Readers here are familiar with Thomas E. Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, the former Army postal sergeant’s dramatic recollection of his three eyewitness encounters with the Earhart Electra on Saipan during the U.S invasion in summer 1944, the final time watching as the Earhart plane was torched, strafed and burned beyond recognition. Devine closed Eyewitness with an emotional plea to any and all with similar knowledge to step forward in support of his efforts to establish the truth:
. . . But now, after four decades of exhaustive study and analysis, I can unequivocally substantiate the presence of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan in 1937 as well as their deaths and subsequent interment in an unmarked grave in the southern outskirts of Garapan.
I am determined to return to Saipan and authenticate the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. I appeal to readers to join me in this effort by supplying any documents, foreign or domestic, which have bearing on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, her navigator Frederick Noonan, or their Lockheed Electra. Should you merely hold memories in the shadows, I urge you to correspond with me now. The challenge is there and the burden of proof is ours to share.
After his 1963 Saipan visit with Fred Goerner to search for the gravesite shown him by an Okinawan woman there in 1945, Devine would never return, for a variety of frustrating reasons — mainly the CNMI and Saipan governments’ concerted opposition to his plans — an outcome he never imagined. But as a result of his appeal in Eyewitness and elsewhere, 26 former GIs who served on Saipan contacted him and shared their experiences relative to Earhart and Noonan’s presence and deaths there, and this formed the basis for our 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart.
Robert E. Wallack, of Woodbridge, Conn., a short drive from Devine’s West Haven home, contacted him shortly after learning of Eyewitness’s publication. With his gregarious personality and riveting account of his discovery of Amelia Earhart’s briefcase in a blown safe on Saipan, he became the best known of all the GI witnesses. For much more on Wallack’s account, see my Sept. 28, 2015 post, Son Bill tells Robert E. Wallack’s amazing story.
Earskin J. Nabers, of Baldwyn, Mississippi, also had a Saipan story to tell, every bit as compelling and important as Wallack’s, but it almost never got out. The low-key Nabers was content to live a quiet life in rural Mississippi, and never sought attention, despite the fact that his story features more twists, turns and chapters than Wallack’s, and is the most fascinating and complex of all the Saipan GI witnesses.
Nabers was a 20-year-old code clerk in the H & S Communication Platoon of the 8th Marines during the invasion of Saipan. In October 1992, a friend showed him this notice placed by Devine in the spring edition of Follow Me, the official publication of the 2nd Marine Division Association, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina:
I am seeking to contact any of the Marines, who, during the
invasion of Saipan, were placed on guard duty at Aslito Field,
to guard a padlocked hangar containing Amelia Earhart’s
The hangar was not one of those located along the runway.
It was located near what may have been a Japanese administration
building, and an unfinished hangar at the tarmac, in the southwest
corner of the airfield.
Please contact: Thomas E. Devine,
81 Isadore St., West Haven, CT 06516
(Yes, I was there.) Thomas E. Devine
The following is Nabers’ reply to Devine (handwritten), dated July 11, 1992:
I want to apologize first for not writing earlier.
I will start from the first. I was a code clerk in the H & S Communications Plt. It was made up of wire section, radio section and message section. I was in the message section, all the messages came through our message center.
We were on mopping up duty on opposite end of Saipan from where we landed (the South end). The message came over our field radios. I decoded it and I was quite excited when I read the message. The message read (the best I remember) that Amelia Earhart’s plane had been found at Aslito Field, this was about the middle of the morning.
(We had to get Col. [Clarence R.] Wallace to sign all the messages that came through the message center.)
Shortly after we received the message, Hq. 8th moved back to bivouac area. I was dropped off at the Hangar for guard duty [at] the main road that went by west side of hangar. The road that went out to hangar, I was placed on the right side, just as it left the main road. And there was an Army man on the opposite side. He had arrived on the island just a few days before. I don’t remember his name but I think he was from Minnesota. I stayed on duty first day, that night, most of next day.
We were told not to let anyone go in. There was a jeep come by with some officers in it. They wanted to go in to see the plane. We told them our orders, they said what if we go anyway. We stepped in front of the Jeep, and told them that it would be in the best interest of all involved for them to turn around and leave. There was some other people come and checked us out, but they did not go in, they were just checking on security.
After I went back to my platoon there was another message come through that said something about destroying the plane. Myself and two more boys went back down to the airfield to see it destroyed. (the message give the time it was supposed to be destroyed)
The best I can recall the plane was pulled on the field by a jeep (driven by some Marines. I have got ahead of myself, the first time we went down there wasn’t anything done to plane it was the second day that the plane was pulled on the field but we went both times and we learned the second time from a message that come off the radio.
Picking up from the plane being pulled on the field. The plane was facing north after the plane was parked and jeep moved. A plane come over real low and the next pass he strafed the plane and it went up in a huge fireball. (We were sitting on the west side of the airfield about one hundred yard from plane. We were on higher ground. As far I remember, the ones that pulled the plane on the field and us guys from H & S 8th were the only ones there. We were not there officially, you know how Marines were, got to see what was going on.)
. . . This is a bit sketchy, but I hope it is worth something to you, as you know not everyone believes us. I told about it a few times & got the look as if to say that guy must have got shell shocked & had one guy tell me that can’t be so. I will stand by what I have said and I will place my hand on the Holy Book and repeat the whole thing over.
If ever I can be of any help to you in any way feel free to call on me. I guarantee that I will reply pronto.
Earskin J. Nabers
P.S. about not writing earlier, I had a problem to come up in the family that left me emotionally or I should say took the most of my time thinking about it. But thank God everything seems to be working out for the best. E.J.N
During an October 1992 phone conversation with me, Nabers, a receiving clerk in Baldwyn, repeated the details of his account. He added he was able to get a look into the padlocked hangar through a small opening between the doors. Nabers described a silver, twin-engine civilian plane. He said he couldn’t make out the registration marks from his vantage point. Neither could he discern its registration as he witnessed the Electra’s destruction because, “It was dark and we were too far away to read them.”
We’ll hear more from Earskin J. Nabers in future posts, and I promise you won’t be bored. For more on what we’ve already done about American military personnel on 1944-’45 Saipan and their experiences that revealed the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan there, please see “Veterans recall seeing Earhart photos on Saipan” and “Kanna’s letter among first of GI Saipan witnesses,” my March 13, 2020 and Jan. 4, 2022 posts.