Ron Reuther’s 1995 tribute to Fred Goerner

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.

Undated photo of Ron Reuther in front of the Western Aerospace Museum in Oakland, California, where Amelia Earhart’s plane was kept prior to her 1937 flight. Reuther was a founding member of the Amelia Earhart Society and was a committed naturalist who directed the San Francisco and Philadelphia zoos, among others. (Photo by Lea Suzuki, San Francisco Chronicle.)

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

“Fred Goerner”
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.

Earhart Remains? San Francisco: Radio newsman Fred Goerner of KCBS, San Francisco, examines box containing what he believes to be remains of aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator here.  The box was shipped here for examination by Univ. of Calif. anthropologist Prof. Theodore McCown who will attempt to make positive identification.  Goerner found remains in graves on Saipan Island after months of investigation.  (Photo circa November 1961.)

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 hebelieved 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.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, circa 1942, the last of the Navy’s 5-star admirals. In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Nimitz called Goerner in San Francisco.  “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him. The admiral’s revelation appeared to be a monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman, and is known even to casual observers of the Earhart matter. “After five years of effort, the former commander of U.S. Naval Forces in the Pacific was telling me it had not been wasted,” Goerner wrote.

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.

9 responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this! Aside from having read Goerner’s book, which was fascinating, this is the most detailed piece I’ve ever read about his background. I know my grandma knew Goerner as she was an LA-based pilot, radio news writer, and journalist. He spoke to the 99s about his Earhart research in the early 1960s as my grandmother wrote about it. I would love to hear some of his original recordings.

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  2. Wasn’t the subject of Goerner’s change of heart about the Marshall Islands landing scenario thoroughly debated on this forum several years ago? If it was, I can’t recall what the conclusion about his reasoning was. Is this the first time Reuther’s Tribute has appeared here? I hope some more information about this subject is available.

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  3. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    I’ve never been able to fathom how Fred Goerner could reverse himself about AE and FN going down in the Marshall Islands, especially after his claims about what was revealed to him by Admiral Nimitz. Likewise, I can’t understand why the Nimitz Museum would so willingly accept and become the repository of Goerner’s papers, books, etc., yet steadfastly refuses to carry TTAL in the museum gift shop! It does not make sense to me. Then again, so few things do anymore.

    A nice tribute to Goerner by Ron Reuther. Requiesce in pace to both.

    All best,

    William

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  4. Thanks Mike- a fitting tribute..as others have commented, strange how Goerner changed hs mind about where the duo landed..why the reversal? Although others may have come before him, he has to be considered the one who really brought this incident into the spotlight for most of us who swallowed the crashed and sank theory. I know personally, I first became intrigued with this story after reading his book around 1967-68. Obviously, to warrant spending so much time and effort to find the truth, it Intrigued Fred as well. As you may remember, several years ago, I tried to interest the ABC affiliate in San Francisco (I live in the area) to take a hard look at the work you have done..but, as you predicted, the idiot that I spoke to on the phone could not care less. What a shame that this has gone on so long after Goerner ‘s work.

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  5. Greetings William and Ladies and Gentlemen:

    William, I see you also picked up on Goerner’s change of heart. I can’t recall if we examined that curiosity here, but I think we did. If I opined on it, I think I would have said, “They got to Goerner” whoever they might be, and he may have been rewarded with a gift, or God forbid, They offered to never reveal some skeleton in his closet. From Mike’s remarks about him here, I surmise he may not have been exactly squeaky clean. It seems to me that this is the way TPTB conduct their relations with politicians and other celebrities these days. Or maybe it was always this way. Does the Nimitz museum showcase his change of heart? I doubt it.

    Now that I’m commenting here, I will mention that I did get the book on Japan you recommended. I’m at the part of circa 1937, and I certainly don’t expect any mention of AE to be in it. They are just starting their serious military buildup, due to the warmongers taking over. Even though it does mention that one of the generals? expresses grave misgivings about a war with the USA due to it’s considerable advantage in resources. But he was overruled. There are many, many pages about the convolutions of the politics of Japan in those years and apparently decades. Slow going. If this book is making a case for the inevitability of a war withn the USA due to Japanese politics, and the intransigence of the Japanese rulers, then this is it. I get it. Still, I’m skeptical. One glaring omission to me is there is no mention at all of the financing of the Japanese war effort in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 by the “N.Y. Bankers.” To me, this is not a minor issue, and the story is generally well known. How come it’s left out? This makes me suspicious that the book might be a little one-sided, or pertinent details are purposely omitted.

    I don’t know what to make of this, and I totally agree with you that the more we investigate, the less the accounts make any sense. Perhaps the aliens are doing this to us with 5G technology or directed energy beams.

    All Best,
    David

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    1. David,

      Your salutation gave me a good chuckle!

      Glad to hear that you got a copy of Hoyt’s book and are reading it. It can be a bit of a slog in parts, but it is well worth reading all the way to the end.

      I’m not going to speculate on the alleged involvement of Wall Street bankers, Jacob Schiff, the Rothschilds, et. al. in the motivations for or financing of the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. They have become the universal, all-purpose, go to “boogeyman” for every bad thing that happens in the world. Likewise, I won’t speculate on Fred Goerner’s reversal. All I’ll say about that is that at the time Fred was suffering from stomach cancer, which is pretty gruesome. His pain and suffering were no doubt terrible, and it just may have affected his thinking and judgement.

      All best,

      William

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      1. William,

        I probably don’t have enough years left to study the Russo-Japanese war and/or come to any conclusion about it. The book does mention Japanese troops having a presence in Siberia, I’m not sure why. Whether or not we insinuate that the “NY Bankers” and their accomplices played a role in or were the “boogeymen” in the Russo-Japanese war, the facts as we know them say they did. Whether the NY Bankers played as role in the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, I don’t know. I would surmise they did.

        What is troubling is that this important issue in Japanese politics is completely left out. From there, I begin to suspect that this book, weighed down by a quagmire of probably irrelevant details, is aimed at reinforcing the conventional narrative for the unsophisticated Joe 6-pack. I predict that any mention of the role of FDR in promoting war with Japan as outlined in the book, “Day of Deceit” won’t be there either. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think so. I’ll soon find out.

        Sincerely,
        David

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      2. William,

        I wanted to clarify my reply to your comment here. What this has to do with Amelia is only peripheral at best. I referred to Wikipedia for my superficial education.

        What I learned was this: Wikipedia says that Jacob Schiff at Kuhn, Loeb, financed Japan’s purchase of the armaments Japan needed to defeat the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Their motive was to bring about the fall of the Tsarist regime in Russia which at the time was persecuting Russian Jews. At this, they were successful, one could argue. Not immediately, of course. Wikipedia doesn’t say who the armaments were purchased from, Germany or USA comes to mind, but I would say Kuhn, Loeb probably made a comfortable profit on this venture.

        It would be at least curious if Japan had purchased American military hardware at this time, but not out of the question. Nevertheless, some of my suspicions were unwarranted. Schiff was allied with the Kerensky regime. To my surprise, it turns out that in the 1917 Russian Revolution, it was not the Tsarist regime that was overthrown but the Kerensky regime. At least that was my take. Schiff was totally against the Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky. Even though his family had been friends with the Ulyanovs (Lenin’s family) . Anyway, to get to my point, what happened was that through this transaction, Japan got a big boost in its quest to become a world power.

        Maybe inadvertantly, but it was a big factor, there’s no denying that. So, to make the inference that I was implying that somehow the Rothchilds, being the great boogeymen of the world, of course, were behind this large loan to Japan, is beside the point. That was not my intention. My point was that this is not mentioned in Hoyt’s book. Maybe some influential Jewish reviewers of his book objected to this episode being included as sounding detrimental to the reputations of Jews in general as it could be construed as Jewish interests aiding the evil enemy, Japan. Who knows? But if he leaves this important episode out, what else is he leaving out, I wonder?

        AS the history we read about WW2 is written by the victors (us) there is little incentive for publishers to put out books giving the (evil) enemy’s viewpoint. It’s too bad there is no Japanese version of the Amelia Earhart incident. It might be enlightening.

        Sincerely,
        David

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  6. Goerner is interesting as a trailblazer in alternative views of the Earhart story, but many these days have not heard of him. Thanks Mike, for keeping this story alive.

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