Occasionally I’m asked how my preoccupation — some might call it an “obsession” — with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, now in its 31st year, began, sometimes in tones that victims of rare, terminal diseases might hear when questioned by the insensitive. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
In March 1987, I left active duty in San Diego after nine years working in radio and newspapers as an enlisted Navy journalist, confident that a good civilian job was just around the corner. But the radio stations in the Southern California area weren’t impressed, and so I returned to my hometown Washington, D.C. area, where I found employment as the sports editor of a small Northern Virginia weekly newspaper.
After a brief but intense stint with the paper, where the pay was low and the hours long, I was fortunate to find more lucrative and stable employment — though not in sports writing, my preference and strength — and returned to the Navy as a civilian writer with the Navy Internal Relations Activity, in Rosslyn, Va., as assistant editor at Navy Editor Service (now defunct). The NES was a monthly publication that was sent to all U.S. Navy and Marine Corps ships and shore stations for use in their local publications. The stories focused on Navy and Marine news and policies, but occasionally I was asked to write about less mundane subjects.
In late March 1988, just a few months after re-joining the Navy, so to speak, such an opportunity arose, when I was tasked to write a story about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart for the odd occasion of the upcoming 51st anniversary of her last flight. Much later, the irony of a Navy civilian employee and former sailor writing about an event that was so intimately connected to the Navy in so many ways — both overt and covert — eventually struck me, but at the time my knowledge of the big picture in the Earhart travesty was nonexistent.
To research the story, I read the only four books on the Earhart disappearance available at the Washington Navy Yard Library, now the Naval History & Heritage Command. In order, these were Amelia Earhart Lives, by Joe Klaas, the 1970 sensation that burned brightly and briefly before Irene Bolam filed suit for defamation against the publisher of that scandalous tome; Amelia Earhart; The Myth and the Reality (1972) by Dick Strippel, a Navy apologist whose fish-wrapper simply restated the official Navy-Coast Guard crashed-and-sank finding, as it was already beginning to wear thin; Vincent V. Loomis’ Amelia Earhart: The Final Story (1985), the best collection and presentation of evidence for Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing ever; and Thomas E. Devine’s 1987 opus, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, the former Army postal sergeant’s eyewitness account of his amazing experience on 1944 Saipan. There, Devine, along with at least a few dozen other GIs, witnessed the presence and destruction of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, a key event in one of the greatest cover-ups of the 20th century.
I was captivated from the very first pages of Amelia Earhart Lives, swept up in the Earhart saga for reasons I couldn’t even explain to myself. And upon finishing Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, the only Earhart book ever written by an eyewitness, I found Devine’s address and sent him a copy of my story’s first draft, along with a letter expressing my interest and admiration for his book, not really expecting him to reply,
I don’t have a copy of my first letter to Devine, but when I received his April 7 reply, below, I was elated, despite the fact that he wasn’t exactly bubbling over with praise for my initial effort. In retrospect, he was more tolerant and polite than I would have been, considering his long and contentious involvement with the Earhart story:
My April 12 response needs little introduction, but I assured Devine that I was “on your team” in all this, and that his letter had moved me to make some adjustments to my original draft. Following are the first three paragraphs:
Devine replied right away, and in his April 16 response he informed me that Eyewitness “was published to disseminate my own eyewitness involvement in this matter, and to counteract much misinformation already published.” After discussing a few of the problems he had with my story, including “misinformation” from Vincent V. Loomis and Fred Goerner’s books, he closed by writing, “Mike, I do appreciate your interest in this very serious matter, and would be pleased to acquire the report when it is released.”
Here’s the lead of the six-page story published in the May 1988 issue of Navy Editor Service, not available online:
The story presented the views of Klaas, Strippel, Devine and Loomis, was among the most popular I wrote during my two years at Navy Editor Service, and was published in countless Navy and Marine Corps newspapers and other publications. My Earhart education was in its infancy in 1988, as my reference to the disappearance as a great “mystery” attested. But I had already become another victim of “Earhart fever,” thanks in part to Devine’s letter, which meant so much to me and helped to cement my resolve to learn as much as possible about this captivating story.
Thus began a 15-year correspondence that lasted until just a few months before Devine’s death in September 2003 at age 88, and which resulted in the 2002 book that we co-authored, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart. Following is the review I wrote for Eyewitness on Amazon.com in December 2012:
Thomas E. Devine’s “Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident” joined the ranks of Fred Goerner’s 1966 bestseller “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” Paul Briand Jr.’s “Daughter of the Sky” (1960) and Vincent V. Loomis’ “Amelia Earhart: The Final Story” (1985) as one of the most important works ever written on the Earhart disappearance the moment it was published in 1987 by a small Colorado publisher. By 1987 the truth about Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s presence and deaths on Saipan was being blacked out in almost every corner of the mass media, and thus this book was largely suppressed and sold less than 4,000 copies; compare that to the over 400,000 that Goerner’s book sold in 1966, when the government and media establishment were caught unprepared to deal with the truth that Goerner discovered on Saipan.
As a result of Devine’s call for Saipan veterans to come forward to support his eyewitness experience on Saipan that established Earhart’s presence there, more than two-dozen former soldiers, Marines and sailors called and wrote to Devine, and their accounts are presented for the first time in the book I wrote in cooperation with him, “With Our Own Eyes,” published in 2002.
Ten years later, “Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last” (2012) presents many stunning new findings, eyewitness accounts and analysis, and never-before-published revelations from unimpeachable sources including famed U.S. military generals and iconic San Francisco newsman Fred Goerner’s files that reveal the truth about Amelia Earhart’s death on Saipan, as well as the sacred-cow status of this matter within the U.S. government. “Truth at Last” explodes the popular myths that Amelia Earhart’s Electra, NR 16020 crashed and sank in the waters off Howland Island on July 2, 1937, or landed on the reef of Nikumaroro Atoll, where the hapless fliers perished soon thereafter of thirst and/or starvation, which has become the most popular falsehood ever perpetuated about Earhart’s fate.
Without Devine’s book, this writer may never have become engaged in the more than 20 years of intense research that went into the production of “Truth at Last,” which presents the most comprehensive case ever for the Saipan destiny of Earhart and Noonan. Anyone remotely interested in the Earhart disappearance would be wise to purchase “Eyewitness” before supplies run out. It is a book for the ages, firmly in the line of truth established by Briand and Goerner in the early 1960s. (End Amazon review.)
My Amazon review of Eyewitness focused on the positive aspects of Devine’s book and its vital connection to the creation of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. In itself, Devine’s Saipan experience as an eyewitness to the Earhart Electra’s presence and destruction was more than enough to recommend Eyewitness as an extremely important piece of the Earhart saga.
But Devine was never content with what he had learned “with his own eyes” on Saipan; instead, he claimed expertise in areas about which he knew nothing, and eventually I realized that the man I thought was the world’s leading Earhart expert had feet of clay.
For example, despite the overwhelming evidence supporting the fliers’ Mili Atoll landing, Devine refused to consider it, insisting that Amelia flew directly from Lae, New Guinea to Saipan, an unthinkable 90-degree error. He attributed this to an imaginary injury on takeoff to Fred Noonan that left him unable to navigate or even communicate with Amelia from the earliest moments of the flight.
To my knowledge, no researcher has ever joined Devine in this delusion, and his obstinate refusal to take off his blinders and see the Marshall Islands truth isolated and reduced him to a sad, solitary figure for which the Earhart research community — in itself a small, diverse group of eccentric characters who, for the most part, are no longer with us — had little use. For more on Devine and his tunnel vision regarding Earhart’s Marshall Islands landing, please see Truth at Last pages 176-178.
Devine’s errors weren’t limited to his ideas about how the Electra reached Saipan. His claim that James Vincent Forrestal, secretary of the Navy in 1944, was personally present on Saipan when the Earhart plane was destroyed in July 1944, has also been shown to be false. Worse, Devine resorted to fabricating evidence to support this claim. I won’t elaborate here on that unfortunate chapter of my relationship with him, but those interested can find all the unhappy details in Truth at Last, pages 210-215.
Devine’s failings were significant and self-imposed, but without his generosity and willingness to share his findings with me over the 15 years of our association — I wish I could say “friendship“ — I would never have begun my own search for Amelia Earhart. I’ll forever cherish Devine’s 714-page unpublished manuscript, “Bring Me Home,” which he gave me in June 2001, when it seemed he wouldn’t live another day.
I sometimes ask the audiences I address at my infrequent presentations, “Who has ever aspired to become an Earhart researcher? Can you imagine your son or daughter telling you that they’ve decided to devote their lives to studying and solving the ‘Earhart mystery’? You’d probably send them to a psychiatrist or some other mental health professional as soon as possible.” At that, a few politely laugh, but most just look at me blankly.
It’s lonely, frustrating work, but it’s real, and somebody should do it. I know Amelia and Fred appreciate it, wherever they are.
When the Almighty made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold. What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know. But if I had never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life. I can’t conceive of what that might be.
I read Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, for the first time in the spring of 1988, as I researched an assignment to do a news story about the so-called Earhart “mystery” as a civilian writer for the Navy Editor Service in Arlington, Va. The piece went out to the fleet worldwide, as well as all Navy bases, shore stations and Marine Corps facilities for use in their local newspapers, radio stations and other official media. I’ve always considered it extremely ironic that the first story I ever wrote about the Earhart case was supported and facilitated by the same U.S. Navy that has been so intimately involved with the cover-up and suppression of the truth, practically from the very beginning of the Earhart search.
I’ll have more to say about Thomas Devine and his contributions to the Earhart saga, as well as the strange and sometimes tenuous nature of our relationship, in future posts. But today, for those who haven’t read Devine’s extraordinary Eyewitness, this brief, cryptic chapter from the book provides a glimpse into the sometimes bizarre world of the man who once stood on the wing of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, NR 16020, at the captured Japanese Aslito Airfield on Saipan in July 1944.
As Sgt. Thomas Devine peered into the famed Electra’s cluttered interior, which he once described as “littered with broken glass” in a letter to me, he was looking into already forbidden American history, as well as a vision that would define and shape his life from that day until his last.
FROM SAIPAN TO BOSTON
Since Mrs. Odlum could not supply the dental records, I arranged to visit Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, of West Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.) I arrived at the Boston depot early on Sunday, 16 July 1961. While proceeding with a crowd of passengers to find local transportation, a man about thirty years old pushed his way through the crowd. There was nothing remarkable about him, except that he stepped directly in front of me and called a peculiar invitation to the crowd.
“Anyone here on their way to West Medford?” he asked. “I’m taking my cab to the garage and I have a ride — a free ride.”
So many quickly accepted the driver’s offer that I decided against the free ride to West Medford. Yet for some reason, the man singled me out.
“Are you going to West Medford?” he inquired. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’ll find another cab.”
“Wait right where you are; don’t go away,” he ordered. “I’ll get the cab and be right back.”
Others in the crowd persisted, but he put them off saying, “I don’t have any more room.”
The cabbie again told me to wait and amazingly he did return, and escorted me to his cab. Oddly, there were no other passengers in the vehicle. Since I expected others to be joining us, I sat in front. But when three prospective passengers arrived to claim their free ride, the cabbie turned them away!
“Turn on the meter,” I said as the driver got in. “I’ll be more than happy to pay.”
“It’s a free ride,” he countered. “I’m returning the cab to the garage. You’re lucky you ran into me because cabs don’t operate on Sundays.” Reluctantly he accepted a dollar tip, and off we drove. The driver never asked my destination; we had little conversation. Shortly after entering West Medford, he stopped.
“This is as far as I go,” he said.
“Thanks. Do you have any idea where Vernon Street is?”
“This is it, right up the hill. It’s that corner house,” he said, pointing.
“Oh, I’m looking for number one,” I remarked absently. “That’s it, the corner house on the hill, where Amelia Earhart’s sister lives.”
“Thanks again,” I replied.
Completely baffled by this whole encounter, I walked up the short hill and was greeted by Mrs. Morrissey. Her husband [Albert Morrissey, who died in 1978], a former Navy man, had hoped to be there, but he had to work. She had advised the Navy of our appointment, she said, but had received no reply. I was curious why she had contacted the Navy, but I didn’t ask.
Mrs. Morrissey was charming and gracious. The resemblance to her famous sister was so striking that she could be taken, for Amelia herself. We enjoyed an amiable discussion for several hours. She said she knew of my efforts, and was interested in the real solution to her sister’s mysterious disappearance. I related the information I had concerning the gravesite on Saipan, as well as a summary of my efforts to obtain a dental chart. Mrs. Morrissey said both she and her sister had dental work done in Boston many years before, although she could not recall the name of their dentist. Later, I spent many hours in Boston attempting to locate Earhart’s dental chart, but to no avail.
Mrs. Morrissey said she had sought information about her sister’s fate from the Japanese government, but her requests went unanswered. Their mother [Amy Otis Earhart], who was bedridden and living in the Morrissey home, believed Amelia was on an intelligence flight* for the United States government when she and Fred Noonan disappeared. I could not corroborate Mrs. Earhart’s belief, but I assured Mrs. Morrissey, “I am certain of the events that occurred while I was on Saipan. I only want an opportunity to bring forth the proof, and your sister’s dental chart would be of prime importance in doing so.”
Mrs. Morrissey mentioned that she had been visited recently by Paul Briand [Jr.], who was associated with Joseph Gervais and Robert Dinger. Briand, she said, was writing a thesis about Earhart which he hoped would evolve into his second book.
Over the years, she said several people had brought information to her, which they irresponsibly claimed would solve the Earhart mystery. These sensational disclosures had put a tremendous strain on the family. I hoped Mrs. Morrissey was not classing my investigation with those. After years of investigative failures, she said she had accepted the 1937 report that Amelia Fred were lost at sea near Howland Island.* I pointed out that no physical evidence substantiated this conclusion. I reviewed how the gigantic sea and air search for Earhart and Noonan had failed to turn up one scrap of wreckage or equipment.
We both enjoyed our conversation, but an odd thing happened as I was preparing to leave. Mrs. Morrissey went to a window where the shade was pulled. She raised and lowered the wind shade its full length, then made a remark about protecting the room from the effect of the sun. Saying she would be right back to see me off, she excused herself to look in on her mother. After Mrs. Morrissey left, I peeked out the window. A short distance from the house, I saw two men. One was the cabbie who had driven me from the depot. I did not recognize the other, who was shorter and stockier.
Saying goodbye, I left the house and walked down the hill. The two men were nowhere to be seen. As I rounded the corner, looking for transportation to Boston, there was the cab driver! Without the slightest awkwardness, he directed me to a stop on the MTA which would shuttle me back to Boston. While I was waiting for the local train, I noticed the man who had been talking to the cab driver, standing a short distance from me.
Back at the depot, I stopped for a quick lunch. Except for two people at a table, the restaurant was empty. Presently two men and a woman entered the restaurant and claimed a table. The woman then walked behind the counter where I was seated, and went into the kitchen with my waiter. I caught only a portion of their whispered conversation, but she asked him for an apron. I paid no particular attention to the woman, who was apparently serving the two men at the table behind me. Suddenly she said, “You’ll have to sit at one of the tables, or I can’t serve you.”
Since I was nearly finished, I said nothing, but the woman persisted.
“You’ll have to sit at one of the tables.”
Contemplating another cup of coffee, I agreed to move. Turning, I saw the cab driver and the man who had been talking with him outside the Morrissey home. I pretended not to recognize them and took a seat a few tables away. They seemed oblivious to me. After I was seated, the two men began a real show. The woman encouraged me to speak to the men about their foul language, but I declined; then they pretended to argue. “Here I invite you in for a drink,” the cab driver roared, “but you don’t reciprocate!”
I stole a glance at their table and saw three full beers in front of the man. Again the woman prodded me to speak up, but I refused.
The cab driver pounded on the table, threatening to beat up the other man. They rose and left. Amazingly, the woman urged me to go out and intervene, but I had seen enough of this ridiculous charade. I was not about to be relieved of my briefcase. Instead, I left the restaurant by another door. Shortly, who should I spy amidst a group of passengers in the depot but the cab driver! As I looked toward him, he turned his head. Finally my train arrived, and I boarded, but there was the cab driver, also boarding. Thoroughly unnerved, I walked to the last car and stepped off just as the train started moving.
Unfortunately, there was a long interval before the next train to New Haven. I wandered around in the railroad station until I found myself back at the restaurant, deciding to risk a cup of coffee.
The same waiter was behind the counter, but I did not see the man.
“Where’s your waitress?” I asked.
“She left,” was his only response. After several cups of coffee and a little conversation, I boarded the next train and arrived home without out further incident.
In 1963 when I visited the Hartford station of the Office of Naval Intelligence, I read a confidential report on the location of Amelia Earhart’s gravesite. Later I made a second visit to the facility to determine if the ONI were still active in its investigation. I was ushered into an office where two men and a woman were seated. One of the men opened the safe to get the Earhart file, shuffled through some of the pages, and pointed out certain passages for the woman to read. She was obviously acquainted with the file and understood the significance of the noted passages. During this exchange, the second man left.
I was haunted; the woman looked familiar to me. Slowly, I came to the astounding realization that this woman was the “waitress” in the Boston depot! The woman must have sensed that I recognized her, for she immediately excused herself. Hastily, the remaining ONI agent informed me that there had been no further investigation of Amelia Earhart’s grave. I left the meeting convinced that the people who had accosted me in Boston were agents of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Why their presence in Boston on the day of my visit with Mrs. Morrissey? I cannot say. Mrs. Morrissey did tell me that she had informed the Navy of my intended visit. But why would the ONI trail me to West Medford? I don’t know. What was the purpose of the ONI agents’ peculiar antics in Boston? That I do not know, either. Perhaps they were trying to frighten me into curtailing my investigation.
Although Mrs. Morrissey was unable to assist me in locating her sister’s dental charts, I was pleasantly surprised to receive from her a portrait of Amelia. On the back of the photograph, Mrs. Morrissey graciously wrote:
To Thomas Devine,
who is genuinely and unselfishly interested in
Amelia’s fate, I am happy to give this
photograph of her.
Muriel Earhart Morrissey
August 19, 1961
Devine’s Notes to Chapter 7
*Mrs. Morrissey said her sister used a new plane for her second attempt. Supporters of the spy theory contend that this faster, more sophisticated aircraft would have enabled her to deviate from her flight path and avoid detection. Mrs. Morrissey herself never believed that her sister had been sent to spy on the Japanese Mandates.
*Fred Goerner claims Mrs. Morrissey abandoned the belief that her sister had crashed near Howland Island after hearing his progress report in September October, 1961, and after his second expedition to Saipan. By 26 June 1962, however, Mrs. Morrissey had returned to her original conclusion. She wrote to me somewhat bitterly, “The claims of Captain Briand and the CBS have been shown to be completely false and unsubstantiated, so why continue the discussion? Amelia’s plane went down near Howland Island [and] because of a radio failure – the Coast Guard Cutter could not home her in.” (End of Chapter 7.)
Editor’s Note: To my knowledge, no Earhart researcher or author has ever been physically harmed by any U.S. government agency or operative while pursuing information in the Earhart disappearance, but the foregoing situation might have produced a different result had Devine behaved with less caution. Sixteen years earlier, in August 1945, Devine was probably even closer to serious harm when he was ordered to board a Navy plane by a man who was likely an Office of Naval Intelligence agent, who told Devine, “You can’t go back. . . You know about Amelia Earhart!” (See pages 64-66 in Eyewitness or 70-71 in Truth at Last.)
In February 1991, while I was visiting his home in West Haven, Conn., Devine told me he was “flabbergasted,” with the situation he faced in August 1945. “I don’t know what they were going to do with me,” he said. “Was I going to be interviewed? Would they have offered me a government position or something for silence? Because I think that might have happened to [Pfc. Paul] Anderson. The thought persists that if I had boarded the plane at Tanapag Harbor on Saipan in 1945 at the insistence of the ONI agent, I might never have arrived at any destination.”
Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey died in her sleep on Monday, March 2, 1998 at the age of 98.
In late 1970, Mrs. Michiko Sugita told the Japan Times that Japanese military police shot Amelia Earhart as a spy on Saipan in 1937. The story, headlined “Japanese Woman Says Police Executed Amelia on Saipan,” was released by the Tokyo office of United Press International on November 12:
Sugita’s account is the only known witness report from a Japanese national that directly corroborates Earhart’s presence on Saipan in 1937. Thomas E. Devine eventually obtained Sugita’s address from the director of Asian services for the Tokyo bureau of UPI, and they shared a friendly but brief correspondence that ended suddenly and without explanation. In an Aug. 12, 1971 letter, Sugita described her childhood in the Caroline Islands where her father was chief of police, and on Saipan when he was promoted to district chief.
Sugita recalled that she was made aware of Earhart on Saipan at “the time of the China Incident: the Pacific War had yet to be declared,” which was early to mid-July 1937, correlating perfectly with the date of Earhart’s disappearance. Because Mrs. Ann Devine destroyed the entire collection of Devine’s papers only days after his death in 2003, I have only a copy of Sugita’s original letter to Devine, translated from Japanese. First published in Devine’s 1987 book, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, following is Sugita’s letter, slightly edited for clarity. My copy has no salutation, and begins thusly:
I hasten to inform you that I received your letter with a great deal of surprise. How did you ever succeed in obtaining my address? I wonder. It must have taken you lots of patience to have been in search for it as long as ten months.
My Personal History and the Circumstances Surrounding the Amelia Incident
I was born in Tokyo and at the age of two moved to Ponape Island. My father [Mikio Suzuki] was then transferred to the island to serve as Police Chief. Later we moved from Ponape to Yaluta and finally settled at Saipan. I spent the next 12 years or so (including the time spent in the U.S. Military compound) on the Saipan Island. Since you indicated your desire to find out the details of the story of Amelia, I will relate the following account to you.
It was still the time of the China Incident: the Pacific War had yet to be declared. [Editor’s note: Sugita was undoubtedly referring to the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, July 7 to July 9, 1937, which is often used as the marker for the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.] During that period we invited to our home some members of MPs for a sake party, and it was on this occasion when I heard their conversation on this topic. From what I heard, Amelia’s plane was forced to land due to some mechanical failure on her way to the Truk Island, and she was arrested then.
She was suspected of and charged with spy activities in the region and sent to Saipan where her execution took place. Meanwhile U.S. Navy was engaged in search for her and her plane. I recall seeing some U.S. Naval ships in the far distance with the aid of binoculars. This incident was kept a secret within the Police Department and the high officials of both Navy and Army. At the time there was a great deal of influx of soldiers into Saipan to prepare for the out coming war. My father was quite busy all the time and often out of the house. For the nature of my father’s occupation we knew a number of officers and MPs, and many of them had opportunities to visit our home for parties . . . etc.
On one of these occasions MPs were saying, “Amelia was so beautiful and fine a person that she did not deserve the execution.” Yet I was told by my father not to mention any part of the conversation outside the family so that until now I had never told this to anyone. The fate and place of her execution was never made clear to me even by my father. I recall my father’s words: “Since she came here to carry on her duties as spy, it cannot be helped that she be executed. But on the contrary the Geneva Convention rules against the killing of P.O.W. under any circumstances, which makes it hard to understand the course of action taken by the Military.”
I was young then (enrolled in Saipan Public High School for girls) and used to chat with my sister about Amelia — that she must have been an incredible character to fly all the way from America. The sister herself took her life in 1944 when Saipan was taken by the Americans.
Starting in October of 1944 I was engaged in hospital work for two years at U.S. General Hospital No. 148.
I understand that you were a sergeant stationed at Aslito Airfield, and you must know how difficult it was for us to live in the military compound as prisoners. On that airfield, we, the girls, used to work almost every day, picking up rocks and grass and leveling the ground for the sake of country — or was it for the United States? It’s just part of my memory now.
My reply to your questions numbered 1 and 2 in your letter.
It was speculated here last spring that Amelia had lived in the court of the Royal Family and that she was released in return for the favor of having the Emperor not guilty of any war crimes. As I inquired further into this matter, it was discovered that the person named Amelia, who said to be living in the U.S., was an impostor. [Editor’s note: Because of the approximate date of this letter, circa 1970, Sugita could only have been referring to the Irene Bolam fiasco.]
Some German journalist visited me to borrow the photograph related to this matter and carelessly misplaced it. It then took almost 40 days to get it back to me. This photo [of Sugita?] is as precious as our family treasure, and I can only send you a copy of it upon receipt of the payment.
And please let me know what your occupation is.
My father was “poisoned to death” at the U.S. Public (General?) Hospital on October 10, 1944 when the U.S. took over Saipan. This was perhaps because he had served in the Police Department.
The above is to the best of my knowledge what happened surrounding the incident of Amelia. I do hope to hear from you further upon this matter.
P.S. It was difficult and too a while to have your letter translated in Japanese. Please pardon the delay in my reply. It would be helpful if you could write in Japanese next time.
Post Scriptum No. 2.
I shall add here parts I’ve failed to include in my letter.
In response to your question whether I attended the Second National Nippon School: by the time I was graduated from primary school, the war was not in progress and the school in which I was enrolled was simply called GARAPAN-PONTAM Primary School. I spent six years there and then proceeded to attend Saipan High School for girls from which I graduated in March of 1944. At that time the war was well into the last stage.
Another thing to jot down. I am in possession of a few photos of myself which were taken during this period. Also kept are the picture of my family and that of my father in uniform photographed along with the members of the Police Dept. All these were given to me by friends and, needless to say, are my treasure. I have only once corresponded with you and am not sure if I should (let you use them). As I explained to you the case of a German journalist, carelessness has caused a great deal of anxiety on my part. Should you wish to use them, however, it would be possible for me to send you a copy of each photo. Please let me hear from you on this in your next letter.
By the way the postage on the last letter was short by about 20 cents.
This has certainly become a long letter.
Take care and goodbye,
Michiko Sugita’s letters to Devine ceased sometime in the mid-1970s, and Devine’s were returned with the notation, “No such person, unknown.” Devine asked UPI in Tokyo to help locate Sugita, but received no response; a few researchers have also tried to locate her without success. It appears that the Japanese government may have reached out to silence and “disappear” a voice of truth from 1937 Saipan—a singular, courageous woman whose fortitude in the face of her nation’s denials should never be forgotten.
The late Robert E. Wallack was the best known of all the former GIs who came forward to share their eyewitness experiences relative to the presence and death of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan after the 1987 publication of Thomas E. Devine’s Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.
I first met the amiable Wallack on the phone in 1992, as he took me back to Saipan in July 1944, when Fate intervened to change his life forever. The former Marine’s story of discovering Amelia Earhart’s briefcase, dry and in perfect condition in a blown Japanese safe, has been the most-often told of all the Saipan veterans, including Devine’s.
We became friends, and over the years Wallack generously sent me all manner of fascinating memorabilia, including copies of his honorable discharge papers, maps of Saipan, battle photos taken during the invasion, letters from other GIs with their own stories to tell, videotapes of his TV appearances, and news articles. But most Americans still haven’t heard his incredible account, and his story needs to be heard by everyone.
The below article appeared in the August 2002 issue of Neighborhood News, a monthly publication of the Communications Division of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry lobbying group in the United States, where Bill Wallack, Robert’s son, was employed as a writer from 2001 to 2005.
“Earhart’s Fate on Saipan Continues to Haunt My Dad,”
By Bill Wallack
My father never talked much about his experiences during World War II in the South Pacific, even when prodded by one of his six children. Whatever these horrific memories are, they were never discussed with my mother, either. One only has to sit through Saving Private Ryan to assume his tour of duty must have been hell on Earth.
However, there is one story we all heard repeatedly from an early age and vowed never to forget. He and a group of fellow members of C company, 29th Marines, entered what appeared to be a Japanese municipal building on Saipan while souvenir hunting. They found in the rubble a safe that they blew open.
“We thought we’d be Japanese millionaires,” my dad said.
He took a leather attaché case from inside the safe. The contents were maps, passports and visas, permits and reports concerning Amelia Earhart’s flight around the world. Dad believes they offer clues about the truth of what happened to her – a truth he believes some may not have wanted the world ever to know.
Certainly, every teenager right out of high school who entered the war was familiar with the many amazing accomplishments of the world-renowned aviatrix, not the least of which was her being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1928.
The Marines on Saipan knew of Earhart’s headline-making exploits. She disappeared after leaving New Guinea on the last leg of a world-spanning flight-another first for a female pilot-in 1937. There was a Pacific-wide search for Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan — with Japanese ships participating.
My dad had just turned 18 when he came ashore on Saipan as a machine gunner in the second assault wave on the island. Still, he immediately knew the importance of the official-looking contents of the case and wanted to keep the materials.
”But my Marine buddies insisted that it may be important and should be turned in,” he told us. “I went down to the beach, where I encountered a naval officer, and told him of my discovery. He gave me a receipt for the material and stated that it would be returned to me if it were not important. I have never seen the material since.”
My dad knew the briefcase and the papers might involve U.S. national interests. He wrote to my grandmother and told her to watch for a story on Amelia Earhart to appear. None appeared.
The “senior-looking” officer wore no insignia of rank, in order to lessen his target value for any enemy snipers. But the officer had “scrambled eggs,” the gilded leaves of authority, on his cap visor. He signed with his service identification number, not his name.
Additionally, while on the island of Saipan, my dad was told of a white man and a white woman who were on the island before the war, and he recalled someone’s telling him something about a graveyard.
“The case did not appear as if it had ever been immersed in water and the contents were not blurred at all,” he said. “Therefore, these items could not have been obtained from a plane that had been reported down at sea, some seven years prior to this event.”
My Dad came upon the Earhart case while scouting around during recovery after having his hand wounded by mortar shrapnel on Saipan. When he got the receipt from the naval officer, he kept it in a waterproof belt along with a rosary and other personal items.
TWO PURPLE HEARTS LATER
Nine months after discovering the Earhart case, he and other surviving Marines from Saipan were shipped to Guadalcanal to prepare for the climactic Pacific fight on Okinawa. That battle began on April 1, 1945, and my dad fought until he took a bullet in the upper leg in late May. His bloody clothes and the belt containing his personal items and the receipt were cut from his body before he was rushed to a hospital ship offshore.
The only proof there ever was an Amelia Earhart briefcase [found on Saipan] was lost 350 miles from Japan.
Over the past 58 years, my dad has told a number of people this story A crew from a program hosted by Connie Chung [CBS’s Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, 1994] came by our house in Woodbridge, Conn. He also was flown to California for a  segment on Unsolved Mysteries.
He’s told his tale to the press, historians, The History Channel and others. He has spoken at airports on behalf of women’s groups who continue to tout the achievements of Amelia Earhart.
More recently, in June , he was invited to Annapolis [Md.], where he made a two-hour tape for the Oral History Unit of the Marine Corps Historical Center and was interviewed by fellow Marine and historian, Lt. Col. Gary Solis.
Getting his story into the Marine Corps archives meant a lot to him after almost six decades. He is now in his seventies. “I’m happy because it records my plain and accurate account of what happened and what I touched and saw,” he said.
He also gets excited when he hears from fellow Marines. Like when he sent me a copy of a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Post-Journal from September 1999 that read: “I don’t believe Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan disappeared around Howland Island.” Why?
“Because I believe more in the honor and integrity of a fellow combat Marine on Okinawa than l would any bureaucrat in Washington, where, for some, lying and deceit are a matter of convenience. The United States knew about the build-up by the Japanese in the Pacific. Earhart could have been on a mission. In the Stygian bowels of the Pentagon is the truth.”
My dad is realistic. He knew the officer he turned the Earhart belongings over to was also fighting a war. He might have died or gone down with the Earhart papers, he said. He does believe, however, that Earhart might have had an official mission. He believes the native islanders and the researchers who claim that a white woman and a man were jailed, shot and buried in a Saipan cemetery.
“The Japanese were expanding bases all over the Pacific in 1937,” he said. If she came down in the ocean, the Japanese naval fleet had work ships and barges that could easily retrieve the plane and its pilots.
My dad says time is running out on people who can support that theory. On Saipan today, the islanders have turned much of their heritage over to the Japanese casino industry.
Sure, I know my dad is part of another U.S “conspiracy theory,” but why shouldn’t I believe him? After all, he’s not just a Marine. He’s my dad. (End of Bill Wallack’s article.)
In November 2006, the Amity Observer, a small Connecticut newspaper, featured Wallack in a huge front page spread with a four-column color photo, holding a vintage July 1937 copy of the Chicago Herald-Examiner with “Hear Amelia’s Faint Calls” splashed across the top. In the story, Wallack added a grisly detail to his original statement about his approach to the Saipan beach, when his unit came ashore near the sugar mill at Charon Kanoa.
“I’m glad I wasn’t in the first wave,” he told the Observer. “The 270 guys in the first wave were floating in the water and lying on the beach when we landed.”
I last saw Robert Wallack on the day after Christmas 2002. He passed away in July 2008 at eighty-three, but he will always be remembered by all who care about the truth in the Earhart disappearance.