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.