Tag Archives: Bilimon Amaron

Paul Amaron’s ’97 letter supports Bilimon’s account

On the heels of our March 6 post, Amaron’s death certificate sparks new questions and the issues raised by Bilimon Amaron’s listed birth date in what appeared to be an official Republic of the Marshall Islands document, and to a lesser extent, his date of death, I thought some might be interested in a letter from Bilimon’s brother Paul to Bill Prymak that appeared in the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  Italics and boldface in the letter are in the AES version; otherwise boldface is mine.

“An Encounter to Remember
— with one of the most famous ladies of the world in 1937?”
by Bill Prymak

Bilimon Amaron, who possibly saw and treated Amelia long after the world had given up hope that she was alive, died a little over a year ago.  But his younger brother, Paul Amaron, is a teacher in the Elementary School at Jabor, Jaluit Atoll.  We were fortunate to talk with him on our trip to the Marshall Islands last spring [1997].  He told us the story of his brother’s dressing the wounds of an American lady pilot and man while on board a Japanese ship in the harbor at Jabor in 1937.  He later wrote a letter (in English), and delivered it to us as we were leaving.  He wanted to make sure we had understood it all.  Following are Paul Amaron’s exact words:

Bilimon was half Japanese and half Marshallese. He was given good opportunities.  Since he finished school on Jabot (Japanese Elementary school) the Japanese offered him few jobs but he preferred medical training. In Jaluit at this time there were 3 Japanese doctors on Jabor, and 7 or 8 Naval doctors on Imiej, taking care of the many Army and Air Force personnel on Imiej.  Bilimon helped out a Naval doctor who was stationed at Sydney Town, now the terminal area [at Jabor].  At his place there were many Japanese working on probably the biggest fuel tank in Jaluit.

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with legendary Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron’s Majuro home in 1991.

Current news was known to him for there was nothing hidden back from him.  He was trusted.

One time he told that because of him five people were save.  Anyone found
eating local food were beheaded.

If I remember it right, he said that the ship was a cargo ship, and not a war ship.  I forget who had a false tooth, either the man or the woman.  The woman, according to him, was neat.

Also one of them wanted to give him a ring or something.  I forget exactly how he put it.  He said the lady was calm, but the man seemed excited.

He told me this story a few months before he died, and also said that he misled some of his Marshallese friends or didn’t tell what he saw and knew.

Please find in Saipan who was the first Sanatarian [sic] who was either the Chief Police at that time, or the 2nd highest.  He may be still living.  Probably as old as Bilimon.”

                                      (Signed) Paul Amaron (End of Prymak entry.)

Paul Amaron, a schoolteacher, confirmed his brother’s experience in an interview and written statement. “Bilimon told his brother that the American man was slightly injured, but the woman was neat, calm, with no injuries.  Both were taken to Kwajalein and then to Saipan,” Prymak wrote in the May 1997 AES Newsletter story, Interviewing the Native Witnesses.”  Just before Bilimon died in 1996, he told his family to “be sure to tell Joe and Bill, and the rest who asked about Amelia that my story is true,” Paul told Prymak.

Robert Reimers, the top businessman in the Marshall Islands in 1991, told Bill Prymak that the Mili Atoll landing of Amelia Earhart in 1937 was common knowledge among his people.  Reimers passed away in 1998.

All who interviewed Amaron, including Fred Goerner, Oliver Knaggs, Vincent V. Loomis, T.C. “Buddy” Brennan, Joe Gervais and Prymak unanimously endorsed his honesty.  “Having personally interviewed [Amaron], I still put the personal stamp of total credibility upon him,” Prymak wrote in 2001.  Robert Reimers [local business tycoon] told me, You will never find a more honest man—that, coming from the number ONE man in the Marshalls before and during the war. [Emphasis Prymak’s.]  So what if his testimony varies slightly from interviewer to interviewer?  He never had a written script, he never embellished.  So many times during our interview, after a tough question was asked, he simply stated, ‘I don’t recall,’ and during his last few days on earth, he told his family, ‘Be sure to tell Joe and Bill that it indeed happened.’  That’s as close to hard copy as one can get.”

For much more information on Bilimon Amaron’s account and other witness testimony about Amelia Earhart’s landing at Mili Atoll, please see Chapter VII, “The Marshall Islands Witnesses” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.

Amaron’s death certificate sparks new questions

A stunning revelation in the form of an official Republic of the Marshall Islands death certificate for Bilimon Amaron has inspired, at least for now, new questions about the document’s birth date accuracy and how it would reflect upon the story so often told by the Marshall Islands legendary Earhart eyewitness.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout, caps emphasis Matt Holly’s.)

Bilimon, who died in 1994, according to his death certificate (see close below for more), told many researchers over the years that during the summer of 1937, while employed by the Japanese as a 16-year-old medical corpsman at the hospital on Jabor, he was summoned to a Japanese Navy tender ship to treat an American flier’s wounds.  While there, Amaron treated an American man accompanied by a white female pilot, who could only have been Amelia Earhart, for minor head and knee wounds.  A twin-engine silver airplane with a broken wing was attached to the stern of the ship, and almost certainly was the Earhart Electra 10E, NR 16020.  More than once I’ve called Bilimon’s eyewitness account the “cornerstone of the Marshalls Islands landing scenario.”

In December 1989, Joe Gervais, Bill Prymak and his son John traveled to the Marshalls to hear Amaron’s eyewitness account at his Majuro home:

In July 1937, I was residing on Jaluit, site of major Japanese naval base, working as sixteen-year-old medical corpsman for naval hospital.  One day, at mid-morning, Japanese navy tender ship comes to harbor and the chief naval doctor takes me on board the ship.  Crew and officers were in naval uniforms.  Sitting in deck chair was American woman, and sitting on hatch cover was thin American man with wounds.

. . . Japanese officer then take me rear of ship and show me their airplane silver, two motors, with left wing broken.  Airplane still in sling on back of ship.  I know Japanese airplanes.  This airplane was new to me—not Japanese.  This airplane on back of ship very shiny like silver—propellers had only two blades.  Crew called lady, “Meel-ya—Meel-ya.”  She dressed in dark skirt, white blouse and kerchief around neck.  American man blue eyes, thin mustache, skinny, both very tired but in good health. Japanese officer tell me ship go to Saipan.

Amaron’s age at the time of his encounter with the fliers at Jaluit harbor, based on his account to numerous researchers, has always been accepted as 16; his sister Teresa told Bill Prymak in 1997 that Bilimon was 17But now Matt Holly, 65, an American, longtime Marshall Islands resident and researcher who accompanied Vincent V. Loomis to Mili Atoll in 1979 and in 1997 brought Bill Prymak and his group to Jaluit, has found what appears to be an official Marshall Islands document that challenges that concept.  In a Feb. 28 comment to this blog, Holly, the “Boss” at Marshall Islands Aquatics since 1981, wrote, “On that date [July 2] in 1937 Bilimon was 13 years old.  I have the records, Death Certificate, Social Security docs, and his birth record will be on file in Japan, BTW.”

My initial skepticism upon seeing this statement, so at odds with all we’ve read about Bilimon Amaron, compelled me to immediately challenge Holly to present evidence to support this heretofore unknown idea, toput up or shut up, as extraordinary claims always require extraordinary evidence.  Holly surprised me by doing just that. 

“I found this [death certificate] late last year, and had the RMI [Republic of the Marshall Islands] Social Security Manager verify the information as THE record on file,” Holly, who says his main focus is on missing-in-action World War II military personnel, wrote in a Feb. 28 email.  Period.  No other documents.  I am not in this to make money Mike, and I knew if I published this information a world of trauma would occur.  I’m a details kind of guy, and the details generally wander off toward the truth.

“I also believe his story to be true, but at 13 his age makes everything suspect,” Holly continued.  “I am currently researching the requirements for IJN [Imperial Japanese Navy] Medics, and basically, they didn’t teach locals anything.  Zero.  They brought their own Japanese medical people.  The local Government’ doctors, being Marshallese, did teach skill sets to many younger medics’ to go to assorted outer islands, as basically, medicine in 1937 was pretty raw.  This custom is followed today, as many medics are taught here and go to the outer islands.  But this was a local Marshallese thing I am sure the Japanese helped develop.  But so far, no ‘book’ on how to teach the Marshallese to be a Japanese medical assistant exists, or any reference to this.  But I am digging deeper.

Bilimon Amaron, whose eyewitness account is widely considered to be the most important of the Marshall Islands witnesses, in the recreation room of his home in the Marshalls capital of Majuro, circa 1989, with Bill Prymak.  As a Japanese-born hospital corpsman in 1937 Jaluit, Amaron’s shipboard treatment of an injured white man, surely Fred Noonan, accompanied by an American woman the crewmen called “Meel-ya,” is legendary among the Marshallese. (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

The notion that Bilimon could have been a mere 13 years old when he treated Fred Noonan’s knee injury at Jaluit wasn’t new to noted researcher Les Kinney, well known to readers of this blog, who flatly rejects the idea.

Several years ago, while working with [Marshalls researcher] Karen Earnshaw, she obtained thedelayedbirth certificate for Bilimon Amran [sic] which gave a date of birth as you described,Kinney told me in a Feb. 28 email. However, these birth certificates were based upon guess work.  Since this is such an important issue, and at that time, we were attempting to interview Odar Lani, we made some inquiries.”  Kinney went on:

Odar Lani said Bilimon was about three years older.  Odar was born in January 1922 and said through his son, “Bilimon Amram [sic], a few years older than my Dad, told him once that he went to one of those Japanese boat and there on it was Amelia Earhart dining with those Japanese.  But my Dad says he did not believe any of it because at that time he was 16 and a labor for those Japanese and should have known about it already.” 

Amran’s [sic] daughter and brother also indicated Bilimon was about 17 when these events happened. During Jim Crowder’s interview with Bilimon in 1970 (first known interview of Bilimon), Bilimon said he was about 17 at the time.  A guesstimate birth certificate leading to a death certificate probably is irrelevant but will fuel the fire to say Bilimon was lying – which I categorically do not believe he was lying.

Karen Earnshaw, who co-authored a a 2015 profile of Bilimon for the Daily Mail, is currently in Hawaii; when I sent her an email asking about the birth certificate Kinney referenced, she said he she wasn’t able to access her Earhart files.  She wasn’t sure that she had Bilimon’s birth certificate, but would let me know when she got back to her home in Majuro sometime in May.

I had never heard of Odar Lani before Les Kinney introduced his name into his response to Holly’s claim, and it’s not found in any Earhart disappearance books.  On one of my early trips to Majuro, I had planned to travel to Jaluit where Odar Lani had lived since the Japanese times,Kinney added.  Odar had been the station manager for the Marshallese Airlines.  The weekly flight over to Jaluit was delayed.  I never had a chance to interview Odar as the next time I was in the Marshalls, he was in a hospital in Honolulu.  I could have talked to him on my way back from Majuro  in Honolulu.  I didn’t and regret that.  What I found interesting was Odar describes Bilamon seeing Earhart dining on board ship with the Japanese.  At that moment in time, this seems perfectly plausible and well within the realm of possibility.  I am quite certain that in the early days of her discovery at Mili by the Japanese, she was treated with respect.”

“There is nothing ‘delayed’ about the DC [death certificate],” Holly, a 1979 graduate of San Diego State (Bachelor’s in Business Administration, Political Science and Marine Studies) shot back in response to Kinney’s Feb. 28 message.  Delayed birth or death certificates here, by the way, must say delayed upon them, and are typically done for outer island folks.  It was based upon MISSA (MI Social Security) documents filed years ago with their agency.  Now that being said, sure an error could have occurred years ago, and compounded over the years.  There is no way to prove or disprove a change in those facts here today, period.  So it is what it is, another document, but it does raise more questions.”

According to Matt Holly, this photo of him at Arlington National Cemetery in July 2009 appeared sometime in early 2010 in The Marshall Islands Journal

Holly had more to add about the elusive (to me at least) Odar Lani:

I love Odar Lani.  Almost every bit of info he really knew about was correct.  But he was notorious for filling in the blanks when he didn’t know the answer, as he is a proud man who is the “expert” on everything Jaluit.  His sister 3 years older and was an even better source of info since she had an attitude when I questioned her.   A ship was bombed by the U.S. forces and set afire, and we wondered if it sank in the lagoon, [and] she say it put to sea thru the main channel while still on fire. . . BUT, I never questioned her about Bilimon’s age or any AE tales.

Bilimon’s place of birth has been generally held and reported to be Japan, but he spent most of his life in the Marshalls, where he was a respected and prosperous Majuro businessman for many years.  Holly has a different take on Bilimon’s birth, and the death certificate he offers as evidence for a 13-year-old Bilimon seems to support him, listing his place of birth as Marshalls Islands.

“Bilimon was born in Jaluit I believe, not Japan,” Holly wrote in a March 3 email. I don’t think he spent much time in Japan at all, and now wonder where he lived during the war years.  I have a MUSTER ROLL somewhere of EVERY Japanese person sent home at the end of the war.  I must find this and take a look.  Also makes sense, born in Jaluit and stayed there . . . [though] his records may be available in Japan, as many other Marshallese born in the Marshalls from 1918/9 to 1942/44’ish have been located there.

Bilimon’s father was Japanese, which may well have been the factor that allowed him access to the Japanese ship where he met Earhart and Noonan.  The fact that Bilimon was a half caste makes other issues, as I would presume this would preclude him from medical training, but may have allowed him medical training, Holly wrote. 

The clan of his mother may also be important.  His father may have held some power.  So this is hard to determine where he fit in.  More research.  This is where the age becomes important, as if 13, he would have still been in school, period.  If 14 later that year, he may have been free to enroll in some medical training.  But even at 16, or even 17, as a newbie AND a half caste, I am concerned he may have embellished himself into becoming an aid or medic or assistant or something working for the Japanese Navy.  He may have not been such, or a mere medic in training. . . . Again, I do believe his story.  I simply challenge the idea that a 13-16- year-old kid, from my understanding of Japanese culture at that moment in Jaluit,  was involved in or with the IJN medical world.  THIS IS WHAT I NEED TO PROVE TO help verify HIS story.

Paul Amaron, a schoolteacher, confirmed his brother’s experience in a written statement and 1997 interview with Bill Prymak.  Bilimon told his brother that the American man was slightly injured, but the woman was neat, calm, with no injuries, Prymak wrote. Both were taken to Kwajalein and then to Saipan.” 

Just before Bilimon died in 1996, he told his family to be sure to tell Joe and Bill, and the rest who asked about Amelia that my story is true, Paul told Prymak.  And why does either Paul Amaron or Prymak cite Bilimon’s death date as 1996, in contrast to the Marshall Islands death certificate produced by Matt Holly, which lists it as Jan. 24, 1994 in two boxes?  Was this simply an oversight by Prymak, or is the Marshalls death certificate deficient in its most important function?

So that’s where we stand at the moment — with a questionable birth date listed on Bilimon Amaron’s death certificate, and with Paul Amaron’s reported statement to Bill Prymak, Bilimon’s date of death can be justifiably questioned as well.

Giff Johnson, Marshall Islands Journal editor, has not responded to my email asking if Bilimon’s obituary was published by his paper and available it its archives.   An online search of the Marshall Islands Journal archives failed to produce anything. 

For much more on Bilimon’s account, see pages 144-149 in Truth at Last, or do a search on his name on this blog.

Bill Prymak’s ’97 Marshalls witnesses, Conclusion

Today we conclude our two-part look at Bill Prymak’s 1997 investigative foray to the Marshall Islands, as seen in the May 1997 issue of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters(Boldface and italic emphases are both Prymak’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Prymak’s.)

We begin with an interview with Teresa Amaron, the little-known daughter of the best known of all the Marshalls witnesses, Bilimon Amaron.  Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas does the honors.

“INTERVIEWING THE NATIVE WITNESSES”
by Bill Prymak (Continued)

TERESA AMARON
interviewed by Joe Klaas

In 1937, Bilimon Amaron was a 17-year-old medical assistant for the Japanese Navy, and treated injuries of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at the Japanese seaplane base on Jaluit Atoll.  His University of Hawaii graduate daughter, Teresa Amaron, stated this on the last day of the AES expedition, Jan. 29 to Feb. 10, 1997.

“He told me the same thing he told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak in 1991,” confirmed Ms. Amaron, Judicial Clerk in the Marshall Islands Federal Courthouse. Many people knew it at the time.  A tall, thin woman flying around the world, and her co-pilot or something like that, crashed at Mili Atoll.  They were brought to Jaluit on a Japanese ship.  My father was taken to the ship to treat their minor injuries.  They were brought to him in custody by two Japanese guards.  He saw their broken airplane on the back of the ship.  Nobody knew at the time who they were, but they obviously were Amelia Earhart and her navigator.  Later that night, the ship left with them in custody.”

Bilimon Amaron, whose eyewitness account is widely considered to be the most important of the Marshall Islands witnesses, relaxes in the recreation room of his home in the Marshalls capital of Majuro, circa 1989, with his guest John Prymak.  As a Japanese hospital corpsman in 1937 Jaluit, Amaron’s ship-board treatment of an injured white man, surely Fred Noonan, accompanied by an American woman the crewmen called “Meel-ya,” is legendary among the Marshallese.  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Bilimon Amaron’s brother at Jabor and other survivors of his generation, verified the story, adding to the long list of more than 60 eyewitnesses quoted by name in AMELIA EARHART LIVES and since, who saw Amelia Earhart alive and at Mili Atoll, Jaluit and Saipan.  Not one eyewitness has ever reported seeing her or her Lockheed 10E Electra anywhere near the Phoenix Islands southeast of Howland Island where my 1970 book mistakenly speculated she might have landed.  I was wrong, and so is anyone else under that illusion.

Those who said Amelia Earhart went down in the Marshalls include Bill Van Dusen; her mother, Amy Otis Earhart; Adm. Chester W. Nimitz; Adm. Richard B. Black; Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell; Fred Goerner; Oliver Knaggs; Vincent V. Loomis; Queen Bosket Diklan, of Mili Atoll; Lt. Col. Joseph C. Wright; Randall Brink; Robert H. Myers; Capt. George Carrington; Jim Donahue; Lockheed Historian Roy Blay; John and Dwight Heine, who saw her at Jaluit [Editor’s note: No evidence for this claim that I’m aware of]; Marshallese President Kabua Kabua; Oscar DeBrum; and more. 

In addition, 60 people have related that they saw her in 1937 at Saipan.  [Editor’s note:  Technically speaking, we do not have anywhere near 60 eyewitnesses from 1937 Saipan on record, though it’s possible that many or more could have seen her at or near the Kobayashi Royakan Hotel while she was kept there.  An unknown number of eyewitnesses feared Japanese reprisals, even long after the war.]

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And last is the tale of two delightful elderly women weaving floor mats while sitting on the grass in the shade of a shack on JABOR.  Joe Gervais and I had just come from the home of a native too feeble to tell us of the happenings in 1937.  We were told, this man knew.”  Knew what? was never tested.  His eyes told us he had a story to tell, but the voice, and the body, just couldn’t make it.

As we passed these two pleasant, older women, my eyes fixed upon the feet of one of the ladies.  Her toes were anchoring three palm fibers leading up to her nimble fingers as she created a masterpiece of weaving; but it was her story that captured our attention.  Both women were well into their seventies, and had been on JALUIT before the war.  They aptly described Bilimon and how he treated two “American pilot spies” several years before the war.  But what made this interview so memorable was that even though no Japanese ships were discussed, one of the gals looked me in the eye (the older natives rarely do that!) and stated, “It was not the Koshu . . .  IT WAS KAMOI.”  KAMOI, she kept repeating, and I just thought it was extraordinary for an old Marshallese woman to remember the name of an obscure Japanese boat unless its presence connected with a very special event in her life many years ago.  Very strange.

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Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron’s Majuro home in 1991.

“THE CREDIBILITY OF THE WITNESSES”

How credible are these witnesses interviewed during our latest trip to Jaluit?  To discredit these people, you’d have to brand them as liars, embellishers, storytellers, fabricators, or worse.  The Marshallese are kind, simple, loving people that really don’t have it in their makeup to lie to their (1) priests, (2) schoolteachers, (3) local government officials or (4) the interpreters who translate their experiences to visiting researchers.

I can’t imagine BILIMON AMARON, in failing health and dying, lying to his brother and daughter about his experience that he began telling to Matson Shipping Lines officials in the late 1940s . . . a story he had never wavered on thru all the years.

Why are Chamorro natives of Saipan, a thousand miles distant, describing the same wounds to an American man accompanying an American lady pilot, who were seen on Saipan in 1937, the same wounds as described by Bilimon Amaron?  Why did Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, USN, in charge of Saipan during the 1960s, state that Earhart & Noonan went down in the Marshalls and were brought to Saipan?  Why does every serious researcher — GERVAIS, KLAAS, GOERNER, LOOMIS, BRENNAN, KNAGGS, totally believe in the natives’ experiences, while the armchair critics who never set foot on these islands continue to [attempt to] debunk these witnesses?  Why does the U.S. government repudiate their statements?

Yes, statements do vary, and witnesses sometimes contradict other witnesses.  But considering the deleterious and noxious effect 60 years has on one’s memory, variations will manifest themselves.  For example, the half-dozen or so witnesses interviewed on Jaluit have stated:

Lady pilot went down between Jaluit and Mili;
Lady pilot went down between the Gilberts and Mili;
Lady pilot went down between Ebon and Mili;
Lady pilot went down between Arno and Mili.                                                   

The small print that came with this map states, “This map of Jaluit Atoll is the Sketch Survey from the Japanese Government Chart of 1928, and from the United States Government Charts to 1984. With later corrections to 1987. . . Natural Scale 1:204,100 (at Lat 6″00′) Projection — Mercator.”

But everybody states that BILIMON AMARON was called out to treat Noonan’s wounds.  And the locus of all touchdown areas is MILI.  All witness experiences are told to researchers from memory; there is no written word, no photograph.

Why the ceaseless and incessant denial by the U.S. Government?  Why all the official secrecy about the Earhart Flight?  Let me put forth one possible rationalization:  Suppose that the Navy had been monitoring the Japanese communications and ship movements in the Pacific sufficiently to have learned, or at least to have gotten a pretty good idea, that the Japanese had abducted Earhart and Noonan.  What could they have done?

They could not have taken action short of a military intervention to recover the flyers, and they could not have announced the fact (even if they were certain of it) without revealing the extent of their coverage of Japanese communications and operations, and therefore, their source of knowledge.  It would also have raised an enormous storm of protest and indignation, as well as being a national humiliation that we could ill afford, if we did not take bold action to recover the flyers.  It could also be that we were pretty sure, but not sure enough to raise an international incident about it.

This would explain all the secrecy, the strident insistence that the messages received from the plane were all hoaxes, and the equally strident insistence that the plane had fallen into the sea.  It would explain the tampering with the ITASCA log to readone-half hour of fuel left,the male/chauvinistic references to Earhart sounding hysterical,etc.  Since no such policy could have been decided without White House consultation, it would even explain the White House interest in the situation.  (End of Bill Prymak’s 1997 “Interviewing the Native Witnesses.”)

“Interviewing the Native Witnesses” is not all Prymak produced in the wake of his 1997 trip to the Marshall Islands.  Already seen on this blog is “An interview with Marshalls icon Robert Reimers: ‘Everyone knew’ of AE’s landing, tycoon said; yet to be published here is a photo essay devoted to the “The Great Naval Seaplane Base at Emidj,” which we’ll get to at some point. 

Bill Prymak’s 1997 Marshalls witnesses, Part I

During the course of more than 30 years of Earhart research, Bill Prymak made three investigative visits to the Marshall Islands, in 1989, ’91 and ’97, locating and interviewing many previously unknown witnesses, including the famous Bilimon Amaron in 1989, though Prymak wasn’t the first to record Bilimon’s remarkable account. 

Today we begin a two-part look at Prymak’s 1997 Marshalls trip, as seen in the May 1997 issue of his Amelia Earhart Society NewslettersI thought readers might like more of Prymak’s original AES Newsletter format, and so the front page of the newsletter that contains today’s story is presented below.  (Boldface and italic emphases are both Prymak’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Prymak’s.)

“INTERVIEWING THE NATIVE WITNESSES”
by Bill Prymak

In our quest for new material, the MARSHALL ISLANDS TRIP allowed us to reach some natives who had never been interviewed (by any researcher) before.  As Margaret Meade put it so succinctly, There was absolutely no indication that the [interviewed] natives we met were perpetuating a myth or falsely embellishing their experiences and recollections.  No one put words in their mouths, led them on or enticed them with promises of gratuity in exchange for their information.

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HATFIELD LEMAE

Joe Gervais and I had previously interviewed Hatfield six years ago, at which time he described his close relationship with MR. LEE, chief translator between the Japanese and Marshallese natives.  His story is well documented in the May 1991 NEWSLETTER, and it would behoove us to reread that interview.  Great stuff!  On this trip, he reiterated his story of how AE & FN were picked up at MILI ATOLL, and brought to JALUIT.  Other pressing matters prevented us from reliving with him again his Mr. Lee experience.

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Six of the 10 members of the Amelia Earhart Society who made the 1997 trip to the Marshall Islands. Bill Prymak’s caption:  “A FEW OF THE CREW: L to R: Lou Foudray, Margaret Mead, Irene & John Bolam, Dr. Rick Perschau and Joe Klaas.”  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

MR. TOKYO

Again, Mr. Tokyo is a repeat witness from the 1991 trip.  See NEWSLETTER, May 1991.  The six years since we saw him last have been hard on the aging man, but he did tell some new tidbits:

He reaffirmed, as several witnesses did, that BILIMON AMARON indeed was the young medic who assisted the Japanese doctor in treating two American flyers, one a woman, in 1937, aboard a Japanese vessel manned by uniformed naval personnel.

Mr. TOKYO worked on the EMIDJ SEAPLANE NAVAL BASE, and at least TWO Japanese Naval seaplanes were at the base at the time Bilimon treated the two Americans in 1937.  A great manyarmchair researchers naively believed the Japanese at the War Crimes Trials, when they deliberately lied in claiming that no fortifications were built in the Mandated Islands before the war.  Several other witnesses, further in this report, concur with Tokyo’s statement.  He further stated that it was his belief that AE & FN went down between the GILBERT ISLANDS and MILI.  Both plane and the two Americans were taken to MILI, transferred to a bigger boat, and then to JABOR, Japanese headquarters on JALUIT ATOLL, where Bilimon treated the man and saw the lady pilot.

If only we had one photo of those events in 1937 . . . but remember, the CARL HEINES were executed at EMIDJ for much less!

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MR. CALETA

Mr. Caleta lives on a tiny island just north of EMIDJ called TMIET.  Born in 1928, he worked as a cook for the Japanese at the Naval base during the war years.  He was told by the Japanese that the carrier AKAGI and supporting naval vessels were holding war exercises at JALUIT in 1937, and one of the carrier pilots, FUJIE FIRMOSA, bragged about forcing down Earhart at MILI, where she was then picked up and brought to JALUIT.  Then a Japanese flying boat flew the two Americans to KWAJALEIN.

This is one of several witnesses stating that AE did not fly her own airplane to Saipan.

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MASHAISHI LOMETO

The schoolteacher at EMIDJ, Mashaishi Lometo related he was raised on MILI ATOLL, and his father told him the following:

Earhart crashed at MILI, on the lagoon side, when she ran out of gas.  Soldiers came to the crash site, captured the two Americans, kept them one day at MILI, and then transported them to JALUIT.  Meantime, the soldiers struggled to hide the airplane with palm fronds for fear more American planes might be coming to search for her airplane.

Mr. Lometo stated that many of the old-timers on MILI, some now dead, frequently of the AMERICAN LADY PILOT incident back in 1937.   Two names, NERO and LEROK, were mentioned.

If we had time, it would have been very opportunistic to travel the 85 miles to MILI with Lometo, and relive with him and the surviving elders, what they experienced in 1937.

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Recent overview of Jabor, “a quiet bucolic place once teeming with thousands of Japanese Navy and Army personnel,” Bill Prymak wrote. “The great naval seaplane base at Emidj in eight miles up the lagoon.”

ABA

The elderly Japanese woman, translated by her grandson, ICHIWATA LAMAE.

Lady Luck smiled upon us today!  As John and Irene Bolam were leisurely walking thru Jabor village, a young Japanese lad (17 or 18 years old) stopped them to inquire about college in the USA.  After a thorough briefing by John, Ichiwata casually remarked that his 85-year-old grandmother lived on Jabor before, during and after the war, and might be a source of information.

Her husband had worked with the Japanese at EMIDJ before and during the war, and she stated that her husband had told her that a plane went down (several years before the war) between JALUIT and MILI ATOLLS.  Amelia and Fred were then brought to JABOR.  After JABOR, the two Americans were taken to places unknown; however, one rumor had it that they were taken to POHNPEI, and the native Chief’s daughter was allowed to see the white woman with her hands tied behind her back.  The daughter somehow relayed this experience back to Aba at JALUIT.  (POHNPEI at that time was a Japanese stopover for traffic going from JALUIT to TRUK.)

Aba also related stories of bestial atrocities the Japanese inflicted upon the local Marshallese, beating them for eating fruit from their own trees, and often beheading them as spies.”  They usually brought them to EMIDJ for execution by Samurai sword.  POWs at EMIDJ suffered a similar fate, and a local Marshallese, ANUKOJ, witnessed the decapitation of three young American airmen at EMIDJ the end of July 1944.  Rear Admiral MASUDA,  Commander of EMIDJ, committed suicide on Oct 5, 1945, rather than face war crime trials.

This kind, gentle elderly lady simply could not have fabricated the above.  She was quite honored and humbled by our visit.  Her grandson later stated that she cried after we left . . . we were her first visitors outside of family in fifty years.

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PAUL AMARON

WOW!  We didn’t even know Bilimon had a brother, and an educated English schoolteacher at that.

To briefly review, Bilimon Amaron was a much revered and deeply religious Japanese store-owner from Majuro.  Since the early 1940s, he had told of his experiences of July 1937, at JALUIT, when as a medic for the Japanese Naval doctor, he was called out to a ship in the harbor manned by Japanese uniformed naval personnel.  Two Americans, one a woman fitting AE’s description, were on deck, with a silver-colored (“Not Japanese”) airplane on the fantail.  See Feb. 1996 AES NEWSLETTER for the complete story.

U.S. Air Force Intelligence Map. 1943. “The map of EMIDJ exemplifies the resourcefulness of the USAF in 1943 air reconnaissance,” Bill Prymak wrote in his May 1997 AES Newsletter.  “The written text accompanying the map describes in detail some 100 buildings, from latrines to thte two 155 x 220 foot clear- span hangars. Radio towers, storage tanks, torpedo storehouse, ammunition bunkers, power plants, all are described in minute detail.”  (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

BILIMON’s experience, along with his honesty and credibility, has withstood the test of time, and this editor has always regarded him as one of the most genuine, sincere, and honorable men he has ever met.  Bilimon died last year, but meeting his younger brother, PAUL, simply heaps more credence to the total AMARON experience.

PAUL AMARON, in an AES interview and a written statement, reaffirms his brother’s experience in 1937, and just before Bilimon died last year, he told his family tobe sure to tell Joe and Bill, and the rest who asked about Amelia, that my story is true.”  And Bilimon, with that covenant to his family, and to the world, passed on.

Paul’s interview disclosed some interesting tidbits:

In 1937, three Japanese Naval doctors were at JABOR, and 7 were at EMIDJ.  It tells you that major construction was already under way at this period in time.  (See Robert Reimers Interview.)

Local natives were beheaded by the Japanese simply for eating locally grown food, with executions carried out at EMIDJ.

Bilimon told his brother that the American man was slightly injured, but the woman was neat, calm, with no injuries. Both were taken to KWAJALEIN and then to SAIPAN.

Here’s a strange twist: The hospital at EMIDJ was sealed by the Japanese and to this day has never been opened.  The Japanese were known for their meticulous record keeping; wouldn’t you guess the naval doctor with Bilimon in 1937, would have recorded the spectacular event of two Americans dropping in on Jaluit aboard a Japanese naval vessel?  Or at least mention the medical treatment of these two extraordinary visitors in 1937.

Why can’t you just walk in?  Not so simple.  The hospital is buried under tons of coral debris; three torpedoes adorn the roof in mock protection; and the natives have no desire to invade a tomb filled with evil spirits, slithering creatures, booby traps and the ghoulish ghosts of men long dead.  (End Part I.)

David Sablan adds new account to Earhart saga

David M. Sablan is a well-known Saipan citizen and entrepreneur who founded the Rotary Club of Saipan in 1968.  In 2017 he published his autobiography, A Degree of Success Through Curiosity: True Story of a Young Boy Eager to Learn and Find His Calling in Lifehis account of “living under the Japanese regime before and during WWII on a remote Pacific island, who grew up under hardship but made something positive out of his life.”

In 2005, Sablan, who turns 87 in early April and founded Saipan’s Rotary Club in 1968, was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year, the first time in the club’s 37-year history the club presented this award to one of its own.

Our honoree complements his public service by being closely involved with civic and community groups,said Michael Sablan, who introduced David at the 2005 ceremony.  The list of civic and community organizations he has served on is long, but of all the honors bestowed to our honoree, of all the distinctions he has earned . . . it was his involvement in 1968 in founding the Rotary Club of Saipan that we Rotarians, as a club, appreciate the greatest.

David M. Sablan and his wife. Rita, on July 3, 2005, when, for the first time in the Saipan Rotary Club’s 37-year history, the Rotary Club of Saipan presented its Citizen of the Year award to one of its own members.

In my May 18, 2018 post, Marie Castro, a treasure chest of Saipan history, Reveals previously unpublished witness accounts,” Marie introduced yet another previously unpublished piece of the ever-continuing Earhart saga, an account with which Sablan was personally familiar.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout.

I have the photo of Mr. Jose Sadao Tomokane.  He told his wife one day the reason for coming home late. He attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.  Mrs. Tomokane  and Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes were neighbors during the Japanese time.  They often visited  with one another.  Dolores, daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, heard their conversation about the cremation of an American woman pilot.  These two wives were the only individuals who knew secretly about the cremation of Amelia through Mr. Tomokane.

Had it not been for the daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, who heard the conversation of the two wives, we would have never known about Mr. Tomokane’s interesting day.  And David M. Sablan, after I showed the power point presentation at my house last month, he got up after the presentation and told the group that he heard about Amelia being cremated, according to Mr. Tomokane.”

David Sablan and Maj Gen. Paul Tibbits, the pilot of the famous Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb in Hiroshima in August 1945, circa June 2004.  Gen. Tibbits revisited Saipan on the 60th Anniversary of the Invasion of Saipan, June 15, 1944.

At the Oct. 9, 2018 reception dinner honoring Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s return to Saipan at age 92 at Garapan’s Fiesta Resort and Spa, Sablan spoke of his childhood memory of seeing an airplane towed through Garapan’s Second Street, though on this occasion Sablan wasn’t quite as specific as he was in an earlier email to Marie Castro:

Going back in years, during the Japanese occupation of Saipan (late thirties to early forties), I was wandering around the northern part of Garapan Town, when I saw a large crowd gathered near the dock area of a large Japanese company, Nanyo Boeki Kaisha (or NAMBO).  This dock was privately owned by NAMBO for unloading cargoes that were brought in by sampan or barge unloaded from a ship into a sampan and brought ashore by a barge to the small jetty.  I was curious to see what was going on but I could only see a plane which was apparently off-loaded from a barge at the NAMBO dock. 

I saw an airplane being towed on Second Street in Garapan Town.  The plane was being towed southward on Garapan Main Street.  I later learned that the towed airplane was seen at ASLITO AIRFIELD on the southern end of Saipan.  A local worker at Aslito Airfield came by our ranch in Chalan Kiya and told us that the airplane was recovered by the Japanese as well as a woman and a man pilots.  The name of the person who told us is ISIDRO LISAMA.

Sablan then recalled visiting the Marshall Islands during the course of his many duties with Atkins Kroll Guam Ltd., where he rose from traffic clerk to president and general manager, and upon his retirement, as chairman of the company.  One person that I remember very distinctly is Bilimon Amaron . . . was one of my customers for the merchandise that we used to sell.  And I said, ‘What do you know about Amelia Earhart?’ Well, [he said] I was a corpsman in 1937 working for the Japanese government and all of a sudden we were asked to go on a ship to treat a man and a woman who were injured and were on that ship . . . and [he was told] you are not to say anything of what you see.  This is in 1937.

Bilimon Amaron, in Amaron’s Majuro, Marshall Islands home, in 1989, with Bill Prymak, Amelia Earhart Society founder and its first and only president.  Amaron’s eyewitness account of seeing Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan aboard a Japanese ship in 1937 is the cornerstone of the Marshall Islands landing scenario. (Courtesy Bill Prymak.)

“So they went aboard the ship and they treated a white man and a white woman,” Sablan continued, “not Japanese, and as he was doing that he looked at the aft side of the ship, the rear part of the ship, and saw a damaged airplane.  This was shared to me by Bilimon Amaron.

(Editor’s note:  Although Sablan pronounced Bilimon’s name as Amaron in his talk, in an email he insisted the spelling should be Amram,a form I’ve seen before, though rarely.  Bilimon himself told Bill Prymak to spell his name as Amaron when Prymak interviewed him in 1989.  Amram may be a Marshallese form, but Vincent V. Loomis, whose book, Amelia Earhart: The Final Story, is the definitive Marshall Islands, Earhart-landing work, spelled itAmaran,though most others have it as Amaron, so we’ll stay with that on this blog for continuity, at the least.)

David Sablan’s childhood memory is valuable in that we have scant witness testimony about the disposition of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, and how it came to be at Aslito Field when it was discovered in a hangar there during the American invasion in the summer of 1944.  And although many have heard and written about Bilimon Amaron’s sighting of Earhart and Fred Noonan aboard a Japanese ship at Jaluit in summer 1937, as a prominent member of the Saipan establishment, Sablan’s endorsement of Amaron’s eyewitness account lends it additional credibility and weight.  Considering that the popular sentiment  on Saipan against the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument remains strongly against its success, Sablan’s accounts can only help this worthy cause.

Sablan also has several interesting photos on his blog, including one of his meeting the emperor of Japan.  To see these, please click here.

Your support of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument would be greatly appreciated; please see this blog’s front page, top right side for more information.

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