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. 

Sincerely,

Cap

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.

12 responses

  1. Thanks so much Mike. Do no let this case slip into oblivion.

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    1. Thanks Doctor Stan, and Stuart as well. Good to hear from you both. Hope you both have healthy, happy Holidays.

      Mike

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  2. Stuart R. Brownstein | Reply

    Dear Mike: Awesome, keep up the great work. Your friend up north, Stuart

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  3. Roosevelt sent agents into the Marshalls to gather any information on their disappearance? Any record of what they found or if they were even able to penetrate the islands? I read his book around 1967-68 and became hooked on the subject. I’m just sorry I did not pay more attention when a teenager as we lived in San Jose,Caif., and probably listened to KCBS often, and even before that lived very close to San Mateo where Josephine Akiyama resided. Maybe could even have spoken to her-who knows? Whatever the outcome, it seems Fred Goerner really had it right, even though I guess he later changed his mind about their location.

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    1. Dave,

      One of my great disappointments was never being able to interview Josephine. Her son was far too protective of her and made it near impossible for me to talk to her. I don’t go where I’m not wanted anyway, so I didn’t push it. I’ve always considered her to be royalty in the Earhart case and given her all credit for her account; on the other hand, she never gave me the time of day, so how am I to feel?

      Mike

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  4. Corroboration of the truth behind this mystery is unlikely to ever come from the Government. First, compartmentalization of secrets is the heart of Intelligence work. And with the people whom the article associates with the aircraft design and in the unwillingness in the ensuing 50 years to embarrass a former foe or disclose intelligence methods- I would believe this solves the mystery. But all those who might admit the truth are now dead.

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  5. I would like to know what Chester Nimitz was talking about when he said the Earhart story defies your imagination. I tend to think Saipan was not what he was talking about.

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  6. Goerner says Vincent Astor took his yacht to the Marshalls, but from Wikipedia: “Joseph E. Persico begins his book Roosevelt’s Secret War with a description of the FDR-Vincent Astor friendship, including this secret civilian mission to Japan.” It looks like there is more to this story than just sailing to the Marshalls. I guess I ought to read Persico’s book.
    I like Ken’s comment above. I thought Nimitz said something like “It will stagger your imagination.”I’ll buy that Amelia and Fred wound up on Saipan, but that doesn’t “stagger my imagination.” If she was simply captured by the Japanese, I think the story would be made public long before this. It would make a good piece of propaganda. I’d like to know if Astor made it to Japan and what that was all about.

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  7. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    The actual “…stagger your imagination…” statement was not made to Fred Goerner directly by Admital Nimitz, but by newly retired Navy public information officer Commander John Pilsbury on Nimitz’s behalf in 1962. Please see TTAL 2nd. Ed. page 178 for the full quote.

    Nimitz rose from Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation, to C-in-C U.S. Pacific Fleet (in relief of Admiral Kimmel, and passing over 28 senior officers) just after the Pearl Harbor disaster, to C-in-C Pacific Ocean Areas, and in December 1944 was elevated to Fleet Admiral. From December 1945 to December 1947, Nimitz served as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). I mention this to illustrate that he was a serious, dedicated, no-nonsense, hard-working, rock-solid individual. He was a man of honor, courage, integrity, fortitude, humility, and wisdom. Nimitz was not given to bombastic, unfounded statements, hyperbole, or casual comments about serious matters. From what I’ve read of the man, he said exactly what he meant, and meant what he said. Nimitz did not suffer fools and would not have kept one on his staff, much less dispatched one as his personal emissary with an important message to Goerner.

    Given his rank and the posts he held, it’s most likely that Nimitz was well aware of the full truth of AE and FN’s disappearance from start to finish. As he was at the Bureau of Navigation at the time of AE and FN’s loss, it’s most likely that Nimitz was not directly or peripherally involved in anyway whatsoever, but he most certainly was confidentially briefed on what happened after the fact when he assumed Pacific command. It’s a matter of speculation as to what Nimitz may have learned informally over the years. Despite strict need-to-know, compartmentalization, non-disclosure agreements, etc., it’s amazing what you will learn if you remain in certain environments long enough and just listen.

    Fleet Admiral Nimitz knew the full truth, but was bound by duty, honor, and regulations from revealing it himself. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t encourage Fred Goerner to press on, discover it, and make the full, complete truth known. Had Goerner been able to completely do so, and had Nimitz lived to see it, I think Nimitz would have considered it a great victory.

    All best,

    William

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    1. Well stated, William. Thanks.
      Mike

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  8. Since our news today is rarely truly free from some kind of manipulation, I wonder if Fred Goerner in those days was really a free agent, or if he was following some kind of govt script.

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    1. Ken,

      On a sensitive subject like Amelia Earehart, I always wonder exactly that. One only has to read the half-baked theories of Ric Gillespie that are actively promoted by our government to see it exerts extensive control over what is publicized about Amelia. That story about the “nikumaroro bones” comes up on my Google computer every few months. I think Les Kinney thoroughly demolished that story right on this blog years ago. What the gov’t is probably doing is what’s called “a limited hangout” where alternative stories to the government’s official “crashed and sank” narrative is allowed to be disseminated just enough, so, that while the alternative narratives have most of the facts straight, it just throws off those who seek the larger, hidden truth, those parts about the principal actors in the events leading up to WW2 and their maybe not so honorable roles in the instigation of such war.

      What seems clear to me is that FDR regarded AE and Fred as very expendable pawns in whatever grand game he was playing. Maybe that’s all that is being concealed, which by itself would make FDR look very unappealing as a presidential candidate. I don’t think Goerner was following a script, our government knew that his story, while probably largely true, attached no blame to to any politician or military officer which is just the way they like it. And the embarrassing unsavory machination of our leaders are never revealed.

      Sincerely,
      David

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