Monthly Archives: December, 2022

Howland Island as seen by Literary Digest in 1937

Today we present a historical retrospective of Howland Island that appeared in the February 1999 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, with the headline,The Story of Howland Island: by the Literary Digest, September 18, 1937.”

The Literary Digest was an American general interest magazine published by Funk and Wagnalls.  Founded by Isaac Kaufmann Funk in 1890, it eventually merged with two similar weekly magazines, Public Opinion and Current OpinionBoldface emphasis mine throughout.

During those anxious weeks of late June and early July of this summer when the eyes of the whole world were following the fruitless search for Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Frank [sic]Noonan, the name of Howland Island often appeared in the newspapers.  To the average newspaper reader, it was vaguely “one of those islands in the Pacific.”

The Government House on Howland Island during the American Equatorial Islands Colonization Project.  Photo taken Jan. 23, 1937.

This pinpoint in the Pacific — this Lima bean of an island in the Largest of oceans — has a story as bizarre, as adventurous, as ironic, as contradictory as anything in the early novels of H. G. Wells.  Imagine a sandpit a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, nowhere more than fifteen feet above sea level, and frequently hidden in the surf’s white foam, almost directly on the Equator, nearly 2,000 miles south of Honolulu and 2.400 miles from New Zealand, with nothing but guano, birds, pigweed, rats, burning sun — and the best runways and approaches of any landing field in the world!

The history of Howland Island is brief.  In fact, as far as its present importance goes, it may be said to be only a little more than two years old.  For it was two years ago that the United States Department of Commerce took formal possession of Howland Island, together with two other tiny Pacific islands — Baker Island, forty miles to the south across the equator, and Jarvis Island, more than one thousand miles to the east.  Howland and Baker Islands lie not only almost exactly on the Equator, but are close to the International Date Line meridian.

It is true.  Howland Island was known before as a rich source of guano.  In 1842, Captain George E. Necker of New Bedford, searching for guano deposits, came upon Howland Island and reported its existence, and for thirty some years afterwards the island was visited, much to the annoyance of the thousands of birds — booby, frigate, and tern — that breed there, for its profitable, if unsavory yield.  With the decline of this industry, due to more efficient means of producing fertilizer, interest in the island died and only a few rough graves are left to mark where New England seamen used to land.

With the development of air commerce, however, the situation of Howland Island on a direct air route between Hawaii and Australia, and possibly between the United States and New Zealand, became obvious to both England and the United States, and almost simultaneously the two countries raced to get possession of the tiny scraps of sand and coral as a base for air commerce or national defense — or both.  The United States won the race (by a few days) and in April 1935, the US. Coast Guard Cutter ltasca slipped down from Honolulu to land colonists on each of the three line islands— Howland, Baker and Jarvis.  The colonists were boys from the Kamehameha School in Hawaii — four boys to each island — and their job was to take and keep possession for the United States.  Since then relays of Hawaiian schoolboys have lived there, making meteorological observations and maintaining title for the United States.  The first expedition was kept secret, and not until nearly eight months later did the news leak out that the three little islands had been colonized and were undisputedly American territory.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Duane (earlier known as the USCGC William J. Duane) was a cutter in the U.S. Coast Guard.  Her keel was laid on May 1, 1935 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Penn.  She was launched on June 3, 1936 as a search and rescue and law enforcement vessel.  After fitting out, she departed the Philadelphia Navy Yard on October 16, 1936 and arrived at Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 24.  She was then assigned to temporary duty in Honolulu, and arrived there on December 9, 1936, to participate in the U.S. colonization efforts of the Line Islands in the Pacific.

On the thirteenth of May in the following year, Howland, Baker and Jarvis islands were placed under the Department of the Interior: a few weeks later, an appropriation was made for their administration, and on Jan. 8, 1937, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter William J. Duane sailed from Honolulu equipped with men and materials to build an airport on Howland Island under the direction of Robert L. Campbell, the airport expert of the Bureau of Air Commerce.

The expedition was one of those rarities — a triumph of inter-departmental cooperation.  From the Army came Captain H. A. Meyer, Procurement Officer, and Lieutenant Charles F. Brown, Air Corps Observer, together with several others.  From the Navy came Lieutenant Charles L. Lee and David H. Ellsworth, Naval Photographer.  The Department of the Interior contributed You Fai Lure and Bak Sung Kim, student aerologists and radio operators, and laborers as well.

The Department of the Interior, the Army Air Corps, the Navy, and the Works Progress Administration in Hawaii supplied the materials, which included two five-ton tractors, a farm-type harrow, a concrete and steel roller, matlocks, axes, plows, cane knives, a field kitchen, flood lamps, radio transmitting and receiving apparatus, and food and water, together with many other items.

The appalling hazards of the job ahead began with the problem of landing.  There is nothing resembling a harbor at Howland Island, and there are plenty of jagged reefs and heavy swells.  A large boat can’t get within a quarter of a mile of the place.  Small boats and pontoons are the only means of getting ashore. It requires little imagination to picture the difficulties of surf-riding a tractor-laden pontoon without mishap.  Further complications presented by this remarkably inhospitable isle are the poisonous sea urchins, seaweed, and coral that infest its waters, scars from which many members of the crew will carry for the rest of their lives.

Howland itself is a kind of nightmare.  A rim that is six to eight feet higher than the center makes the island into an oblong bowl of sandy soil with outcroppings of coral and everywhere malodorous mounds of guano.  (Thirty thousand tons of it is the estimate, which is a large amount for a space that is half a mile by a mile and a half!)  The only native vegetation is pigweed, a tough coarse plant, and a few stunted leafless kou trees, although the colonists have planted a few trees.  Wildlife is represented by thousands of birds that continually do fly in great clouds by night as well as by day.  These birds, incidentally, present the greatest danger to the aviator because of their vast numbers and the fact that they are constantly on the wing.  The only way to disperse them is by shotgun fire.

A look at the teeming wildlife on Howland Island, so overpopulated with “10,000 frigates, 8,000 boobies (albatrosses), and 14,000 terns,” according to Army Lt. Daniel A. Cooper, writing in July 1937, that many doubted that Amelia Earhart really intended to land there when she disappeared on July 2, 1937.

Two harmless reptiles, the Gecko lizard and the snake-eyed skink, cause little trouble — but the rats!  The loathsome creatures swarm over the island, literally by the thousands.  Five hundred to a thousand rats a night were killed by the crew in the following ingenious manner: An oil drum was sunk into the ground, half filled with water with a liberal sprinkling of cracker crumbs, and by morning it was filled to the top with drowned rats.  An appetizing before breakfast ceremony was the pouring of a libation of gasoline over the whole business and setting fire to it.  But in spite of this wholesale slaughter there were always more rats.  They were everywhere.  More than once a man woke up at night to find a rat on his face, licking his lips for particles of food.

To add to the horrors of the working conditions, the smell from the guano was ever present — an intolerable stench made even worse by the tropical sun.  Moreover, the guano dust was so poisonous that men had to bathe several times a day prevent dangerous boils.  No rain lays this dust or cools the parched earth, for a strange phenomenon of the island is its lack of rainfall in a region where one would expect rain almost daily.  Observers say that rain squalls approaching the island split in two before they reach it, and rain will be seen beating on the ocean on all sides while none falls on the island itself.  The only explanation offered for this eccentricity is that possibly it is caused by a column of heated air rising from the hot sand.

Despite the savage natural handicaps of the place, there is some slight evidence of South Sea Islander occupation.  There are marks of digging and remains of low flat mounds which may have been the foundations for primitive huts.  Traces of footpaths remain, and in 1862 fragments of a canoe, a few bits of bamboo, a blue bead, and a human skeleton were discovered — all that was left to tell of a lonely tragedy.

The waters surrounding Howland Island abound not only with poisonous seaweed and coral, but with edible tropical fish which can be caught with spears.  It is clear, however, that without proper equipment, life could not be supported there more than a day or two.  The heat, the tack of water, and the ferocious rats are a deadly triumvirate.

The three runways built in the face of such formidable handicaps were made of guano, sand and coral. These materials, packed hard, have all the characteristics of pavement.  One runway is 5,200 feet long, another is 3.023 feet long, and a third measures 2,439 feet.  Each of them is 150 feet wide.  Fifteen thousand cubic feet of soil had to be moved in the course of the construction.

The small lighthouse was also built in 1937 but was doomed to a short life.  Sadly, history had other plans for Earhart, and she never reached the island. It is thought that she most likely crashed in the waters just north of Howland Island.  The island’s short history as a settled colony ended with heavy bombing from Japanese aircraft during WWII.  The station has been inactive since 1942 – the structure is now considered a “day beacon.”  The island is now a national wildlife refuge.

Ironically enough, the airport was rushed to completion in order that Amelia Earhart might land on it in the course of what proved to be, tragically, her last flight.  She was scheduled to reach Howland in March, but after her crack-up in Honolulu she changed her route and flew the other way around the island.  The very person for whom the airport was finished under such hardships never reached it.

Howland Island was linked with Miss Earhart’s name some months later when it was the center of the seventeen-day search for the lost fliers conducted by planes and ships of the United States Navy.  During that time four thousand men had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with nearly a quarter of a million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, vast areas of which had never before been flown over by naval planes.

If it seems odd to think that only land planes can land on this ocean airport, you are reminded that there are strong arguments in-favor of fast land planes instead of the heavier and slower sea planes for a possible air service to the Antipodes — one of the strongest arguments being the lack of possible airports for refueling en route.  To be sure Pan American uses giant amphibians on her Honolulu to Manila route, but the mid-ocean airports along the way, on Midway and Wake lands, are very different affairs from what might be done on the line islands.  Midway and Wake both have central lagoons of sheltered water in which flying boats can land, but no seaplane could come to rest in the savage surf that beats on Howland, Baker and Jarvis.

Meanwhile these three steppingstones — neglected for years, and now, suddenly, solicitously cherished by the United States — stand waiting.  Whether or not they will ever prove practical as airports is still problematical.  (Two of them — Howland and Baker — are so near each other that there seems little chance that both would be needed.)  It may be that their ancient inhabitants, the birds, will prove too deadly a hazard for propellers’ whirling blades.  Perhaps their tiny size will ever render them too difficult as targets.  (End of “The Story of Howland Island: by the Literary Digest, September 18, 1937.”)

Among the great ironies of the Earhart saga is that Amelia’s failure to find Howland Island ended the U.S. military’s hopes that the three islands could be used for retaliatory or reconnaissance purposes . . . and the crisscrossing Howland runways again became a refuge for birds, Fred Goerner wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart“The abandonment of the islands as possible air bases was only one of the prices military aviation paid prior to the war for the loss of Amelia and Fred.  When the Army attempted to demonstrate that land planes could fly over great stretches of ocean to bomb a target or accomplish photo-reconnaissance missions, skeptics pointed to the Howland Island failure.  Whether or not Jarvis, Baker, and Howland could have provided a striking force sufficient to hamper the Japanese will never been known.

A cruel postscript came four years later, when, after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese land-based warplanes bombed the runways and strafed the lighthouse at Howland, killing or wounding several Hawaiian personnel assigned there.  On the lighthouse, a plaque honoring Amelia was shattered by Japanese machine-gun bullets.

No aircraft has ever landed on Howland, and all attempts at habitation were abandoned after 1944, according to Wikipedia.

Fred Goerner holds forth in 1987 radio broadcast

The following monologue from former KCBS Radio newsman, pre-eminent Earhart researcher and best-selling author Fred Goerner appeared in the November 1997 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  It’s a snapshot of Goerner’s thinking in 1987, just seven years before his death from cancer in 1994.  He’s clearly learned much since his 1966 bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart was published, but he’s far from declaring,Case closed,and continues to speculate about major aspects of the Earhart case.  

The radio station remains unidentified, but it was likely a West Coast outlet, since Goerner lived in San Francisco and spent most of his time there, and could have been KCBS, where he was a prominent newsman during his Saipan investigations of the early 1960s.  Bold face emphasis is mine throughout.

“A Thorough Search for An Illusive Answer”
(Fred Goerner speaking on a radio broadcast in 1987)

. . . . I began the investigation in 1960, for the Columbia Broadcasting System. There was a woman named Josephine Nakiyama (sic, Akiyama is correct) who lived in San Mateo, CA who in 1960 stipulated that she had seen an American man and woman, supposedly fliers, in Japanese custody on the island of Saipan in 1937.   My reaction to the story was one of total and complete skepticism.  It seemed to me that many years after the fact, and 15 years after the end of World War II, that surely if there was such information, our government knew about it.

I was assigned by CBS to follow the story, and I was sent to Saipan for the first time in 1960.  I have been to Saipan 14 times since then.  I have been to the Marshall Islands 4 times.  I have been to our National Archives and other depositories around the country countless times, in search of extant records that deal with the disappearance and with respect to Miss Earhart’s involvement with the US Government at the time of her flight.

This is the photo of Josephine Blanco Akiyama that appeared in Paul Briand Jr.’s 1960 book Daughter of the Sky, and launched the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.  She died in January 2022 at 95.

This [effort] has now extended over 27 years.  You may wonder why I want to record my own statement.  It is simply because there are so many people who have involved themselves over the years, for various reasons.  When you present something, it often comes back to you in a different manner.  [Therefore] I would like to have a record of everything that I have said, so that if somebody is trying to quote me, I can definitely establish what it is I HAVE said and what I have not.

Let me say at the outset here, that there is no definite proof — I am talking about tangible evidence here – that Amelia Earhart was indeed in the custody of the Japanese and died in Japanese custody.  [However] there is a lot of other evidence that points to that possibility.  [For example:] it was the late Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz who became sort of a second father during the last years of his life, who kept my nose to this story.  He indicated to me that there were things behind it all that had never been released.

I wrote the book “The Search for Amelia Earhart” in 1966, and it did reach many people.  People in Congress and in the Senate began to ask questions of Departments of Government who, up to that time, had denied that there were classified records of any kind in any of the department of the military and/or government that dealt with Amelia Earhart.

It was not until 1968 that the first evidence began to surface.  At this juncture [1987], there have been over 25,000 pages of classified records dealing with Earhart’s involvement with the military.  As a sidelight, I think it is a supreme salute to Amelia that, 50 years after her disappearance, we are still concerned with finding the truth where this matter is concerned.  These records that have been released reveal clearly, unequivocally, that Amelia was cooperating with her government at the time of her disappearance.

The only bestseller ever penned on the Earhart disappearance, “Search” sold over 400,000 copies and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. In September 1966, Time magazine’s scathing review, titled “Sinister Conspiracy,” set the original tone for what has become several generations of media aversion to the truth about Amelia’s death on Saipan.

That does NOT mean that she was that terrible word, a SPY, although at one time we at CBS had suspected that this was a possibility.  Particularly when we learned that Clarence Kelly Johnson, at Lockheed Aircraft, had been the real technical advisor for her final flight.  Mr. Johnson later headed the U-2 program and our SR-71 supersonic reconnaissance program[s].  In conversations that I have had with Mr. Johnson, he has convinced me that Amelia was NOT on an overt spy mission.

The records do indicate, though, that Amelia’s plane was purchased for her by the (then) War Department, with the money channeled through three individuals to Purdue Research Foundation.  There was a quid pro quo: Amelia was to test the latest high frequency direction finder equipment that had intelligence overtones.  She was also to conduct what is known as “white intelligence,” but that [did] not make her a spy.  Civilians very often perform this function for their governments.  They are going to be in places at times where the military cannot visit.  All one does is to keep one’s eyes open and listen.  She was going to be flying in areas of the world then closed to the military.  Weather conditions, radio conditions, length of runways, fuel supplies, all information that would be of interest to the military.

Fred Goerner at KCBS Radio San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

They asked her to change her original flight plan to use Howland Island as a destination, and it was to that island she was headed at the time of her disappearance.  The United States was forbidden by the 1923 Washington Treaty Conference with Japan, to do anything of a military nature on these islands.  Amelia was to be the civilian reason for construction of an airfield [there] that could later be used for military purposes.

At the Amelia Earhart Symposium held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as few years ago, I revealed that Thomas McKean, who is [was] head of Intertel [Inc.], had been the Executive Officer of the 441st Counter-Intelligence Corps unit in Tokyo after the end of the war.  He had done the study for the CIC, and testified that a complete file was established at that time, [which included the information that] Amelia had been picked up by the Japanese and died in Japanese custody.

[Further] there have been over 40 witnesses on the island of Saipan who testified in the presence of church authorities.  From them information was gathered that claimed a man and woman answering the description of Earhart and Noonan were held in Japanese custody on the island in 1937, and that the woman died of dysentery sometime between 8 and 14 months after her arrival. And the man who accompanied her was executed after her death.  Had you been there too, you would have been won over [by their testimony].

A young Kelly Johnson and Amelia Earhart in an undated photo.

When I heard that information, I personally talked several times to Mr. Hams, and later recounted this story in a presentation [to government officials?] in Washington, D.C., where we began an effort to determine the existence of these records.  Several years went by, with naught save denials. Finally, an old friend of mine in San Francisco, Caspar Weinberger [then Sec. Of Defense] said, Well, we are going to find out.”  [Some time later] I received a call from the head of the Navy’s Freedom of Information Office in Washington.  She said, “We have good news and we have bad news.  The good news is that we have located the records [at Crane], but the bad news is it is part of 14,000 reels of information stored there.  We are sending some people to Crane to find out if [what you want] can be released.”  [Months later] there was a letter from Mr. Weinberger, dated April 20, 1967, which I quote:

Dear Fred:

In regard to the US Navy review of records in Crane, Indiana which you hope will reveal information about Amelia Earhart.  I understand your eagerness to learn the outcome of the Navy’s review.  Unfortunately, however, we are dealing with a very time-consuming and tedious task.  There are some 14,000 reels of microfilm containing Navy and Marine Corps cryptological records, which under National Security Regulations must be examined page by page.  They cannot be released in bulk.  To date, over 6,000 reels have been examined in this manner and the sheer mass prevents us from predicting exactly how long it will take to examine the remaining reels. It may be helpful for you to know that the Naval Group Command’s examination of the index [has] thus far revealed no mention of Amelia Earhart.  Should the information be discovered in the remaining reels however, it will be reviewed for release through established procedures and made available to you promptly and as appropriate.  I wish I could be more helpful, but I hope these comments will provide assurance that our Navy people are not capriciously dragging out the review.  Completion of the task will be a relief to everyone involved. 



What do I believe after 27 years of investigating?  I have no belief.  There is a strong possibility that she was taken by the Japanese at a very precipitous time in Pacific history.   There is a possibility that, having broken the Japanese codes, Franklin Roosevelt knew she was in Japanese custody. Several times before the war the records that are now available indicate that he asked the Office of Naval Intelligence to infiltrate agents into the Marshall Islands to determine whether Earhart was alive or dead.  He also asked his friend Vincent Astor in 1938, to take his private yacht to those islands to seek out possible information, but the yacht was quickly chased away by the Japanese.

Fred Goerner’s “old friend,” Caspar Willard “Cap” Weinberger, secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1987, was another highly placed government official who helped erect and maintain the stone wall of silence around the top-secret Earhart files and led Goerner on a fruitless goose chase.  Weinberger told him that The Naval Security Group Detachment at Crane, Ind., held “some 14,000 reels of microfilm containing Navy and Marine Corps cryptological records, which, under National Security Regulations must be examined page-by-page,” strongly suggesting that the Earhart secrets might someday be found there.  They never were.

We do know of Roosevelt’s association with Amelia.  I do not believe it is a denigration of Earhart that she was serving her government.  I believe, instead of being categorized as a publicity seeker trying to fly around the world, that if she was serving her government in those capacities which are established, that she ought to be celebrated even further.

I have no hostility toward Japan.  In fact, one of the writers from that country, Fokiko Iuki [sic, correct is Fukiko Aoki, see my July 16, 2017 post on Susan Butler], who has done a book on [the Earhart disappearance] from the Japanese point of view, came to America and I assisted her in its preparation.  But until I have satisfied my mind where these last records [in Crane] are concerned, in particular the information from the CIC and the Navy Cryptological Security Units, I’m not going to let it stop there.  (End of Goerner’s radio broadcast.)

Knowledgeable Earhart observers will note that nowhere in this 1987 broadcast did Goerner mention where he believed the fliers landed, much less the fact that he later changed his mind about such a significant piece of the Earhart puzzle.

This topic is far too complex to cover here, but in the early years of his Saipan and Marshalls investigations, as well as in his 1966 book, Goerner was adamant that Earhart and Noonan landed at Mili Atoll, based on the significant amount of evidence supporting this all but certain scenario.  For much more, see Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Chapter VII, “The Marshall Islands Witnesses, pages 129-134 and Chapter VIII, “Goerner’s Reversal and Devine’s Dissent,” 172-178.

Conclusion of “The Last Days of Amelia Earhart”

Today we continue with the conclusion of Cam Warren’s “The Last Days of Amelia Earhart.”  I’ve again added photos, and some of my own comments will follow.

“The Last Days of Amelia Earhart”
by Cam Warren

Bert Heath has been mentioned as the Chief Pilot and reportedly viewed the take-off from the air as he was approaching the strip from a flight up country.  Guinea’s radio operator at Lae was 37-year-old Harry Balfour, who played a critical role in Earhart’s final flight.  He checked out the radio transmitter and receiver in the Electra and attempted to calibrate the direction finder without notable success. Another local pilot has been mentioned, Thomas F. O’Dea, described as working for Guinea, but Balfour later stated (in a 1961 letter to [Joe] Gervais) that O’Dea workedas a part-time manager for Stephens Aircraft Co.”

Over a dozen Caucasians viewed the historic take-off (17 by some reports).  Joe Gervais visited Lae in 1960 and found that only seven were still alive. Their recollections differed, but as any police detective can attest, eyewitnesses, despite the best of intentions, seldom agree. The more time passes, the more divergent become the accounts.  Fortunately, we have the evidence of Marshall’s film, and the testimony of James Collopy, the District Superintendent of Civil Aviation for the territory.

Guinea Airways employee Alan Board is credited with this photo of the Electra just before leaving the ground on its takeoff from Lae, New Guinea on the morning of July 2, 1937.  This is the last known photo of the Earhart Electra.

Among those present were L. J. Joubert, a mining engineer that worked for Placer in Bulolo and his wife.   O’Dea had flown them and another couple, Mr. & Mrs. F.C. Jacobs, down from the gold fields to meet Earhart and view her departure.  O’Dea also took a large number of snapshots at Lae, some of which were published in the Morrissey/Osborne book Amelia, My Courageous Sister.  (Balfour said Amelia considered him something of a pest, but we can be glad he was there.)  Another photographer, Australian Aubrey Koch has been mentioned, although I’ve not seen any of his shots.

Allan Vagg, the Amalgamated Wireless operator at Bulolo was also interviewed by Gervais, but was not on hand at takeoff time.  A recent discovery, as far as I was concerned, was the name of Robert Iredale, manager of the Socony/Vacuum (Standard Oil) facility at Lae.  Photos show a Stanavoemployee fueling the Electra; Stanavo was the local SO brand name).  Iredale told Fred Goerner that Noonan was his overnight guest while at Lae, and definitely did NOT spend the time drinking.  As was often the case, Iredale’s recollections in the early 1980s suffer from some inconsistencies, but Goerner considered him a very reliable source

Balfour corresponded with a number of researchers and described having two-way conversations with Earhart as she flew eastward.  Vagg claimed to have heard one or two of these, but no written records survived World War II, neither from Vagg nor Balfour unfortunately.  To the best of my knowledge, no American researcher ever managed to interview Balfour face-to-face.  (The only published interview appeared in PEOPLE Magazine [SYDNEY HERALD, Australia] in 1967).  Balfour passed away in the mid-1980s apparently.  As of this writing no information as to his wife and children has surfaced.

Writer Dick Strippel says he interviewed the sole surviving takeoff witness in 1987. Mrs. Ella Birrell was the daughter of Flora Ma Stewart, the colorful manager of the Cecil Hotel, and helped out around the premises.  She recalled Amelia “wanted a room of her own and didn’t really mix with people.”  The 70-year-old lady told Strippel “I remember the plane could barely lift on takeoff. . . We all rushed out to watch her go; it was a very brave thing she did.”

Yet another Guinea Airways employee, Alan Board, who was a stringer for the Australian Associated Press, confirmed that Earhart used every inch of runway and then some.  “Marshall nearly dropped his camera,” Board told Gervais, as the plane dipped below the seaside bluff and continued to hug the waves for a considerable distance before starting a slow climb.  To the best of our knowledge, the Electra was never seen again . . . or was it?

View of group posed in front of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10-E Electra (NR 16020) at Lae, New Guinea, July 1937, just before the fliers’ July 2 departure from Lae. From left to right are Eric Chater (Manager, Guinea Airways), Mrs. Chater, Amelia Earhart, and Fred Noonan.

Two surviving documents remain as the most reliable accounts of Earhart’s last days in Lae.  The best known is the “Collopy Report” to the Secretary of the (Australian) Civil Aviation Board, dated Aug. 28, 1937.  In 1 1/2 pages, it summarizes the activities at the airfield, quotes Noonan as to the fuel load, quotes Balfour about communications and draws some conclusions as to why the flight failed. (Collopy told Ann Pellegreno there was a complete file that haddisappeared from his department by 1967.)  Then in 1991, a copy of a report from Eric Chater to William Miller of the U.S. Bureau of Air Commerce surfaced in Placer Management files.  It had been relayed to Miller via the Placer representative in San Francisco (Maurice E. Griffin — son of Frank?) and consists of eight pages of detailed observations.  (This is likely the same report that was sent on to George Putnam, as mentioned by Collopy.)

The village of Lae was pretty well destroyed by Japanese bombing early in World War II, rebuilt by them into a major base and later bombed into rubble again by the Allies.  Little remained amid the ruins, particularly radio logs and other documents from 1937.  Today Lae is the second largest city in Papua New Guinea, with 85,000 residents, but Eric Chater did not live to see it, having met a violent end just before the Japanese invasion.  Early in the morning of Monday, Oct. 13, 1941, he absent-mindedly walked into the spinning propeller of one of the Guinea Airways Junkers that had just landed on the Lae airstrip.  After an active life that included a stint as a fighter pilot during the deadliest days of World War I, Chater died at the age of 45, the apparent victim of a careless accident.  Yet another curious footnote in the saga of Amelia Earhart.

In September of this year [1996?], I sent a letter to the Commandant of the Coast Guard and requested, a copy of the unexpurgated, official report, including the radio log of the Coast Guard cutter Itasca as it related to the flight of Amelia Earhart on 2 July 1937.   I cited the Presidential Directive #12958, dated 17 April 1995, concerning the automatic declassification of documents that are more than 25 years old, as authority.  The Coast Guard Commandant advised me that all documents relating to that event were in the National Archives.

With the name of a contact for Coast Guard material in the National Archives, I again requested the original, unexpurgated log of the Itasca Again I was told that no such document exists in their files.  However, they did send me a copy of an index of material that they had relating to Earhart and the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca.  Although much of the information in the index is familiar, I did send for some documents that may offer some new light.

Why all the mystery about what happened to Amelia Earhart?  It is my judgment Morgenthau knew what happened to Amelia Earhart from “a verbal report and all those wireless messages and everything else.”  But he put a cap on the release of all information about her shortly after she disappeared.  I believe he took that action to protect the reputation of Amelia Earhart from that day forward so that people of the world would remember her as a beautiful and courageous young lady who was willing to challenge the concept of a man’s world and would live on as a legend for all to love and admire.

On Jan. 6, 1935, Amelia Earhart planted a Banyan tree in Hilo, Hawaii.  (Earhart was in Hawaii preparing for her flight to Oakland.)  On Aug. 12, 1937, Secretary of the Treasury for President Franklin Roosevelt, Henry Morgenthau Jr., planted a Banyan tree next to the Earhart tree.  They are there today on Banyan Tree Drive, Hilo, Hawaii.  (End of Cam Warren commentary.)

As always, the opinions expressed in the foregoing commentary are solely those of the author, Cam Warren.  In particular, I vehemently disagree with Warren’s contention that Henry Morgenthau Jr.’s motivation in preventing release of “all information shortly after [Earhart] disappeared” because he was concerned that the world might not remember Amelia as a “courageous young lady” and wanted to ensure that her legend would endure for all to “love and admire.” 

In fact, Morgenthau was a pure political animal whose sole concern was the reputation of his boss, FDR, and in turn, his own; he knew that if the truth about the president’s abandonment of Earhart to the hands of the barbaric pre-war Japanese on Saipan ever became known, Roosevelt’s reputation as the New Deal savior of the middle class would turn to ashes, as would his political future.  Thus we have the “Earhart mystery,” which is not a mystery at all, but one of several sacred cows that the Washington establishment and its media allies protect at all costs.  

For much more, please see my posts of March 31, 2015,Amelia Earhart and the Morgenthau Connection: What did FDR’s treasury secretary really know? and May 9, 2020, Morgenthau papers could reveal Earhart truth.

%d bloggers like this: