Tag Archives: Bill Prymak

Revisiting the ’82 Smithsonian Earhart Symposium

As we continue our trek through these ever-more interesting times, perhaps the most significant public discussion about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the June 1982 Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum, continues to fade from sight and memory.

Only the most well-informed even recall this event, or that it occasioned the great inventor Fred Hooven, after years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged post-loss radio receptions, to present his paper, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” the first academic, objective analysis of the Earhart post-flight transmissions. 

Hooven’s thesis became better known as “The Hooven Report” and established him as the creator of the McKean-Gardner Island landing theory, soon to become TIGHAR’s infamous Nikumaroro hypothesis” that continues to haunt us to this day, long after Hooven abandoned it.  For more on Hooven’s work, see Truth at Last pages 56-57, 303-304 or click here.

For reasons clear to those of us who understand the truth, the symposium was not covered by Smithsonian Magazine or any other publications that I’m aware of, nor do I have a transcript or audio tape of it.  The only significant mention of the event that I have can be found in the July 1998 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, which contains the below letter from little-known Earhart researcher Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog. 

Forthwith is the first of two parts.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout, underline emphasis in original AES article.

THE GREAT DEBATE of 18 June 1982
at the SMITHSONIAN, WASHINGTON, D.C.”
(A letter from Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who could not attend.)

 

Dear Joe,                                                                                     6/25/82

I thought I should bring you up to date concerning my attending the symposium on A.E. in D.C. on 18 June 1982.

Earhart researcher Dean Magley, of Rockford, Ill., passed away in January 1991 at age 57.

I did make contact with Bob Jones and we were together the entire day.  Nice fella.  He is also very interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping, and a fellow named Olson, whom Bob had written but received no answer from, sat right in front of us for one session.  Bob was so excited he could hardly concentrate on the speaker.

The audience totaled around 400. The first 5 or 6 rows were reserved for various preferred
people.  I never learned how they were selected, but Bob and I weren’t included.  Those who [attended] were, included the afternoon speakers: Sally Chapman, granddaughter of G.P.P.  [George Palmer Putnam] who is writing a book on G.P.P.; Grace McGuire, A.E.’s look-alike who is to complete A.E.’s flight plan this year; Don Kothera and wife; Paul L. Rafford, Jr., who claims to be a close friend of Bill Galtin, the radio operator on Itasca; Milton R. Shils, an insurance man from Philly who had a picture taken of him at age 13 with A.E. and 4 or 5 others; Amy Kleppner, Muriel Morrissey’s daughter; [Evelyn] Bobbi Trout, charter member of the 99’s and her companion, Carol Osborne, who inherited some large collection of flying memorabilia; [William] Polhemus, the navigator on Ann Pellegreno’s  [June-July 1967] duplicate flight; Cmdr. H. Anthony who was in charge of the search for A.E. (who relieved [Itasca Cmdr.] W. K. Thompson?); and possibly 30-40 others who were not introduced and I did not learn their names.  One of these was a young lady of about 30 who had short cut hair like A.E., actually resembled her, and wore a new, shorter version of the leather coat A.E. wears in the first picture of your book.  She also audio taped the entire program.  She got out of the hall before I could talk to her.  Darn!

There were basically three types of people represented: Those who say A.E. was taken by the Japanese but is now dead; those who agree with you that she still lives; those who say she was lost in the drink.  One young man age 20-25, raised four or five questions with reference to your book.  I did not get his name.

Muriel Morrissey spoke first.   She spoke mainly of their childhood.  Muriel is getting a little senile, I think.  She did say the Lindberghs didn’t get along too well.  I don’t know how she got on that topic.  She also said, “We should have a true answer soon” (as to A.E.’s disappearance).  This brought a murmur from the crowd.  Questions from the audience asked for an explanation of her true answerstatement.  She flustered, then looked down at the front row of the audience and asked Elgen Long if she should say anything further. He indicatedno.’  She then said more would be told in the afternoon session.

Fay Gillis Wells, circa 1930, who passed away in December 2002 at age 94, was an American pioneer aviator, globe-trotting journalist and a broadcaster.  In 1929, she became one of the first women pilots to bail out of an airplane to save her life and helped found the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of licensed women pilots.  As a journalist she corresponded from the Soviet Union in the 1930s, covered wars and pioneered overseas radio broadcasting with her husband, the reporter Linton Wells, and was a White House correspondent from 1963 to 1977.

Fay Gillis Wells — quite robust — speaks with authority.  She had her entire talk on 3 x 5 cards and read it word for word.  It was very well written and delivered.  She was a foreign correspondent in 1933 in Russia, and handled the logistics for Wiley Post on his world flight.  She also accompanied Nixon on his trip to China.  She said there will soon be three new books on A.E.  She vehemently denies that A.E. is alive.  You recall when I spoke to her on the phone a month previously and mentioned there are some who think A.E. lives, she broke in almost before I could finish my statement said, “THAT’S PREPOSTEROUS! That poor woman in New Jersey should be left alone.”  I have just realized that Fay was asked if she knew Irene Craigmile by the young man I mentioned earlier.  Her reply was to the effect that she didn’t know what he was talking about but no, she didn’t know any Irene Craigmile.  The young fellow then said Irene Craigmile is now Mrs. [Irene] Bolam and is pictured in your book, “A.E. [Amelia Earhart] Lives.”  Fay said, “Oh, I’ve never read that book!”

Twice in her talk or in answering questions, Fay said, “A.E. would not throw her life away on a crazy spy mission.”  She also said a TV seriesdistorts history,and blasted an NBC three-hour production.  I’m not sure what she was referring to on the NBC bit.  She also stated that A.E. was born in 1897, and that Muriel Morrissey was here to back her up.  Mrs. [Florence] Kothera asked her about her letter to Gen. [Wallace M.] Green asking about Privates [Everett] Henson [Jr.] and [Billy] Burks.  Fay said she had never written to Gen. Greene.  Mrs. Kothera then opened her scrapbook and said, I have a copy of his answer to you, and if you would like me to read it, I will.”  Fay then said,Oh well, if I wrote a letter to the Marine Commandant, then I guess I did. (Nothing had been said about his title by Mrs. Kothera!!)  The Kotheras (who did the bulk of the research for Amelia Earhart Returns From Saipan), told me before the sessions started that they had letters from Henson and Burks stating that the government had NOT contacted them to ask about A.E.

Fay indicated throughout her talk that there is no way A.E. is alive, and tried to let on that she has not actively looked into her disappearance.  Fay called Amelia A.E.and G.P.P. Gyp.

Fay also said A.E. paid for publishing the 99’s Newsletter.  She mentioned Clara Livingston as helping Fay set up the 25th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp.  I asked her if she believed in ESP as did A.E. and Jackie Cochran.  Her answer was negative.  She announced that May 22-24, 1983, would be a super big get-together in Atchison, Kansas.  I can’t recall why she said it would be rated so highly though.

Undated photo of former Adm. Richard B. Black, who supervised construction of the Howland Island air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop.  Black was in the radio room of the USCG Cutter Itasca as he listened to Earhart’s last known radio transmission indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island.

[Retired] Admiral [Richard B.] Black was introduced as having been given a medal for the Saipan-Tinian assault.  (This means he may have been privy to firsthand information.)  He said the H. Frequency D.F.  [high frequency direction finder] was offered to him by a young lieutenant whose name he can’t recall (or I may have misunderstood) on Oahu.  He told of the Itasca circling Howland on July 1 to calibrate it.  It worked free.  It was battery powered and they did lose some of their power so they were not at their best when they were needed.  His opinion is that she crashed in the ocean after running out of gas about 10 A.M.  He was on the Itasca until 5 A.M., when he went ashore to be with the H.F.D.F.

At the end of his talk (which seemed to be one he has given several times), he said: “And now for the first time I have an addendum.”  He then stated that a Capt. Carter (whom he cannot now locate) told him a Japanese ship entered Jaluit* Harbor (with a white man and woman as prisoners.  Black now believes they were A.E. and Fred Noonan.  He offered no further information. 

       *  The AES visited Jaluit and harbor in 1997.  (End of Part I.)

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.

Veterans recall seeing Earhart photos on Saipan

Even casual serious students of the truth in the Earhart disappearance have heard and read about the photos of Amelia and Fred Noonan that were allegedly found on Saipan during and after the June 1-July 9, 1944 Battle of Saipan.  I’ve heard the wistful regrets that none of these photos have ever publicly surfaced, and have shared in the disappointment of those who believe that things would be different if we just had one of these photos that show so clearly that Amelia Earhart was a prisoner of the Japanese.  (Boldface mine throughout; italics Goerner’s.)

Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, assigned to the Army’s 106th Infantry Regiment on Saipan, was among the first of the former American servicemen to contact Fred Goerner during his early Saipan investigations.  In 1961, Kanna told Goerner that as platoon sergeant of his intelligence unit on Saipan, his duty was to insure [sic] that we would take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.”  One prisoner captured in an area designated as Tank Valley had “a photo of Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield,” Kanna wrote.  The photo was forwarded up the chain of command, and when questioned, the Japanese captive “stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion and subsequently he felt that both of them had been executed,” according to Kanna

He provided Goerner the names of three men who had served as interpreters for his unit. Goerner located only one of them, Richard Moritsugu, in Honolulu, whose voicequavered and brokeon the phone when Goerner asked about Saipan and Sergeant Kanna.  Moritsugu told Goerner he had no desire to discuss the war.

Fred Goerner, center, on Saipan during his first investigative visit there in June 1960, left to right: Native witnesses William Guerrero Reyes and Josepa Reyes Sablan, Goerner, Monsignor Oscar Calvo, and Rev. Father Arnold Bendowske of the Saipan Catholic mission.  Photo courtesy San Francisco Library Special Collections.

Robert Kinley, of Norfolk, Va., served with the 2nd Marine Division during the invasion and claimed he saw a photo of Earhart with a Japanese officer that he believed was taken on Saipan.  Kinley said he was clearing a house of booby traps near a graveyard when the picture was found tacked to a wall.  A Japanese mortar shell exploded nearby moments later, tearing away part of his chest.  He lost the photo at that point and couldn’t remember if it was destroyed in the explosion or taken by one of the medics who attended him.  Kinley wrote that the photo showed Amelia standing in an open field with a Japanese soldier wearing some kind of combat or fatigue cap with a single star in its center.” 

Sometime after the 1966 release of The Search for Amelia Earhart, Marine Colonel Donald R. Kennedy, commandant of the 12th Marine Corps District, told Goerner he came into possession of photographs in Japan in 1945 that showed Earhart in Japanese custody.  He [Kennedy] says he turned them over to [General Douglas] MacArthur’s Intelligence Headquarters,Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1969. Marine Corps G-2 is now trying to trace what happened to the photographs after Kennedy turned them over.”  Kennedy attemptedto get clearance from USMC Headquarters before he could go on record,Goerner told Theodore Barreaux 19 years later.  After eighteen months, he got the clearance but with the proviso that this did not represent official USMC position.”  Kennedy’s file contains nothing else of significance, so something must have derailed Kennedy from pursuing the matter further, a common occurrence in the Earhart search.

Just as Robert Kinley contacted Goerner about seeing a photo of Earhart on Saipan, Stanley F. Serzan, of Orange City, Fla., was among several veterans who told Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident about seeing photos of one or both of the fliers.  Serzan, a member of the 4th Marine Division on Saipan and a retired Bayonne, New Jersey, police officer, said one of his fellow Marines found a number of photos of Earhart and Noonan while searching a dead Japanese soldier. I will never forget seeing those pictures of Amelia Earhart,wrote Serzan, who died in 1995.

There were several Japanese officers with her and she certainly looked in good health. . . . The one picture I do recall to mind was one where Fred was standing sort of behind a Japanese officer to his right, and next was Amelia and then two more Japanese officers. There were other pictures of her and an officer alone and she was in sort of a fly jacket—and half a dozen others I don’t remember. All were taken outdoors—no buildings in sight. Trees in background. Fred appeared much taller than Japanese. I wish I had been able to get one of those pictures.  When leaving Hawaii to come back to the mainland, we were told to get rid of the souvenirs because we would have to pay a duty.  We threw tons of stuff away and we never were searched.  We could have killed for being lied to like that.

Stanley F. Serzan, of Orange City, Florida, a retired Bayonne, New Jersey, police officer, claimed he saw several photos of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan found on a dead Japanese officer on Saipan. (Courtesy Stanley Serzan.)

Jerome Steigmann, of Phoenix, a longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, sent Devine information provided by Frank Howard, of Pueblo, Colorado.  Howard told Steigmann that he was in the first wave of Marines to hit the beach on Saipan, and later “a buddy found two photographs in a Jap Officer’s outpost they had just captured . . . one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers,” Howard wrote.  The below drawing by Howard appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, with the following narrative from Howard:

There were two photos, one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers.  In one picture, the Naval officers must have left, as only the Army officers remained and Fred Noonan had his jacket off and had laid it on his lap, so it must have been a hot day, as the soldiers and officers were in short white-sleeved shirts, as was Amelia and Fred.  The soldiers also had those curtain type sun shade cloths behind their necks, but they had those wrappings around their legs.  Amelia and Fred seemed very tired and the day must have been at high noon.  Amelia was wearing “jodhpurs” trousers with cuffs, and Fred dark trousers with cuffs.  My buddy was killed in action, and I never saw the photos again.  I enclose a sketch as best as I remember.

Another Amelia Earhart Society member, Col. Rollin Reineck (U.S. Air Force, retired), received a letter from Dale Chandler, a former radioman aboard the USS Rocky Mount (AGC-3), the flagship for the Joint Expeditionary Force attacking Saipan, Guam and Tinian in June-July, 1944.  The following also appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter:

One afternoon in early July, 1944, I was going to my shift in the radio room, and on the way I met one of the ship’s photographers. I asked him if I could see some of the photos of the invasion.  He showed me a photograph of a man and a woman among other photos in a shoe box found in a captured Jap Officer’s billet.  I could not tell who they were, but the photographer stated that they were Amelia Earhart and her “pilot” (sic).  He further stated that it proved they were on Saipan in 1937, and not lost at sea. The photo was taken in front of the building where he had found the photograph. He said the building where the photo was taken was in the background, but was now partially destroyed by shellfire but parts of the building still standing were easy to recognize.  I was 12 years old when the Earhart disappearance took place, and I assumed she was dead, lost at sea.

The snapshot was taken on the side of the building, and facing the camera she was on the left. She was wearing a kaiki (sic) jacket, breeches and a wrapping around her, below her knees.  No hat.  He was on her left wearing a dark jacket and pants, white shirt, no tie and his hat cocked on the side of his head.  The photo went to CIC, now the CIA.

All of this information is true and accurate.

Nothing more is presented in the AES Newsletters about Chandler’s claim.

Joseph Garofalo, a former Seabee and Saipan veteran, claimed to have found a photo of Earhart in the wallet of a dead Japanese soldier.  In a letter to Devine, Garofalo, of the Bronx, New York wrote that he searched a dead Jap officer and it was in his wallet along with a picture of his family.”  Garofalo continued:

As best I can remember the photo fit on the inside of the Jap officer’s wallet, it was in black and white, with sort of a sepia finish, which looked faded. It was about the third week after we landed [on Saipan]. Many of my buddies had seen the picture at that time.  As you face the photo, Amelia Earhart was standing on the left-hand side, wearing pants and the shirt she was wearing had short sleeves, it was probably khaki; she looked very haggard and thin.  The Jap officer was on the right wearing the traditional short visor cap and leggings.  She seemed a few inches taller than the Jap.  It has been 49 years ago, the description of the picture is still in my mind, and I consider it accurate.

Joining Ralph Kanna and Robert Kinley, who claimed to have found photos of Amelia Earhart on Saipan, was Seabee Joseph Garofalo, pictured here on Saipan in July 1944.  While assigned to Naval Construction Battalion 121 during the invasion, Garofalo found a sepia photo of Amelia Earhart inside the wallet of a dead Japanese officer.  He lost the photo on Tinian several weeks later.  Garofalo, the founder and curator of the Bronx Veterans Museum, passed away in March 2016 at age 95.  (Courtesy Joseph Garofalo.)

None of the priceless photos Saipan veterans reported seeing have publicly surfaced.  For years Devine tried to obtain a photo of Earhart an ex-GI claimed he found on Saipan in 1944.  The man told Devine that a Japanese officer, a woman, and two children were standing with Earhart in the photo, which he gave to a friend along with other personal items after being wounded.  Devine offered the man $10,000, but the trail dried up when the man, who had entered a veterans hospital, stopped responding to his correspondence. 

In another near miss, Virginia Ward, of Waterbury, Connecticut told Devine that her two cousins, Marines who were both badly wounded on Saipan, brought back photos of Earhart they found there.  Both died within two years of their return to the states, and Ward never found the photos.

For much more on the substantial oral histories of American military veterans and their knowledge of Amelia Earhart on Saipan, please see Chapter IX, “Saipan Veterans Come Forward,” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, pages 180-204.

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]; 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.]

***********************************

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 1940’s  . . . 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 1960’s, 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 19377

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.)

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