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 . 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.
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.
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.
Even casual students of the Earhart disappearance have heard and read about the photos of Amelia and Fred Noonan allegedly found on Saipan during and after the June 15-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 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 voice “quavered and broke” on the phone when Goerner asked about Saipan and Sergeant Kanna. Moritsugu told Goerner he had no desire to discuss the war.
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 Col. 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 attempted “to 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.
Jerome Steigmann, of Phoenix, a longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, sent Devine information provided by Frank Howard, of Pueblo, Colo. 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.
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, Conn., 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.
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)
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’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.]
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.
“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.
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 read “one-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.
We rejoin the saga of Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye’s attempt to release the secret Earhart files by drafting Congressional legislation in 1993. Longtime Earhart researcher and author Col. Rollin Reineck (U.S. Air Force, retired) was far from a single-minded devotee of the truth, as we’ve already seen in several posts, but we also must give the colonel his just due. (Boldface and italics emphases mine throughout.)
If not for Reineck’s diligence, Inouye would never have become informed and motivated enough about the Earhart disappearance to actually step out from the establishment mob and risk his proverbial neck for the truth.
I find it beyond ironic that Inouye was not just the only U.S. senator to ever actively advocate for total disclosure of the secret Earhart files, but that he was a Japanese-American citizen who narrowly escaped internment during World War II. With 50 more like him, we might write “Case Closed” to the Earhart disappearance.
Inouye was one of only seven members of the U.S. Senate to be awarded the Medal of Honor; five of those were cited for their valor during the Civil War. Sen. Robert J. Kerry (D-Nebraska), whose actions came in Vietnam in 1969, shares the 20th century senatorial distinction with Inouye, whose story is an inspiring chronicle of selflessness, courage and devotion to duty and comrades.
Born in Honolulu in 1924 to Japanese parents who had emigrated from the mainland, Inouye was surrounded by anti-Japanese sentiment during his childhood, graduating from high school in 1942, just after Pearl Harbor.
Inouye immediately tried to enlist in the military, but was rejected with a draft classification 4C, which stood for “enemy alien,” unfit for duty, but after more than a year, the Army finally dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese-Americans. He quickly enlisted and volunteered for the storied 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Japanese-American combat unit that fought in southern France and Germany.
Promoted to sergeant in his first year, and after a major battle in the Vosges Mountains of France in the fall of 1944, Inouye received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. During that offensive, he was hit by a German round right above his heart, but two silver dollars he had stacked in his shirt pocket stopped the bullet. He carried those coins with him through the rest of the war, but the worst was far from over.
On April 21, 1945, Inouye was near San Terenzo, Italy, leading his platoon on an attack on a mountain ridge against enemy troops who were guarding an important road junction when they were ambushed by three close-range machine guns. During the attack, he was shot in the stomach, but Inouye was undeterred and destroyed the first machine gun position by himself with grenades and gunfire. He and his squad then attacked the second machine gun nest, successfully destroying it. For the rest of the late Senator Daniel Inouye’s Medal of Honor story, please click here.
We come now to possibly the highest point of the 12 years Bill Prymak invested in producing the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter (1989-2000) for his friends and fellow researchers. As we can see below, Prymak’s February 1993 newsletter trumpets the news that his friend Rollin Reineck had persuaded Sen. Inouye to write legislation that would, if approved and enacted, end 56 years of government denial and deceit, as reflected by Inouye’s letter to Reineck, followed by the bill that he would soon introduce.
Prymak’s closing comment: “The above, hopefully, will be the fruition of many years of hard, dedicated effort to break down the doors of the State Department, where the Colonel is certain that files on Amelia Earhart never seen before by the American people lay sequestered. Everybody owes him a debt of gratitude for his untiring efforts and perseverance in what we all hope will be a major breakthrough in the Earhart mystery. GOOD SHOW, COLONEL.”
Nothing more was ever heard of Inouye’s proposed bill, and the AES Newsletters are silent as well. Thus has been the fate of all efforts aimed at breaking through the stone wall erected by the U.S. government and its agencies that protects the secrets of the Earhart disappearance from the public. Even an important, highly placed U.S. senator’s actual proposed legislation was dead on arrival, with no chance of passage whatsoever.
Congress has yet to do anything approaching a real investigation of the Earhart disappearance. When Fred Goerner’s bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart, rocked the nation in 1966, selling over 400,000 copies in an age when far more Americans actually read books, untold numbers of congressmen and senators from coast to coast were besieged by constituents demanding that they get to the bottom of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Nothing happened.
In an event that appears to have been completely suppressed from the public, in July 1968 Goerner appeared before a Republican platform subcommittee in Miami, chaired by Kentucky Governor Louie Broady Nunn.
In his four-page presentation, “Crisis in Credibility — Truth in Government,” Goerner laid out the highlights of the mountain of facts that put the fliers on Saipan and appealed to the members’ integrity and patriotism, doing his utmost to win them to the cause of securing justice for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Nothing eventuated, of course. I have the record of Goerner’s congressional encounter only because I briefly had access to his 900-plus files, housed at the Admiral Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, which continues to ban Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last from its bookstore.
In 1997, Rollin Reineck took another shot at it — an extreme longshot, to be more accurate — and wrote an excellent letter to President Bill Clinton in hopes of achieving a miraculous breakthrough in the Earhart case. This time Reineck had no inside connection, and his missive probably never got past a GS-11 screener. This has been the fate of all attempts to reveal the truth about the Earhart disappearance — among the most sacrosanct of the U.S. government’s sacred cows — to the American public. And so it goes.