Today we present another installment in the fascinating correspondence between Fred Goerner and Fred Hooven. In this March 1971 letter from Goerner, he treats Hooven to a scathing review of Amelia Earhart Lives: A Trip Through Intrigue to Find America’s First Lady of Mystery, Joe Klaas’ 1970 bid for Earhart glory that will forever live in infamy as the most damaging of all the Earhart disappearance books ever penned.
Thanks chiefly to Klaas, an otherwise fine writer with nine books to his credit, and his precocious crony Joe Gervais, whose multiple delusions are featured throughout Amelia Earhart Lives, legitimate Earhart research, particularly of the kind that supports and reveals the Marshall Islands-Saipan truth, has been forever tainted in the public mind and more eagerly discredited by the establishment media, already dead set against release of the truth since the earliest days.
The centerpiece of the insanity in Amelia Earhart Lives is Gervais’ “recognition” of Amelia Earhart, returned from Japan, in the person of American housewife Mrs. Guy Bolam, who he met on Aug. 8, 1965 at the Sea Spray Inn on the Dunes, in East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y. If you’re not familiar with the story behind this catastrophe, I wrote a four-part series that will tell you far more than you probably want to know.
It begins with my Dec. 29, 2015 post, “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV” and continues consecutively, describing the entire sordid affair and its incredible aftermath. But here’s Goerner’s 1971 missive to Hooven, which boils it all down to a neat little dollop. (Boldface mine throughout.)
Dear Fred, March 2, 1971
How are you and Martha? Are you completely recovered from your accident? Are you ever coming back to S.F.? Merla has two wall clocks she wants fixed and I am totally incapable.
This letter is months overdue. The passage of time apparently is accelerating. Then, too, the longer letters always come last. Human nature, I guess, to tackle the shorties first. Give more of a feeling of accomplishment to mail ten short letters rather than one long one.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, by the way, and since neither of us bother with cards.
Amelia Earhart is not alive and well and living in New Jersey — and nowhere else. Unfortunately. How those guys thought they were going to get away with that gambit I haven’t yet been able to figure out. I guess they figured that the truth is so hard to come by these days that it would never really catch up with them.
I think they were both smoking pot when they dreamed up their script. In case you didn’t get it all, it goes like this:
AE and Noonan are shot down by Japanese carrier aircraft onto Hull Island in the Phoenix Group from whence they are picked up and spirited first to Saipan and then to Japan. FDR is blackmailed by the Japanese into giving up the plans for the Hughes racing plane which is adapted by the Japanese into the Zero fighter plane. AE is kept prisoner in the Imperial Palace and during WWII she is forced to broadcast to American troops under the guise of Tokyo Rose. And the end of WWII, Emperor Hirohito trades AE back to the U.S. with the bargain that he be permitted to retain the Japanese throne. AE is sneaked back to the U.S. disguised as a Catholic nun whereupon she assumed the identity of one Irene (Mrs. Guy) Bolam.
If it were not for the fact that Mrs. Bolam was outraged, the authors might have achieved their purpose: A bestseller. Mrs. Bolam scuttled them with dispatch and McGraw-Hill took a black eye. Yet the human willingness to suspend disbelief always amazes me. Some people accepted the entire creation and it is no small task to disabuse them of that desire to believe in limitless conspiracy.
Enclosed find a recent epistle from AE’s sister, Mrs. Albert Morrissey, which reveals how the family felt about the disclosures [not available]. The photo Muriel mentions is one the two authors submitted as placing AE in Japanese custody in Japan. In the photo, AE is wearing the kimono and bracelet referred to by Mrs. Morrissey. The photo was actually taken in a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu in 1935 at the time of AE’s Hawaii to California solo flight.
Along with that small flaw, nothing else in the book bears scrutiny, either. For instance, Hull Island was populated with several hundred persons in 1927 under British administration. U.S. Navy planes landed in the Hull Island lagoon in the week following the AE disappearance, and no sign of AE or the Japanese had been seen by anyone. As Hull is a very tiny coral atoll, there was no mistake. The authors, however, produced a photo supposed taken from a U.S. Navy plane above Hull Island which shows the wreckage of AE’s plane on a beach with a Japanese flag planed beside it. The picture also shows some rather large hills in the background. This provides some embarrassment because the highest point of land on Hull rises only nine feet above sea level.
Ah, but they have really muddied the waters. I despair at reaching anything like the complete truth at this point. But I will keep trying simply because my nature is such that I don’t know how to do anything else.
(Editor’s note: So compelling was the siren song of the Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth that some otherwise rational souls remained in its thrall even after the overwhelming evidence against this pernicious lie became well known. Soon after Amelia Earhart Lives hit the streets, Irene Bolam filed a defamation lawsuit against McGraw-Hill that forced the publisher to pull all copies of the book bookshelves nationwide, and Bolam reportedly settled for a huge, undisclosed sum.
In 2003, retired Air Force Col. Rollin C. Reineck, a charter member of the Amelia Earhart Society, self-published Amelia Earhart Survived, possibly the worst Earhart disappearance book ever, in a vain attempt to resurrect the odiferous corpse of the Bolam theory. To this day, there are some who continue to push this insidious nonsense upon the unwary.)
We never have gotten launched on that final Pacific jaunt. One thing after another after three others has always emerged. Now I’m shooting for this summer with some Air Force cooperation. Canton Island, which has air facilities and close to the area we wish to search, is currently under Air Force-SAMSO (Space and Missile Systems Organization) control. I addressed the Air Force Academy Cadets and their faculty two weeks ago on the Credibility Gap, and I believe we have an arrangement forged for the necessary cooperation. If you have changed your mind with respect to a little light adventure, let me know. [See Truth at Last pages 174-175 for more on Goerner’s expedition that never got under way.]
Within the last few weeks there has been an interesting development: A Mrs. Ellen Belotti of Las Vegas, Nevada, came forward with some reports from the Pan American Airways radio direction finder stations at Wake, Midway and Honolulu which deal with the Earhart case. Mrs. Belotti was secretary to G.W. Angus, Director of Communications for Pan [sic] in 1937, and she was given the task of coordinating the reports. She states that one day several U.S. Navy officers who identified themselves as from the Office of U.S. Naval Intelligence appeared at the office (PAN AM) and confiscated all of the reports dealing with Earhart. She says the Pan Am people were warned at the time not to discuss the matter with anyone, and that the reports were to be considered secret and any copies of the reports were to be destroyed.
Mrs. Belotti says she decided not to destroy her copies of the reports because she believed the Navy did not have the right to require that of Pan Am. She also felt a fair shake was not being given to her idol, Amelia.
She did, however, keep silence over all the years, but now she thinks the truth should be told.
The reports really don’t tell very much except for the fact that some signals were picked up by the three Pan Am stations which they believed came from Earhart. The bearings place the location of the signals in the Phoenix Island area between Canton and Howland Island. Strangely, the time of the reception of the signals matches up with reports of amateur radio operators along the West Coast who stated they had received signals from the AE plane.
The only reason I can think of that the Navy would want to quash such information is that Naval Intelligence Communications were not anxious for the Japanese to learn that we had such effective high-frequency DF’s in operation in the Pacific. Much valuable intelligence information was gained between 1938 and 1941 by DF’s monitoring Japanese fleet activity in the Pacific area, and particularly within the Japanese mandated islands.
I have also enclosed copies of the Pan Am reports for you to peruse. I’d love to hear your opinion of them.
Merla is doing great. Still turning out her column for the S.F. CHRONICLE. She joins me in sending warm, warm, warm, warm, warm, best wishes to you both and in issuing a permanent invitation for you to come and be our house guests for as long as you like.
Fred Goerner died in 1994, Joe Gervais in 2005, and in 2016 Joe Klaas passed away at age 95. It’s a shame that Klaas should be remembered chiefly for writing history’s most notorious and controversial Earhart book, as he led a remarkable life distinguished by more admirable achievements.
Klaas began his World War II service by flying British Supermarine Spitfires as an American volunteer in the Royal Air Force. After Pearl Harbor, Klaas transferred to the U.S. Army Air Force and fought in the North African invasion of Morocco, as well as the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns, where he was shot down and captured by Arabs who sold him to the Nazis for $20. Klaas spent 25 months in German prison camps, escaped to be recaptured and worked for the X-Committee that planned “The Great Escape” from prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft III.
For more on Klaas’ life and World War II exploits, please click here.
Cameron A. “Cam” Warren, former longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, may be still with us at 95 in Fountain Hills, Ariz., but my current information on him is limited. Warren was among the better known of the “crashed-and-sankers” in the AES, along with former ONI agent Ron Bright and Gary LaPook.
Warren and Robert R. Payne, former editor of the Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association newsmagazine, CRYPTOLOG, who passed away in 2015, at some point joined to complete Capt. Laurence F. Safford’s unfinished manuscript of Earhart’s Flight Into Yesterday. Safford was among the most important of the founding fathers of U.S. Navy cryptology, and was closely involved with the Navy’s code-breaking efforts more or less constantly until shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
His 2003 book is an analysis of the final flight as seen from a strong crashed-and-sank bias, which is revealed without pretense in a brief chapter toward its conclusion, “Survival Theories.” Here Warren and Payne incredibly write that Safford’s criticism caused Goerner to “reverse his opinion about the survival theory, and joined Safford in his belief of a crash-landing into the sea.” This is an outrageously false contention and defies credulity, given the large volume of Goerner’s work, in which he never denounced his conviction in the fliers’ Saipan demise, though he did inexplicably reverse his ideas about the landing at Mili Atoll. This writer even devoted a chapter in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, “Goerner’s Reversal and Devine’s Dissent” to a discussion of Goerner’s bizarre and still unexplained change.
The foregoing has little direct connection to the following brief tribute by Warren to the great inventor and Earhart researcher Frederick J. Hooven, which appeared in the November 1997 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter. We’ll hear more from Hooven in the future, and from Safford as well.
“The Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart”
by Cam Warren
Over the years, there have been many people on the trail of Earhart and Noonan, ranging from the idly curious to the truly brilliant. Theories as to the fate of the famous couple have similarly varied from the ridiculous to the sublime, but all have at least a kernel of truth as their root source. So the speculation continues and so does the intense analysis and re-examination of the ideas, clues and factual data. One man stands out among the serious researchers, uniquely equipped to dispassionately consider the mountain of information, and who — had he lived longer — might have solved the mystery with all the storied ability of Sherlock Holmes himself.
Frederick J. Hooven, inventor, engineer and Dartmouth professor first met Amelia when she arrived at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio in 1936. She was there to have a direction finder installed in her Electra, and the device was an advanced model designed by Hooven himself. Here was a man who, at the age of 15, had met Wilbur Wright, and sought his advice on an aircraft that young Fred and his pals would attempt to build, unsuccessfully, as it turned out. Later, in 1978, Hooven completed a computer analysis of the Wright Brother’s plane and determined the plane was inherently unstable. “The only reason the flight worked was because the Wrights were such good pilots,” he once told the Boston Globe.
Hooven’s DF (direction finder), which operated on the conventional low frequency bands, featured a small loop in a low-drag streamlined housing, and though the original design circuits were deemed unreliable by operators at the time, the system would eventually be made automatic in its operation, and as the “ADF” (automatic direction finder), would become the de-facto standard for commercial aviation for many years. Unfortunately, perhaps, the Hooven system was removed from the Electra soon after installation and replaced by another prototype which Bendix people were hoping to sell to the U.S. Navy. It purported to utilize high frequency (3-10 megacycle) radio waves, especially 7.5 megacycles, corresponding to the amateur’s cherished 40-meter band. Apparently Earhart and her husband, promoter George Putnam, were led to believe it was a magic device. It wasn’t, and Lawrence Hyland, who was a Bendix vice president at the time, later denied it was aboard when the Electra disappeared.
Hooven, who died in 1985, was the holder of 38 U.S. patents, including a short-range radar set for World War I bombers, and landing systems for other aircraft. His interest was not confined to aviation electronics, for among his many other accomplishments were such developments as front-wheel drive for GM cars, computers, photo-typesetters and the first successful heart-lung machine. He was a 1927 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, and worked in GM Research for 25 years, before leaving to pursue other interests. Employed for a time by Vince Bendix, they later had a falling out when Hooven became dismayed with Bendix’ over-zealous business activities.
Professor Hooven’s interest returned to Earhart on the publication of Fred Goerner’s book in 1966. He began a lively and very extensive correspondence with Goerner, whose research into the Earhart puzzle never ceased in his lifetime. They became close friends, and Hooven devoted more and more time to combing through Goerner’s writings and spoken observations, seeking the solution to the mystery. His (incomplete) conclusions are of more than passing interest, considering his scientific background and research experience.
Despite the “final” conclusions of the U.S. Navy, Hooven was substantially convinced that the “post-splash” radio messages intercepted by Pan Am DF stations in the Central Pacific (and several serious “hams”) were authentic. That of course meant Earhart had somehow landed on an island or atoll and used her radio to call for help. Hooven, in an article he wrote in 1982, did not address the issue of the “plane in the water,” but apparently assumed a wheels-down landing on firm ground, in order that one of the Electra’s motors could be operated briefly for battery charging. At one point in his correspondence with Goerner, he suggested that at least one “of the intercepted calls from the plane gave aural evidence of radio operation with a recharging battery.”
Given the possibility of such a landing, and the Pan Am coordinates, he favored McKean or perhaps Gardner Island (Nikumaroro), and calculated her gasoline supply would have allowed her to fly that far. It seemed highly likely to Hooven that the crew and perhaps the Electra were recovered by the Japanese prior to the arrival of COLORADO’s search planes several days later. This would tend to confirm the Marshall Island scenario, with AE and Noonan later taken to Saipan, and explain why no trace of plane or crew were ever found on either island. Of course, Richard Gillespie of TIGHAR seized the idea of Nikumaroro, without credit to Hooven, incidentally, but continues to deny any possibility Noonan and Earhart didn’t linger there despite much evidence (or lack thereof) to the contrary.
Why did the Navy discount this whole scenario? Hooven raises the question of intercepted code. If our military was aware, via partial code-breaking, of what the Japanese had done, they faced a serious dilemma. Confronting the Japanese would tip that nation off that their secret codes had been compromised, and if this was the case, the value of our eavesdropping in the immediate pre-war climate would have to outweigh the rescue of Earhart and Noonan. This theory fits the puzzle so neatly it boggles the imagination; suffice to say that at this point in time no hint of such intercept capability in 1937 has surfaced. Neither Captain Safford nor Rear Adm. Edwin T. Layton (Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s intelligence officer, and a likely source for Nimitz’s broad hints to Goerner on the subject) have ever so much as dropped a hint, despite the sensitive revelations both made in their post-war comments on the Pearl Harbor debacle.
(Editor’s note: Based on several credible researchers’ findings, the above statement by Warren, that in 1937 the U.S. Navy did not have the capability to intercept Japanese naval radio messages, is false. See pages 261-264 Truth at Last for more.)
Hooven was not infallible, of course, but any misstatements were traceable to inaccurate information, such as the viability of “reefs reported south of Howland“ as emergency landing places. It was several years after Professor Hooven died before that idea was conclusively proved false, which caused some serious corrections on both U.S. and British naval documents. Despite a minor flaw or two, Hooven’s contribution to Earhart research is substantial, and given his scientific background, extremely valuable. Had he lived longer, he truly might have “found” Earhart. (End of “The Man Who (Nearly) Found Earhart.”)
Hooven was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1905, met Orville Wright as a child and by age 15 was a regular visitor to the Wrights’ Dayton laboratory. After graduating from MIT in 1927, he was hired by General Motors, and rose to vice president and chief engineer of the Radio Products Division of Bendix Aviation Corporation by 1935. He died in 1985.
In my May 15, 2017 post, “Hooven’s 1966 letter to Fred Goerner quite clear: Removal of his radio compass doomed Earhart” we saw the first of many letters between Hooven and Fred Goerner. We’ll see more of the fascinating exchanges between these two giants of Earhart research in future posts.
In service to the higher cause of disseminating truth about Amelia Earhart’s tragic disappearance and our government’s continued refusal to admit or reveal it, and at the risk of giving away the store, today’s post is basically an extract of a subsection of Chapter XIV, “The Care and Nurture of a Sacred Cow,” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. I’ve taken a few editorial liberties, made some additions and subtractions, but most of this subsection, “Carrol Harris, Admiral Joseph Wenger, and the Crane Files,” is presented below. Since I’m quoting from my own work, I will not indent as I would with quoted material from others.
Carroll Harris, of Sacramento, California, a retired Highway Patrol dispatcher and Navy veteran, contacted Fred Goerner in 1980. Harris told Goerner that he’d worked for the chief of naval operations in Washington from 1942 until early 1945, and was responsible for the office’s highly classified vault. Harris said a top-secret file on Amelia Earhart was maintained during the war, and he saw it many times.” Harris often worked the night shift,” Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1982, “and to speed the time he familiarized himself with many of the files. There were many files on the USS Panay bombing by the Japanese, files on the Pearl Harbor attack, and a file (about 2/3 of a drawer or about 26 inches of material) dealing with Earhart.”
Harris said the file covered a wide variety of issues, including the logistics of the flight, official positions to be taken in the event information about Earhart was made public, radio transmissions, and most importantly, “attempts at rescue and communications with Earhart (AFTER HER CAPTURE),” according to Goerner. “Harris said the file was added to during the war after the invasions of the Marshalls and the Marianas. He says it was basically the same info we have come up with concerning Japanese capture (of AE).” (Emphasis Goerner’s.)
In a 1982 letter to Goerner, Harris said the office that housed the Earhart files was the “Secret and Confidential Mail and File Room—OP 020.” A year later Harris wrote to Vice Admiral Kent J. Carroll, head of the Military Sealift Command, providing extensive details of OP 020 in the misplaced hope that Carroll, who was friendly with Goerner, would help locate the missing Earhart records.
According to Harris, the Secret and Confidential Mail and File Room was located in Room 2055, in the “Navy Department building on Constitution Avenue“ (officially known as the Main Navy Building). The vault containing the secret files “was located in one corner of Room 2055,” Harris wrote. “After being there several months I was authorized full access to the vault, as one of the enlisted group cleared to handle and transmit TOP SECRET matter. Chief John Aston showed me where ‘special’ files/documents were: The Wiley Post/Will Rogers crash; The Panay Yangtze River Gunboats Inquiry; The Pearl Harbor Inquiry and The Amelia Earhart File. All these items were retained in one file cabinet; the Earhart file and the Wiley Post/Will Rogers crash papers were contained in one drawer. . . . The Earhart papers had been filed under numerous classifications and been gathered under the number(s) A12/FF.” (Emphasis Harris’.)
In mid-1944, Harris said he was ordered to microfilm the secret files in Room 2055. Once the job was completed, he told Goerner that a “copy went to the Naval Historian at Annapolis, Maryland, one copy went to the Naval Ammunition Depot at Crane City [sic], Indiana and we retained one.” The original records, Harris said, “were packed loosely so that upon arrival at National Archives they could be placed in a chamber for fumigation . . . prepatory [sic] to refilming on 35mm. The Earhart material was among these records.” This aspect of Harris’ account is troubling.
Why would the classified Earhart files be sent to a Navy historian and the National Archives, when neither is known for housing such sensitive documents? Goerner’s files provide no answers about why such volatile secrets would be sent to those locations.
Goerner focused on the Naval Ammunition Depot at Crane, where The Naval Security Group Detachment was established in 1953 and disestablished in 1997, moving to the Commander Naval Security Group Headquarters at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. In my December 2008 e-mail correspondence with officials at Crane, now known as “Crane Division, Naval Surface Warfare Center,” they were unable or unwilling to shed any light on whether the facility was receiving classified material from other Navy agencies in 1945.
“It took me more than three years to get the Navy to admit the records existed,” Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1988. “Through the Freedom of Information Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Ms. Gwen Aiken in charge, I filed for access to the records.” After twenty-eight months of silence, Aiken finally told Goerner that many records had been sent to Crane and asked him to be patient while a “couple of officers” reviewed them.
Goerner’s patience was running out, so he contacted his “old friend,” Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who had favorably reviewed his book for San Francisco magazine. Several months later, Weinberger informed Goerner that Crane held “some 14,000 reels of microfilm containing Navy and Marine Corps cryptological records, which, under National Security Regulations must be examined page-by-page. They cannot be released in bulk. To date, over 6,000 reels have been examined in this manner and the sheer mass prevents us from predicting exactly how long it will take to examine the remaining reels.”
Carroll Harris’ story wasn’t the first time Crane had come to Goerner’s attention. In April 1968 he met retired Rear Adm. Joseph Wenger, a pioneer in the development of cryptanalysis machines and head of the Navy Security Group Command in Washington during most of World War II. A few months later, Goerner reminded Wenger of his April statement that he’d “gained permission to investigate intercepted Japanese messages from the period of our concern . . . I believe you mentioned the documents were in storage at NSD [Naval Supply Depot] Crane, Indiana” Goerner also wrote to ask Wenger if Ladislas Farago’s claim in his 1967 book, The Broken Seal, that “Commander [Laurance] Safford had all the Japanese codes and ciphers cracked” in 1936 was correct, in light of other books advancing differing claims. Wenger replied that he was “not at liberty to comment on the discrepancies” because the “Department of Defense has adopted a strict ‘no comment’ policy about such matters.”
In other letters during the two-year period prior to his death in 1970, Wenger assured Goerner he was looking into the naval intelligence intercepts at Crane, and asking former cryptologists at the key communications intelligence radio stations about their recollections of the July 1937 period.
Wenger wrote that the Navy had high-frequency direction finding stations in 1937 at Mare Island, California; Honolulu; Guam; and Cavite, Philippines. Though Wenger said he had no knowledge of any Navy ships with such HF/DF (high frequency/direction finding) capabilities, Goerner believed it was possible that some may have been using it on an experimental basis. “If so, it was a secret then and is still so today,” he told Fred Hooven in 1971. “The HF/DF to track Japanese fleet movements could have been the ‘black box’ of 1937. As the Captains have indicated, however, we soon found out that Japan, Germany and England were all ahead of us in the development of HF/DF in 1937.”
From Wenger, Goerner learned the Japanese had at “least a dozen radio directionfinder [sic] stations in the Marshall Islands by 1937 and were monitoring U.S. Fleet activity on a regular basis. All of this, I think, has some bearing . . . on the matter of the Earhart flight,” Goerner wrote, “and all the hassle about direction finders and messages received from the aircraft after the disappearance.”
Wenger, assigned to OP-20-G, the Navy’s signals intelligence and cryptanalysis group, from 1935 to 1938, told Goerner in 1968 that he could “recall nothing whatever from that time which had any bearing upon the [Earhart] flight, nor, when questioned, could one of my former subordinates who was likely to have known had anything been obtained.” In August 1969, Wenger claimed he had “personally reviewed all materials pertaining to the particular areas and time . . . but discovered nothing of any relevance [to Earhart] whatever.”
Somewhere along the way, Goerner must have realized he had encountered another bureaucratic stone wall, despite Wenger’s apparent willingness to help. “It occurs to me that if the Earhart affair became a matter of Presidential classification and a responsibility of COMINCH [Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet] Staff, all references to the subject may have been directed to one location,” Goerner wrote to Wenger in March 1969. Goerner was politely telling the admiral that he suspected any Earhart-related material found in the intelligence intercepts at Crane had been reclassified at the highest level and squirreled away long ago. In retrospect, it’s clear that Wenger was leading Goerner down the garden path and protecting the sacred cow, never with the slightest intention of helping the newsman.
In a 1978 letter that eerily presaged Michael Muenich’s 1992 missive [to be featured in a future post], Fred Hooven explored the military and political dilemma that Navy intelligence intercepts of Japanese radio messages revealing their capture of the fliers would have presented our leaders in 1937. “Suppose that the Navy had been monitoring the Japanese communications and ship movements in the Pacific sufficiently to have learned, or at least to have gotten a pretty good idea, that the Japanese had abducted Earhart and Noonan,” Hooven wrote.
What could they have done? They could not have taken action short of a military intervention to recover the fliers, and they could not have announced the fact (even if they were certain of it) without revealing the extent of their coverage of Japanese communications and operations, and their source of knowledge. It would also have raised an enormous storm of protest and indignation as well as being a national humiliation that we could ill afford, if we did not take bold action to recover the fliers. It could also be that we were pretty sure, but not sure enough to raise an international incident about it.
This would explain all the secrecy, the strident insistence that the messages received from the plane were all hoaxes, and the equally strident insistence that the plane had fallen into the sea. It would explain the tampering with the log to say “one-half hour of fuel left,” the male-chauvinistic references to Earhart sounding hysterical, ” etc. Since no such policy could have been decided without White House consultation, it would even explain the White House type interest in the situation.
Shortly after Hooven presented these ideas in his 1982 paper, Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight, he added a small caveat in a letter to Goerner: “So far as our theory about the US govt [sic] knowing about the Japanese abduction of the fliers, if so it must have been a secret shared by relatively few people, otherwise it would have leaked long before this.”
Caspar Weinberger may have believed he was being honest with Goerner, but his statement that the secrets of the Earhart disappearance were being stored among thousands of microfilm records of cryptological intelligence radio intercepts seems far-fetched. Then again, Weinberger might have expected Goerner to recognize his letter as a pro forma evasion. The defense secretary probably knew nothing about the Earhart case before Goerner told him about the alleged records at Crane, but Weinberger was soon informed about the special nature of the Earhart files. Goerner, of course, had no clearance to view the material even if something were found at Crane.
As Weinberger was leaving office in late 1987, he sent the newsman’s request to Navy Secretary James Webb, who told Goerner it would “take ten years or more to deliver an answer” about any Earhart information at Crane. “Never mind that the Navy claims ALL records from pre-WWII and WWII have been released,” an irate Goerner wrote to Jim Golden. “Never mind that we WON WORLD WAR II in a little less than four years. [Emphasis Goerner’s.] It will take more than a decade to look at some records. Never mind that in ten years most of the people from WWII will be dead. They don’t deserve to know of their own history.”
Goerner didn’t express his frustration to Weinberger or Webb, but he must have known that the Earhart files were not among the 8,000 reels that still needed review, according to Weinberger. “Gad, some of those people who have been trying to cover up for so long must hate my guts,” Goerner told Golden. “But, damn it, I won’t give up as long as I have a breath.” (End of Truth at Last excerpt.)
Gary Boothe, of Floyd County, Va., lived on Saipan as a child from 1958 to 1962. Both parents were teachers for the U.S. Navy civilian administration, teaching local students at Saipan Intermediate School. They also taught for the U.S. Trust Territory in the Caroline islands at Chuuk and Yap. Gary is retired from the U.S. Postal Service and has made several trips to visit islands in Micronesia, including Saipan, where the below photo was taken in June 2018.
Recently Gary listened to an old reel-to-reel tape that his father left, and he made an amazing discovery. It appears to be the first KCBS radio report filed by Fred Goerner upon his return to San Francisco following his late June to mid-July 1960 investigation there.
This is the first time I’ve ever heard this recording. Moreover, I’ve never heard another researcher claim to have it. This is a rare collector’s item that I gladly share with you, dear reader. Since my WordPress blog format will not allow the posting of MP3s or other audio formats, my friend Dave Bowman, author of Legerdemain (2007), The Story of Amelia Earhart (2012), A Waiting Dragon: A fresh and audacious look at the Mystery of Amelia Earhart (2017) and others, has agreed to host the MP3 file of Goerner’s 1960 KCBS production on his website. To listen to Goerner’s report please click here.
The 15-minute report parallels Goerner’s narrative in his bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart (pages 41-52, First Edition) about his initial Saipan visit, in mid-June 1960. He speaks of how he “set about enlisting the aid of the fathers of the Church,” as virtually all the locals on Saipan were Catholic. Monsignor Oscar Calvo, and Fathers Arnold Bendowske and Sylvan Conover served as translators during Goerner’s interrogations of what he variously reported as 200 to 300 potential witnesses, ensuring he would be getting the truth, in contrast to the lie so often spread by our media that the Saipan witnesses told Goerner “what he wanted to hear.”
The report doesn’t state its airing date, but it was on or about July 1, 1960, the date of Linwood Day’s stunning, front-page story in the San Mateo Times, headlined “Amelia Earhart Mystery Is Solved,” and an “all media news conference . . . in Studio B at KCBS in the Sheraton-Palace Hotel in San Francisco,” according to Goerner (p. 62 Search).
He names only a few of his “original 13 witnesses“ named in his 1966 bestseller, but quotes native dentist Manual Aldan, whose patients were Japanese officers: “I didn’t exactly see the man and the woman, but I heard from the Japanese official about one woman flier and a man that landed at a place (unintelligible) now called Tanapag. . . . I dealt with high officials on the island and knew what they were saying in Japanese. The name of the lady I heard used. This is the name the Japanese officer said — Earharto!”
Jose Rios Camacho (identified as Rios R. Camacho) told Goerner, “I was working at Tanapag Harbor. I saw the plane. It was heading across the island . . . in a northeasterly to southwesterly direction. It crashed in Tanapag area. I saw a Navy launch bring them to the beach. I saw the lady pilot and the man. She was dressed like a man. Her hair was short, it was brown. Afterwards they kept her in Tanapag.”
“The testimonies go on and on,” Goerner said. We have two-and-a-half hours on tape.”
In concluding, Goerner jumped the gun a bit in his enthusiasm to claim the salvaged parts might have come from the Earhart Electra, but that’s understandable. We know that they were later confirmed as coming from Japanese-made planes.
Still germane today is the yet-unanswered question about the plane that brought the fliers to Saipan. Was it a seaplane, as one would tend to believe, or a land-based plane that landed in the harbor because it was in trouble?
Goerner said that the plane that the two Saipanese dove on in Tanapag Harbor was the same one that brought the fliers to Saipan in 1937, and he may have been correct in this. If it was true, the plane that took the fliers to Saipan was not a Japanese seaplane, but a land-based plane that probably originated at Kwajalein, as two witnesses have attested (p. 150-154 Truth at Last).
This would have been more evidence to support the land-based-plane-crash-landing scenario at Tanapag Harbor, already strongly supported by several Saipanese witnesses who used the word “crashed” in describing the plane’s arrival. Seaplanes landing on water are not normally said to be “crashing. This conundrum is discussed at length in “The Saipan Witnesses” chapter of Truth at Last.
Much has been made by a few of the more conspiracy-minded researchers of Amelia Earhart’s disastrous crash at Luke Field, Hawaii, on March 20, 1937, during her takeoff on the second leg of her first world-flight attempt, which could have easily resulted in her death, as well as those of Fred Noonan and Harry Manning, who were also with her in the Electra that day. Some believed Amelia crashed on purpose.
First, some background might be helpful. The original world-flight plan called for an Oakland-to-Oakland flight via Honolulu, then on to Howland Island; Lae, New Guinea; and Port Darwin, Australia. “Part two, a lengthier stretch over fabulous lands,” as Earhart described it, “extended from Australia to the west coast of Africa by way of Arabia.”
Part three would take the Electra over the South Atlantic to Brazil and from there northward to the United States. Noonan would go as far as Howland and return to Hawaii by ship. Captain Harry Manning, a pilot, navigator, and master mariner of the United States Line, had agreed to serve as Earhart’s navigator and radio operator during the difficult early stages of the flight. Manning would stay until they reached Australia, and Earhart would fly the rest of the way alone.
The flight from Oakland to Honolulu went well, as Earhart, Noonan, Manning, and technical advisor Paul Mantz took off from Oakland Airport on March 17 at 4:37 p.m. Pacific time. They landed at Wheeler Field, Oahu, at 8:25 a.m. Pacific time, March 18, covering the 2,400 miles in a record 15 hours, 43 minutes. Once there, Mantz test flew the Electra, made repairs on the right propeller blades that became temporarily inoperative about six hours from Hawaii, and delivered the plane to the Navy’s Luke Field, on Ford Island near Pearl Harbor. With its 3,000-foot paved runway, Luke was considered more practical for the Electra’s 900-gallon fuel load.
But on the March 20 takeoff for the 1,900-mile flight to Howland Island, the Electra had covered about a thousand feet of runway when its right wing dropped, the right wheel and the undercarriage were torn away, and the plane slid along the runway, showering sparks before coming to rest. Miraculously, despite fuel leaking through the drain well of the belly, no fire erupted and no one was injured.
“Witnesses said the tire blew,” Earhart explained. “However, studying the tracks carefully, I believe that may not have been the primary cause of the accident. Possibly the right landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way. . . . For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course. But, alas, the load was so heavy, once it started an arc there was nothing to do but let the plane ground loop as easily as possible.” A wire report said Army aviation experts “expressed unofficial opinions that a landing gear failed just before the right tire of her plane burst.”
Art Kennedy, an aircraft technician for the Pacific Airmotive Company in Burbank, Calif., during the 1930s, offered a more sinister explanation for the crash in his 1992 autobiography, High Times, Keeping ‘em Flying. Kennedy first met Earhart in 1934 when he serviced her Lockheed Vega for a Bendix Trophy race, and directed the repairs of the Electra when it was shipped back to Burbank in boxes following the accident at Luke Field.
After a close examination of the plane’s damaged right wing, right gear, brakes and propellers, Kennedy said he realized the ground loop was not normal, but “forced,” and that Earhart purposely wrecked the plane. When confronted by Kennedy, she “told me not to mention it and to mind my own business,” he wrote.
Kennedy said he reminded her that an inspector was due the next day to make an official accident report and would recognize the plane’s condition would never have been caused by an accident. “Damn! I forgot about the gear,” Kennedy claimed she said. “Art, you and I are good friends. You didn’t see a thing. We’ll just force the gear back over to make it look natural. Will you promise me never to say anything about what you know?” Kennedy complied and swore he kept his word for 50 years.
Kennedy said Earhart told him she was ordered to abort the takeoff “and did it the only way she knew how.” According to Kennedy, she said “a lot depended on my keeping quiet about what I’d seen because she was going on a special mission that had to look like a routine attempt to go around the world. She said, ‘Can you imagine me being a spy?’ then she sort of tittered and added, ‘I never said that!’” Several researchers, including some who knew him well, have looked askance at Kennedy’s claims and pointed to his reputation as a well-known “bullshit artist,” as he himself admits in his book’s prologue. Who knows for sure?
Bill Prymak, who knew Kennedy well, was among those who joined Fred Goerner in dismissing Kennedy’s claims. Goerner laid out his reasons in a cordial 1992 letter to Ronald T. “Ron” Reuther (1929-2007), himself a remarkable and highly accomplished individual.
Reuther, a close friend of Goerner, founded the Western Aerospace Museum and was a revered, original member of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society. Reuther was unique among the elite of the aviation establishment in his support for the Marshalls Islands-Saipan truth in the Earhart disappearance, but these are mere footnotes in an impressive list of memorable achievements in a life well lived.
He was also a great naturalist who curated and directed the Micke Grove Zoo (Lodi, Calif.), the Cleveland Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Philadelphia Zoo. As director of the San Francisco Zoo, Reuther was instrumental in the creation of an amazingly successful project to teach the world-famous and recently deceased gorilla Koko sign language. Following is Goerner’s cordial 1992 letter to Reuther. All boldface is mine.
August 7, 1992
Mr. Ron Reuther
1014 Delaware Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Again you have proven to be a good friend!
Many thanks for your comments regarding my health, and extra thanks for sending along the chapter from Arthur Kennedy’s book, HIGH TIME [sic] — KEEPING ‘EM FLYING.
I’m more than a little happy to report that my recovery proceeds apace, although I have some distance to go in regaining strength.
The surgeons at the Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C., saved my life in a fifteen-hour operation, and I have just concluded the last of three week-long chemo sessions at Mount Zion Hospital here in San Francisco. The latest CT-scan is clean, so it appears that I have at least a few more years to plague family and friends.
With respect to the Kennedy comments about Earhart, the proverbial grain of salt applies.
Kennedy appears to have been influenced by the film FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM in which Earhart [is asked by the U.S. Navy purposefully to crash her plane in Hawaii so she can later undertake a secret mission. Kennedy alleges Earhart did just that and that Earhart even told him something about it. [Ed. note: Tony Carter is the character in Flight for Freedom that Goerner identified as Earhart, but the parallel was obvious.]
This reckons without the testimony of Harry Manning who was flying the right-hand seat alongside Earhart at the time of the Honolulu crack-up.
Harry became a good friend in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. As you will recall, Harry was the initial navigator for the around-the-world flight, and he later shared the duties with Fred Noonan.
Harry told me Earhart simply “lost it” on the takeoff, and there was no mystery about it whatsoever.
He said, “One second I was looking at the hangars and the next second the water. I thought we were going to die.”
The plane began to sway during takeoff, and according to Manning, Earhart tried to correct with the throttles and simply over-corrected. He said it wasn’t a matter of a tire blowing at all. It was pilot error with a load of 940 gallons of fuel. He added it was a miracle there was no fire.
As far as the rumor that Earhart ground looped the plane on purpose to delay the flight, he said it was a concoction of a script-writer. There was no truth to it whatsoever.
To accept such a conclusion, he added, one would have to accept that Earhart did not tell either himself (Manning) or Noonan what she planned to do. He said neither he nor Noonan would have been foolish enough to go along with such a plan which might end in death for all of them.
Harry also said if there was a need to delay the flight because of some secret mission, the easiest way to delay the flight was for Earhart to feign an illness which required her to return to California. Then they could have flown the Electra back to California instead of having the wrecked plane returned by ship.
Harry said by the time he got out of the wrecked plane and onto the runway he had already made up his mind that he no longer wanted any part of the flight. It has always been stated that Harry had to return to the command of his ship and that is why he left the flight, but the truth is he had had enough of both Earhart and Putnam.
Sometime when we have a chance for a face to face, I will tell you the whole Manning story. Harry wanted me to do a book about him and his career, but he died before the project could begin.
By the way, Harry Manning was a pilot himself, and he knew whereof he spoke.
I trust that all is well with you, Ron, and with your family.
Merla joins me in sending all good wishes to you and yours, and thanks again for your thoughtfulness in sending the Kennedy material to me.
With respect and admiration.
P.S. A chap named Bob Bessett of the Aviation Historical Society wanted me to appear tomorrow at Spenger’s to discuss Earhart along with Elgen Long and Richard Gillespie, who is flying in from Delaware. Alas, my doctor won’t turn me loose. I simply do not have the requisite strength yet. Oh, how I would love to train my guns on Gillespie. The man is a consummate rascal, and the Nikumaroro business is totally bankrupt. If you happen to attend tomorrow’s confrontation, give me a blow by blow. I’m sure Elgen and Gillespie will pea [sic] on each other’s shoes. (End of Goerner letter.)
Goerner had two more years before the cancer took him on Sept. 13, 1994.
Publicly unfazed by the near disaster at Luke Field, Earhart nonetheless changed the flight’s direction to an easterly route, explaining in Last Flight that weather differences in various locations after the three-month delay for repairs dictated the reversal:
The upshot of those consultations was, that I decided to reverse the direction originally chosen for the flight. Revising the Pacific program was a sizable task in itself. The Coast Guard had arranged its routine cutter cruise to Howland Island so as to be on hand there at the time of my flight, other provisions had been made by the Navy.
The original course from Brazil though Panama, Central America and Mexico would be replaced by a cross-country flight to Miami, a “practical shakedown flight, testing the rebuilt ship and its equipment . . . thereby saving the time of running such tests in California,” Earhart wrote, adding that any necessary adjustments or repairs could be made in Miami.
Do Goerner’s letter and Prymak’s dismissal of Kennedy’s claims really mark the end of the story? Can we really declare “case closed” with confidence, based on the word of these two experts, as well as what some of our own “better angels” would have us conclude?
The words of a few others might give some of the more suspicious among us reason to pause. We still don’t know precisely how much Amelia’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart knew, for example, as I discussed in a Dec. 9, 2014 post, “Amy Earhart’s stunning 1944 letter to Neta Snook.“
And in Amelia Earhart’s Radio (2006), respected researcher Paul Rafford Jr. made an astonishing revelation:
Yet Mark Walker, a Naval Reserve Officer, heard something different from Earhart. I heard about Mark from his cousin, Bob Greenwood, a Naval Intelligence Officer. Bob wrote to me about Mark and what he had heard.
Mark Walker was Pan Am copilot flying out of Oakland. He pointed out to Earhart the dangers of the world flight, when the Electra was so minimally equipped to take on the task. Mark claimed Earhart stated: “This flight isn’t my idea, someone high up in the government asked me to do it.”
“Earhart’s crack-up in Honolulu is a classic example of how minor events can change world history,” Rafford wrote. “Had she not lost control and ground looped during takeoff, Earhart would have left navigator Fred Noonan at Howland and radio operator Captain Harry Manning in Australia. Then, she would have proceeded around the world alone.
“Fate decreed otherwise.”