Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Almon Gray and his extensive analysis of the radio problems Amelia Earhart encountered on her last flight.
A pioneer in aeronautical communications, Gray enlisted in the Navy in 1930, where he was a radioman and gunner aboard cruiser-based aircraft. He went on to attain the rank of captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, flew with Fred Noonan and was an important figure in the development of the Marshall Islands landing scenario as an original member of the Amelia Earhart Society.
After his initial Navy enlistment he signed on with Pan American Airways, and in 1935 helped build the bases to support the first trans-Pacific air service, and was first officer-in-charge of the PAA radio station on Wake Island. After the San Francisco-Hong Kong air route was opened in late 1935, he was a radio officer in the China Clipper and her sister flying boats. Later he was assistant superintendent of communications for PAA’s Pacific Division.
The following brief entry appeared in the July 1995 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and was written on May 5, 1994, less than five months before his death. Titled “EXCERPTS From the pen of Al Gray,” we can be fairly certain that, unlike another notable Earhart researcher who changed his mind about a key piece of the Earhart saga long before he contracted his fatal illness, these were Gray’s final, well-considered opinions on a major question that has yet to be conclusively answered.
In his opening, I think Gray was more than kind to J.A. Donohue, author of the 1987 atrocity, The Earhart Disappearance: The British Connection, among the most incoherent Earhart books ever, in my opinion. (Boldface mine throughout.)
I like his questions about items in Donahue’s book. I have a copy of the book that was sent to me in appreciation of some information I had provided. It has a wealth of good basic data that I often refer to, but some of the interpretations made of the data seem very far out to me.
The photo finish aerial photography, with the supporting radio range carrying submarine seems particularly improbable. As a matter of fact, the more I learn the flight the less do I think that AE was engaged in military type espionage. The following paragraph [broken for easier reading] from a reply I made a while back to one of the early Earhart writers who now is working on a sequel, reflects my current thinking:
“As to AE’s mission, I’m probably naive but I do not believe she had any military type espionage mission, although she undoubtedly was keeping her eyes open for possible commercial air routes, and her landing at Howland probably was intended to support the politics of acquiring title to Howland, Baker and some other islands we were arguing about with Great Britain. I suspect that the President’s interest in the flight may have stemmed from AE’s personal relationship with Mrs. Roosevelt.
“I can easily visualize Mrs. Roosevelt having lunch with the President after one of AE’s White House visits and saying, ‘Franklin she is a dear girl! Isn’t there something you can do to help her with her flight?’ The President picks up the phone and calls the Secretary of the Navy and says in effect ‘I have a personal interest in a flight Amelia Earhart plans to make. I want you to help her in any way you can.’
“And so it went down the line, following the old maxim that ‘The expressed wish of a superior officer is an implied command.’ There were other and much better methods of getting military intelligence than using a civilian aircraft and an inexperienced intelligence officer.”
Gray died at 84 on Sept. 26, 1994 at Blue Hill, Maine. For a comprehensive review of all that’s been presented on this blog about Almon Gray, please click here.
Ron Reuther was among the first members of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society, and was perhaps the most cerebral and historically erudite of all. Reuther often provided previously unknown background information that brought new perspectives to heated discussions, and was known to introduce new and enlightening topics that enhanced learning.
Reuther founded the Oakland Aviation Museum in 1981, directed the San Francisco Zoo from 1966 to 1973, and helped to catalog and prepare Fred Goerner’s papers for their placement at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas.
While director of the San Francisco Zoo, Mr. Reuther took a sickly baby gorilla named Koko into his home and, with his children’s help, nursed her back to health. A few months later, a Stanford psychology graduate student who had been studying the zoo’s apes asked for permission to work with Koko. Mr. Reuther agreed and the student, Penny Patterson, began a life’s work teaching American Sign Language to Koko and researching apes’ capacity for language.
Reuther was also a friend of Fred Goerner, and six months after the groundbreaking author of The Search for Amelia Earhart finally lost his battle to cancer, Reuther penned an eloquent tribute to the late author and researcher, which was published in the July 1995 edition of the Amelia Earhart Newsletter.
by Ronald T. Reuther
May 31, 1995
Amelia Earhart researcher and author Fred Goerner died after a four-year battle with stomach cancer on Sept. 13, 1994 at his home in San Francisco at the age of 69.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1926, he moved to Los Angeles with his family at the age of seven, where his father worked in motion pictures and recording work. His father, also a cellist, later appeared with Artie Shaw’s Orchestra in the early 1940s. Fred served three years in the U.S. Navy Seabees during World War II, some of this time on assignment on Pacific islands. He was a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara majoring in speech and held a master’s degree from the University of Utah. He taught a year at Westminster College, and then went to work for a Salt Lake City television station. He spent five years doing newscasts, sports shows, children’s programs and, for a time, hosting late night movies. In 1960 he was hired by KCBS Radio in San Francisco where one of his assignments was as a staff reporter. There he wrote and produced KALEIDOSCOPE, a weekly feature dealing with the colorful past and present of San Francisco. He also wrote and produced other features for the CBS Radio DIMENSION series. Goerner became a familiar voice on KCBS, co-hosting a 1960’s talk show, Spectrum 74 on which he interviewed celebrities from John F. Kennedy to Jayne Mansfield.
Goerner won a much-coveted Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award for his report on a World War II bomber and its crew discovered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He also became a licensed private pilot.
Fred became best known for his exhaustive investigation of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. His book The Search for Amelia Earhart, published in 1966 by Doubleday, became popular and was widely read. In his book, Fred theorized that Earhart and Noonan were on a secret mission, were captured by the Japanese, and died in captivity on Saipan. Neither the United States nor the Japanese government ever admitted this was the case, however, and the mystery remains unsolved. On the day of his death, Fred tape recorded that he “believed that Amelia Earhart and Noonan were not on a secret mission for the U.S. military, because the military didn’t have the dollars.” He stated he “believes they collected ‘white intelligence.’ ” He also believed “they landed on one of five small reefs between Howland Island and the northern Phoenix Islands and that it is possible the plane is still there.” Other researchers with access to Fred’s correspondence and records may be able to determine why Fred no longer thought they went down in the Marshall Islands. It is still possible they were then taken from the Marshall Islands and later to Saipan.
Starting in 1960 with an article that appeared in the San Mateo Times. Fred became vitally interested in determining what might have happened to Amelia and Noonan and their Lockheed 10-E. He completed a total of six trips to various Pacific Islands and many trips to other locations tracking down information and to interview literally thousands of people involved in or having information about the famous pilot and navigator, their airplane and its equipment, and their last flight. This resulted in the publication of The Search for Amelia Earhart and significantly increased the public’s interest in the story.
Fred, a meticulous and thorough researcher and author, continued his normal employment as a broadcaster, but became in demand as a speaker and correspondent on the subject of Amelia’s last flight. His recall of fact and event was remarkable and obvious when he spoke. Fred became a friend of Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the American Naval Forces in the Pacific during World War II, as a result of his research in the Earhart affair.
Goerner’s research of the story continued after his book’s publication and up to his death, as he corresponded with people and agencies around the world in pursuit of more information and the truth of the story. Many later authors were stimulated to initiate their study of and writing about the Earhart/Noonan story by Fred’s book.
Goerner participated in a number of symposia on the subject. He intended to write a sequel to his book, but never did. He did write some articles and was frequently interviewed and quoted by other authors and journalists.
As a result of his experiences with the Earhart story, he became interested in several related subjects: intelligence in general and specifically in the Pacific; the background and history of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941; the disappearance of Lt. Col. “Pete” Ellis, USMC; FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt); the Japanese and especially their war and activities in the Pacific; the U.S. Navy; the battle of Tarawa in World War II; and in aviation. He also intended to write books on Pearl Harbor, and on Ellis, but never did.
He did produce and narrate a major documentary film on the U.S. Marines and the battle of Tarawa. He also recorded and cataloged a major collection of World War II music and songs.
After recurring problems and operations for cancer, his strength ebbed notably in the last year of his life. On the day of his death he tape recorded his last comments on the Earhart and Noonan mystery.
Fred accumulated an excellent library (some 800 volumes) and frequently underlined and wrote comments in the margins of the books, some very rare, that related to the above subjects. His voluminous correspondence, many feet of audio taped interviews (20 volumes), 101 other tapes on Earhart/Noonan; and many 16mm films on the same subjects were given to the Admiral Nimitz Museum.
He arranged most fittingly that his material go to the museum in the Nimitz State Park in Fredericksburg, Texas, Admiral Nimitz’s birthplace and hometown. He had visited and lectured there in the last two years of his life.
His widow, Merla Zellerbach Goerner, completed her husband’s wishes and the world now has the Goerner collection available for study in combination with other related materials in the Nimitz Museum.
Goerner is survived by his widow, a son Lance, stepchildren Gary and Linda Zellerbach, and two grandchildren. (End of Reuther tribute.)
Ron Reuther passed away on Oct. 4, 2007. For more on Reuther’s work in Earhart research, please click here. Goerner’s name and record are ubiquitous in Earhart history since 1960. Please click here for Goerner-related stories on this blog.
Earhart researcher and former Air Force officer Joe Gervais, whose important Guam and Saipan witness interviews in 1960 strongly supported Fred Goerner’s Saipan findings, was best known as the creator of the insidious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth, forever immortalized along with other crackpot ideas in Joe Klaas’ infamous 1970 book, Amelia Earhart Lives.
In assessing Gervais’ contributions to Earhart research, I think a fair, even generous verdict might fall somewhere within the “mixed” category. To elevate Gervais’ work to anything more, as some in the Amelia Earhart Society, including his former friend and enabler Bill Prymak, were wont to do, is simply wrong. Of course it’s only my opinion, but I’m convinced that Gervais did far more harm than good for the truth in the Earhart disappearance. The Bolam travesty and Joe Klaas’ outrageous Amelia Earhart Lives remain among the most damaging items in Earhart “research” history.
The holes Gervais dug for himself with his ridiculous ideas in Amelia Earhart Lives and many other false claims were far too deep for him to escape contempt among some researchers, regardless of what his patrons in the Amelia Earhart Society and the The International Forest of Friendship, where he was inducted in 2005, might tell you.
The following piece by Gervais, “A Chronology of Japanese Denials Interests and Cooperation” [sic] appeared in the February 1995 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. I’ve copied the original AES Newsletter presentation and will follow with comments.
Let’s review this list of former Japanese officers and civilians who denied having any knowledge about the facts in the Earhart disappearance; we know about Amy Earhart’s highly publicized July 1949 interview with the L.A. Times, which Gervais mentions in this piece. Other related tidbits here are U.S. Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reishauer’s 1963 statement to Muriel Morrissey that the State Department file wasn’t closed, and Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s 1966 telephone revelation to Fred Goerner that “Earhart came down in the Marshalls and was picked up by the Japanese.”
The first in Gervais’ series of Japanese lies came in August 1945, when on the heels of its surrender, “The Japanese Government denied ever having the flyers in their custody.” This requires no comment.
Gervais’ chronology next states, “Aug. 49 [sic]: CAPT. HANJIRO TAKAGI of the KOSHU carried out a search SE of the Marshall Islands but no traces of AE were found.” Of course no search of the Marshalls was done in connection with the Earhart case in August 1949.
On July 7, 1937, the New York Times reported:
The Japanese Navy’s 2,080-ton survey ship Koshu, Captain Hanjiro Takagi commanding, which is cruising in the area around Howland Island, was ordered yesterday to search for Amelia Earhart. The orders to the Koshu were radioed after Hirosi Saito, Ambassador to Washington, had reported that the United States Government had accepted an offer of Japanese assistance. Admiral Mistumasa Yonai, the Navy minister, immediately transmitted instructions to the Japanese commanders in Formosa and the Mandated islands.”
As we see in in my Nov. 13, 2020 post, “Japanese lied about Earhart search in Marshalls,” author and researcher Vincent V. Loomis wrote that the “Japanese managed to convince G-2 [U.S. Intelligence] they had searched the Marshalls quite thoroughly when in fact they had not. The 12th Squadron and the Kamoi were listened as having searched the area when, as found in their logs, they were in port in Japan. The Koshu was also listed as part of the search, but as having found nothing.”
Also in August 1949, Gervais cites the former “Japanese Governor of the Marshall Islands, Kinjiro Kitajima [no dates given for his tenure] at Jaluit Atoll found leading a secluded life in a Tokyo suburb, [who] said, ‘He had absolutely no knowledge of a while aviatrix, or one of any other color for that matter landing anywhere among the Marshalls at that time.’ ”
Our final August 1949 item comes from former Vice Adm. Seichiro Fujimori, “a frequent visitor to the Marshalls in connection with naval matters, [who] said, ‘To his knowledge no American flyers ever landed in the Marshalls.’ ”
The Kitajima and Fujimori denials Gervais cites must have come from two newspaper stories published in August 1949: “Survey Discounts Amelia Earhart Prisoner Rumors,” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 26, 1949 [no byline]; or “The Earhart Mystery: UP [United Press] Tracing of Story Famed Aviatrix Was Nabbed By Japanese Still Proving Futile.” Nippon Times, Aug. 29, 1949, by Ian Mitsu. Gervais, who never claimed to be a writer — his Air Force officer friend Joe Klaas is the author of Amelia Earhart Lives, but the book is based almost entirely on Gervais’ ideas — can be confusing in his presentation.
Gervais fast-forwards to July 1960, when Fred Goerner, soon followed by himself (Gervais) and Robert Dinger, visited Saipan in search of Earhart eyewitnesses and the truth after Paul Briand Jr.’s Daughter of the Sky trumpeted Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s first-person account to the world for the first time. Once again Japan offered several responses, consistent only in their uniform dishonesty and deceit.
Imperial Navy Capt. Zenshiro Hoshina of the 1st Section Naval Affairs Bureau and conservative member of the lower house of Parliment [sic] (no dates given), was first to weigh in, when he stated, “I absolutely deny it. No such execution could have taken place without my knowledge.”
Adm. Shegeyoshi Inouye, a wartime member of the Imperial Navy General Staff, chimed in by announcing, “I vigorously deny any knowledge of Earhart incident.”
The third and final of Gervais’ July 1960 entrees comes from Adm. Hitoshi Tsunoda, a former naval commander-turned naval historian, who declaimed, “Our records show no such incident.”
Such were the Japanese falsehoods that Gervais chose to cite, though he could have listed other similar mendacities emanating from the lips of the Emperor’s slaves, past and present. What else should we expect from the masters of the Bataan Death March, which remains the single greatest atrocity ever perpetuated against American POWs?
What was never expected was the truly shocking revelation that came from a humble Japanese housewife, Mrs. Michiko Sugita, whose amazing courage in stepping forward and separating herself from her entire nation’s shameful history in the Earhart matter probably cost that good woman her life.
Gervais quotes a November 1970 TOKYO REUTERS dispatch: “Mrs. Michiko Sugita stated that her father, a policeman on Saipan in 1937 stated, ‘It was the Japanese military who executed Earhart,’ and also that it disgusted him after he had learned about it because it was an illegal act under the Geneva Convention.” (End of Joe Gervais’ “A Chronology of Japanese Denials Interests and Cooperation.”)
Mrs. Michiko Sugita’s initial media revelation that Japanese military police shot Amelia Earhart as a spy on Saipan in 1937 was to the Japan Times. The story, headlined “Japanese Woman Says Police Executed Amelia on Saipan,” was released by the Tokyo office of United Press International on November 12. I don’t have the Tokyo Reuters release.
“Mrs. Sugita, who was 11 at the time, said Japanese military police told her father an American aviator had been shot as a spy,” UPI reported. “She said she never learned how the woman had been captured or where the execution took place.”
Sugita’s account remains the only report ever from a Japanese national that supports Amelia Earhart’s presence and death on Saipan in 1937. Thomas E. Devine, author of Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident (1987), eventually got Sugita’s address from the director of Asian services for the Tokyo bureau of UPI, and he shared a friendly but brief correspondence with Sugita that ended suddenly and without explanation. More than once Devine told me that he believed Sugita was “disappeared” by the Japanese government for her “treachery,” and as an example to anyone else in Japan with knowledge who might have been considering coming forward to support Sugita’s account. I can only agree fully.
For more on Michiko Sugita, please see pages 107-111 of Truth at Last (2nd Edition).
Joe Gervais passed away at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 26, 2005 at age 80.