Now that the establishment’s latest phony effort to find Amelia Earhart’s plane as far away as possible from where it’s buried on Saipan has ended, I think a review of the true history of the search for Amelia is appropriate. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Most informed observers of the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan believe that Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart is the seminal work in the genre, and all that followed sprang from the San Francisco radio-newsman’s initial Saipan forays. But neither Goerner nor anyone else would have ever heard about Earhart and Noonan’s arrival at Saipan in 1937 if not for the 1960 book that started it all — Daughter of the Sky, by Paul L. Briand, Jr., a Ph.D., captain (later promoted to major) and assistant professor of English at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
I never met Briand, who was born in 1920 and died in 1986, to ask him definitively, but it appears that Daughter of the Sky was conceived and written as another Earhart biography, this one by an aviation expert and co-editor of The Sound of Wings (not the biography by Mary Lovell), an anthology of flying literature published in 1957. We must assume, based on its presentation, that as the book neared completion, Briand was informed of new material that he shoehorned into Daughter’s closing pages, information that changed everything about the Earhart disappearance.
Since few readers have a copy of Daughter of the Sky, I think it’s instructive to re-present its closing pages, for those interested in something more substantial than the latest failed searches and incoherent dispatches about native bones found and lost on a central Pacific atoll circa 1940.
In the last of its three parts, “The Last Flight,” Daughter of the Sky distinguished itself from all previous Earhart literature. In its next-to-last chapter, “The Fog of Rumors,” an apparently unconvinced Briand introduced the “great rumor” that Earhart and Noonan had been prisoners of the Japanese, attributing this idea “largely” to the 1943 Hollywood film Flight for Freedom, a red herring starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray, and speculation by Dr. M.L. Brittain of Georgia Tech, who had been onboard USS Lexington during the Earhart search, that the fliers became prisoners of the Japanese.
Here Briand presented some helpful information as well, noting Amy Otis Earhart’s claim that “her daughter was on a secret government mission and that she was captured by the Japanese,“ but writing that Mrs. Earhart had no “official basis” for making such as statement. For more on that story, please click here. Briand also cited the March 1944 Associated Press article, “Putnam Flight Yarn Revived,” by Eugene Burns that introduced the fishing boat pickup and Marshall Islands landing scenario that Elieu Jibambam had initially shared with Navy Lieutenants Eugene T. Bogan, Bill Bauer and Jimmy Toole (see Truth at Last pages 130-131). Burns’ story was buried in newspapers where it appeared at all, and was largely ignored.
Astute readers will note several discrepancies in Briand’s narrative of Josephine Blanco’s eyewitness account as reported by Navy dentist Casimir R. Sheft to him and later findings by Fred Goerner and others; after all, the book was published in 1960, so we’re talking circa 1959 that Briand was made privy to Sheft’s revelations.
Very little of substance was known at that time, but the key event, Josephine’s 1937 sighting of the American fliers at Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor, is presented in stark detail by the Air Force Academy English professor as Sheft related it to him, and thus the true modern search for Amelia Earhart was quietly launched. Very few were even aware of it, as the revelations in Daughter of the Sky were suppressed throughout the establishment media. Following are the closing pages of Paul Briand Jr.’s Daughter of the Sky.
9. “The Light of Fact: A Mystery Solved?”
Two additional events, however, separate in time and both involving Amelia Earhart — but heretofore never interrelated — do fit together in a logical and revealing pattern. All the pieces of the puzzle are not available, but there are enough of them to form a discernible picture.
At the end of World War II Jacqueline Cochran, then head of the WASPS, the famous organization of women ferry pilots, was asked by General Hap Arnold to go to Tokyo and investigate the role that Japanese women had played in aviation during the war. While she was in Imperial Air Force Headquarters Miss Cochran noticed that there were numerous files on American aviation notables — and many filed on Amelia Earhart.
These documents since that time have mysteriously disappeared. They are not in the official custody of the United States Government, or any of its departments, services, or agencies; nor do they seem to be in the possession of the Japanese Government. (All captured documents, those of historical importance having been copied on microfilm, have been returned to Tokyo. No AE files were discovered among the captured materials.) Nevertheless, these files seem to indicate that the Japanese had more than a normal interest in Amelia Earhart, because of another event that happened, curiously, again in the Marianas. This new evidence has never before been made public.
At the end of the war on the island of Saipan a Navy dentist worked with his assistant, a native girl named Josephine Blanco. It was 1946. Dr. Casimir R. Sheft, now practicing in New Jersey, was taking a break between appointments and talking with a fellow dentist. During the conversation Dr. Sheft casually mentioned the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and speculated about whether the famous flier could have ended her flight in the Marianas, and possibly near Saipan, for he had read somewhere that the Marines had found AE’s flight log during the invasion (actually, it had been the photograph album). Suddenly his dental assistant, Josephine, broke in: She had seen an American woman flier many years ago — nine or ten — on Saipan, when she was a little girl. The American woman wore khaki clothes and had hair cut like a man. . . .
Josephine Blanco, now Mrs. Maximo Akiyama, and living in California with her husband and their young son, was witness to an incident which is as incredible as it is enlightening,
In the summer of 1937 Josephine was riding her bicycle toward Tanapag Harbor. She was taking her Japanese brother-in-law, J.Y. Matsumoto, his lunch, and was hurrying along because it was nearly twelve o’clock.
That summer she had just finished Japanese grammar school, where she had gone for the last five years, ever since she was seven years old. In March she had celebrated her eleventh birthday, and now she could begin Catholic school. She was looking forward to studying with the Spanish missionary sisters. Father Tadzio had hoped that someday Josephine, too, like some of the other Chamorro native girls in the Marianas, would answer Gods call and become a native sister.
Josephine had a special pass to the Japanese military area near the harbor. Not even Japanese civilians were admitted to the area unless they carried the proper credentials. The young girl rode up to the gate, stopped her bicycle, and presented her pass. The guard allowed her into the restricted area.
On the way to meet her brother-in-law, Josephine heard an airplane flying overhead. She looked up and saw a silver two-engine plane. The plane seemed to be in trouble, for it came down low, headed out into the harbor, and belly-landed on the water.
It was not until she met her brother-in-law that Josephine discovered whom it was that had crash landed in the harbor.
“The American woman,” everyone was saying, greatly excited. “Come and see the American woman.” Josephine and her brother in-law joined the knot of people who gathered to watch.
She saw the American woman standing next to a tall man wearing a short-sleeved sports shirt, and was surprised because the woman was not dressed as a woman usually dressed. Instead of a dress, the American woman wore a man’s shirt and trousers; and instead of long hair, she wore her hair cut short, like a man. The faces of the man and woman were white and drawn, as if they were sick.
The American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her were led away by the Japanese soldiers. The fliers were taken to a clearing in the woods. Shots rang out. The soldiers returned alone. (Editor’s note: No evidence has ever surfaced that supports the fliers being shot so soon after their arrival on Saipan. Some evidence exists that Amelia was shot much later, but none suggests that Fred Noonan was ever shot.)
Mrs. Akiyama has affirmed, after identifying a photograph of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan taken on the world flight, that the couple was unquestionably the same man and woman she and her brother-in-law had seen on Saipan: the clothes were different, but the woman’s haircut was unmistakable.
Josephine Blanco’s story, which is basically the same one she told Dr. Sheft in Saipan, is most probably true. It is extremely unlikely this native girl could have invented her story. If she had, then for what purpose? If for profit or gain, she had, for more than ten years after the American invasion, the opportunity to capitalize on her sensational news.
As an eleven-year-old girl, Josephine of course had no idea of the significance of what she had seen other than it was indeed an American woman she had seen. Dr. Sheft has never doubted her story, and for many years he has hoped that a thorough re-examination of the facts would be made. They were.
Amelia Earhart could have ended her flight around the world at Saipan, If she were indeed headed for Howland Island, however, she somehow made an error of about 100° in reading her compass.
(Editor’s note: The following scenario, in which Briand has the Electra and its crew reaching Saipan directly from Lae, is typical of the wild speculation that characterized the early days following the public release of Josephine’s Earhart sighting, and is included here only because it, too, is part of Briand’s closing chapter.)
It means that all during the night of July 2, beginning after sundown at 5:55 p.m., Fred Noonan was not able to get a fix from the stars to determine his position. And if, after fourteen hours out from Lae, he looked down and saw a chain of islands, he would have determined that he was on course and over the Gilbert Islands; but if AE had turned north while he was napping, and he had still awakened in time to see islands, they would have been, not the Gilberts as he might have thought, but the Caroline Islands — exactly the same distance away but in the wrong direction.
By somehow departing from her course, and making the tremendous error of steering north and west instead of east — as she had done once before on the world flight, when she had turned north to St. Louis instead of south to Dakar, overriding Fred’s directions, after the flight across the South Atlantic — AE would have found herself after twenty hours of flying time somewhere along the chain of islands that marks the Marianas.
Her last report, at 8:45 a.m., gave her line of position at 157-337. The Navy’s search satisfied judgments that the line was not a radio line, for the areas northwest and southeast from Howland were thoroughly investigated. One hundred fifty-seven-337, therefore, was undoubtedly a sun line.
Near Howland, at position 01° 00′ North Latitude and 177° 20′ West Latitude, on July 3, 1937, the bearing of the sun was 66° from the north point at 7:00 a.m., Howland time. The sun line, therefore, would have been 156-336.
Near Saipan, at position 13° 00′ North Latitude and 153° 00′ East Longitude, at 5:00 a.m., Saipan time, the sun was 64° from the north point. A sun line there would have been 154-334.
If Noonan had thought he was close to Howland when he shot his last sun line, his geographical point of reference — used for computing and plotting his observation — would obviously have been close to Howland. If he had actually been close to Saipan, however, the relative position of the sun would still have been almost the same: 64° from the north point near Saipan, as opposed to 66° from the north point near Howland. But his observation, when computed and plotted on his chart, would have shown him to be the same number of miles from his geographical point of reference.
An experienced navigator with trust in his abilities such as Noonan would have tended to believe that either his observations or his computations were somehow wrong. He would not have thought, at least immediately, that he was some 2,600 miles off course. If AE had been pressing him for a position to radio to the Itasca, he might have, in agonies of doubt, merely given her the line of position, which he could be sure of, but not the geographical point of reference, because he could now no longer determine that point with certainty. This possibility would explain the irregularity of Amelia having transmitted the line of position without the necessary point of reference.
On the basis of these determinations, therefore, there is strong support for believing in Josephine Blanco’s story.
The Navy gave Amelia until about noon before she would go down. It was at noontime that Josephine saw the two-motored plane ditch in Tanapag Harbor.
The Navy’s final conclusion was that Amelia had ended her flight somewhere north and west. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were seen by two eyewitnesses north and west of Howland on Saipan. At that time of the year the American woman and her tall male companion could have been none other than AE and Fred Noonan.
In 1937 on Saipan, according to Maximo and Josephine Akiyama, the Japanese military did not hesitate to kill anyone. Japanese civilian or Chamorro native, whom they suspected of supping on their illegal fortifications.
Japanese officialdom maintaining an enigmatic silence (the Japanese Embassy in Washington knows nothing of the Earhart case, nor does Dr. John Young of Georgetown University, who examined captured Japanese documents for the American Government) concerning the disappearance of the two fliers, it may be idle to speculate upon the final fate of Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart. The evidence, however, justifies at least one tenable conclusion.
When Josephine Blanco saw the twin-engined silver plane, Amelia and Fred had been flying for twenty-six consecutive hours and for 4,000 futile miles. The sight of the island that was Saipan must have cheered the fliers with renewed hope for safety, and for life itself.
When they survived the crash landing in Tanapag Harbor only to be taken into custody as spies, their joy must have turned to inexplicable bitterness: they had been saved not for life, but for death before a Japanese firing squad.
For Amelia, who once had said to her husband, “I don’t want to go; but when I do, I’d like to go in my plane — quickly,” the last word of her wish must have struck her now with sudden and ironic force.
Yet, as she had so often before, Amelia Earhart must have met this challenge with stubborn self-control and resolute courage. For here at last was her unmistakable, but irrefutable, fate.
Thus ended Daughter of the Sky. Though it was riddled with erroneous conclusions and wild speculation, its most important feature, Josephine Blanco’s eyewitness sighting of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan in the summer of 1937, was quite real — and this reality launched the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.
Few, and mainly those who read this blog regularly, know about the vital role that San Mateo Times reporter Linwood Day played in the earliest days of the Earhart investigation, newly launched by virtue of the blockbuster revelations in Daughter of the Sky. Day’s Earhart series reached its zenith on July 1, 1960, when the Times front page announced in 100-point headlines, all caps, “AMELIA EARHART MYSTERY IS SOLVED.”
Fred Goerner was already on Saipan in the midst of his first witness investigation, and in six years his book, The Search for Amelia Earhart, would sell more than 400,000 copies, only to be trashed by Time magazine as a work that “barely hangs together.” The rest is history.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart knows about Fred Goerner and his 1966 classic The Search for Amelia Earhart. Goerner’s book remains the only bestseller ever penned about the Earhart case, and it opened the doors for other researchers, including this one, to continue the quest to establish the truth about what has evolved into one of the greatest travesties and cover-ups in modern American history.
But the popular San Francisco radio newsman would have never known about Amelia Earhart had it not been for the fine work of San Mateo Times reporter Linwood McGuire Day, whose groundbreaking stories set the stage for everything that was to come in the real modern-day search for Amelia Earhart. On May 27, 1960, a full-page headline adorned the top of page 1 of The Times, exclaiming, “San Matean Says Japanese Executed Amelia Earhart.” The first of many of Day’s reports, titled “Woman’s Story: Aviatrix Died Before Saipan Firing Squad,” began:
A San Mateo woman who may have been one of the last to see Amelia Earhart alive, says that the famed aviatrix was executed by a Japanese firing squad even while the U.S. Navy was spending $4,000,000 in a futile search for the missing flier and her navigator, Frederick Noonan.
Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama of 15 South Idaho Street, has identified pictures of Amelia as the “American lady pilot” she saw taken into custody on the fortress island of Saipan in July 1937. The woman flier was accompanied by a man, she said, an American also dressed in aviator’s garb.
Little more than a month later, the front page of the July 1, 1960 Times, with its 100-point headline, “AMELIA EARHART MYSTERY IS SOLVED” rocked the nation. As true today as it was 54 years ago, the page is framed and mounted on my study wall, and it never fails to inspire. Even in 1960, though hundreds of newspapers ran Day’s story, and United Press International, then one of the preeminent news wires in the world, picked it up immediately, no trace of it can be found in the major papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times. Apparently, the word came down quickly from the nation’s power centers that the truth in the Earhart story was off limits, and it’s remained so to this day.
I always wondered about Linwood Day, the forgotten scribe who produced so many great stories in May, June and July of 1960, stories that rattled cages across the country and reverberated all the way to the halls of Congress. Quite serendipitously, I recently came across Linwood Day and his daughter Beverly’s names in a state of Maine genealogy chat room discussion. A few more steps and a kind cousin provided Beverly’s email address, as well as her snail mail. Soon we were talking on the phone, and she was happy to share her memories of her father’s days on the Earhart story, and how much it meant to him.
A byline in a family newspaper
“Goerner contacted him because he saw the newspaper story that came out that my dad wrote,” Beverly told me from her home in Waterville, Maine. “He told me a lot about his conversation with her [Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose account was first reported by Paul Briand Jr. in his little-known 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky]. What sticks with me is that my father was absolutely certain that she was correct about the fact that Earhart and Noonan died on Saipan, and that it was the Japanese that had taken them there and that Josephine was a young girl at the time but she saw them being pushed through the jungle. And they went to this military barracks kind of thing where they imprisoned them.”
But while Day’s stories transfixed the nation and launched Goerner on his life’s mission, the public never heard the rest of the story, the story behind the story, so to speak, and it wasn’t a happy one. Goerner got all the glory and wrote the famous book. Linwood Day got a byline in a family newspaper, and that was it, except perhaps his own satisfaction in a job well done.
For Goerner, it was always about himself, about fame and celebrity, narcissism and greed. Sure, he was a great radio newsman and is still the most important Earhart researcher ever, but Fred Goerner wasn’t a nice guy, not by any stretch. Many anecdotes I’ve heard in recent years attest to this unhappy fact, and I don’t enjoy reporting it. Moreover, I’ve kept the most disturbing things I’ve learned about Goerner off the pages of this blog, and will continue to do so.
From the first time Goerner saw Day’s story, he determined to make it his own. One fact I was unaware of until talking to Beverly was that beginning with the July 1, 1960 shocker, the Earhart stories her father produced were written with information Goerner provided over the phone. Day was never sent to Saipan to cover Goerner’s investigations in the summer of 1960, the first of his four visits to the island prior to the publication of Search.
“My dad was really upset,” Beverly recalled. “The deal was Goerner got his station [KCBS] to send him to Saipan, while my dad tried to get the newspaper to send him along and they refused. … He was heartbroken about not being able to go to Saipan when KCBS sent Goerner. … My dad was the real writer. It was ridiculous, because Goerner came in on it after my dad had started this whole thing. It was like he all of a sudden took over and took all the credit. My dad was going to write a book about it and Goerner said, “No, no. We can work on this book together.
And then he wrote the book and never gave my dad credit for anything. … My father was livid. He called Goerner and they argued on the phone, and I remember that because I remember my father slamming the phone down and pacing back and forth in his den. His face was just blood red. I had never seen my dad so angry, and you can imagine how he felt because he had to convince the Times to run the Earhart story. At first they were very nervous about doing this because ‘How do you know this is true’ and ‘Are we going to be liable?’ blah, blah, blah. But my dad was such a good reporter. Not only did he know how to write, he knew how to tell a story, how to pull it all together.
“He gave Goerner all this information” she continued, “what questions to ask, he told him who talk to [on Saipan], he told him everything. He totally screwed my dad; it did not end well.” A check of The Search for Amelia Earhart reveals just one single mention of Linwood Day. On page 2, Goerner wrote about how he initially became involved with the Earhart story: “Intrigued, I called Lin Day, the Times newsman who had written the story.” And that was it for the man Goerner promised co-authorship of the book that was to become the definitive Earhart work and turn Goerner a national celebrity.
“He [Day] was very charismatic … a great intellectual and he had a way of getting people to talk to him,” Beverly said. “He was very professorial and had an innate grasp on history. He was always interested in the way things happened. I mean he did a lot of firsts. He was the first reporter on an atomic submarine … and then wrote about what it was like.” Indeed, an archive search of the San Mateo Times revealed an October 1964 story headlined “Staff Travels Around Globe” with the statement, “Linwood Day spent two days beneath the ocean in an atomic submarine.”
Another story in the same October 1964 issue, titled “Times News Staff Builds Top Record in its Coverage,” tells us that “Lin Day has served seven years with the staff and gained his experience in Philadelphia and Maine journalism. He was formerly on the staff of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, and San Jose (California) Mercury,” as well as the Maine Sunday Telegram. Most importantly, “Day’s coverage of the Search for Amelia Earhart brought The Times worldwide attention.”
“Discourses” with presidents and kings
Linwood Day spent most of his days in San Mateo at the Times, where he was eventually promoted to editor, recalled Beverly. “He first edited The Post, a ‘weekly grocery rag’ put out by the San Mateo Times, and he did something unexpected,” she said. “He applied the tenacious spirit and dedication to detail that had made him a great reporter to molding The Post into something people actually wanted to read. And read they did. The Post’s circulation increased fourfold. And Lin Day? He was swiftly moved over to a new position — editor of the San Mateo Times. Besides his editing duties, my Dad also served as the Times Food Editor — — which I remember all too well as he would get tons of free coupons for ‘a hand-packed quart’ of Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors Ice Cream. Ah, to be a kid again.”
Beverly also worked as a journalist before branching off into a multifaceted writing and high-tech marketing career that included positions with Cray Supercomputers, Lockheed Martin and the advertising agency VIA in Portland, Maine. She laughs when talking about her last position with the famed Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, Maine saying “I could probably tell you more than you ever wanted to know about 3,000 strains of inbred mice.”
An animal lover, she’s also owned Arabian horses for many years and has been breeding Maine Coon Cats since 1993, with an eye toward earning a Grand Championship for her 9-month-old Maine Coon cat, Honeycoon Sir Braeburn during the next show season. “Like my Dad, I love a challenge and have a very competitive spirit,” she said.
When asked what she most remembers about her Dad, she answers, “His growl! Friends of Dad used to joke that when he was on a story he was like a bulldog, he just wouldn’t let go. He developed the habit that whenever he finished a story he would let out this great terrier growl. The only time I don’t recall the growl was when he was on the Amelia Earhart story.” Why no growl? “To my Dad the Amelia Earhart story wasn’t finished yet, Beverly recalled. “There was more, much more to be written.”
Beverly spoke fondly of a childhood spent mainly with her father, who took the family to California when she was 4 but was divorced her mother four years later. “It was just my dad and me from the age of 8 till I was 13 or 14 when he married for the second time,” she said. “So from that age, I was the one he talked to and I was mature for my age because I had to be. He would take me with him on stories. I would accompany him all over the place. If there was a fire engine passing, he would jump in the car and I would jump in the car and off we’d go.” Linwood Day, without doubt, often caught up with the fire engine or whatever else he was chasing for a story during his heyday at the San Mateo Times.
Below is a list of just a few of the many memories – “random facts” – about her father that Beverly created on short notice:
- He was heavily involved in political writing and mentions that he “walked the floor of Philadelphia’s Convention Hall with Jim Farley, stood by as Harry Truman ‘gave ’em hell,’ sat on the floor in dim hotel rooms with Henry Wallace Progressives, and accompanied the Goldwater crusaders in their epic San Francisco takeover.”
- He interviewed, “or discoursed with” (his words) President Richard Nixon, President John F. Kennedy, Estes Kefauver, Harold Stassen, Joe Martin, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Edward VIII of England and Robert Frost.
- He wrote a speech for Nixon when he was running for Governor of California.
- He received a brief note from Ronald Reagan when he was Gov. of Calif. thanking him for his book [The Constitutional Conservative: The Poetry of a Cause, 1972] and saying, “I enjoyed reading it and found much food for thought.”
“My father could talk anyone into just about anything,” Beverly wrote, “and somewhere I have a picture of him getting the head of a museum in San Francisco along with the Egyptian liaison – well – he got them to let him try on King Tut’s ring – when the King Tut Exhibit came to California.”
Linwood McGuire Day was born in 1917 and attended the University of Maine in Orono, majored in history and journalism and graduated about 1941. He retired at age 68 and spent the remaining years of his life in Davis, California, where he died in 2003 at age 85. I like to think that Amelia was among the first to welcome him at the Pearly Gates, and that she thanked him profusely for all he did to tell the world the truth about her sad end on Saipan.