We return to the early 1960s and the seminal Saipan investigations by Fred Goerner, Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger. Brother Gregorio, who signed his full name as “Brother Gregorio Oroquieth, Churio, S.J.” in the 1961 letter he wrote to researcher Joe Gervais below, while Gervais was still in the Air Force, was a minor footnote in the Earhart saga, but this is yet another credible account that places Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan soon after their July 2, 1937 disappearance.
Based on the letter’s date, Gregorio wrote it before Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan in September 1961 for his second investigation, although Goerner apparently learned of Gregorio’s story a year earlier. We’ll return to Goerner after presenting Gregorio’s interesting missive to Gervais, who was doing respectable research on Guam and Saipan during those early days.
The letter below appeared in the November 1994 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Boldface emphasis mine throughout.
Translated 17 February 1961 by Roy Sorenson, Spanish teacher, Kubisaki High School, Okinawa
6 February 1961
Dear Captain Gervais, Saipan
I am writing this letter in Spanish rather than English because I feel I can express my reply more understandably for you. I enjoyed the photos you sent of Father Arnold [Bendowski], yourself, and [Robert] Dinger. Dinger is certainly a beautiful [sic] Air Force Captain, isn’t he?
I recall a little over 20 years ago before War was declared during the summer holidays for the children, when they came to the vestry to tell me of the two American spies who were apprehended on Saipan near Garapan. They mentioned one was an American woman who wears long pants like a man and has a haircut like a man. The Japanese police have these Americans as spies, and the woman’s companion’s face is very suntanned like Spanish people’s face. The Japanese take them away to ask questions. The children were Jesus Rios, Juan Sanches, Jose Sanches [sic, correct spelling for Juan and Jose is Sanchez, according to Fred Goerner, see page 102, 103 The Search for Amelia Earhart], Jose Geregeyo [sic], and the Americans were seen coming from the direction of Lisang near Garapan.
Kumoi [Jesús De Leon Guerrero] spoke to me about them a few days later of these two American Intelligence Spies and says he will show them everything if they give him much money. I spoke to Father Arnold in 1947, and again in 1960 on Guam about Kumoi, and his story has changed recently from that which was said over 20 years ago, and at the same time of the children’s, as I best can recall.
After the invasion of Saipan I went to Intelligence Officer there on Saipan, I don’t remember the Officer’s name, and asked him if they wanted any information of the two Americans, the man and the woman who come to Saipan from Hawaii in an airplane for American intelligence before the invasion. He said there was no such thing as an American woman in any airplane of any kind for Intelligence that he ever heard of. He was not interested at all in more talking after saying that, and I left. Vinciente Guerror [sic, Vicente Guerrero is correct] in 1947 on Saipan — Father [Jose Maria] Tardio (can’t make this out clearly) [sic].
My best wishes to you both, and Father Arnold. I do not know if this will be of help as I don’t know what became of these two Americans as the vestry was far located from where they were apprehended. If can be of further assistance please feel free to correspond.
Your friend and servant,
Brother Gregorio, Oroquieth, Churio, S.J.
In his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart Fred Goerner provided the rest of the known background on Brother Gregorio and what he knew about the presence and death of Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan:
As I had learned the preceding year, only one person assigned to the Catholic mission before the war had survived the invasion and the years that followed. Father Tardio had died in Spain after the war, but one of the lay brothers, Brother Gregorio, was at the church on Yap Island. During the year, Father Sylvan [Conover] had talked with Gregorio at a gathering of church officials on Guam. Brother Gregorio remembered the story of the two white people, supposedly fliers, who had been held by the Japanese during 1937-1938, but it was not eyewitness testimony. The Brother along with the Fathers and Sisters at the mission had been restricted to church grounds by the Japanese during that period, and then had been placed under house arrest on December 8, 1941. Two young Saipanese, the Sanchez brothers, Juan and Jose, had told Gregorio of the two Americans and what the Japanese had done to them. The brothers had been in their teens at the time, but Gregorio was certain that they had told him the truth. He felt that it was extremely unlikely the boys could have invented such a story.
Father Sylvan and I traced the brothers Sanchez and found them working as mechanics for the mysterious entity known as NTTU [Naval Technical Training Unit]. They were surprised and disturbed when Father Sylvan asked them about Brother Gregorio’s statement, but admitted they had some knowledge of the incident. Both felt they would like to refresh their memories before making a definite statement and promised to come to the church mission house the next day and give us the details. Only one Sanchez appeared the following morning, and his attitude had completely changed. He claimed neither he nor his brother had any information that would help us. “Brother Gregorio does not remember correctly,” he said. “We know nothing of what he says.”
Father Sylvan questioned hard and long but to no avail. The Sanchez brothers were obviously frightened and were not going to say a thing. Another full year passed before we learned the two Saipanese had been told by the Navy or NTTU not to cooperate with the people who were asking questions about the missing fliers. Father Sylvan and I had suspected as much in 1961.
Brother Gregorio’s 1961 account added another voice to the ever-growing chorus attesting to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan. The incident between Father Sylvan Conover and the Sanchez brothers as recounted by Fred Goerner is yet another example of the U.S. government’s ongoing commitment to controlling and covering up the truth about the fliers’ Saipan deaths — as if we needed any more proof.
In the wake of our recent three part series about George P. Putnam’s desperate search for Amelia Earhart, which included consultations with psychics and others who offered advice to him from the “other side,” the question of whether Putnam ever visited Saipan to search for his wife’s gravesite has often been raised.
Truth at Last presents the eyewitness accounts of Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks, former Marine privates who were ordered by Capt. Tracy Griswold to execute a special excavation detail on Saipan during the summer of 1944. An entire chapter is devoted to their stories, and in a subsection within that chapter, titled, “Secret Files and Executive Orders,” Putnam’s possible Saipan search is examined.
California newspaperman Ross Game accompanied Goerner during at least one of his early investigative forays into Washington’s inner sanctums. In a 1998 letter to Rollin Reineck, Game recalled that he and Goerner had been granted access to secret files in 1963 — before Henson came forward to Game with his story — files that outlined the basics of the Griswold, Henson, and Burks incident:
In Washington files we learned that George Palmer Putnam was secretly
brought to the Saipan gravesite after the island had been captured by
U.S. Marines and the remains “secretly” removed under the direction of
an intelligence officer (we even obtained his name, thanks to the CIA).
I wrote to Game in September 2007, and he kindly responded and confirmed that the name of the officer who removed the fliers’ remains was Captain Tracy Griswold. Game was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and passed away in October 2009 at his home in Napa, Calif. Earhart researcher Ron Reuther met with him in 2005 at a Napa restaurant, and described the seventy-five-year-old newsman as “very sharp on recall.”
Game reiterated to Reuther his conviction that Earhart met her end on Saipan and that Griswold directed the recovery of the remains, and he shared an interesting comment Griswold had made to him and Goerner: “Game still strongly believes AE/FN died on Saipan in December 1937, AE of dysentery, and Noonan was killed shortly after,” Reuther wrote in a 2005 e-mail to the Amelia Earhart Society. “He still believes they were buried together and that USMC Captain Tracy Griswold supervised their exhumation, and that the remains were returned to this country. Game and Goerner talked with the two Marine enlisted persons, Henson and Burks who dug up the remains. He says when they later found and talked with Griswold, he said of their efforts and revelations, ‘You did a wonderful job.’ But he would not confirm anything else.”
Putnam’s presence on Saipan during the war is not certain, as the records Game claimed he and Goerner saw have never been released. Major Putnam was an intelligence officer for the 468th Bombardment Group that operated in China, India, Burma, and the Marianas during 1944 and ’45, and could have been on Saipan, but nothing officially confirming it has surfaced.
J. Gordon Vaeth told Goerner in 1964 that in his job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he interviewed an ex-Air Force officer who had been on Saipan and “had personally driven G.P. Putnam around the island. Putnam was busy asking questions intended to reveal whether there was any trace of his wife there,” Vaeth wrote. “According to this interviewee, he did not know whether Putnam ever found anything concrete or not.” Vaeth, eighty-seven and living in Olympia, Washington, told Ron Bright in 2007 that the man’s name was Charles Cushman.
I called Vaeth in July 2008, and he confirmed that Cushman was the man who said he drove Putnam around Saipan “during the days when the war was winding down,” well after the island had been secured and was under the control of the U.S. garrison force. Cushman worked for about “five or six years” at NOAA, Vaeth said, and “died about 20 years ago.” Vaeth said the subject came up between them on a few occasions, and he was sure Cushman said Putnam “came up with no information” that indicated his wife’s presence on Saipan, nor did Cushman say anything to Vaeth about Putnam visiting a gravesite.
Cushman’s name also surfaced when Ron Reuther looked into the alleged Putnam gravesite visit. In October 2005, Reuther wrote to the Amelia Earhart Society online forum that he had narrowed the possible time window for Putnam’s visit to Saipan, citing as sources unnamed “family members, many of whom were women”:
Sometime between July 20 and November 2, 1944 George flew to Saipan and was driven around in a jeep by a U.S. military person, later Col. USAF Cushman. Putnam tried to determine if Earhart had been there, but supposedly found no evidence. It seems to me that with his being a Major and an intelligence officer, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Saipan, with the strong likelihood of a number of GI’s being present who had been told of and/or having found evidence of Earhart and Noonan having being on the island, and with several prominent U.S. Marine officers involved with the invasion who have been quoted by Goerner as having said the Marines had determined Earhart had died there, that George would have been told much of this same information while he was there, especially with his strong connections in Washington or to high brass.
Another voice who supported the Putnam-on-Saipan scenario was British biographer Mary S. Lovell, whose The Sound of Wings (1989) is among the best Earhart biographies, but she offered nothing about a clandestine visit to his wife’s gravesite:
At some time during this period of service George visited Saipan. By now stories that Amelia had been captured by the Japanese and taken to Saipan had started to circulate widely. . . . George drove all over the island making extensive enquiries about the white woman flier but he got no answers that gave him any hope that Amelia had ever been there.
Lovell’s scenario is similar to those offered by G. Gordon Vaeth and Ron Reuther, but she cited no source for her statement placing Putnam on Saipan.
Though the foregoing is suggestive and not definitive about Putnam’s alleged Saipan visit and search, researcher Les Kinney is certain that it never happened. When I recently asked him about this, he said we had “pretty much covered” this topic in the comments section of my Dec. 26, 2017 post, “KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga, and suggested using his comments in this post.
In one of those remarks, on Jan. 8, 2018, Les wrote:
The story of Putnam traveling to Saipan is “fake news.” It never happened. I tracked his travel from China (where he was stationed) back to the US. The story apparently originated second hand when a guy in a jeep reportedly said he drove Putnam on Saipan. He later said, maybe it was China.
One of the Earhart biographies [Lovell] said Putnam went to Saipan but it was never sourced. Putnam left his unit early in China because of severe health problems which eventually killed him. He never flew to Saipan.
For more of Les Kinney’s statements from the Dec. 26, 2017 post, please click here.
But Les had more to offer. In a May 11, 2021 email, he sent “a few more details regarding the apocryphal Putnam visit to Saipan that might not have been in those comments”:
Putnam left the United States on April 15, 1944. He was a briefing officer attached to the 468th Bomber Group. It was the first week of May 1944 before the entire unit mustered in Kharagpur, India.
Putnam didn’t stay in the theater long. On June 6th, when one of the unit members was introduced to Putnam, he wrote, Putnam didn’t stay long and left because of political connections. That wasn’t true. Putnam contracted a parasite which attacked his kidneys. He hung on for another couple months but departed India back to the states sometime in September. According to military records I reviewed, George arrived in the U.S. on September 25th and was admitted to a hospital. He was discharged a few months later but was never able to shake the lingering parasite that eventually killed him. He died of uremic poisoning in a Trona, California Hospital on January 4, 1950.
Putnam never was assigned per se to China. All the B-29 bombing missions for the 468th originated at Kharagpur, India. They flew over the “Hump” to a refueling strip known as A-7, south of Chengtu China. From that forward refueling base, they carried out raids on Thailand, Burma, Singapore, and later in Japan. Base A-7 is 900 miles from the Eastern Chinese coast which was in Japanese hands and remained that way until the close of war.
The 468th Bomber Group was not reassigned to Tinian (not Saipan three miles north) until May of 1945. By then, Putnam was in California.
There’s no reason to believe Charles Cushman hadn’t met Putnam in India and maybe even had flown with him to forward base A-7. But if Cushman drove Putnam around in a jeep, it would have been in India or possibly at the A7 refueling base in western China.
Cushman wouldn’t have arrived at Tinian until May of 1945 which meant he never drove Putnam around Saipan.
Cushman told Gordon Vaeth, a FAA bureaucrat with an interest in Earhart, the story of driving Putnam around Saipan looking for Amelia’s grave. Later, Cushman told Vaeth he might have been mistaken and that it was China where he ferried Putnam around in a jeep. I have that account in my files. I have no idea where one of the Earhart biographers came up with the story. But it simply couldn’t have happened. Flights from western China to the Pacific islands didn’t occur until spring of 1945. When B-29’s flew to India or western China, prior to that time, they were routed through South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, and then on to India. The first B-29’s didn’t arrive on Saipan from the other direction until late fall of 1944. If Putnam visited Saipan in the summer of 1944, he would have traveled in ill health literally around the world to reach Amelia’s grave site. It just didn’t happen.
A similar account has George analyzing the voice of Tokyo Rose. In Courage is the Price, Amelia’s sister, Muriel, wrote that George made a dangerous three-day trek through Japanese held territory to reach a Marine Corps radio station near the coast where the broadcast reception was loud and clear. After listening to the voice for less than a minute, he said “I’ll stake my life that that is not Amelia’s voice.” None of Muriel’s letters describe any such incident. In fact, she had to write the Army department to determine when and where Putnam served overseas. Much of what Muriel wrote is apocryphal and bordering on the ridiculous. Traveling through Japanese territory for three days to a Marine station on the coast? Muriel knew nothing. As adults, Amelia was more the mother to a petulant child.
Les Kinney makes a strong case that Putnam never made it to Saipan, and I trust that he has the file wherein “Cushman told Vaeth he might have been mistaken and that it was China where he ferried Putnam around in a jeep,” as he describes it, though I’d still like to see the hard copy.
Several years earlier, Amelia Earhart Society researcher Ron Bright joined Kinney in dismissing the idea of Putnam’s alleged Saipan search. During an Oct. 28, 2015 discussion on the now defunct AERA (Amelia Earhart Research Association) Yahoo! Group Forum, Bright wrote that he agreed it was “unlikely that GP toured Saipan looking for his wife.” The former ONI agent continued:
I think the U.S. government was comfortable in the “crash and sank” version, and doubt that he would have taken on such a search without a lot of folks knowing it, including those Navy officials on Saipan in 1944. Never have I seen any other mention of this alleged search.
The only source I would depend on was Vaeth’s identification of Cushman, but who knows how credible Cushman was. He simply could have been mistaken about the identity. I just didn’t press Vaeth on Cushman and the circumstances he found Cushman. Hearsay at best.
. . . Anyway GP would have told Amy, Muriel , et al , even if unsuccessful, that he tried his best to find AE on Saipan. Never a word from him and as a journalist, this would have been reported somewhere, someplace.
Thus, I think you are right, that there really isn’t any solid evidence that GP toured the war torn Saipan. If GP had been there, other reporters would have picked up on it.
Prior to Les Kinney’s recent update, I was undecided about the Putnam-on-Saipan question. Most of all, I had Ross Game’s statement that he and Fred Goerner had viewed secret files in Washington that revealed Putnam’s Saipan visit, and the Cushman story via J. Gordon Vaeth seemed to support Game’s account. Otherwise, Mary Lovell had mentioned Putnam’s alleged Saipan search in her book, without citing a source, and Ron Reuther referenced “female sources“ that he never identified in his message to the AES.
Now I think Kinney’s research and reasoning is superior to the rest of what we have, and he’s made a believer out of me, at least unless and until more definitive information surfaces. Ross Game’s claim, however, still reverberates.
Readers will recall our friend Calvin Pitts, whose brilliant, five-part analysis of Earhart’s last flight, “CLUES: Amelia Earhart’s Disappearing Footprints in the Sky,” published on Aug. 10, 2018, is among the finest pieces of work to grace this blog since its inception in 2012.
Calvin is best known for his 1981 world flight, when he and two co-pilots commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Wiley Post-Harold Gatty World Flight in 1931. The flight was sponsored in part by the Oklahoma Air & Space Museum to honor the Oklahoma aviator Post.
During Calvin’s exceptional aviation career as an instructor, corporate pilot, airline pilot, flight manager, training manager and engineering test pilot, he flew antique planes to airshows, trained pilots and flew a multitude of single and multi-engine aircraft, including Twin Otters, DHC-7s, Aero Commanders, Metro IIIs, Lear Jets and Boeing 727s. He also worked for 10 years in public affairs for NASA at the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field Naval Air Station, Calif.; and NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. Calvin, 88, lives with his wife Wanda in the small Kentucky town of Sadieville.
On April 16 Calvin sent me a poignant, remarkable email, and I suggested that we should consider turning it into a post, to share with all who come here. The following story, “Mitsuo Fushida, From War Hero to Evangelist” appeared on the April 14 edition of the Christian History Institute’s It Happened Today and comprised the first part of Calvin’s message:
In December 1941 Mitsuo Fuchida led the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. When he sent up a green flare, the bombers accompanying him knew it was the moment to attack. When his plane radioed “Tora, Tora, Tora,” the Japanese knew the air attack had achieved complete surprise. For the duration of the war and for years afterward, he considered the Pearl Harbor attack the most thrilling exploit of his life. He tried to top his military success throughout the rest of World War II in attacking Ceylon and Australia. He also fought in the Solomon Islands and at the Battle of Midway. When it became apparent Japan would lose the war, he advocated fighting to the last man.
Nine years after Pearl Harbor, however, newspaper headlines trumpeted, “Pearl Harbor Hero Converts to Christianity.”
What had happened?
When Japanese troops were disbanded, Fuchida was among them. He was dumbfounded when he learned that a war buddy had been kindly treated in American captivity. How could that be? Enemies were not supposed to be kind to each other! During the war trials following the allied victory, an American offered Fuchida a religious pamphlet in a Tokyo train station.
Despite his Buddhist background, he took it because its title intrigued him: I Was a Prisoner of Japan. It was the story of Jake DeShazer whom the Japanese had cruelly mistreated as a prisoner of war. DeShazer had been filled with hatred for his captors; but by reading the Bible he had learned to love the Japanese and after the war had become an evangelist to them. His story moved Fuchida, who purchased a Bible so he could find out for himself why DeShazer was so changed.
Reading Luke’s account of the Crucifixion, Fuchida was impressed when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He would write later, “That date, April 14, 1950, became the second ‘day to remember’ of my life. On that day, I became a new person. My complete view on life was changed by the intervention of the Christ I had always hated and ignored before.”
Shortly afterward, he stood on a platform with Jake DeShazer, both men giving their testimonies. Fuchida went on to evangelize throughout the Orient. He wrote the story of his conversion in From Pearl Harbor to Calvary. “I now work at striking the death-blow to the basic hatred which infests the human . . . . And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ. He is the only One Who was powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with His thoughts.”
Mitsuo Fuchida died in 1976 of complications from diabetes.
Next comes the second part of Calvin’s email, a “Personal Note” that becomes an amazing vignette bordering on the uncanny:
I heard Mitsuo Fuchida speak at a church in Port Arthur, Texas in 1956. I met him then. Eleven years after World War II ended, Fuchida’s story was a very big event, almost unheard of. In 1959, I took a graduate-school class in Wilmore, Ky., my boyhood home. Jake DeShazer was also enrolled in that class. My house was located at 203 College Street behind which, on the adjacent street, was the temporary home of Jake DeShazer and his family while he was in school. I met him then.
Later, I learned from his daughter, while reading her book about this event, that Jake and his family returned to Japan as missionaries in 1948 on a World War II Troop Transport named the USS General M. C. Meigs. That was in December. Ironically, in February of that same year, 1948, my parents with three children (I was 14), went to the Philippines as missionaries ON THE VERY SAME GEN. MEIGS. In 1951, I returned to the States to attend college, with a stopover in Tokyo, Japan for a brief stay with a Japanese family, friends of my father from WWII days when he was a Captain during the South Pacific invasion.
These not-so-unrelated events of the stories of Mitsuo Fuchida, Jake DeShazer, USS Gen. Meigs, visiting Pearl Harbor two-and-a-half years after WWII and standing where this story began, attending class with Jake DeShazer, and living so close to him, brought this story up close and personal. It is not something you easily forget. While reading the above historical tidbit on the Christian History Institute website, I noticed a phrase which is a key fact in Amelia’s decision that took her to the Marshall Islands. Japanese soldiers, unlike the Japanese civilian population, were trained and taught to hate the enemy while fighting, and to torture them when captured.
This was the reason why Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were cruelly treated when captured, at the same time while being adored by many Japanese civilians, as testified to by the newspaper accounts covering the world-exploits of Amelia. There are pictures in the news of Amelia having dinner with Japanese fans in Los Angeles prior to her world flight.
This Japanese dichotomy seems strange until one realizes the great “divide”
within their pre-World War II culture. I also observed the very same issue while reading the diary of Joseph Grew, ambassador to Japan prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For what it’s worth, I’m always looking for little bits and pieces of things which
have a connection to Amelia.
The above cultural comment, which I have found in other sources, helps answer the question as to why Amelia was NOT treated as a celebrity when she was captured, and why she failed to understand the danger of landing in Japanese-held territory. This helps explain the critical decision which Amelia herself made as she crossed her Rubicon, a later relevant subject.
For reasons that are both legitimate and historically accurate, I believe Amelia, with Fred’s navigational guidance, actually intended to fly to the Marshall Islands due to unexpected events which “painted them into a corner” where a critical but quick decision had to be made.
To validate this, triggers in my thinking include:
(1) the reminder of the hair-raising takeoff from Lae;
(2) the massive thunderstorms along the original route;
(3) en route decisions to alter the planned routing;
(4) intentional radio silence and very brief transmissions;
(5) that intent being tied to the “experimental” HFDF (high frequency direction finder) sitting on Howland, a critical issue;
(6) the extremely dangerous use of the short coral strip at Howland for takeoff at max gross weight, especially when viewed in the light of the previous close-call takeoff from Lae;
(7) the feint in using Gene Vidal’s pre-planned Contingency Plan for Amelia to Tarawa if Howland could not be found;
(8) the unplanned serious weather, as viewed both from Howland, and as reported by the Hawaii PBY en route to Howland;
(9) the role of the military in using Amelia’s planned route in a subtle and non-obtrusive way, making her a quasi-participant . . . but also a public “non-participant” for the purpose of “plausible deniability.” In this way, she did not work for the military, but they were allowed to ‘piggy-back’ an experiment with her flight.
(10) the weather-related trap into which she inadvertently flew;
(11) the strong radio signal from Jaluit in the Marshall Islands, which Fred had often used in his Pan Am flying days as their No. 1 Navigator Instructor. He had had extensive experience in this part of the Pacific, and could have been the one to suggest Jaluit as an alternate plan of action after being trapped by the weather between them and Howland. Amelia was probably greatly relieved that a certain decision had been made for her.
(12) Amelia’s Rubicon, and the warning attached to it beforehand, followed by strong statements from the White House afterwards;
(13) the last-minute decision to fly to the Marshalls based upon:
severe weather which had moved in behind her, creating a weather “trap,” AND . . . the new consideration about Howland’s possible inadequacy due to the experience of the close call of the Lae takeoff AND . . . the strong radio signal from the Marshalls which was familiar to Fred, AND . . . Amelia’s serious misunderstanding about the major difference in the double standard of Japanese “friend & foe” culture, etc.
I’ve rambled much more than I intended, perhaps. At any rate, I thought the information might be of interest to you. (End Calvin Pitts’ April 16 email.)
Calvin’s meetings with Mitsuo Fuchida, the living face of the Pearl Harbor attack; Jake DeShazer, a war hero and member of Doolittle’s Raiders who became a Christian missionary; his three-and-a-half years (1948 to ’51) in the Philippines as a teenager with his missionary parents; his attending Brent Episcopal Boarding School in the Philippines with teachers from New England, offering excellent academic training and his 1981 world flight whose flight path crossed Amelia’s twice, between Tarawa and Howland, and between Howland and the Marshalls (visually highlighted on his copy of Google Earth map) have formed a remarkable confluence within him and contributed to his special knowledge, understanding and character.
We look forward to our next encounter with Calvin Pitts, whether it be his “My Earhart Scenario” or some other glimpse into his long and accomplished life. Those who aren’t familiar with his work should read “CLUES: Amelia Earhart’s Disappearing Footprints in the Sky” as soon as possible.
Today we present the third and concluding installment of Dean S. Jennings’ 1939-1940 compilation, “IS AMELIA EARHART STILL ALIVE?” his chronicle of the desperate times of George P. Putnam, as he searched in vain for his missing wife, Amelia Earhart, in the years immediately following her disappearance on July 2, 1937. This article appeared in the November 1994 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and outside of my boldface emphasis and inserted photos, it is a near exact representation of the stories that appeared in the December 1939 and January 1940 editions of Popular Aviation magazine. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“IS AMELIA EARHART STILL ALIVE?” (Conclusion)
By Dean S. Jennings
Late in September, Mr. Putnam received a telephone call from a man of unquestioned integrity, a writer long prominent in literary circles and a serious student of psychic phenomena.
“George,” he said eagerly, “I have had the most baffling experience in all the years I’ve been doing psychic research!”
“Well . . . ” Mr. Putnam said lightly, “what am I supposed to do?”
“Now, listen. This medium is a middle-aged woman of considerable intelligence. She has two voices — one her own, and another that comes from some place in her chest.”
“No — I’ve already eliminated that possibility. The point is, George, she gave me a brief message from AE the other night. And there may be more. I just thought you’d like to sit in for a demonstration.”
“Make it tomorrow night, about 7:30?”
“Fine. I’ll be there.”
And so George Putnam, still skeptical, still rebuking himself for toying with fantasy, went to the author’s Los Angeles home and witnessed a phenomenon that numerous observers have yet to solve. The woman medium was thoroughly examined before the demonstration began. Her mouth was taped. Mr. Putnam and his friends stood very close to her, and all the lights were on in the room.
Suddenly the voice was heard, an eerie whisper that rose and fell like the night wind. The woman’s eyes were closed, her body was tense. There was not a ripple of motion in the muscles of her throat or chest. Mr. Putnam began asking questions; the voice answered. Sometimes softly, sometimes in a shrill whistle of startling volume. And here is a portion of the transcript, just as it was recorded during that ghostly interview, with Mr. Putnam’s notations concerning some of the answers:
Voice (V): . . . Fred was not at fault. It unavoidable.
Putnam (P): Were they killed instantly?
P: Were you on the plane a long time?
V: No. On a reef. . . .
P: What direction from Howland?
V: Almost directly north. (There are no islands north of Howland.)
P: Is it Kingman Reef?
V: Near there. There are Navy planes flying there now. (This is November. The Navy search ended in July.)
P: What will they find?
V: They will find wreckage, in the water, near the island. (Nothing was ever found.)
P: What did Fred Noonan call his wife?
V: Fred wants you to tell B. that it was not his fault. . . He is living. (Evasive answer.)
P: Who is living? Noonan?
V: He is not dead. He wanted you to know there is no death. . . . Maitland. He is here.
P. Is Kingsford-Smith there?
V: Yes. Maitland and Kingsford-Smith.
P: Wiley Post? And Will Rogers?
V: Yes. Yes. Amelia is among a lot of friends.
P: What about her mother?
V: She has not given up hope. (That was true.)
P: Can you ascertain from Amelia what word she used in addressing me? Does the name begin with the letter “K”?
V: No, “P.”
P: This is important; I want to get this right.
V: Pug. Pug or Pugsy. (AE actually gave me a nickname similar to this, although only one or two intimate friends knew it.)
P: What was it that Amelia always carried that she didn’t take this time and left with me?
V: Her bracelet. (This is true. No one knew but myself.)
P: What country did the bracelet come from?
V: Africa. (Only AE and I knew that.)
P: What would she like me to do with the bracelet?
V: Keep it. You gave it to her, so you keep it.
P. Will any of Amelia’s things, like her watch, ever be found?
V: No. Parts of the plane.
P: Will you ask Amelia, please, if she had the Seagraves watch.
V: She did not. (Wrong. She did have it.)
P: Where is her will?
V: In the safe-deposit box. With the watch. (Wrong.)
P: Ask Amelia if she knows anything about the trip I am contemplating.
V: Yes. That is very good. By all means go. (I was planning a cruise. I did go later.)
The séance ended as abruptly as it had begun and George Putnam went home to ponder another mystery.
He has had other brushes with the occult in the long months since. Things have happened that defy the laws of nature and common sense and, at the same time, are ridiculous and an insult to intelligence. There was the woman in Los Angeles who dreamed that Mr. Putnam came to her home and showed her a bulky manuscript.
“It looked like the bound proofs of a book,” she wrote. “You riffled the pages and I saw the number on the last one. Have you written a story about Miss Earhart. and is it about 266 pages long?”
Mr. Putnam had not. But some months later, when he finished compiling a draft of Amelia Earhart’s book, “Last Flight” — it was exactly 266 pages. Was this the power of suggestion? Perhaps. . . .
There was the group of four college women in San Francisco who had long scoffed at psychic phenomena until they sat down one night to “play” with a Ouija board. That venture resulted in some 10,000 words of dialogue between them and an invisible power which moved the wooden finger in the name of Amelia Earhart. The board spelled out a vast amount of technical aviation information that required an expert to explain — information that the women admitted was far beyond their understanding. Not one of them had ever flown a plane.
They wrote to Mr. Putnam with a sense of chagrin and foolishness. “At the expense of typing ourselves as a few crazy cranks,” one said, “we are sending this material to you. We are ordinarily sensible people who found a game turning into something frightening and mysterious. I wish we knew the answer. . . . ”
George Putnam replied, and his answer was indicative of the position he took when the first telegram came, the opinion he still holds today.
“I gather that you regard such manifestations much as I do,” Putnam wrote. “That is, with open mindedness and tempered curiosity. Long ago I became convinced, as did Miss Earhart, that there is much on the borderland of things psychic about which we understand little or nothing. We were both always ready ’to be shown.’ I have had an extraordinary amount of this kind of communication for many months, coming from sincere people with no axe to grind, no favors to ask. I have told them what I am telling you: I honestly do not know how to explain these things. . . . ” (End of “IS AMELIA EARHART STILL ALIVE?”)
For more on Amelia’s reputed psychic abilities and her quixotic relationship with the other side, please see my Jan. 18, 2017 post, “The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart.”