“A Mysterious [Earhart] Encounter in 1945 Japan”

This story appeared in the November 1994 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and is another unique example of the strange and weird lore that has attached itself to the Earhart saga over the decades.  I will leave the rest to you, dear reader, to sort out and classify for yourself, and will forego any further introductions.  (Boldface emphasis mine unless stated; capitals and underline emphasis in original.) 

 “A Mysterious Encounter in 1945 Japan”
Excerpts taken from a tape narrated by Ralph S. Martine, on Sept. 14, 1993

At the end of WWII, our Naval unit moved from Okinawa (we had been there for the battle and all that good stuff’) to Sasebo, a naval base built in an excellent harbor in the southern part of Japan.  There we were kept aboard ship about two weeks because our commander wasn’t sure how the Japanese people would treat us.  The SEABEES and a small detachment of marines went ashore to start cleaning up the city. 

U.S. Intelligence overview of Sasebo Harbor area, April 1945.

Sasebo was originally about the size of Huntington Park in LA with 3 and 4 story buildings, but twelve of our super fortresses had leveled the entire city.  When we were allowed liberty, I wanted to see the countryside, shops, stores, even though there wasn’t anything to buy.  I wanted to see what Japan was like.  On the outskirts of Sasebo, three other sailors and I were walking up the hill into a side street of a residential district when we met 9 or 10 British sailors coming down.  They were having a great time busting in the doors and walls of the Japanese tissue-paper houses they were passing.  We jumped them, and they ran off, which was a wonder as there were only 4 of us.

When the fight was over, we were standing there and the Japanese started coming out of all these houses — seemed like a thousand, but there must have been only about 50 of them.  Men and women, were all pulling at us to see who could get us to go to their house because we had saved their property from being damaged.  We were right in front of a [Japanese] Navy Captain’s house, and because I was the tallest and biggest of our four, he won me [sic].  I went into his house, which hung out over the edge of the hill on poles like they do in California.  The city of Sasebo started right at the edge of a creek below his house. 

We sat on the porch, and he introduced me to his 8 years old daughter, and his wife.  They were both literally scared of me because they believed the propaganda that the Japanese had put out that we were monsters, and my size didn’t help that monster image.  But the Captain knew what kind of people we were because he had graduated from U.S.C. in L.A. in 1934, at or near the head of his class.  He was a naval ordinance officer, and a very nice person to talk to as he knew English better than I do.  After he graduated he went back to Japan, took his commission as a Japanese naval officer, and got married in the mid-1930s.

Sitting on his porch we could see the whole city — what was left of it — just rubble, nothing standing.  I visited him several times, bringing him toilet articles I bought in our ship’s store, and giving his wife Palmolive soap, which was the best the Navy, had.  He shared his whisky with me — sugar beet whisky, which was pretty good.  The third time I went over with more things for him, he told me he was from the base directly across the harbor from his house, which was located on the southeast side of Sasebo.  We could look westward across the water and see the naval base clearly.

In normal conversation, nothing leading up to it, he said that in one of those buildings on the base there were parts of Amelia Earhart’s plane!  (Boldface in original) He tried to tell me which building but I really didn’t understand.  This came out of the clear blue.  We had been talking about the war and the 12 super fortresses which leveled the city.  He showed me which way they flew in across the city, banked around, and went back to Guam.  They knew exactly where we were flying to and from.  In this same conversation, he also indicated that Amelia Earhart and her “mechanic” were still alive at that time and were living in a house outside of Sasebo, just up the road from the naval base.  (Boldface in original.)

We had been given orders aboard our ship that if you came in contact with any prisoners or dead bodies, you were to go immediately to Army intelligence.  I was in the Navy, but MacArthur was running the whole show, and he insisted that all intelligence go through the Army.  I told this Japanese naval officer that we were moving to the sea plane base at Yokohama, and that I wouldn’t see him again.  He bade me goodbye, and I didn’t question any more that he had said because of all the instructions we had been given by MacArthur.

This photo appeared in the July 16, 2009 issue of Stars and Stripes, in a story titled “Retired sailor’s visit to Sasebo a history lesson,” by Travis J. Tritten.  The caption reads: “Aug. 29, 1945 USS LST 1077 makes landfall at Sakibe in Sasebo in August 1945.  The peak of Mt. Akasaki rises from the haze along the horizon.”  (Photo courtesy Howard Benedict.)

We arrived in Yokohama just before Thanksgiving.  As soon as I got to Tokyo I looked for Army Intelligence which was right on the main drag, in the center of town, in a four-story building.  You could see from one side of Tokyo clear across to the other side (about 10 miles). Only a few buildings were left: most were just pieces of ruins.  The building that housed Army Intelligence was one of the few that was still intact.  I went inside and talked with the sergeant behind the desk. 

From the stripes on his arm, I could tell he had been in the service for about 12 years.  I told him my information about Amelia Earhart, and he looked at me very puzzled, with a dumb look on his face.  He asked me who this Amelia Earhart was?  I told him she was a woman aviation pilot trying to break the record flying around the world and she was lost in the Pacific, and that there was a lot of speculation that the Japanese had shot her down.  He sent me to another officer because he didn’t know what I was talking about.  I went to 5 or 6 different officers in Army Intelligence, and NOT ONE OF THESE MEN EVER HEARD OF AMELIA EARHART!

These men were all Caucasians, Army, looked like Americans, and everything else looked proper to me.  But not one of them knew who AE was!  I couldn’t believe it.  You could not have lived in the continental part of the United States without knowing who AE was, and to be older than me at the time you couldn’t have done it.  The Army Sergeant couldn’t have had 12 years in the service at that time without knowing who she was.  I was on some jungle islands in tile Pacific, and the natives knew who she was.  They didn’t have newspaper, radios, or any communications, but they still knew who AE was!  And these men in Army Intelligence did not know, or they played dumb (which is normal for any intelligence agency), and I don’t believe they looked into the matter whatsoever.  They just dropped it because it was 600 miles away to the south of Tokyo.

I read about the AE Society in Colorado, in “Omni” magazine.  As much as I’d love to meet with you all, it looks like I won’t be able to make it to the convention in California.  However, I decided to tell my story to you this way, and I would be glad to talk with any of you on the phone, or if you are in my area of Oregon.  God Bless and take care.

(Ralph Martine resides at 18625 East Burnside, Lot 6, Portland, Oregon, 97233; phone: 503-492-xxxx.)

Ralph S. Martine passed away in January 2012 in Portland, Ore., at age 84.  I’ve seen nothing else relative this story, which ranks among the strangest Earhart yarns I’ve ever read.

12 responses

  1. Having served as an officer in the U.S. Army, I can tell you that what rings true in this story to me is that those Army Intelligence guys had never heard of Amelia Earhart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      Dave,

      What strikes me right up front about Ralph Martine’s story it that he does not mention his rank, the name of his ship, or his “naval unit.” I find that a little strange.

      We also cannot positively establish from Martine’s account who he spoke to in “Army Intelligence” about AE. If he walked into General MacArthur’s headquarters, located in the former Dai-Ichi Mutual Life Insurance Company Building, it could have been anyone. I guarantee you, had he approached U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps (as it was known then) personnel, he would have been treated as a “walk-in source.” That is to say, his identity would have been established, he’d have been checked against any existing files, and he would have been interviewed by a CIC Special Agent. From that interview an Agent Report would have been generated and forwarded to the next higher intelligence office for review and action.

      Thank you for your service. I too had the honor and privilege of serving in the U.S. Army, first as an enlisted soldier and then as an officer. It sounds to me as if you may have had a bad experience or two with Military Intelligence. Believe me, although I have encountered a few myself, they are not all idiots.

      All best,

      William

      Like

      1. I was writing tongue-in-cheek, but only halfway. See “A Condensation of Military Incompetence” http://www.dcdave.com/article5/121115.htm for some idea of my Army experience. What I do not reveal in that article was that at the time of the North Korean Blue House raid and the Pueblo capture shortly afterwards I was the S2-S3 Officer (in charge of security, plans, operations, and training) for the 20th General Support Group on the outskirts of Inchon.

        I worked very closely with the Korean Army major who was the head of the KATUSAs (Koreans augmented to the U.S. Army) for our command. His office was down the hall from me. As I say in the article, I was on leave in Japan at the time of the Blue House raid. The first thing I did upon return from Japan was, through the Korean major, arrange a get-acquainted meeting with the local police chief so we might share information about any local security threats. There were a few guys who always wore civilian clothes who ate at our officers club and kept to themselves.

        I was told they were Army Intelligence. None of them ever introduced themselves to me, nor I to them. If they had an office, I don’t know where it was. If they did anything at all, I don’t know what it was; unlike us uniformed guys, they always seemed to have the relaxed manner of people without a care in the world. If someone outside our command had approached me with information that he wanted to share with Army Intelligence, I would have told him to wait until the evening meal, where he might find them at the officers club.

        Like

  2. As relayed in the narrative, the city of Sasebo was almost completely turned to rubble. This can be seen in photos taken in fall of 1945. However, photos of hangars and aircraft at the Japanese Sasebo Naval Station indicate that many buildings were still standing, and many aircraft, ships, and submarines were still intact.

    Photos also show American servicemen walking through the city, conversing with Japanese civilians and servicemen, and taking pictures – much in the manner described by Ralph Martine.

    Army intelligence personnel knowing nothing about Amelia Earhart and doing nothing to check out a Navy man’s story does not surprise me at all.

    Like

  3. David Atchason | Reply

    I will begin with this link: https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/second-japanese-aircraft-carrier-wreck-discovered#:~:text=The%20Japanese%20aircraft%20carrier%20Akagi,been%20identified%20by%20Vulcan%20Inc.&text=The%20wreck%20of%20Akagi

    I don’t know what made me look up this link, but maybe I thought that the Akagi had been overhauled at Sasebo, I don’t remember where William H. Trail said this occurred. But my imagination was activated when I read that she was converted to an aircraft carrier in 1935. To me, it makes no sense that this conversion was in 1935 and then supposedly she spent 1937 being overhauled. Again??? Can somebody explain this to me?

    I also noted that Martine mentions that in the Navy the rumor was that she was shot down by the Japanese. Where did this rumor come from? After all, the Navy itself had shown that she almost certainly was “crashed and sank.” It makes me think that she actually was shot down over Mili, probably, no matter what records from Japan indicate this could not be. If the matter were sensitive enough, I’m sure the Japanese could fudge the records to make themselves look innocent. With the cooperation of the U.S. occupying forces, of course.

    Yesterday I started to write about how I was convincing myself that, contrary to previous thought process, that the Japanese held Amelia in secrecy because she had “seen too much” and releasing her would lead to her making disclosures embarrassing to the Japanese or would actually cause problems because of the terms of the Versailles Treaty or the Naval Treaty of 1922 which maybe they had been cheating on. But William states that he believes it likely the Japanese didn’t fortify Truk until 1939. Whatever that means. But wouldn’t they have been mooring their allowed naval flotilla at Truk anyway, even in the mid 1930s? So what was there for Amelia to see at Truk? It sounds like in 1937 there would be nothing to see unless she was going to count one too many battleships and report back to FDR. A little far fetched compared to the danger of her flying over Japanese territory. I wish Randall Brink, who favors the Mandates overflight hypothesis, would have given more particulars about what exactly she was supposed to be observing.

    So, reading this account, I am steered back to my contention that AE was taken from Saipan and brought to Japan where she could have spent the war years in relative tranquility. It’s like I’m going around in circles, aren’t I? I suppose Army intelligence in Japan could have been instructed to stonewall any mention of AE in Japan and somebody may have told them to claim total ignorance of AE in all cases where a sericeman would report evidence they had discovered of her presence there, it being too sensitive a matter to even engage in a response to.

    This all makes me at least ponder the case of Rudolph Hess. I have read accouts of Hitler’s motives in WW2 that are much more favorable to his aims than our conventional propaganda machine will allow. That he may have desired peace with the U.S. and Britain but Churchill and FDR didn’t want it. If she wasn’t spying, which, upon close examination, seems rather doubtful, what was she up to? Why would she be treated well by the Japanese, in some accounts at least, even idolized? Or should we believe that the evil Japanese held her secretly under wretched conditions because that was their nature? Maybe it’s the case that all wars have agendas that are kept secret from the troops who would not be pleased to learn of the sumptuous riches awarded to the warmongers at their expense. To say nothing of the power and control they gain.

    A. B.
    David

    Like

    1. William H. Trail | Reply

      David,

      See the attached link.

      https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Japanese_aircraft_carrier_Akagi

      All best,

      William

      Like

      1. David Atchason

        William,
        Thank you for answering my question. It appear`s that the Akagi was being refitted from 1935 until 1938, which makes the Japanese aviator’s claim that he was stationed on the Akagi somewhat bizarre as the ship was docked for 3 whole years. What was he doing all that time? It also appears my line of reasoning is going nowhere so I’ll give up on it.
        A. B.,
        David

        Like

  4. What a great story, Mike. It sounds typical of the Military Intelligence personnel I knew in the military. I wonder how many other stories there were out there like this that never surfaced. Thanks for a great post, Mike.

    Like

  5. Interesting story indeed; however it is a pity Ralph didn’t try to seek her out/meet her – I was waiting for the ‘invited in for tea and met a fellow female westerner’ part of the story. Bizarre thing for Japanese to brag about knowing the world media would be in that city the next day if news broke of the ‘missing’ aviator and her mechanic were just down the road. Too many witnesses to the death of the fliers than them living it up on mainland Japan. Good read none the less.

    Like

  6. David Atchason | Reply

    I keep rereading the account, trying to make sense of it. First, it says the American bombers “leveled the city.” But he describes houses intact, the Captain living in his own house. The naval base sounds like it was not too damaged. So what does “leveled” mean? Why wasn’t Sasebo base flattened, if it was an important base as it sounds like it was? I have read stories of bombers in Germany in the war being instructed not to bomb factories that were owned by GE or Ford or GM or other US companies. That makes perfect sense to me.

    I just read this morning how US interests were heavily invested in Hitler’s re-industialization of Germany in the 30s. We didn’t want to flatten the factories of the US companies that apparently still owned them, did we? As far as I know, GM bought Opel in 1929 and still owned it after the war where Opel was building the standard German Army Truck all during the war. I wonder if the Sasebo base was relatively intact when MArtine was there? Also it said, referring to the bombing raid by the Superfortresses that Ae & Fred were still alive “at that time.”

    Doesn’t it mean when the raid took place? It may not mean when he was chatting with the Captain. In other words Martine may have not meant when he was sitting there with the Captain, he may have left out that she was presumed dead at that time and felt no need to go calling on her at her housing in Sasebo. He may have gone to intelligence to report that AE WAS living there at some point, but not at that present time. Which probably intelligence was way ahead of him, they knew all that. Did Martine spread the word to his fellow sailors? Did any of them ever speak out about AE living in Sasebo to their families or anyone at all? Were there rumors? You would think that a rumor like that would spread widely like the “shot down” rumor apparently did.

    It does seem odd that, if he learned that she was living in Sasebo AT THAT TIME, he wouldn’t have kept it to himself, he would have spread the word then and there and gone visiting her himself. But he waited till he got to Yokohama and then been discouraged by intelligence and then kept quiet about it until 1993? I know people can do strange things and act in strange ways, but this story seems to be missing key ingredients, it doesn’t exactly “add up” unless he made it all up.
    A.B.
    David

    Like

  7. David Atchason | Reply

    https://www.pearlharborhistoricsites.org/blog/sasebo
    I didn’t know Sasebo became so important to U.S. Pacific operations in the Pacific after the War. I wonder if anyone in the U.S. Navy thought of this before 1945? Nah. My imagination is running away with me. Bombed it June 29? For what? I think the Japanese were already discussing surrender, so wouldn’t the bombers have “gone easy on it?”
    A.B.
    David

    Like

  8. I have seen a lot of photographs of Sasebo taken in September and later in 1945 – both of the rubble which had once been the city, and also of standing buildings in both sections of the town and Naval Base. Perhaps Mike could locate and post some of these on this site.

    You can do a search using various words such as “Sasebo” “1945” and such and see them. I agree that just reading the words of the story can be confusing where he speaks of total destruction and yet also speaks of surviving buildings, but from what I have seen in photos, the narrative sounds amazingly true – at least in that sense.

    The way that I understand Mr. Martine’s story is that his ship arrived in Sasebo harbor after the bombings had ended and after the surrender had taken place. He states that 12 American bombers had leveled the city, but not that he had personally witnessed the bombing. Most likely he was repeating what he had been told by the Japanese Naval Officer, whom he had describes in his narrative as having met and spoken with.

    The part about Amelia Earhart and her mechanic living on base is an interesting bit of information, all the more so in that it is offered in casual conversation between a Japanese officer and an American sailor. What would tend to make it less believable is that the US Navy pretty much moved into Sasebo and began cleaning it up. Wouldn’t someone else have come across Amelia at some point or at least heard something about her?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: