      Griswold did retire from the Marine Reserves in 1963. (I reviewed most of his personnel jacket.)

      There was another Griswold in the Pacific theatre. I believe that Griswold was assigned to China and had some affiliation with OSS.

      You are correct about Tracy Griswold trying to pass this off on the “other Griswold.”
      More importantly, how would Tracy Griswold known about the other Griswold in 1964/5, unless someone in Washington, D.C. told him of the other Griswold. He would neve have been able to find that kind of information out at that time on his own.

      Les Kinney

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      1. There is much to question and ponder when it comes to Tracy Griswold and his connection to the Amelia Earhart story.

        Because all commissioned officers in the US military receive their commissions from Congress, there is a very strict accounting required. Every two years, Registers (books) are published which contain all the names of active duty officers, and a separate set contain all the names of living retired officers. The Registers list both Regular and Reserve Officers and they are very complete and correct.

        In the years between 1963 (when Tracy Griswold was supposed to have retired from the US Marine Corps Reserve) and 1978 (that last Retired Register I checked) there is no listing for Tracy Griswold on the rolls of the Retired Officers. Only Major Edmund K. Griswold is listed in them.

        It is a major discrepancy that his name has never been listed in these registers if in fact he retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a commissioned officer. I wonder about this continued omission.

        These Registers are available for the public to see at various research level libraries throughout the country. There is a complete set of them for all services at the Nimitz Library at the US Naval Academy.

        So it is theoretically possible that someone could have seen the listing of Edmund K. Griswold in the 1964 Register (when his name first appeared) and passed this information on to Tracy Griswold – but very unlikely. More likely, he was tipped off to this by someone at Headquarters USMC who was familiar with his case regarding Amelia Earhart.

        And how is it that the Headquarters, USMC came up with his service information so quickly for Goerner? Having worked personally as a Navy Manpower Personnel subspecialist at the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) which was in the same Pentagon Annex as HQ USMC, I know that this sort of information was not readily available without a high level request search of individual personnel records maintained at the National Military Personnel Command archives in St. Louis, MO.

        It seems likely also that Tracy Griswold was contacted by USMC officials (or other government officials) about Goerner’s investigation before they turned Griswold’s name and service information over to Goerner.

        Tracy Griswold went out of his way to deny ever having conducted any search for remains on Saipan even to the point of suggesting that “the other Griswold” may have been the guy Goerner was interested in.

        There is also the case of a third “Griswold”. Goerner claimed to have located a Dr. Griswold (not a Marine, but probably Army Medical Corps) who was assigned to Saipan in 1944, but that Griswold also stated that he knew nothing of a search for Amelia Earhart’s remains.

        A business associate of Tracy Griswold claimed to have seen a thick file that Griswold maintained concerning Amelia Earhart. It could provide some interesting clues to this case. It is possible that Griswold’s son might have that file today.

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  10. Richard, I am not sure where you’re going with this.

    Goerner told Marine Headquarters in 1964 he believed there was a Marine officer named “Griswold” involved with the disinterment of Earhart and Noonan’s grave on Saipan. Between that time, and Goerner meeting with the Marines in the spring of 1965, Marine headquarters identified Tracy Griswold from a search of personnel records in St. Louis. However, they did not give this information to Goerner until pressed.

    Yes, Marine headquarters contacted and spoke with Griswold and corresponded with him before Goerner had an opportunity to contact Griswold.

    I attempted to search Griswold’s records at St. Louis and was initially denied because it didn’t meet the 62 year rule for release. I filed an FOIA, was denied, and then filed an appeal. I can assure you that Tracy Griswold served in the USMC Reserves until 1963. There is nothing in Griswold military service jacket relating to the topic at hand except for corroborating commands, units, and places served.

    The file reported being seen but never reviewed by the business associate has never been seen. We have to take his word that it existed. Griswold’s family denied having knowledge of it to me on several occasions. There is one family member that probably knows the truth about Tracy Griswold’s grave digging episode, but that person “ain’t talking.”

    Les Kinney

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    1. Requesting records from the National Military Personnel Records Center (NMPRC) can be very frustrating. I have on occasion needed to request a copy of a page DD-214 (summary of service) for the purpose of requesting military funeral honors or headstones. I have encountered every idiotic excuse under the sun for why they couldn’t do this, such as me not having the dead veteran’s permission or me not being the dead veteran in question. For one recent funeral, I had to send in the request three times, and each time I got a completely different reply of refusal. In the end, they finally came through with the needed document when the company that owned the original funeral home got involved.

      The “62 year rule” is a new one on me. I wonder if the person who dreamed that one up got a special award for it. I was recently refused a supporting document needed to request a headstone for a sailor who died during World War I (102 years ago) for some unstated reason. Fortunately, the VA accepted alternate records from the state.

      The whole story about Burks, Henson, and Griswold has too many accurate details and confirmations to be disregarded simply on the denials of Griswold. It seems that he did have a very deep interest in the story and yet did everything possible to deny his involvement.

      If he did, in fact, retrieve and remove human remains from the cemetery, it would seem likely that they would have been presented to the same doctors (Col. Colby and Lt. Col. Wadsworth) at the Army Hospital, Saipan for autopsy to determine if they actually were those of Fred and Amelia. If determined to be military, then a transfer to the Graves Registration unit would have followed – and a paper trail of records would result.

      If this was actually a mission directed from higher authority to locate and retrieve the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, they would have wanted to make absolutely certain that they were the correct remains before transporting them to the states – rather than just accepting any bones taken from a cemetery full of bones. And if the JAG officers on Saipan were so interested in uncovering Japanese atrocities and war crimes, they would have also been very keen on having these remains autopsied and identified. A record of such an autopsy would have been made. A record might also exist in JAG files.

      One has to consider Tracy Griswold’s motivation in denying his involvement in such a mission. If he was acting under orders, he could be prosecuted for revealing classified information. Or, if higher authority denied that he was acting under orders, he could be accused of desecrating graves in a civilian cemetery. It would have been a no-win situation for him, and he may have considered denial as his best and only course of action.

      It is also possible that he was misidentified by Burks and Henson after so many years. Could Goerner have influenced their identification in the way that he presented the name and later the photo to them?

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      1. I believe the identification was set in concrete with Henson’s knowledge of the “Griswold Stove Manufacturing Company” (even if he incorrectly used the word “Stove” in the title) and Griswold acknowledged his family connection to Goerner.

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  11. Griswold wasn’t misidentified. Burks and Henson hadn’t communicated since the war twenty years earlier. Yet, they told identical accounts: they independently picked Griswold out of a photo lineup, they recalled his association with the Griswold Manufacturing Company, they were all in the same unit (2nd Bat. 18th Marines), at Saipan, at the same time.

    All files at the National Personnel Record Center are archived and assessible after 62 years. Prior to 62 years, they can only be accessed by a FOIA which give you limited information. FOIA’s are time consuming, and lately, NARA, (the center is part of the National Archives) can take months or even years before they respond even though the law calls for them to answer within 20 days. I have personally visited the National Personnel Record Center on four occasions. Unfortunately they suffered a major fire in 1973 and millions of records were damaged or destroyed. It’s a hit or miss depending upon the records being sought.

    Griswold motivation in denying his involvement was simply the Marines told him him not to cooperate. Most likely they inferred or directly said the matter remains classified. I have correspondence to that effect. Whoever gave the order for the disinterment wanted this matter secret. Few people knew about it. It did not go through he normal chain of command. Even 2nd Marine Division G-2 Intelligence officers knew nothing about it.

    The Army was not involved, but you raised a good point. Those Army surgeons who conducted the earlier autopsies could have examined these remains and made some sort of preliminary findings. However, because of the distrust of the Army by the Marines, (especially on Saipan) and the need to keep this mission a secret, there wouldn’t have been a chance in hell the Marines would have involved Army personnel.

    Those orders came down to the CO of the Fifth Amphibious Corps from Washington. Sadly, Goerner missed a golden opportunity when he did not grab and interview Holland (Mad Dog) Smith, and Tommy Watson before they died. Goerner could have also asked Griswold for the name of the CO of the 2nd Bat., 18th Marines That officer didn’t die until the 80’s. What a blunder.

    Goerner continued to investigate the Earhart disappearance after his book was published but never persisted in pursuing the Griswold grave digging matter. Maybe because he became too friendly with Griswold and began to believe his lies.

    Les Kinney

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  12. After his continued investigation, Goerner concluded that Tracy Griswold was NOT the person who conducted the dig for remains on Saipan. Why he came to that conclusion, is a mystery, all info to the contrary considered.

    Henson, when first interviewed, stated that a Captain Griswold (first name not known) directed him and Burks in the cemetery dig. He did not know much about Griswold and stated that he was NOT assigned to their Battalion (Henson had a complete roster from that time).

    Burks did not recall the name of the officer but thought he was a Captain or a Major. He only picked the name “Griswold” after Goerner offered it as a possibility. Burks did corroborate much of what Henson had told Goerner about the dig, but differed in details.

    Goerner could not get Griswold to provide a photo for Henson and Burks to identify by the time his book went to press in 1966. It was not until 1969 that Burks saw and identified a photo of Tracy Griswold – tentatively at first, saying “he was tall and spare, like this one”.

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  13. Richard, I have the Marine muster roll for the 18th Marines, 2nd bat. for Jun- August 1944. Griswold, Burks and Henson are in the same unit.

    There was indeed a photo montage arranged for Burks and Henson to view. I have those lineup pictures as well.

    Henson and Burks were interviewed and taped. I have those interviews as well.

    Burks and Henson wrote affadavits of their, and Griswold’s role in the Saipan dig, I have those affadavits as well.

    The Marines sent a letter to Griswold almost demanding him to say he was not a part of any dig activity at Saipan. I have that letter as well.

    You can keep on posting, but for me this thread is over.

    Les Kinney

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  14. A muster roll for the Marine Corps 2nd Division, 18th Regiment, 2nd Battalion containing the names of Henson, Burks, and Griswold is an interesting document which counters Henson’s initial statement to Goerner claiming that Griswold was not assigned to their unit. It would be interesting to see how those affidavits of Henson and Burks might have differed from their earliest statements to Goerner. Regardless, they would be very valuable supporting documents in a request for other records.

    The Marine Corps letter to Griswold would probably have been sent after Goerner presented his information on the Saipan grave disinterment to USMC Headquarters and his request for their assistance in his search. It seems that this was sent to Griswold before Goerner was given information from the USMC which allowed him to locate and contact him.

    Certainly an interesting document – but was it worded in a way that mentioned Amelia Earhart, the Saipan connection, or classified information? Or was it stated in the way of legal advice regarding admission/confirmation of a disinterment mission which might tarnish the reputation of the Marine Corps?

    The Marine Corps officially denied to Goerner that they held any records pertaining to Amelia Earhart. They certainly would not want Griswold making statements counter to that stonewall stand.

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    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      Richard,

      Let me offer this about “Henson’s initial statement to Goerner claiming that Griswold was not assigned to their unit.” I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it as false or misleading. Most Privates (Soldiers and Marines) tend to view “their unit” in terms of fire team, squad, platoon, and company. They tend to think in terms of the guys that stand to their immediate right and left, not some staff puke intel weenie at battalion. In that sense, Henson was 100% truthful — Captain Griswold was not in their unit. Just a thought.

      All best,

      William

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      1. Thanks for your reply. You make good points. Henson certainly provided the first and most comprehensive information regarding a Saipan grave exhumation expedition and possible connection to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. It was Henson who first mentioned a Captain Griswold and he admitted up front that he did not know much about him.

        Although there is much conflicting information between stories from several Marines, the preponderance of the verbal evidence (even allowing for variations) is that such a dig actually took place. Questions remain unanswered, however.

        – How did the information regarding Amelia and Fred being buried on Saipan come about?

        – Who ordered the disinterments?

        – How did they know exactly where to dig?

        – Were all the remains recovered?

        – How were they identified and authenticated?

        – What became of the remains?

        – Why all the Secrecy?

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      2. William H. Trail

        Richard,

        Please pardon my somewhat delayed response.

        Indeed, how did the information regarding AE and FN being buried on Saipan come to be known by U.S authorities? The fact that Captain Griswold, with Privates Burks and Henson in tow, knew right where to go, and right where to dig, and came up with two sets of remains is very telling. What it tells me is that somebody, higher up the chain, knew plenty.

        Who ordered the alleged remains of AE and FN to be disinterred? That order must have originated at a very high level in the administration. If it didn’t come from FDR himself, it most assuredly came from one of his most trusted lieutenants who’d been “read-on” to the AE situation from the very beginning. Those orders would have been transmitted outside of normal channels, maybe even in-person verbally, to as few people as was absolutely necessary, and only to those who were absolutely loyal, of the utmost discretion, who could be counted upon to keep their mouths shut. Needless to say, the weak link here was Captain Tracy Griswold. His reply to Private Henson should have been, “Private, don’t ask questions. All you need to know is that you’re performing an important task. If it weren’t important, we wouldn’t be here doing it. Now, keep digging and don’t ask anymore questions.” Griswold could also have simply said, “We’re here to recover the bodies of two fliers lost prior to the invasion.” On top of being short and to-the-point, that would have also been the truth.

        At the time the remains were disinterred, James Vincent Forrestal was Secretary of the Navy, having just taken over for the late Frank Knox. RADM Roscoe Ernest Schuirmann was Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence, and would remain in that post until October 1944. And then, there’s Captain (promoted to O-6 on 1 Jan 42) Laurance Frye Safford, USN, the “Father of Naval Cryptography,” and eminence grise of the AE disappearance saga. As Mike once put it, “His shadow looms large.”

        Most likely, all of the remains were recovered. If anything had been left behind, I have no doubt that Henson and/or Burks would have commented about it to Fred Goerner.

        The remains could have been identified and authenticated through medical/dental records. For example, AE suffered with maxillary sinusitis and underwent several procedures for it. An examination of the skull would provide evidence of this. Dental records for AE and FN would have been a great aid in identification as well.

        Of course, none of us can say with any certainty what became of the remains, alleged to be of AE and FN recovered by Griswold, Henson, and Burks on Saipan. One thing is for certain, however, given the level of secrecy surrounding the disappearance of AE and FN, the remains could not under any circumstances whatsoever be returned to the the families for burial in the United States. That is totally out of the realm of possibility because it would only raise up a lot of questions that the U.S. Government did not want asked, and would not publicly or privately answer. I also don’t believe that the remains were buried secretly as unknowns in any U.S. Military Cemetery anywhere. There would be a paper trail, and that would have left open the chance, no matter how remote, of future discovery. Again, given the extreme level of secrecy and denial maintained over the last 83 years since their Friday, 2 July 1937 disappearance, I’m inclined to think that the the most likely scenario is that those so-called “canisters” containing the remains were consigned to a sub and were buried at sea with honors in a short, quiet ceremony with the bare minimum number of crew on deck. Assuredly, other that being told that the remains were those of two brave Americans lost in the service of their country, they would not have known who they were burying, and the sub’s skipper would have been advised not to make any notation of the burial at sea in the log. Maybe a time, day, and date along with some coordinates and a comment or two are recorded for history in a classified file somewhere. Additionally, along with ensuring absolute secrecy and no chance for future recovery of the remains, a burial at sea also provides the government’s official “Splashed and Sank” story with a thin, cynical, veneer of truth.

        Not only why all the secrecy, but why all the secrecy vigorously maintained for more than 83 years? I think we can all agree that at some point on 2 July 1937, AE and FN stopped flying for themselves, and started flying for Uncle Sam. It wasn’t because the Navy asked AE to get lost in the Marshalls a la “Flight for Freedom” (RKO 1943) to give them an excuse to search the Japanese Mandates. And I truly don’t believe it was because she and Fred were making a photo recon flight over Truk. It was something else, something simple, straightforward, achievable, with a clearly defined mission objective, and better than “a snowball’s chance” of success.

        My theory is that communications/signals intelligence and breaking, or gaining a better understanding of the Japanese codes was what eventually brought AE and FN to Mili Atoll, and their subsequent deaths on Saipan. They never intended to land at Howland on the second RTW flight attempt. FN’s navigation was spot-on. They flew their published flight plan right up to Howland Island; then, using Howland as their last positive navigational fix, diverted toward the Japanese Mandated Marshall Islands to “get lost.” The idea was to ditch somewhere very close to the Mandates (where they could still be rescued by the Navy), but close enough so as to excite the Japanese and cause them to communicate at length in encoded radiotelegraphy about a known subject — AE, thus giving Laurance Safford and his OP-20-G cryptographers a lot of good material to work with.

        A number of things support this. Removal of the trailing wire antenna in Miami was done deliberately. Was it really because it was too troublesome to reel back in, or was it to help foster the “communications difficulties” part of their cover story? Can’t you hear Amelia say something like, “Freddie, do be a darling and reel in the antenna for me, won’t you?” Was AE’s eschewing of George Angus’ and PAA Pacific Division’s offer to track her across the vastness of the Pacific with their HF/DF network because the Navy didn’t want PAA (or any one else) to know exactly where she and Fred Noonan were? I mean, why wouldn’t she use every asset available to her to ensure finding tiny, fly speck Howland Island in the daunting vastness of the Pacific? Failing to give proper position reports, or broadcast on the radio for more than 10 seconds (7 or 8 seconds according to William Gaulten), during the latter part of the Lae-to-Howland leg was deliberate and contributed to the “got lost” part of the cover story. AE’s sounding panicked and hysterical on the radio when calling USCGC Itasca? I believe that was deliberate as well. I could be wrong, but I believe AE was better than that. However, it supported the cover plan.

        So, what went wrong? Suffering from exhaustion and maybe some mild dysentery as a result of the month long trip, AE may have had some serious second thoughts about actually ditching the Electra in the ocean. Pacifist and gentle, good soul that she was, AE may have reasoned (wrongly) that everyone, including the Japanese, were basically good and that there was really little danger in actually landing on one of the Marshall Islands. She probably didn’t believe that the Japanese would not return, let alone murder, her and Fred. And, why would she? She was beloved around the world. The Japanese people, as did many others, avidly followed the RTW flight in their newspapers and on radio. AE was no doubt totally unaware of Japanese Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro’s hatred of the West in general, and the United States in particular. If there were any harsh, argumentative words exchanged between AE and FN during the flight, this was the source of it. FN was a seasoned, savvy, man-of-the-world. He knew the score. FN was under no illusion as to exactly what their fate would be if they fell into the hands of the Japanese.

        All of that said, I believe THIS is the heart of the “…she disregarded all orders…” part of “The Morgenthau Transcript” — AE continued on past the point where they were supposed to ditch, violated Japanese airspace, and landed on Mili Atoll — a denied area instead of ditching in the ocean as she was instructed to do. If I’m correct, it makes Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s 13 May 1938 telephonic conversation with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, Malvina “Tommy” Scheider, nothing less than a stunning and damning admission of U.S. Government complicity.

        All best,

        William

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      3. Interesting comments and theories regarding bothersome hanging questions.

        This was clearly not just some Marine Corps Captain on a lark with nothing better to do than follow up on a rumor he had heard. It has all the markings of a directed effort which was based on solid and specific intelligence and which was directed from a high level.

        As to secrecy, surrounding the whole Amelia Earhart/Fred Noonan mission, disappearance, and ultimate ending on Saipan: it is very possible that this was classified initially to prevent the Japanese military from knowing that the US was listening in on their message traffic and perhaps had broken their codes.

        Alternatively or in addition, it is also possible that the US had human intelligence sources on the ground on Saipan who related information about AE and FN to the US via the Commanding Officer/Naval Governor of Guam prior to its fall to the Japs on 10 December 1941. If that were the case, the US might have continued to keep the AE/FN information secret to protect those agents.

        Later reasons to keep the whole thing secret – while still valid to protect secret sources – would also include political and personal concerns stemming from earlier decisions and actions.

        Again, I feel that the bones disinterred by the Griswold, Henson, and Burkes team would have been examined for authenticity on Saipan prior to them being shipped anywhere. The only experts on Saipan capable of doing such an autopsy would have been Army Doctors, Colonel Elliott G. Colby and Lieutenant Colonel Richard C. Wadsworth.

        There is a story about an enlisted Marine who shipped some containers given to him by Captain Griswold to somewhere in California. But remember that there was an earlier story related by Fred Goerner on page 307 in his book “Search” which quoted an unnamed Department of Commerce official as suggesting that remains of AE and FN may have been recovered by a Medical Doctor on Saipan, taken to Washington DC, and possibly stored at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (which was located at Walter Reed Army Hospital).

        I do not think that it would have been logical (even if remotely possible) for Amelia and Fred to have been flying over Truk on a photo intelligence mission with a Kodak Brownie camera. Such a major deviation from her filed flight plan would have been almost suicidal. No one would have believed that renowned Navigation expert, Fred Noonan could make such a “mistake” with his calculations and get so terribly “lost” – and there would be really no plausible deniability should they be shot down or captured in a clear act of espionage.

        If the United States truly wanted to fly over Truk, it would have been far easier to launch a Navy PBY (Patrol plane) from Guam to Australia (overflying Truk enroute), or simply fly an out and back “training” flight from Guam. The PBY, like the Pan Am China Clippers, took off and landed on water.

        The idea expressed by some (and first proposed in a 1943 hollywood movie) that Amelia’s intention at the outset of her Round-the-World flight was to ditch in the Central Pacific for the purpose of starting a major Search and Rescue (SAR) mission is beyond fantasy. No pilot would want to do such an idiotic thing with a land based aircraft – especially not a pilot who was intent on setting a new world record. And again, if such a scheme was considered, a Navy float plane or PBY could have been used more safely and logically. For that matter, a SAR effort could have been launched on a completely faked incident.

        If Amelia and Fred really were on some sort of secret intelligence gathering mission, it is far more likely that they deviated slightly from their flight plan only to fly over the Gilbert or Marshall Islands. Their landing would have still been planned for Howland Island, where fuel and supplies awaited them. I am sure that there was some sort of contingency plan to get rid of any birds for the period of time they needed to land and later for take off.

        It makes more sense to me that Amelia and Fred could have been slightly north of their intended/stated track and unable to locate Howland, causing them to seek another island to land on or near.

        The Japanese, upon finding them certainly would have considered them “spies” and would have dealt with them in the way that the Kempeitai dealt with so many other US aviators in later years.

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  15. I mentioned in a previous post that there was a US Army Air Force plane which was shot down near Ponape on 26 March 1944 with a crew of seven. These men have never been accounted for and are still missing, although officially declared dead.

    I would consider it a possibility that they were captured by the Japanese, transported to Saipan, and subsequently executed and buried there.

    Here is more information about them.

    B-25G-5 Mitchell Serial Number 42-64832

    Acting Command Pilot Captain Lionel D. Colley, O-431122 (MIA / KIA) Waco, TX
    Pilot 1st Lt Merritt S. Miller, O-742195 (MIA / KIA) San Francisco, CA
    Co-Pilot 2nd Lt Alexander Ruchko, O-747898 (MIA / KIA) PA
    Gunner S/Sgt Gregory W. Frankland, 35267062 (MIA / KIA) Cincinnati, OH
    Bombardier 2nd Lt Vincent L. Ginkus, O-741256 (MIA / KIA) IL
    Armor-Gunner S/Sgt Steve S. Salla, 37314925 (MIA / KIA) MN
    Radio T/Sgt Henry F. Wolasky, 11052368 (MIA / KIA) MA
    Ditched March 26, 1944 north of Ponape
    MACR 3950

    Mission History
    On March 26, 1944 took off from Eniwetok Airfield on a low level strike against Ponape. The flight was led by B-25D 42-64632 piloted by Captain Bissonnette with this bomber flying his left wing with B-25G 42-64891 and B-25D 42-87275.

    Over the target, an enemy Zeke dove down from five o’clock high, and fired at this bomber from nose to tail, then departed into a cloud. The attack left both engines smoking and the left aileron fluttering. Bissonnette’s bomber flew along side to provide cover, but began loosing altitude and made a water landing roughly 15 miles north of Ponape. On impact, the tail broke off and sank after 20 seconds. Possibly, all of the crew exited the bomber and deployed a life raft.

    Search
    The other three B-25s circled the crash site twice and radioed their position to “Dumbo” (US Navy PBY Catalina) for rescue. Bissonnette observed three men in a life raft and three or four men in the water nearby, all wearing their mae west life vests.

    When contacted, the “Dumbo” PBY Catalina was at another location, supporting a SBD Dauntless strike on Ujelant (Ujelant?) at the same time. After confusion and delay, the Catalina reached the site of the ditching to search for the crew, but was chased away by three Zeros. Later, another PBY Catalina, with fighter escort returned to search for the crew, but found nothing.

    The next day, three B-25s from the 48th Bombardment Group flew a search mission within two miles of the north and west of Ponape then south to Ant Island and north about 18 miles and 50 miles east of Pakin. The search had nil results.

    Fates of the Crew
    The fates of the crew is unknown. Possibly, they were captured by the Japanese but none are listed as prisoners of war. Or, they the crew died at sea or suffered some other fate.

    LINK:
    https://pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/b-25/42-64832.html

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