Today we conclude our brief excursion into the still unspeakable — as far as official Japan is concerned, anyway — prewar and World War II crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese military in numbers that still stun to contemplate. Undoubtedly the most notable atrocities Japan has never admitted and for which it has never made amends are the murders of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan sometime after their July 2, 1937 disappearance. As I wrote in my Sept. 25 post, “Earhart’s murder among first of Japan’s War Crimes,“ this section was originally created for inclusion in the closing chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. My intent was to demonstrate how easily the American fliers became among the very first victims of the bloodthirsty Japanese regime upon their still-unexplained landing at Japanese controlled Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937. Here, then, is part two of “Japan’s War Crimes.”
JAPAN’S WAR CRIMES
Former Japanese soldier Akira Makino, of Osaka, assigned to Unit 731 for four months in 1945, described his dissection and dismemberment of 10 Filipino prisoners of war, including two teenage girls, for the U.K.’s Daily Mail in March 2007. “We removed some of the organs and amputated legs and arms,” Akira recalled. “Two of the victims were young women, 18 or 19 years old. I hesitate to say it but we opened up their wombs to show the younger soldiers. They knew very little about women — it was sex education.” Akira’s victims were luckier than some, according to reporter Christopher Hudson, who wrote that Makino “anaesthetized them before cutting them up,” while others were not so fortunate.
Suspicions persist that some American POWs were subjected to the always-fatal experiments at the Japanese BW units in Manchuria. In 1980, journalist John W. “Bill” Powell Jr., writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, briefly galvanized public attention on Japan’s BW atrocities when he reported that “among the human guinea pigs were an undetermined number of American soldiers, captured during the early part of the war and confined in prisoner-of-war camps in Manchuria.” The sensational charges in Powell’s article, “Japan’s Biological Weapons: 1930-1945, a Hidden Chapter in History,” were broadcast in the American media on the CBS news weekly Sixty Minutes, and featured in People Magazine.
Powell was best known for his sedition trial after he published an article in 1952 that reported on allegations made by Mainland Chinese officials that the United States and Japan were carrying out germ warfare in the Korean War. In 1956 the Eisenhower Administration pressed sedition charges against Powell, his wife, Sylvia, and Julian Schuman, after grand jury indictments that had been sought by Federal prosecutors were handed down against the three North Americans who had published the allegations about bacteriological warfare. However, the prosecutors failed to get any convictions.
Powell’s 1980 efforts led to Congressional hearings and an acknowledgement by Japan’s Diet that Unit 731 had existed and “committed heinous war crimes,” but no formal apologies have even been issued by Japan, which awarded Ishii a handsome retirement pension, despite government knowledge of his BW experiments. In fact, neither Ishii nor anyone else associated with the vast Japanese biological warfare program were ever brought to justice by the United States, despite fitting the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal’s definition of “A” level war criminals.
Ishii and more than two dozen Japanese BW experts were granted immunity from prosecution for sharing “the fruits of their research” with American scientists involved in their own, more benign research. At House Veterans Subcommittee hearings at Helena, Montana, in 1982, and Washington, D.C., in 1986, former POWs testified that they had been involved in Japanese BW experiments, but no report was issued, no action was taken and no further investigations resulted. “The Mukden POWs were thanked for their service to their country, and sent on their way home,” Sheldon wrote.
Nationally syndicated columnists Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta interviewed Congressman Pat Williams (D-Montana), a leader in the lobbying campaign for the Helena and Washington hearings, in 1987. Williams told them he had “encountered cover-up, denials and an intolerable cloud of secrecy” from U.S. Army and State Department officials who testified at the proceedings. Three years later, a front-page New York Times story about the “discovery of thirty-five non-Japanese human skulls and thighbones . . . just steps from the site of the wartime laboratory of Lieut. Gen Shiro Ishii” briefly returned attention to the issue. “Under General Ishii’s direction, prisoners of war – primarily Chinese, but by some accounts Americans and Russians as well – died gruesome deaths in secret camps set up in Japanese occupied territory,” the Times noted.
Japan’s feckless inability to come to terms with its sordid past was demonstrated once again in August 2002, when a Tokyo court rejected a claim for an apology and compensation by 180 Chinese, either victims or the family of those killed at Unit 731. The significance of the story, which received scant attention in the United States but was covered extensively in Japan, Australia and Britain, lay in the fact that it was the first time a Japanese court had acknowledged that Unit 731 and other units had engaged in “cruel and inhumane” biological warfare in China, costing countless lives. Still, the Japanese panel of three judges refused to apologize to victims or their families, nor did they offer them any compensation for Japan’s wartime atrocities, claiming there was no legal basis for the claims, because all compensation issues were settled by a treaty with China in 1972.
“While it had an authoritative legal ring to it, there was a deep sense of injustice around the courtroom and among supporters waiting outside,” Shane Green wrote in the Australian newspaper The Age. “How could a court acknowledge a crime had been committed, yet fail to do anything about it? In the only official comment on the day of the decision, the Japanese Justice Ministry said the court’s decision verified the validity of the Japanese Government’s position in refusing compensation and an apology to the victims of Unit 731.”
The inconceivable Nanking butchery, the innumerable victims of Japan’s biological warfare experiments and the dehumanizing sexual slavery of the comfort women were atrocities of unimaginable proportions, but those crimes were perpetrated almost exclusively against Chinese, Filipino, Korean and other Asian peoples. Though Westerners were aghast at the specter of Japan’s barbarity against its neighbors, when its inhuman cruelty was unleashed against 140,000 U.S. and Allied prisoners of war, with too many dying horribly under the merciless yoke of their captors, Japan’s wartime depredations struck home in a far more personal way. Australian historian and author Gavan Daws, now living in Hawaii, spent 10 years interviewing hundreds of survivors of Japanese POW camps, capturing their stories in his remarkable 1994 book, Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific.
The exhaustive litany of torment and death Daws recites should give pause to all but the most fanatical of Japan’s wartime apologists. In opening his grim narrative, Daws succinctly describes the vast scope of Japan’s perfidy against its confined enemies: “They sacrificed prisoners in medical experiments. They watched them die by the tens of thousands from diseases of malnutrition like beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy, and from epidemic tropical diseases: malaria, dysentery, tropical ulcers, cholera. Those who survived could only look ahead to being worked to death. If the war had lasted another year, there would not have been a POW left alive.”
The cold statistics confirm the desperate plight of POWs in Japanese captivity. Thirty-four percent of Americans, 33 percent of Australians, and 32 percent of British POWs in the Pacific theater died in Japanese hands, while the Allied death rate in Nazi POW camps was just 4 percent. “The undeniable, incontrovertibly documented record of brutality, disease, and death in the POW camps,” Daws wrote, “plus what happened in the civilian internment camps for white men, women, and children, and the massacres and atrocities perpetrated on native Asian people in occupied territory – all this shows the national tribe of Japan at its worst as a power in the world. That worst was humanly dreadful, a terrible chapter in the world’s twentieth-century book of the dead.”
Following the surrender of Bataan in April 1942, about 70,0000 American and Filipino soldiers were force marched, without food or water, for 75 of the 100 miles from the Bataan Peninsula north to Camp O’Donnell in central Luzon, in the infamous Bataan death march, the worst single atrocity against American POWs in history. Starving men were beheaded or bayoneted at such a rate that one dead body was left every 15 yards for a hundred miles, “every death a Japanese atrocity,” Daws wrote. The Japanese “would see a man desperate for water, catch him throwing himself down at some filthy pond and chop his head off. They would kill a man squatting with dysentery, leave him bleeding to death, fouled, with his pants down around his ankles. They killed men for going too slow, exhausted men dropping back through the column, Japanese buzzard squads coming along behind them to finish them off. The Japanese might order prisoners to dig graves and dump corpses in, one on top of the other. Some were thrown in alive, and the Japanese made other prisoners bash them down with shovels, or be bashed themselves and buried, alive or dead.”
Japan’s education system continues to perpetuate the myth of that nation’s innocence in World War II, and only its oldest and best-educated citizens are even vaguely aware of their forebears’ bloody legacy of incalculable wartime criminality. “Typically, Japanese school and college textbooks gave only half a dozen or so pages to the war in its entirety, phrased in sanitized language officially enforced by the Ministry of Education,” Daws explained. “In the orthodox teaching of the Japanese national tribe, Japan was the victim of white aggression, and the atrocities of the war began and ended with the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World-scale atrocities like the Rape of Nanking were reduced to incidents, and POW camps were cleansed out of existence altogether.”
In a 1995 interview, Daws told The Washington Post he didn’t know why “the Japanese refuse to acknowledge these things the way the Germans have their atrocities. It’s not like there’s any question about their authenticity. After all, there are newsreel films showing Japanese soldiers tossing live Chinese babies onto their bayonets. Atrocities like the Rape of Nanking . . . are a matter of indelible record. Obviously these true stories muddy Japan’s increasingly sanitized image of itself as merely the innocent victim of the atom bomb. And that makes them very nervous.”
In Conspiracies, Cover-ups and Crimes (1996), Jonathan Vankin explored America’s “supersociety” or “ruling class,” and its symbiotic relationship with the Japanese corporate state. Vankin cites the November 13, 1989 issue of U.S. News and World Report, announcing the sale of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan as well as 51 percent of the Rockefeller Group to the Japanese corporation Mitsubishi. “The press recorded the transaction as evidence of Japanese encroachment into American affairs,” Vankin wrote. “Little mention was made of the long alliance between the Rockefellers, American industrial leaders, and Mitsubishi, which plays a similar role in the Japanese corporate state. The press also failed to scrutinize the assumption that the Rockefeller organization is actually ‘American.’ In fact, it is global, and the guiding philosophy of the family in its business dealing is not nationalistic, but ‘one world.’. . . Many of these people hold the highest positions in government and in big business. They sit on the boards of banks and control the money circulating around the world. They decide what gets manufactured, and how much. Educational institutions and mass media outlets are under their control, which means the information we receive — the very stuff of our thoughts — is also shaped by this elite, this Establishment. This conspiracy.”
Would this establishment’s interests be served if the truth of Japan’s guilt in the deaths of Earhart and Noonan were acknowledged? Further evidence of the overwhelming efficacy of our government-media establishment’s inbred policy of deceit in the Earhart case is indirectly reflected in Vankin’s book itself, where not a whisper can be found about the Earhart disappearance. Did Earhart simply escape Vankin’s attention, or did something else compel him to refrain from any discussion of the Earhart matter?
In “The San Francisco System at Fifty,” the introductory chapter to the 2002 Brookings Institution-published U.S.-Japan Relations in a Changing World, editor Steven K. Vogel discusses the September 1951 peace treaty Japan signed with forty-eight nations, forging an alliance with the Unites States under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This arrangement, known as the San Francisco system, has defined relations between the two nations ever since. “Japan effectively committed itself to military, diplomatic, and economic dependence on the United States,” Vogel wrote. “Japan allowed the United States to station troops on Japanese soil and to maintain control over Okinawa. Japan acted as a member of the Western camp, following the U.S. lead on crucial foreign policy issues. The United States protected Japan from external threats, but Japan developed military forces to help defend itself and to support U.S. forces in regional conflicts. The United States also supported Japan’s economic recovery by allowing Japan to limit the reparations paid to war victims, by creating a liberal international trade regime, and by maintaining open markets at home while tolerating Japanese trade protection and an undervalued yen.”
The Embassy of Japan’s web site offers similar language about the Japan-U.S. alliance: “Japan and the United States share interests and fundamental values, including freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The two countries are building significantly interdependent and cooperative relationships across a broad range of areas in the political, security and economic cooperation.”
By itself, the United States’ conciliatory, almost paternal postwar attachment to its former enemy would be enough to keep the secrets of the Earhart disappearance buried in the deepest recesses of our national security apparatus – if the records still exist at all. One wonders whether the San Francisco arrangement would have proceeded as smoothly if President Harry S. Truman had broken ranks with his deceased former boss and revealed Japan’s guilt in the deaths of Earhart and Noonan, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s gag order to suppress public knowledge of it.
But FDR’s sanitized legacy as the New Deal savior of the American middle class, who rid the world of the Nazi and Japanese menaces, could never have withstood the revelation of his abandonment of Earhart and Noonan in the prewar years, or even his failure to reveal Japan’s guilt upon learning of the fliers’ fate. In either case, FDR had no stomach for the public outcry and endless questions, and his alleged secret executive order that permanently embargoed the truth in the Earhart disappearance was FDR’s way of permanently dealing with the problem. The world has been left with the “Earhart mystery” ever since.
In a March 2, 2015 post titled “Jim Golden’s legacy of honor in the Earhart saga,” I introduced the late Jim Golden, a close friend of Fred Goerner and, in the day, a near-legendary figure in Earhart research circles. Golden, whose unique career included eight years as a Secret Service agent in the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, two years as Howard Hughes’ chief of security in Las Vegas, and a stint in the U.S. Justice Department, from where he tried to help Goerner search for the elusive top-secret Earhart files that President John F. Kennedy had allowed Goerner and California newspaperman Ross Game to see briefly in 1963, just before JFK’s assassination in Dallas.
Among the secrets Golden shared with Goerner was the revelation that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were brought to the islands of Roi-Namur, Kwajalein Atoll by air from Jaluit Atoll by the Japanese in 1937, a fact he learned from Marine Intelligence officers during the American invasion of Kwajalein in January 1944.
During several telephone conversations I had with Golden in the summer of 2008, he recalled his experiences as a 19-year-old enlisted Marine photographer in the intelligence section of the 4th Marine Division during the Kwajalein campaign.
“The Marines wrote up a detailed report capturing the info that related that in 1937 two white persons, a male and female were brought by plane to Roi,” Golden told me, “the man with a white bandage on his head and the woman with short-cut hair wearing men’s pants, who were taken across a causeway to the Namur Admin building. Three days later taken out to a small ship in the lagoon, which then departed. I read the report myself. This report would routinely be forwarded to 4th Div. Intel, then on to the U.S. Navy. This report must have been the first sighting [sic] of her capture by the Japanese by U.S. forces at that time.”
The following story, “FDR’s Amelia Earhart ‘Watergate,’” by one Leon Freilich, appeared in the Jan. 3, 1978 issue of the Midnight Globe tabloid newspaper, which at some later date changed its name to the familiar Globe that adorns check-out racks in supermarkets and other retail stores nationwide, along with its better-known rival, the National Enquirer. It first appeared in the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter’s June 1992 issue.
“FDR’s Amelia Earhart ‘Watergate’”
The late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt covered up the truth behind aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s mysterious disappearance and created his own Watergate — nearly 40 years before Richard Nixon.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She tried in 1937 to fly around the world and disappeared into the Pacific. Now a top-level Justice Department official, James Golden, charges that FDR withheld the facts of her disappearance for his own ends.
“Amelia Earhart was killed in the line of duty, and President Roosevelt refused to let it get out,” Golden, director of enforcement for the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in Washington, D.C., told MIDNIGHT GLOBE.
“She was a spy for the Navy. She didn’t just ‘disappear,’ as Roosevelt led the press and public to believe. Amelia Earhart was taking reconnaissance shots of Japanese naval facilities when her plane was forced down. She died at the hands of the Japanese.”
Similar accusations of a cover-up have been leveled in the past, and a book [The Search for Amelia Earhart] detailed some of the charges several years ago. However, this is the first attack on Roosevelt’s credibility by a top figure in the federal government.
Why did FDR stonewall the facts? “Amelia Earhart was a glamorous aviatrix and America’s favorite woman adventurer,” Golden said. “For some reason, she’d agreed to use her round-the-world flight as a mask for a spying operation. In those days spying was considered the lowest of the low in this country. So when she lost her life, Roosevelt was afraid he would lose millions of votes in the next election. Consequently, he stifled the truth.”
How does the high-level government prober know this? “There’s a top-secret file with all this information in the White House,” he revealed to MIDNIGHT GLOBE. “It can’t be released, except by the President. “But two of my friends in the intelligence community have seen it. I consider them wholly reliable. They told me the file includes a four-page summary of Japan’s secret report on the Amelia Earhart case.
“This summary relates that she and her co-pilot [sic], Fred Noonan, were captured by Japanese forces on July 2, 1937, near Saipan, the Central Pacific headquarters for Japanese ships. The Japanese took the two there and kept them under heavy interrogation for a year and a half. Then they beheaded Noonan. Amelia Earhart died the very next day. The records said the cause of death was dysentery, but even if that’s true, the blame belongs on her captors, who kept her penned up in primitive conditions.”
The file confirmed what Golden had learned first-hand during World War II. “I was a Marine intelligence officer [actually a private first class] and landed on Saipan [actually Kwajalein] in January 1944,” he said. “Some of the elders described to me in minute detail how a white woman and man had been seized from a fallen giant bird.
“That would be their plane. And the pair were kept on the island as prisoners until the Japanese chopped off the man’s head. The woman — Amelia Earhart, of course — was never seen again.
“The natives’ testimony plus the secret file fit together too neatly to spell anything but the full story. I’m telling you this not to embarrass the U.S. government. My motive is simply this: Amelia Earhart gave her life for her country, and it ought to have the good grace to thank her for it.” (End of Midnight Globe article.)
In an October 1977 Albuquerque (New Mexico) Tribune story on Golden, “Prober says Amelia Earhart death covered up,” Golden, then with the U.S. Justice Department, told reporter Richard Williams that President Franklin “Roosevelt hid the truth about Miss Earhart and Noonan, fearing public reaction to the death of a heroine and voter reaction at the polls. . . . What really bothers me about the whole thing is that if Miss Earhart was . . . a prisoner of the Japanese, as she seems to have been, why won’t the government acknowledge the facts and give her the hero’s treatment she deserves?” Golden asked.
Sadly, Golden passed away unexpectedly at his home on March 7, 2011 at age 85. As I wrote in closing “Jim Golden’s legacy of honor in the Earhart saga,“ in 2015, “We’ll never see the likes of Jim Golden again, and I hope someday we’ll meet in a much better place.”
More on Jim Golden’s amazing life and contributions to the Earhart saga can be found in the pages of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
In the final installment of Fred Goerner’s 1984 retrospective, “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” the former San Francisco radio newsman presents an excellent summary of the status of the Earhart investigation at that point in time, tracing the important discoveries since his Saipan investigations began in 1960.
In his essay, ostensibly written for Orbis Publishing Ltd., a British company, but never published in the United States, among the many compelling evidential threads Goerner explores are the roots of the Marshall Islands landing scenario; the origins of the theories that proliferated in the days following Amelia’s loss; his original interviews with the native witnesses in the Marshall Islands and Saipan; and for the first time, the stunning revelations by Marine Generals Alexander A. Vandegrift and Graves Erskine that placed Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan in the days following their tragic disappearance.
Conclusion of Fred Goerner’s “In Search of Amelia Earhart”
There were rumors in 1937 that Earhart had somehow been working for the U.S. government at the time of her disappearance. There were rumors, too, that she had purposefully lost herself so the U.S. Navy could search the Japanese controlled islands, or that she and Fred Noonan had been forced to land on or near one of those Japanese islands and they were being held prisoner. The speculation was not taken seriously by the American public.
The Oakland Tribune newspaper in May 1938 began a series of articles about the Earhart disappearance by reporter Alfred Reck. Somehow Reck had managed access to the then highly classified Coast Guard files. In the first article, Reck alleged that Earhart and Noonan had been lost because of the failure of the U.S. Navy high-frequency direction finder on Howland Island, and that Richard B. Black, the U.S. Department of Interior representative who had brought the Navy HF/DF aboard Itasca, had supplied the wrong kind of batteries causing the equipment to fail at the moment it was needed the most.
The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Richard Black jumped all over the Oakland Tribune and reporter Reck, and the rest of the articles in the series were carefully censored.
Again in 1938, popular Smith’s Weekly newspaper, published in Sydney, Australia, printed a lengthy article alleging that the U.S. had used the Earhart disappearance as a pretext to overfly Japanese held islands and that Australia’s defense establishment had been made aware of the plan and its results. “So when Amelia Earhart went down and her faint distress signals located her plane around the Phoenix Islands, the search gave the needed excuse. Sentiment comes second to secret service.”
Isolationist Republican U.S. Senator from North Dakota Gerald P. Nye was incensed by the report. He had long suspected that President Roosevelt was trying to get the U.S. involved in a war with Japan, and he announced his intention of bringing the whole Earhart matter before the U.S. Senate.
Adm. William D. Leahy, chief of U.S. naval operations, and Cordell Hull, U.S. secretary of state both wrote to Senator Nye denying the charges. Nye accepted the denials but pledged to make every effort to determine the source of the article because “the primary motive may have been to stimulate ill feeling between Japan and the United States.”
The Japanese sinking of the American Navy gunboat USS Panay in the Yangtze River two months later effectively buried Nye’s concern. Ill feeling had become outright hostility.
U.S. Congressman William I. Sirovich one day dropped by to see his friend Claude A. Swanson, who was secretary of the U.S. Navy. Sirovich, curious about the seeming mystery surrounding the Earhart disappearance, asked Swanson for his feelings about the matter.
“This is a powder keg,” replied Swanson. “Any public discussion of it will cause an explosion. I’m not the only one in this department who feels that she saw activities which she could not have described later and remained alive. To speculate about this publicly probably would sever our diplomatic relations with Japan and lead to something worse.”
The “something worse” came on the wings of Japanese carrier aircraft the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, and Amelia Earhart was virtually forgotten.
In April of 1943, however, RKO Motion Pictures released a film titled Flight For Freedom (starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray) which followed the events of Amelia’s last flight almost perfectly to the point of the Lae, New Guinea takeoff. According to the script, the aviatrix, on a mission for the U.S. government, was to fly to a “Gull” Island in the Pacific and pretend to be lost while U.S. Navy planes, ostensibly searching for her, photographed the Japanese Mandates. At Lae, New Guinea, however, the script writer had the heroine learn the Japanese were aware of the ruse and would immediately pick her up at “Gull” Island. Thereupon Rosalind Russell courageously crashed her plane at sea so the U.S. Navy could conduct its intelligence operation anyway. Amelia Earhart’s name was never used in the film, but the plot left no doubt that she was intended as the central character.
This film undoubtedly had an impact on many American servicemen who were preparing for or already participating in combat in the Pacific theater. It might explain many strange — often bizarre — rumors during the island invasions. At one point a rumor that Amelia Earhart might actually be the infamous “Tokyo Rose” broadcasting from Japan caused U.S. Army Intelligence to send George Palmer Putnam, Amelia’s now remarried husband, to a radio station in China where he could clearly hear the broadcaster’s voice. He vowed it was not Amelia. Post-war investigation proved him right.
There were other happenings that could not be explained as easily. In 1944 on Majuro Atoll during the invasion of the Marshall Islands, Vice Adm. Edgar A. Cruise learned from a native interpreter named Michael Madison that an American man and woman flyers had been picked up and brought into the Marshalls in 1937.
At almost the same time, Eugene F. Bogan, serving as a senior military government officer at Majuro (Bogan is now one of America’s leading tax attorneys in Washington, D.C.) interviewed a Marshallese native named Elieu Jibambam, who told the same story.
Four other U.S. Marine corps and U.S. Navy Officers turned up similar information: An American man and woman, flyers according to the Japanese, had been brought into Jaluit in the Marshalls, then transported to Majuro and Kwajalein, also in the Marshalls, and finally, taken to Saipan in the Marianas Islands which was Japan’s military headquarters for the Pacific islands before and during World War II. They all filed reports which still remain classified somewhere in military archives.
During the invasion of Saipan in June 1944, the possibility of Japanese capture of Earhart broadened with testimony of Saipanese natives that two Americans, a man and woman, identified by the Japanese as fliers had been brought to the island in 1937 and detained. The woman had died of dysentery and the man reportedly had been executed sometime after her death. They had, according to the testimony, been buried in unmarked graves outside the perimeter of a native cemetery.
(Editor’s comment: Note that in 1984, the 26 former American GIs who contacted Thomas E. Devine after publication of his book, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, in 1987, and whose accounts were presented in our 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes, were completely unknown to Goerner. These former Marines included Robert E. Wallack and Earskin J. Nabers, two of the most important eyewitnesses in the Earhart saga.)
It would be 1964 before two former U.S. Marines, Everett Henson, Jr. of Sacramento, California, and Bill G. Burks of Dallas, would come forward to say they were part of a group of Marines who recovered the remains of Amelia Earhart and Frederick Noonan on Saipan in July of 1944. The remains had been found in an unmarked grave outside a small graveyard and placed in metal canisters for transport to the United States. To this writing, the U.S. Marine Corps will neither confirm or deny that such an event occurred.
Just after the end of World War II, early in 1946, the U.S. Navy reiterated that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were considered and had always been considered merely civilians on a pioneering flight. They were still to be considered “lost at sea.”
It would not be until 1960 that a real investigation began, and that investigation would be civilian. The Columbia Broadcasting System sponsored four expeditions to Saipan Island and two to Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands to try to find answers to the Earhart mystery.
The effort spanned the years 1960 to 1964, and your author was selected by CBS to conduct the inquiry. I was working as a correspondent-broadcaster at that time for KCBS in San Francisco. Several hundred natives were questioned on Saipan with the help of the Monsignor and Fathers of the Catholic Church Mission. More than 30 individuals told stories that supported the theory that two American fliers, a man and woman, had lived and died on Saipan before the war.
At Majuro, we found the persons who had given information during World War II, and we found others as well. Dr. John Iman, Biliman Amran [sic, more commonly Bilimon Amaron], Tomaki Mayazo, all would tell stories of the man and woman American fliers. Amran had worked at the Japanese hospital, and he had been called to tend the Americans who had been brought in aboard a Japanese ship. It was the man who needed treatment. He had been cut on the head and on the knee. “He spoke something in English to me,” Amran says, “but at that time I only spoke Japanese.”
In 1962, the Earhart investigation brought me into contact with Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had commanded American naval forces in the Pacific during WWII. Nimitz recalled that “someone” had told him that “something” in connection with Earhart had been found on one of the islands during World War II, but he had not been greatly impressed because of the pressures of ongoing battle.
(Editor’s note: Unaccountably, here Goerner failed to mention the statement he claimed Nimitz made to him on the phone in late March 1965: “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you that Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese.”)
Later Admiral Nimitz became vitally interested in the Earhart questions, providing suggestions for further research and attempting to help with access to classified information. Before his death in 1966, Nimitz advised, “Never give up. You are on to something that will stagger your imagination.”
The same year, 1966, I wrote The Search for Amelia Earhart, which was published by Doubleday in the U.S. and Bodley Head Press, Ltd. in England. It detailed the six years of CBS research and basically asked why the U.S. government still, nearly thirty years after the event, had not released the classified files in the case.
By good fortune the tome remained on the best sellers’ lists for many weeks, and a gratifying number of readers were motivated to write to their U.S. senators or congressmen, asking that truth for Earhart and Noonan finally be established. At the time, there was little response. It was not until the Freedom Of Information Act became law in 1968 that quite a number of files began to appear, and each year since more pertinent material has been found and declassified.
This would seem to be the right time to say that this author is a standard patriot. I am grateful for the freedoms I enjoy in America. I would not willingly choose to live anywhere else, and I far more often compliment my country than criticize it. Perhaps I may then be forgiven if I say that responsible search for truth could sometimes be eased by those charged with keeping secrets.
From 1968 to present day, well over 20,000 pages of records concerning the Earhart flight from seven different departments of the U.S. government and military have been released, and we are convinced there is a great deal more still to be revealed.
The idea for Earhart’s around-the-world flight had begun with an entity known as the Purdue Research Foundation at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. She had served the University for brief periods as a lecturer and counselor to women students.
The Foundation had been formed by David E. Ross of Lafayette, Ind., and J.K. Lilly of Indianapolis for the purpose of seeking “new knowledge in the field of aviation, with particular reference to National Defense”, and it (the Foundation) maintained close communication with the then U.S. War Department and U.S. Army Air Corps and U.S. naval aviation.
Ross, an enormously wealthy engineer and inventor, and Lilly, one of the founders and directors of Eli Lilly Company, provided the funds for the purchase of Amelia’s Lockheed Electra with the understanding that the plane would be used “for the purpose of improving radio direction finding equipment.”
In 1937, America was still deeply in the grip of the great depression, and details of the transaction that involved what was then a considerable sum of money were not disclosed to anyone save the principals.
Amelia flew the plane to Wright Field in Ohio to have the latest 500 kilocycles low-frequency direction finder, invented by Frederick Hooven for the Army Air Corps, installed in the Electra. Later, the U.S. Navy and representatives of the Bendix Company would ask Amelia to jettison Hooven’s creation and use the Navy high-frequency DF.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally interested himself in the flight, directing the War, Navy, Army and State Departments to cooperate. Enthusiasm was not unanimous. One high-ranking Navy officer wrote in longhand on the margin of the directive, “Why are we doing this? There isn’t that much to gain, and it’ll excite the Japs.”
What did excite the Japanese was construction of the airfield on Howland Island. Earhart first planned to fly the Pacific from east to west, being refueled in flight over Midway Island by a specially equipped U.S. Navy plane. Such techniques were in their infancy; therefore, the risk factor was very high.
Then Earhart and U.S. military needs coincided. Amelia needed a safer method for crossing the Pacific and the US Navy and US Army Air Corps needed a civilian reason to build an airfield on an island near the equator. America had agreed with Japan at the Washington Naval Treaty conference in 1923 that military construction on most Pacific islands controlled by each nation would be prohibited. The U.S. had long believed that Japan was violating that treaty in the Mandated Islands, but could not prove it. The U.S. had countered on Midway and Wake Islands through cooperation with Pan American airways, and now Earhart would become the civilian reason or cover for Howland. To further disguise the Howland venture, President Roosevelt diverted funds from the civilian Works Progress Administration, an obfuscation tactic he had used several times before.
From the records released to this writing, Earhart does not seem to have been conducting an overt spy mission during the world flight. At one time we had thought that possible. There is evidence and testimony that Earhart and Noonan were gathering “white intelligence.” As civilians they were going to be visiting and flying in and out of places seldom if ever visited by the U.S. military, and observations of these areas could be valuable. Of particular interest would be weather and radio conditions, length of runways, fuel supplies and repair facilities. All valuable information in the event of conflict. After the end of World War I, the records indicate that many American civilians performed like services in many parts of the world. Not clandestine and not at all unusual.
There is nothing in released records to date that would document Japanese capture of Earhart and Noonan, other than gathered testimony of Marshallese and Saipanese native witnesses. Nor is there anything which would substantiate the recovery of the human remains of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan in 1944 by the US Marines.
There is evidence that President Roosevelt and U.S. Naval Intelligence suspected that Amelia and Fred might have fallen into the hands of the Japanese. The ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) arranged with one Kilsoo Haan (an American working with the Korean Underground against the Japanese) in December of 1937 to sneak several of his agents into the Japanese mandated islands “to determine whether Miss Earhart and Captain Noonan are alive or dead.” The results of that intelligence mission still have not been found.
(Editor’s note: In a 1993 letter to J. Gordon Vaeth, Goerner wrote that the Kilsoo Haan mission “fell through because the ONI did not have sufficient funds available for the operation.” See p. 178 of Truth at Last for more.)
(Editor’s note: Here Goerner, who continued to reject Thomas E. Devine’s contributions to the Earhart saga, failed to mention the 1960 Office of Naval Intelligence Report of its investigation of Devine’s claim that he was shown the gravesite of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan by an unidentified Okinawan woman in August 1945. This report was declassified in 1967, has never been mentioned by any known media organizations, and is the closest thing we have to a smoking-gun document in the Earhart search. For more on the ONI Report, see pages 95-100 in Truth at Last.)
Early in 1938, President Roosevelt arranged with his close friend and trusted intelligence agent William Vincent Astor to penetrate Japan’s Marshall Islands aboard Astor’s huge personal yacht Nourmahal. Accompanied by FDR’s cousin Kermit Roosevelt, Astor took his ship into the Marshalls in April, 1938, a daring and highly dangerous exploit that infuriated the Japanese. Astor and Kermit Roosevelt were not able to land on any of the islands, but they got close enough to find fuel supplies and air strips on Eniwetok and Wotje Islands and to predict to President Roosevelt that Japan was in the process of developing military bases and facilities in the Mandates. From what has been released to date, they did not find out anything about Earhart and Noonan.
The Japanese protested vehemently to the U.S. State Department, and one Japanese press report indicated that the U.S. Navy had sent “warships” into the Marshalls and was forming a task force for an attack. Astor had caused a storm with Japan, but his mission was unknown in America. He was but one of dozens of civilians that Roosevelt had used and would use as personal secret agents.
In the last several years, two Americans have come forward with information that indicates the Earhart saga is far from ended. Thomas McKeon, vice president of Intertel, based in Washington, D.C., one of the world’s largest private intelligence networks, staffed by former ONI, FBI and CIA agents, has testified that the 441st U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps Unit discovered the complete truth regarding Japanese capture of Earhart of Noonan when it occupied the Japanese Kempeitai (Military Secret Police) headquarters in September of 1945. McKeon says he read the files when he served as an officer with the 441st in Tokyo, and that at one point he talked with a former Japanese officer who had served as an interpreter when Earhart and Noonan had been questioned.
Carroll Harris of Sacramento, California, recently retired from his post as dispatcher for the California State Highway Patrol, a top law enforcement agency in California. From 1942 to 1945, he was one of the U.S. Navy personnel responsible for the Security Room in Washington, D.C., of the Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Ernest King. In the top-secret vault was an extensive file on Amelia Earhart dealing with pre-WW II U.S. Navy involvement and information picked up during the invasion of various Japanese held islands during World War II.
Harris recalls that the records were carefully boxed and sent to the U.S. Naval Supply Depot at Crane, Ind., toward the end of the war in 1945. Crane was and apparently still is the repository of top-secret material, including records of U.S. Naval code-breaking operations before and during the war.
To this writing, the records referred to by McKeon and Harris have not been found, but an effort to locate them continues. A search for truth is underway in Japan today as well. Fukiko Aoki, one of the brightest young writers and investigative journalists in Japan, has for more than a year been seeking answers in Japanese archives and from former Imperial Japanese Naval Officers.
What do I believe now after 23 years of research, including 12 trips to Saipan and four to Majuro Atoll in the Marshalls? Earhart and Noonan were cooperating with their government at the time of their disappearance, and there is strong testimony that an American man and woman, identified as fliers, were picked by Japanese military units somewhere and taken first to the Marshalls and then to Saipan. Just where the Electra landed is very much a matter of conjecture. If the Japanese know, they have said nothing.
(Editor’s note: Once again Goerner, by neglecting to reference Thomas E. Devine’s account to him in 1963 during their Saipan visit, which he included in Search, revealed his contempt for Devine and his claim that he saw the Electra on Saipan on three occasions in July 1944, the final time in flames. Devine said that before he left Saipan in August 1945, the remains of Amelia’s plane had been bulldozed into a huge hole underneath Aslito Airport, which is now Saipan International Airport, and there it remains to this day, along with untold tons of other war refuse, including Japanese planes destroyed during the Saipan invasion.)
If Earhart and Noonan were off course considerably to the north of Howland Island, they may have landed at Mili or one of the other islands in the southern Marshalls. Many believe that theory. If Amelia and Fred were blown south of their course because they did not receive the weather forecast predicting significant winds from the northeast, the Phoenix Islands surely would have been their alternate choice. Until the mystery reefs that lie between Howland and the Phoenix Islands are thoroughly searched and the lagoons of several of the islands are plumbed, the possibility the aircraft can be found remains.
Gen. Graves B. Erskine, USMC (Ret.) one of the U.S. Marine Corps’ most distinguished officers told CBS in a 1966 private interview, “We did learn that Earhart was on Saipan and that she died there.”
Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC (Ret.), who commanded the US Marine Corps during the later stages of WW II the Pacific wrote to me on August 10, 1971, “It was substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan. The information was given to me directly by General Thomas Watson, who commanded the 2nd U.S. Marine Corps Division during the assault on Saipan in 1944.”
Saipan has many mysteries. Much more questioning of the Saipanese people has produced stories of an American woman spy from “Los Angeles” who was executed in 1937. Was that woman Amelia Earhart? Or was it another woman sent by American intelligence to ascertain Japanese activities in the mandated islands — a woman whose mission and fate have never been revealed by anyone?
I believe the full truth will be made public in the not distant future. (End of “In Search of Amelia Earhart.”)
After writing “In Search of Amelia Earhart,” Goerner lived 10 more years before losing his battle to cancer in September 1994, dying at 69, but he would never again write so lucidly and boldly about the Earhart disappearance. In June 1977, Goerner appeared briefly in a muddled episode of the TV series In Search of . . . , narrated by Leonard Nimoy, and his final small screen appearance came in the popular Unsolved Mysteries program, with Robert Stack, where he shared time with Thomas E. Devine, T.C. “Buddy” Brennan and Robert E. Wallack in a 1990 presentation. It would also be the last time Devine would have a national platform to share his Saipan experiences, though the Saipan veteran lived until 2003.
Fred Goerner remains the greatest of all Earhart researchers, despite his failings, which I’ve not been remiss in chronicling on this blog and in Truth at Last. The Search for Amelia Earhart was, by far, the most important Earhart disappearance book, but the fame and acclaim his 1966 bestseller brought was fleeting. Goerner and his message became anathema soon after Time magazine’s damning review of Search; henceforth, the mere mention of Amelia Earhart and Saipan in the same sentence was seldom heard in American media. To this day, anyone who dares say those words is, with few exceptions, banished to the land of fringe conspiracy theorists, where the truth, no matter how compelling, is deemed worthy only of ridicule and rejection. In fact, it’s worse now than ever.
Someday the Earhart truth will be universally recognized and acknowledged, but nothing in our current or past government’s actions should lead anyone to believe that disclosure is likely to occur in our lifetimes. The few who still care continue to work toward that eventuality, whenever it might come, and we never forget Fred Goerner and the other intrepid souls who blazed this lonely trail, lighting the way and making it just a little easier to tread.
Since I presented Fred Goerner’s preview of his classic bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart in my post of June 3, I thought it would be appropriate to follow that with the single most damaging piece ever written about this great book, the Sept. 16, 1966 “review” published by Time magazine, which lacked the decency to identify its writer.
Four times in this despicable hit piece, Time’s anonymous scribbler referred to Howland Island as “Rowland” Island, a clear tell that reveals the shallow nature of the reviewer’s knowledge of even the basic facts of the Earhart disappearance. Why bother with fact checking when you have a bestselling author to skewer, facts be damned. I didn’t bother to fix the spelling in the original.
Contrary to Time’s mendacious critique, The Search for Amelia Earhart was the most important Earhart disappearance book ever written, but it presented only about 5 percent of what’s been learned of the fliers’ fates since 1966. A mountain of evidence, with even more yet to be found and revealed, tells us of the tragic Saipan ends of Amelia and Fred, and the title of Time’s review, “Sinister Conspiracy?” is accurate only if describing the vile motives of Time’s board of directors.
Was Amelia Earhart really lost at sea during her round-the-world flight 29 years ago—or was she a spy who died a captive of the Japanese?
Fred Goerner, a San Francisco radio newscaster, pursued the question for six years, and has caught up with what he is convinced is the answer. Obviously, if Earhart simply died in a plane accident, there would be no need for a book. By stitching surmise to fact, Goerner makes a book that barely hangs together. His tantalizing if familiar theory is that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were on an unofficial spy mission for the U.S. when they crashed and fell into Japanese hands.
No Luck. As far as the public knows, Earhart and Noonan left Lae, New Guinea, on July 1, 1937, on the most dangerous leg of their trip—a 2,550-mile leap to tiny (one square mile) Rowland Island, where no plane had ever landed before. Early on July 2, the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, standing by at Rowland, received a series of messages from Pilot Earhart reporting that she was unsure of her position and that she was running low on gas. Her last message, delivered in a broken and choked voice, was a plea for a fix on her position. Too late. Itasca failed to get a fix, and so, subsequently, did an armada of U.S. fleet searchers.
Goerner has succeeded, he says, where the U.S. Navy failed. Financed by CBS, the Scripps newspaper chain, the San Mateo (Calif.) Times and the Associated Press, he made four trips to the islands of the western Pacific to gather evidence of evildoing. In 1960, he returned from the Pacific with a bagful of airplane parts dredged out of Saipan harbor. These, he believed, were the remains of Earhart’s twin-engined Lockheed Electra.
No such luck; the collection turned out to be parts from a Japanese plane. In 1964, Goerner got a flash of headlines by producing seven pounds of human bones and 37 teeth. The flyers? Nope, declared a Berkeley anthropologist—they belonged to some late Micronesians.
Detour. At length, after scores of interviews with witnesses who claimed that they knew something, and with various officials who denied that they knew anything, Goerner fashioned his plot. When Earhart left Lae, he writes, she did not fly directly toward Rowland Island. Instead, acting on the request of a highly placed U.S. official (Goerner hints that it must have been F.D.R.), she headed north toward Truk in the central Carolines to reconnoiter Japanese airfields and fleet-servicing facilities in the area. To make this detour possible without arousing suspicion—after all, the whole world knew the flyers’ itinerary—Earhart had had her Electra secretly outfitted with special engines capable of cruising at 200 m.p.h.; as far as anybody else knew, Goerner writes, the plane could do only 150-165 m.p.h.
After sizing up Truk, Earhart headed for Rowland. Goerner guesses that she soon got hopelessly lost in a tropical storm and turned the Electra north and west, away from her destination. By calculating the Electra’s speed and fuel consumption, Goerner figures that the plane must have crash-landed near the beach of Mili atoll in the southeastern Marshall Islands. It was from that place, he says, that Earhart cranked out SOS messages on the plane’s emergency radio. This, Goerner believes, accounts for the fact that a number of radio operators reported picking up messages from the downed plane at about this time.
Goerner estimates that twelve days later a Japanese fishing boat reached the couple. They were taken aboard and later transferred either to the Japanese seaplane tender Kamoi or to the survey ship Koshu, which was known to be in the region. From his talks with natives, Goerner concludes that the flyers were taken first to Jaluit, then Kwajalein, and finally to Saipan, Japan’s military headquarters in the Pacific; a number of Saipanese say that they saw a man and a woman who resembled Noonan and Earhart. Goerner quotes native sources as saying that Earhart probably died of dysentery and that Noonan was beheaded, but he does not document the fact. Nevertheless he writes: “The kind of questioning and hardships they endured can be imagined. Death may have been a release they both desired.”
No Secret. If Goerner’s story is correct, why is it that neither the U.S. nor the Japanese government will confirm it? That is what he wants to know. There is a sinister conspiracy in Washington, Goerner hints, aimed at keeping things hushed up, even so many years after the event. And the Japanese won’t talk, he adds, because they fear that an admission of complicity would damage their hopes of recovering some of the Pacific islands that became part of a U.N. trust territory after the war. That farfetched notion will be news to the Japanese.
Along the way, Goerner does infect the reader with some nagging points. He has found two U.S. Marines who claim that they exhumed the flyers’ bodies in Saipan in 1944, and says that the remains were either secretly reinterred or are today in the possession of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. And he quotes no less a personage than Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, who told Goerner in March 1965: “I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese.” Alas, Nimitz told him no more than that; he died last February.
Readers who take Goerner’s word for everything will have to take it on faith. For example, those special engines that play such an important part in Goerner’s closely cut puzzler were no secret at all. On the day after Earhart’s plane went down, the New York Times reported that the Electra was equipped with two of the latest Wasp engines, capable of cruising speeds well over 200 m.p.h. (End of Time‘s review.)
I will leave it to discerning readers of this blog to dissect the above litany of errors, lies and propaganda excreted by the pre-eminent news magazine of the day to a legion of readers, some of whom may have actually believed that Time was trying to help its subscribers understand the truth in the Earhart disappearance. Of course this was the furthest thing from the minds of Time’s editors, whose only goal was to discredit everything Goerner had found that so clearly revealed the truth about Amelia and Fred’s Marshall Islands landing and subsequent deaths on Saipan.
“With its dismissive hit piece,” I write in Truth at Last, “Time set the tone for generations of media deceit and hostility to the truth that continues today, manifesting itself in ways blatant and subtle throughout every segment of our news and entertainment industries. Wherever discussion about the loss of America’s First Lady of Flight can be found in America—in newspapers, magazines, biographies, television news, movies, and anywhere else—the insidious influence of the establishment’s aversion to Saipan will invariably accompany it.
“Whether its perpetrators are conscious of this inherent bias or not, this pervasive policy of media malfeasance has two objectives. The first is the perpetuation of the lie that the Earhart ‘mystery’ is the Gordian knot of historical riddles, entirely beyond resolution in our lifetimes; the second is to ensure the idea that Earhart and Noonan died on Saipan is considered the most ridiculous of all possibilities, believed only by fringe nuts and conspiracy theorists.”
Smithsonian mag throws “Truth at Last” a bone: Says, “it’s possible . . . Campbell is on to something”
In early November 2014, a contributing writer to Smithsonian magazine named Jerry Adler contacted me via email, asking if I’d talk to him for a story about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart he was working on. Adler said the magazine’s editors’ interest in doing the story had stemmed from “Ric Gillespie’s announcement last week of evidence in support of his Nikumaroro theory” [the worst excuse for writing a major piece on the Earhart matter I’ve ever heard], but his piece would “cover the gamut of explanations, including your own.”
Though pleased that someone at Smithsonian, though clearly not this writer, had read Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last and found it worthwhile, I was also quite skeptical. I told Adler, “I couldn’t have been more surprised than to hear from a writer for Smithsonian,” whose sister publications, American Heritage and Invention and Technology Magazine have recently featured the erroneous ideas of Tom Crouch, the Air and Space Museum’s senior curator, and TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie, while the truth has taken severe beatings on the rare occasions it’s not ignored entirely.
Few if any will be writing reviews of Adler’s story, “Will the Search for Amelia Earhart Ever End?,” but even if it drew plenty of media attention, I’d still feel compelled to go on the record about it. After all, where is it written that Jerry Adler and the Smithsonian editors are the ultimate authorities on what you should think about the Earhart disappearance?
Has Adler or the magazine’s staff made the impossible battle to establish the truth among the top priorities of their lives, studied this matter for the better part of 30 years and been rejected by thousands as a “paranoid conspiracy theorist” by the ignorant and clueless? Do they really care about the U.S. government’s position and the media’s failure to do its job in exposing the truth? Not a chance.
According to its own boilerplate content statement, Smithsonian “looks at the topics and subject matters researched, studied and exhibited by the Smithsonian Institution – science, history, art, popular culture and innovation – and chronicles them for its diverse readership.” This trendy descriptor says nothing about the role that truth and the facts should play as it strives to serve its “diverse readership,” code words that reflect the myriad political, cultural and even religious readerships that publications such as Smithsonian, American Heritage and others of their ilk seek to please.
Unlike Smithsonian, where truth is dispensed only in small dollops for the edification of the most discerning readers — on the subject of Amelia Earhart, at least – readers familiar with this blog know that my observations and conclusions are always tied to known facts, and when speculation is offered, it’s labeled as such. This writer, as do we all now or later, answers to a higher authority than the Smithsonian board of directors, and I try to proceed accordingly.
“The Smithsonian’s Straight Skinny” (Part II)
For those who may not be familiar with recent articles published by highbrow magazines, in 2007, Tom Crouch, Ph.D., the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum senior curator, wrote a piece titled “Searching for Amelia Earhart” for Invention and Technology Magazine. You can read it in its entirely, above, but here’s the statement from Crouch that tells us how he feels about the Marshalls and Saipan scenarios:
… what are we to make of all the eyewitness testimony placing Earhart and Noonan in Japanese hands? Mustn’t there be at least a small flame of truth flickering beneath all that smoke? Sorry. You don’t have to follow many criminal cases to realize just how fallible witness memories can be. How much less trustworthy are the recollections of events that occurred more than two decades before, gathered from witnesses who speak a different language by interviewers who know what they want to hear?
In a quarter-century of looking, no researcher has produced a shred of hard evidence to suggest that Earhart and Noonan were either spies or victims of the Japanese.
I had serious problems with Crouch’s illogical analysis, and dissected his weak argument line-by-line in Truth at Last, in a section titled “The Smithsonian’s Straight Skinny” (see pages 376-382). “Crouch’s article, instead of offering readers a possible glimpse of the truth,” I wrote, “actually served as a platform for the latest government-approved talking points in the Earhart matter, masquerading as informed historical narrative from an unimpeachable authority. . . . Since no ‘archival evidence’ of Earhart’s captivity and death has yet to be produced, none must exist, Crouch asserted, which may be true; files can be destroyed or hidden beyond recovery.
“But even the moderately informed could see through Crouch’s flimsy argumentation against Saipan,” I continued, “and the patronizing arrogance that flavored his comments clearly signaled his loyalty to the falsehoods that are orthodoxy in the establishment he serves.”
Five years later, in the summer of 2012, Crouch was back, this time in American Heritage magazine, with “Amelia Found?” On this occasion, the 75th anniversary of Amelia’s loss, the senior curator didn’t bother to even briefly trace the history of the “Japanese capture theory,” as he’d done in “Searching for Amelia Earhart,” but he simply trashed it as quickly as possible:
What are we to make of all the conspiracy theories? Is there a small flame of truth flickering somewhere beneath all that smoke? Most likely not. In three-quarters of a century of looking, no researcher has produced a shred of hard evidence to suggest that Earhart and Noonan were either spies or prisoners of the Japanese.
Crouch’s contempt for the truth was evident in every word he wrote in this travesty, and again I had to respond. I wrote Crouch and the American Heritage editors a letter I knew would never see print, except on my own blog, where “American Heritage, Crouch do it again” appeared on Oct. 17, 2012.
“American Heritage needs to be reminded that their readership is not totally populated by morons and lemmings,” I wrote in conclusion, “so I hope this brief letter will at least accomplish that modest goal. I also know that American Heritage does not possess the integrity or intellectual honesty to publish this letter, but I’ll make sure I inform as many as I can about the continuing Earhart travesty and your role in perpetuating it.”
Does anyone out there seriously believe that Crouch would retain his job as senior curator and chief Air and Space Museum spokesmouth if he were to change his views on the Earhart disappearance and insist that the government release its top-secret files and come clean after nearly eight decades of denial and obfuscation? Please.
Can you blame me for thinking that the Smithsonian, with government apologist Crouch at the helm of the Air and Space Museum, has been among the most truth-averse organizations in the nation when it comes to the Earhart story? Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think Crouch is ignorant or uninformed. On the contrary, he has a doctorate in history from Ohio State on his distinguished Air and Space Museum resume, and is the “author or editor of a number of books and many articles for both popular magazines and scholarly journals.” But when it comes to Amelia Earhart, what are we to conclude? Is it that Crouch just can’t seem to grasp the research that so clearly reveals the truth, or is there something a bit more sinister afoot?
So I asked myself, why would this magazine bother to ask me about my views? Did they think that including a few small snippets about the hated “Japanese capture theory” advanced only by a few addled “conspiracy theorists” would convince readers of their tolerance and dedication to “diversity”? Perhaps, but I figured it would be better to play the game with Adler than to insult him and guarantee no mention at all, so I fully cooperated with him.
Adler told me he had “no preconceptions” going into this story, a typical disclaimer offered by all writers at this level, and one that usually means quite the opposite is true. If Adler – or the editors who direct his work — really had no opinions about the Earhart disappearance before he began researching this story, why did it so strongly resemble every other treatment of this subject we’ve seen for nearly three decades?
These puff-pieces almost always emphasize the latest drippings from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) an impressive title for an organization that is consistently unimpressive, has yet recover a single aircraft, and whose ethically challenged director has yet to establish a single probative link between Earhart or Fred Noonan and the scads of trash he brings back from his bi-annual boondoggles to Nikumaroro.
But before I proceed with more on the odious Gillespie, his Nikumaroro cash cow and the Smithsonian’s gentle treatment of perhaps the most effective enemies the truth in the Earhart disappearance has ever faced — with the exception of the U.S. government – readers should be enlightened about one important principle.
The Big Lie: The “Great Aviation Mystery”
This PRINCIPLE, which has become one of my constant memes, is that the very idea that the disappearance of Amelia Earhart is a “great aviation mystery” is among the biggest lies in American history. So effective has the U.S. government been in inculcating and maintaining this idea into the official historical narrative that it has become a normal piece of our cultural furniture, accepted without question by all but the few who care to closely examine this longtime canard, this straw man our establishment created so long ago to protect its own interests.
Thus, when the Earhart disappearance is analyzed or examined by people we would normally consider intelligent, like Tom Crouch, all the established, traditional rules of investigation, including objective evaluation of evidence, logic and the scientific approach become virtually nonexistent and non-applicable.
Any discerning individual who closely looks at the prevailing Earhart “theories” will discover that not a shred of alleged evidence for either crash-and-sank or Nikumaroro exists that doesn’t completely break down under mere moderate scrutiny, leaving absolutely nothing but smoke and babble. Simple logic will lead any objective investigator to the truth; the problem is that few modern-day “investigators” are either objective or logical.
Both these falsehoods are based upon assumptions made upon more assumptions, yet in polite circles they are considered far superior to the truth, supported by volumes of eyewitness accounts from citizens of the Marshalls and Saipan, four U.S. flag officers and over two-dozen former veterans of the Battle of Saipan, among others. Clearly, the desire to follow all these signposts that lead to the truth does not exist in the establishment media, nor virtually anywhere else, for that matter. In the Earhart case, the Big Lie has completely replaced the truth.
Knowledgeable observers recognize this, and know that TIGHAR’s Earhart operation, from its inception, has been little more than a well-oiled confidence game with two major goals – to separate the unwary from their money and provide Gillespie with a fat yearly salary. Fred Goerner recognized this early on, wasting his time in an August 1992 letter advising Gillespie not to paint himself into a corner by making claims he couldn’t substantiate. A few of Goerner’s uncanny predictions about Gillespie’s plots are presented on page 420 of Truth at Last.
Truth at Last presents an overwhelming, undeniable case for the Marshalls and Saipan presence of our fliers. Simple logic, something sorely missing in most Earhart discussions, tells us that if actually went down in the Pacific or landed and died on Nikumaroro, such a book, like those that preceded it, with its many hundreds of separate threads of evidence and testimony, would simply have been impossible.
Among the few true Earhart researchers active today, none has ever been accused of such craven, mercenary motivations as Gillespie. To my knowledge, the two researchers currently doing the most important work are Dick Spink, who says he’s $50,000 in the hole after four trips to the Marshall Islands, and Les Kinney, who’s never quoted a figure, but is also well in the red after numerous trips around the country in search of many pieces of major new evidence he’ll someday reveal in the book he’s writing.
These good men tread honorably on the narrow trail blazed by Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Don Kothera, Thomas E. Devine and Bill Prymak, their overriding motivation only to lay this false “mystery” that is the Earhart travesty to rest. Sadly, the real and continuing tragedy of the Earhart saga is that nothing short of the discovery of the Earhart Electra or Amelia herself returning from the grave would put an end to the status quo that 77 years of propaganda has created.
The last time Smithsonian engaged the Earhart story was about three years ago, when it published a shameless promotion of then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s public support for Gillespie’s 10th trip to Nikumaroro, in a March 20, 2012 piece by one K. Annabelle Smith titled, “The Search for Amelia Earhart Resurfaces, 75 Years Later.” Even for Smithsonian, this story reached new lows, which might explain why its editors finally deigned to include a brief mention of the hated Marshalls and Saipan scenarios for its January 2015 issue.
Here’s a sample of the insipid pabulum Smithsonian offered its readers in 2012:
And while new interest in Amelia Earhart’s disappearance has resurfaced as of late, Dorothy Cochrane, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum says “Lady Lindy’s” legacy has always held a place in the Smithsonian Institution. “Everybody has a theory, some more serious than others, but it’s still the greatest mystery of the 20th century,” she says, “and looks like it’s heading into the 21st century.”
Note the clueless Dorothy Cochrane’s insufferable insistence that the Earhart disappearance remains not only the greatest “aviation mystery,” but the “greatest mystery of the 20th century,” period. It rarely gets worse than this.
The Smithsonian’s Cover Story
Adler’s Earhart piece is the cover story for Smithsonian’s January 2015 issue. In the cover photo of Amelia, she is particularly striking as she glances at us across 80 years, goggles raised over her brow, impeccably geared up for takeoff in elegant white aviator’s togs. Set against a black background, the photo seems almost perfect, unlike the story itself.
“New Clues, New Controversy,” punctuate Amelia’s photo in bright red headlines, by when even moderately knowledgeable students of the Earhart case open the magazine and start reading “Will the Search for Amelia Earhart Ever End?” they will immediately realize they’ve been taken for another ride on the Earhart disinformation express.
To begin, the lead in Adler’s story is, quite frankly, incredible, as he travels to Gillespie’s “Pennsylvania farmhouse” to fawn over a piece of scrap aluminum that’s long been exposed as worthless junk, breathlessly telling us, “If he’s right, this is one of the great historical artifacts of the 20th century, a piece of the airplane in which Amelia Earhart made her famous last flight over the Pacific Ocean in July 1937.” This is news?
Adler’s story presents no “new clues” whatever. These “new clues, which Adler was told were this story’s very raison d’être, are nothing more than recently debunked, false interpretations of the provenance of a piece of aluminum scrap that’s been one of the centerpieces of the TIGHAR scam since its earliest days. I fail to see why Adler or one of the many researchers on staff at Smithsonian couldn’t have easily found two current newspaper stories that present the real “new evidence,” which emphatically exposes Gillespie’s aluminum claims as pure rubbish, or just asked somebody who doesn’t subscribe to TIGHAR’s latest talking points. But after 25 years of failed trips to Nikumaroro, Gillespie not only gets a pass, he still gets top billing from a magazine believed to represent enlightened thought by many.
Amelia Earhart Society (AES) researcher and pilot Gary LaPook talked to reporters Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald and Bruce Burns of the Kansas City Star about the aluminum sheet, which Smithsonian editors displayed on a full page, as if readers would somehow be more impressed by the importance of the sheet of scrap aluminum if it was blown up into such a huge photo – talk about overkill. Garvin’s Oct. 30 story, “Investigators search for Amelia Earhart’s ghost in old Miami Herald,” was the second he’d done on Gillespie’s new claims, and he saved the most important fact – the “money quote,” so to speak, for the end of the story:
The most important evidence, however, is the linkage of Gillespie’s scrap to Earhart’s plane through study of the photo. And it’s on that point that LaPook and other his other critics insist most adamantly he’s wrong. They says [sic] telltale evidence on Gillespie’s scrap of wreckage prove it wasn’t manufactured until several years after Earhart crashed. The scrap bears a visible stamp of an A and a letter D — probably part of the label 24ST Alclad, the type of aluminum its [sic] made from.
But, LaPook says, Alcoa Inc., the company that manufactured the aluminum, didn’t start stamping it with the 24ST Alclad designation until 1941. Before that, it used the abbreviation ALC. “There are hundreds of photos of aluminum pieces stamped ALC,” LaPook said. “It’s just beyond doubt.”
Brian Burns’ story, “Has the key to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in the Pacific been found in Kansas?” was a more unbiased treatment of Gillespie’s phony claims than the Miami Herald ran. Besides presenting LaPook’s information in a way that laymen could easily understand, Burns interviewed Louise Foudray, curator of the Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kan., who was very kind to Gillespie. But Burns also asked for my opinion, and unlike the politically correct Foudray, I was in no mood for vaporous platitudes. I also wrote my own story, “LaPook destroys Gillespie’s latest false Earhart claim,” and posted it on my Truth at Last blog on Nov. 2, just a day before Adler contacted me.
“He tells me he’s ‘98 percent’ sure the piece came from Earhart’s plane,” Adler writes of Gillespie’s absurd estimation of the chances his Nikumaroro flotsam is connected to Amelia or the Electra and will bring him unanimous worldwide acclaim as the man who solved the Holy Grail of Aviation mysteries. Adler squanders nearly a third of his 3,500 word essay on Gillespie’s drivel, but at least he comes away quite dubious, as he should be. He closes his section on Gillespie by quoting one of the few intelligent sentences Tom Crouch has ever uttered in the Earhart discussion: “I think if Ric proved anything, it’s that [Earhart and Noonan] never were close to that island.”
Mercifully, Adler foregoes another episode of Tom Crouch’s crashed-and-sank advocacy, otherwise known in enlightened circles as “defending the indefensible,” but he does direct readers to Elgen and Marie Long’s discredited polemic, Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved. This book “remains the simplest explanation,” Adler writes, “but for that very reason, has attracted derision from those who prefer their history complicated.” He’s wrong, of course. Crashed-and-sank wasn’t dismissed by coherent researchers long ago for the very reason of its simplicity, but because it’s simply flat wrong, and there’s never been a sliver of evidence to support it.
In fact, I’m convinced that it was because of the absurd nature of the crashed-and-sank theory that the establishment selected TIGHAR’s not-quite-so-ridiculous Nikumaroro “hypothesis” as its preferred avenue of disinformation in 1989, with Elgin and Marie Long’s defunct Navy and Coast Guard verdict relegated to backup status as a secondary diversion for the confused.
For some unknown reason far beyond my ken, someone at the magazine also decided to include the ideas of one Bill Snavely, who, up until his mention in this story has been a total unknown in Earhart circles. Do a google search, combining his name with “Earhart,” and you will find absolutely nothing.
I’d never heard of Bill Snavely and his Bouganville claims, nor has any other Earhart researcher I’ve asked, but the fact that Travel Channel featured his crackpot ideas, along with Australian David Billings and his New Britain theory, and Gillespie, of course, in a two-hour documentary Jan. 8 was simply further confirmation that the establishment has no room for the truth, but will happily put any kind of nonsense out there to distract and misinform the public.
“This was a complete waste of a serious Earhart enthusiast’s time,” an AES member wrote in its online forum. “It compares to Geraldo Riviera’s search for Capone’s artifacts in Chicago many years ago. Can you imagine searching for downed aircraft in the jungles of New Britain with flash lights at night? Gillespie’s comment of 100 percent got me all shocked up.”
A Crack in the Door
From the beginning of our correspondence, I felt that Adler planned to include some discussion of Truth at Last only because he was told to do so. Sure, the former Newsweek reporter names Truth at Last in his piece, but he has little good say about it, other than admit I present “a mountain of testimony from American servicemen and Pacific Islanders to show that an American man and woman landed in the Marshalls in 1937 and were taken to Saipan, although apparently they never introduced themselves by name (italics mine).”
Adler also does well when he introduces the history of Saipan research by spending more than a paragraph on Thomas E. Devine’s eyewitness account presented in his 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, and he calls Devine’s story “riveting.” A pretty good start, I thought, but one that failed to deliver on its promise.
As our email conversations proceeded (we never actually spoke on the phone), Adler said he had “skimmed” Truth at Last “for my own purposes” in researching his story, and wrote that he found its argumentation “persuasive.” He also asked a few intelligent questions that indicated he’d spent at least a few minutes thinking about what he’d read. But in his story, the best he could manage was to write, “it’s possible to come away thinking Campbell is on to something.” Thus do Adler and Smithsonian magazine engage in the literary equivalent of throwing a bare bone to the poor, starving dog in the back yard that was abandoned by its owners when they moved. I exaggerate only slightly.
Adler did grant my request to include my statement, ”FDR could never have survived public knowledge that he failed to help America’s No. 1 aviatrix of the Golden Age of Aviation,” a pleasant surprise. Editors also displayed the four Amelia Earhart 50th Anniversary Commemorative stamps issued in 1987 by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, thereby proving at least one solid fact about the Earhart case – that Amelia’s landing at Mili and pickup by the Japanese is accepted as fact by the people of that free country. The few Westerners who will ever visit these remote islands can be sure they won’t be subjected to any local media shilling for the latest phony discoveries in the “Earhart Mystery.” The Marshallese people don’t wonder about what happened to Amelia; they already know.
Otherwise, Adler finds ways — all questionable or flatly illegitimate — to deprecate nearly everything about Truth at Last he thinks he can get away with. He also strongly suggests, by his tone, that he considers its author to be among “a group that includes serious historians as well as wild-eyed obsessives, who pile up scraps of evidence into conspiracies reaching right up to the White House” – and it’s clear it’s not among “serious historians” where he thinks anyone should be looking for me.
A close examination of the paragraph that ends with Adler’s grudging admission that I might be “on to something” could easily lead readers to wonder why he even bothers, as he cherry picks what he sees as the easiest targets and attempts to discredit them. First of all, I fail to see how he can write that Truth at Last “is filled with mysterious disappearances, cryptic warnings from sinister strangers and suspicious deaths,” without providing a single example or even explaining the significance of this baseless observation.
He casts a negative pall on Adm. Chester Nimitz’s statement to Fred Goerner – never denied or disputed by Nimitz after Goerner presented it in his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart – because it was in a phone conversation and Goerner was the “only source,” but he overlooks the statement of Gen. Graves Erskine, former V Amphibious Corps second in command during the Saipan invasion, to CBC West Coast President Jules Dundes and KCBS reporter Dave McElhatton: “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan.”
Adler asserts that much of the evidence in the book is “second- or third-hand,” as if such testimony is unworthy of our consideration. But he conveniently ignores the many direct eyewitness accounts from unimpeachable native witnesses such as Josephine Blanco Akiyama, Anna Diaz Mogofna, Bilimon Amaron, Dr. Manual Aldan, Louis Igitol and John Tobeke, among others, as well as Americans including Erskine, Jim Golden, Robert E. Wallack, Erskine Nabers, Jerrell H. Chatham, Arhur Nash, Henry Duda and many others.
He also fails to mention that the 1960 Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Report has been thoroughly ignored by the entire media since its declassification in 1967; instead he focuses on a single hearsay statement that was included in this report. Citing Devine’s extensive argumentation from Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, I rebutted this revealing yet still unknown document’s findings at length in Truth at Last, which Adler also decided wasn’t worth mentioning.
Nathanial Hawthorne’s infamous scarlet “A” long ago ceased to be a symbol of shame in American, as adultery became a mainstream pastime; now it’s the “C” word, for the despised “conspiracy theorist” that so cruelly taints those smeared by it, fairly or unfairly. It’s a tool of Adler’s trade, but not once throughout our 11-day email discussion did I use this word to describe anything about the Earhart story – most of which he was hearing, or more accurately, reading for the first time.
But in his story, he uses the “C” word not once, but twice in references to me, an undeserved cheap shot by which he signals his readers how they should regard my work. This postmodern aversion to the word is itself absurd, as if no conspiracies have ever existed, and anyone who believes differently is to be assiduously avoided.
Adler cites not a single instance in Truth at Last where I engage in any speculation resembling that of the “wild-eyed obsessives” he describes in the opening of his story. When I quote Fred Goerner’s ideas about why President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely prevented release of the truth about the Japanese capture of Earhart and Noonan in a subsection titled “Roots of the Cover-Up” (pages 353-358), or quote from numerous sources about their knowledge of secret files and a concerted government effort to conceal the truth, does this make me a conspiracy theorist?
Apparently so, but virtually everything I present is labeled appropriately, and the reader understands that this information isn’t about what I think, but about what many of this story’s key characters knew, found and believed through the years that strongly suggested and even sometimes clearly illustrated active government participation in suppressing the truth about what happened to Amelia Earhart.
This use of the “C” word is just another way Adler tried to undermine my work, but it also tells discerning readers that the truth has once again received short shrift, this time from the trusted Smithsonian magazine. If he was really trying to “fairly represent” my work, as he stated during our correspondence, he failed miserably.
“In Earhart’s fate,” Adler writes in conclusion, “we see a reflection of our own deepest fears – the laughing, carefree young woman taking off on a grand adventure, and never coming back.” Perhaps, but anyone with eyes and without an agenda can also see, on regular display, the mendacious work of sophists and propagandists such as Gillespie, Crouch and Long, aided and enabled by writers such as Adler, many lesser talents and the rest of the dubious cast of characters who populate this sordid drama.
The condescension and pervasive relativism that characterize this piece, and which are especially pronounced at its close, are emblematic of the zeitgeist that rules today’s Earhart media coverage. Adler doubtless believes he’s been fair to me and the conspiracy theorists, and he’s now onto his next assignment, all thoughts of the Earhart story behind him. He knows he’s done his job, to maintain the status quo, and keep the myth, the template, the narrative, the conventional wisdom and the Big Lie about the “Earhart Mystery” alive and well, and he’s led readers to as few of the facts as possible while retaining a semblance of credibility in the eyes of the uninformed.
The aging elephant in the room, the Marshall Islands-Saipan Truth, has again been effectively marginalized while not being completely ignored, but the far more respectable and acceptable Earhart “theories” continue to rule the day. All is well; move along, sheeple, there’s nothing to see here.
A few friends have offered congratulations on my work finally being recognized in such a prestigious publication. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, and being included is far better than being ignored. Adler’s narrative on aspects of the Marshall Islands-Saipan scenario, slanted though it is, is still more than Smithsonian or any of its elite relatives have recently managed, at least to my knowledge. But though Adler named Truth at Last, putting it on the map, so to speak, he didn’t recommend it or describe it in such a way that any but a precious few will to seek it out. I remain curious about who at the magazine decided that Truth at Last should be included in this story. It clearly wasn’t Adler, so if anyone should be thanked, it would be this person, likely the story’s chief editor.
Finally, I think the most unfortunate aspect of the Smithsonian article lies in a profound cynicism that prevented Jerry Adler from understanding and appreciating Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
This longtime veteran of the information wars is apparently unable to recognize and appreciate the many years of dedication, hard work and a love and respect for the truth that went into the creation of this book, and he missed a real opportunity to make a difference. Either that, or he did see these things in whole or in part, and was able to overlook them, in compliant duty to the establishment he serves.