Tag Archives: Fred Goerner

Fred Goerner holds forth in 1987 radio broadcast

The following monologue from former KCBS Radio newsman, pre-eminent Earhart researcher and best-selling author Fred Goerner appeared in the November 1997 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  It’s a snapshot of Goerner’s thinking in 1987, just seven years before his death from cancer in 1994.  He’s clearly learned much since his 1966 bestseller The Search for Amelia Earhart was published, but he’s far from declaring,Case closed,and continues to speculate about major aspects of the Earhart case.  

The radio station remains unidentified, but it was likely a West Coast outlet, since Goerner lived in San Francisco and spent most of his time there, and could have been KCBS, where he was a prominent newsman during his Saipan investigations of the early 1960s.  Bold face emphasis is mine throughout.

“A Thorough Search for An Illusive Answer”
(Fred Goerner speaking on a radio broadcast in 1987)

. . . . I began the investigation in 1960, for the Columbia Broadcasting System. There was a woman named Josephine Nakiyama (sic, Akiyama is correct) who lived in San Mateo, CA who in 1960 stipulated that she had seen an American man and woman, supposedly fliers, in Japanese custody on the island of Saipan in 1937.   My reaction to the story was one of total and complete skepticism.  It seemed to me that many years after the fact, and 15 years after the end of World War II, that surely if there was such information, our government knew about it.

I was assigned by CBS to follow the story, and I was sent to Saipan for the first time in 1960.  I have been to Saipan 14 times since then.  I have been to the Marshall Islands 4 times.  I have been to our National Archives and other depositories around the country countless times, in search of extant records that deal with the disappearance and with respect to Miss Earhart’s involvement with the US Government at the time of her flight.

This is the photo of Josephine Blanco Akiyama that appeared in Paul Briand Jr.’s 1960 book Daughter of the Sky, and launched the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.  She died in January 2022 at 95.

This [effort] has now extended over 27 years.  You may wonder why I want to record my own statement.  It is simply because there are so many people who have involved themselves over the years, for various reasons.  When you present something, it often comes back to you in a different manner.  [Therefore] I would like to have a record of everything that I have said, so that if somebody is trying to quote me, I can definitely establish what it is I HAVE said and what I have not.

Let me say at the outset here, that there is no definite proof — I am talking about tangible evidence here – that Amelia Earhart was indeed in the custody of the Japanese and died in Japanese custody.  [However] there is a lot of other evidence that points to that possibility.  [For example:] it was the late Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz who became sort of a second father during the last years of his life, who kept my nose to this story.  He indicated to me that there were things behind it all that had never been released.

I wrote the book “The Search for Amelia Earhart” in 1966, and it did reach many people.  People in Congress and in the Senate began to ask questions of Departments of Government who, up to that time, had denied that there were classified records of any kind in any of the department of the military and/or government that dealt with Amelia Earhart.

It was not until 1968 that the first evidence began to surface.  At this juncture [1987], there have been over 25,000 pages of classified records dealing with Earhart’s involvement with the military.  As a sidelight, I think it is a supreme salute to Amelia that, 50 years after her disappearance, we are still concerned with finding the truth where this matter is concerned.  These records that have been released reveal clearly, unequivocally, that Amelia was cooperating with her government at the time of her disappearance.

The only bestseller ever penned on the Earhart disappearance, “Search” sold over 400,000 copies and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six months. In September 1966, Time magazine’s scathing review, titled “Sinister Conspiracy,” set the original tone for what has become several generations of media aversion to the truth about Amelia’s death on Saipan.

That does NOT mean that she was that terrible word, a SPY, although at one time we at CBS had suspected that this was a possibility.  Particularly when we learned that Clarence Kelly Johnson, at Lockheed Aircraft, had been the real technical advisor for her final flight.  Mr. Johnson later headed the U-2 program and our SR-71 supersonic reconnaissance program[s].  In conversations that I have had with Mr. Johnson, he has convinced me that Amelia was NOT on an overt spy mission.

The records do indicate, though, that Amelia’s plane was purchased for her by the (then) War Department, with the money channeled through three individuals to Purdue Research Foundation.  There was a quid pro quo: Amelia was to test the latest high frequency direction finder equipment that had intelligence overtones.  She was also to conduct what is known as “white intelligence,” but that [did] not make her a spy.  Civilians very often perform this function for their governments.  They are going to be in places at times where the military cannot visit.  All one does is to keep one’s eyes open and listen.  She was going to be flying in areas of the world then closed to the military.  Weather conditions, radio conditions, length of runways, fuel supplies, all information that would be of interest to the military.

Fred Goerner at KCBS Radio San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

They asked her to change her original flight plan to use Howland Island as a destination, and it was to that island she was headed at the time of her disappearance.  The United States was forbidden by the 1923 Washington Treaty Conference with Japan, to do anything of a military nature on these islands.  Amelia was to be the civilian reason for construction of an airfield [there] that could later be used for military purposes.

At the Amelia Earhart Symposium held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as few years ago, I revealed that Thomas McKean, who is [was] head of Intertel [Inc.], had been the Executive Officer of the 441st Counter-Intelligence Corps unit in Tokyo after the end of the war.  He had done the study for the CIC, and testified that a complete file was established at that time, [which included the information that] Amelia had been picked up by the Japanese and died in Japanese custody.

[Further] there have been over 40 witnesses on the island of Saipan who testified in the presence of church authorities.  From them information was gathered that claimed a man and woman answering the description of Earhart and Noonan were held in Japanese custody on the island in 1937, and that the woman died of dysentery sometime between 8 and 14 months after her arrival. And the man who accompanied her was executed after her death.  Had you been there too, you would have been won over [by their testimony].

A young Kelly Johnson and Amelia Earhart in an undated photo.

When I heard that information, I personally talked several times to Mr. Hams, and later recounted this story in a presentation [to government officials?] in Washington, D.C., where we began an effort to determine the existence of these records.  Several years went by, with naught save denials. Finally, an old friend of mine in San Francisco, Caspar Weinberger [then Sec. Of Defense] said, Well, we are going to find out.”  [Some time later] I received a call from the head of the Navy’s Freedom of Information Office in Washington.  She said, “We have good news and we have bad news.  The good news is that we have located the records [at Crane], but the bad news is it is part of 14,000 reels of information stored there.  We are sending some people to Crane to find out if [what you want] can be released.”  [Months later] there was a letter from Mr. Weinberger, dated April 20, 1967, which I quote:

Dear Fred:

In regard to the US Navy review of records in Crane, Indiana which you hope will reveal information about Amelia Earhart.  I understand your eagerness to learn the outcome of the Navy’s review.  Unfortunately, however, we are dealing with a very time-consuming and tedious task.  There are 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. It may be helpful for you to know that the Naval Group Command’s examination of the index [has] thus far revealed no mention of Amelia Earhart.  Should the information be discovered in the remaining reels however, it will be reviewed for release through established procedures and made available to you promptly and as appropriate.  I wish I could be more helpful, but I hope these comments will provide assurance that our Navy people are not capriciously dragging out the review.  Completion of the task will be a relief to everyone involved. 

Sincerely,

Cap

What do I believe after 27 years of investigating?  I have no belief.  There is a strong possibility that she was taken by the Japanese at a very precipitous time in Pacific history.   There is a possibility that, having broken the Japanese codes, Franklin Roosevelt knew she was in Japanese custody. Several times before the war the records that are now available indicate that he asked the Office of Naval Intelligence to infiltrate agents into the Marshall Islands to determine whether Earhart was alive or dead.  He also asked his friend Vincent Astor in 1938, to take his private yacht to those islands to seek out possible information, but the yacht was quickly chased away by the Japanese.

Fred Goerner’s “old friend,” Caspar Willard “Cap” Weinberger, secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1987, was another highly placed government official who helped erect and maintain the stone wall of silence around the top-secret Earhart files and led Goerner on a fruitless goose chase.  Weinberger told him that The Naval Security Group Detachment at Crane, Ind., 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,” strongly suggesting that the Earhart secrets might someday be found there.  They never were.

We do know of Roosevelt’s association with Amelia.  I do not believe it is a denigration of Earhart that she was serving her government.  I believe, instead of being categorized as a publicity seeker trying to fly around the world, that if she was serving her government in those capacities which are established, that she ought to be celebrated even further.

I have no hostility toward Japan.  In fact, one of the writers from that country, Fokiko Iuki [sic, correct is Fukiko Aoki, see my July 16, 2017 post on Susan Butler], who has done a book on [the Earhart disappearance] from the Japanese point of view, came to America and I assisted her in its preparation.  But until I have satisfied my mind where these last records [in Crane] are concerned, in particular the information from the CIC and the Navy Cryptological Security Units, I’m not going to let it stop there.  (End of Goerner’s radio broadcast.)

Knowledgeable Earhart observers will note that nowhere in this 1987 broadcast did Goerner mention where he believed the fliers landed, much less the fact that he later changed his mind about such a significant piece of the Earhart puzzle.

This topic is far too complex to cover here, but in the early years of his Saipan and Marshalls investigations, as well as in his 1966 book, Goerner was adamant that Earhart and Noonan landed at Mili Atoll, based on the significant amount of evidence supporting this all but certain scenario.  For much more, see Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Chapter VII, “The Marshall Islands Witnesses, pages 129-134 and Chapter VIII, “Goerner’s Reversal and Devine’s Dissent,” 172-178.

Joe Klaas’s ’99 AES email traces fliers’ movements

Joe Klaas, who died in February 2016 at his home in Monterey, Calif., at 95, was probably the most gifted writer of all Earhart researchers.  Unfortunately, Klaas was best known as the author of the most controversial — and damaging to legitimate research — Earhart book of all time, Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery (McGraw-Hill, 1970).

Klaas accomplished far more in his remarkable life than pen history’s most scandalous Earhart disappearance work.  Besides Amelia Earhart Lives, Klaas wrote nine books including Maybe I’m Dead, a World War II novel; The 12 Steps to Happiness; and (anonymously) Staying Clean.

In July 1999, long after the delusional Amelia Earhart Lives had done its insidious damage, Klaas wrote a fairly lengthy, pointed email to several associates at the Broomfield, Colo.-based Amelia Earhart Society including Bill Prymak and Rollin Reineck, presenting his vision of the movements of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan just after their July 2 landing in the Marshall Islands, though Klaas did not specify Mili Atoll or Barre Island as the location of the Electra’s descent. 

Joe Klaas, circa 2004, author of Amelia Earhart Lives, survived a death march across Germany in 1945 and wrote nine books including Maybe I’m Dead, in 1945 and passed away in February 2016.

Klaas’s email, with the subject “Keep it Simple (I HAD TO CLEAN THIS UP, OR WE’D ALL BE LOST!),” appeared in the October 1999 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout.

1937 Jaluit and Majuro residents said they heard a white woman pilot named “Meel-ya” and her companion, both prisoners, were thought to have been taken by Japanese ship to Saipan.

Others said they took her first to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan.

Medical corpsman Bilimon Amaron told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak:

“I overheard Japanese nearby say the ship was going to leave Jaluit to go to Kwajalein . . . from there it would maybe go to Saipan.” 

So the Japanese ship, Koshu, and Earhart and Noonan, were reported to have headed for Kwajalein. Naturally, all concerned assumed they were aboard the ship.  But no one saw them leave on it.  They assumed it.

Majuro Attorney John Heine, who saw the flyers in custody at Jaluit, said: “After the ship left Jaluit, it went to Kwajalein, then on to Truk and Saipan.” He thought the ship would later go to Japan. An event at his school fixed the date in his memory as “the middle of July, 1937.” 

[Editor’s note: John Heine did not see the fliers at Jaluit or anywhere else.  See page 156 and rest of Chapter VII: The Marshall Islands Witnesses” of Truth at Last, 2nd Edition for more on Heine’s account.]

Marshall Islanders Tomaki Mayazo and Lotan Jack told Fred Goerner in 1960 that the woman flyer and her companion “were taken to Kwajalein on their way to Saipan.”

They didn’t say how they were transported.

Goerner said that in 1946 four Likiep Island residents at Kwajalein, Edard and Bonjo Capelli, and two more known as Jajock and Biki, told U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer J.F. Kelleher that in 1937 a man and woman who crashed a plane in the Marshalls “were brought to Kwajalein.”

Bill Prymak and Joe Gervais pause with the iconic Earhart eyewitness Bilimon Amaron at Amaron’s Majuro home in 1991.

A 1946 U.S. employee on Kwajalein, Ted Burris, told Amelia Earhart Society members that his interpreter, Oniisimum Cappelle (Capelli?) introduced him to an old man who had met two Americans there five years before the war,which didn’t start in the Marshalls until 1942, five years after 1937.

How did you meet Americans before the war?Burris asked.

Well I didn’t exactly meet them,the old man said.  But I did bring them in.” 

“Bring them in?  I don’t understand.” 

“A plane landed on the water,” the old man remembered. Come.  I show you.”

They walked to the south end of the perimeter road where there were two A-frame houses and a row of coconut trees.

You see these trees? The plane was exactly in line with them.” 

 “How far out?” 

About a hundred yards from the land.” 

What happened then?” 

“Two people got out. A man and a woman. The Captain made me take my boat out and pick them up.  I didn’t talk to them.”

Lotan Jack, circa 1983, who worked as a mess steward for the Japanese in 1937, told researcher T.C. “Buddy” Brennan in 1983 that he was told by a “Japanese Naval Officer” that Amelia Earhart was “shot down between Jaluit and Mili” and that she was “spying at that time — for the American people.”

The Captain?” 

“The boss. The Japanese officer.  The Captain took them away.  I never saw them again.  He said they were spies.”  [See my Aug. 28, 2015 post, Burris’ account among many to put Earhart on Kwaj.]

This incident has too long been thought to be a false report that Earhart’s Lockheed 10E crashed off Kwajalein.  But what the old man precisely said was:

A plane landed on the water.” 

He didn’t say it crashed there or ditched there.  Planes with landing gear don’t land on the water.” 

In 1936, a concrete airstrip was built at Kwajalein.  It was being used in 1937 while a still unusable seaplane ramp was under construction at Saipan.

What “landed” Earhart and Noonan “on the water” off Kwajalein was obviously a seaplane from Jaluit. Earhart’s Electra couldn’t have “landed on the water.”

Nobody ever said there was a crash at Kwajalein.

They were already in custody.  How could the Japanese Captain tell the old man “they were spies” if they hadn’t arrived at Kwajalein from Jaluit lready charged with being spies?

The Kawanishi H6K was an Imperial Japanese Navy flying boat produced by the Kawanishi Aircraft Company and used during World War II for maritime patrol duties. The Allied reporting name for the type was Mavis; the Navy designation was “Type 97 Large Flying Boat”

Earhart and Noonan were then flown by land plane from Kwajalein to Saipan, where its pilot got into trouble, the very first witness in the Earhart mystery, watched a silver two-engined plane betty-landin shallow water along a beach.  She saw the American woman who looked like a man, and the tail man with her, led away by the Japanese soldiers.” 

We must never assume every twin-engined aircraft in the Pacific had to be the Earhart Plane to be significant.  We don’t need Darwin to find the missing link from Howland to Milli to Kwajalein to Saipan.

Keep it simple and follow facts in sequence to the truth. Above all, let’s start believing our witnesses. 

Why would they lie?

— Joe Klaas, 7/14/99

Paul Rafford Jr. provided more witness evidence supporting the idea that Earhart and Noonan departed Kwajalein bound for Saipan in a land-based Japanese aircraft.  In an unpublished 2008 commentary, Rafford recalled the account of fellow engineer James Raymond Knighton, who worked for Pan Am with Rafford at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the 1980s and was later assigned to the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll facility from 1999 to 2001.  Knighton worked on Roi-Namur, 50 miles north of Kwajalein, commuting to work each day by air.

“One day during lunch I was walking around Roi and I happened across an old Marshallese who was very friendly,” Knighton told Rafford in 2007.

He was back visiting Roi after a long time. He was very talky and spoke pretty good English. He was excited because he was born on Roi-Namur and lived there during the Japanese occupation and the capture by the Marines in 1944.  Of course I was interested in his story of how it was living under the Japanese and the invasion.  I was very inquisitive and he was happy to talk about old times.  Then he said he saw Amelia Earhart on Roi when he was a young boy.  It was the first white woman he had ever seen and he could not get over her blond hair.  Basically, he told me that Earhart crashed on the Marshall Island of Mili.  The Japanese had gotten her and brought her to Roi, the only place that transport planes could land.  

For more on Rafford’s account, please see my Sept. 6, 2022 post, Conclusion of Rafford on radio in AE Mystery.

For much more on Joe Klaas, please click here.

Mantz’s 1965 letter to Van Dusen raises questions

Paul Mantz was a noted air racer, movie stunt pilot and aviation consultant from the late 1930s until his death in the mid-1960s.  He gained fame in Hollywood, and to many familiar with the Earhart disappearance, Mantz is known as Amelia’s technical advisor for her final flight — or at least that’s the popular narrative.  

Bolstering the idea that Mantz was solely in charge of everything about the Earhart Electra, we have a letter from Mantz to Eastern Airlines executive William Van Dusen of May 6, 1965, one month before Mantz died.  The letter appeared in the November 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and is reproduced fully here:

This letter tells us things about Paul Mantz that I’d always suspected — primarily, that humility was a virtue with which Mantz seldom, if ever, had even a nodding acquaintance.  Who, in such a prestigious position, writes a letter dealing with aviation technicalities to another professional in all upper case?  Whether it’s 1965 or 2022, it’s simply bad form, rude and unacceptable.  

Paul Mantz and Amelia Earhart, circa 1936.

William Van Dusen (1901-1976) was public relations director for Pan American Airways and later worked for Eastern Airlines, retiring as a vice president in 1969.  In the late 1920’s Mr. Van Dusen organized, and for 20 years, directed public relations for Pan American World Airways,the New York Times wrote in his obituary:

In this capacity, he accompanied crews on ninny [sic] trailblazing survey flights by Pan Am around the world and was a specialist on early commercial flight planning and promotion.  In 1920 he accompanied Col. Charles A. Lindbergh on the aerial exploration of Mexico and Central America, in which several “lost” cities of Mayan civilization were found.  Mr. Van Dusen wrote many articles on aviation in leading national magazines.

Van Dusen wasn’t an insignificant figure, but neither was he ever accused of anything important relative to the Earhart flight, so why did Mantz use such an unconventional style in addressing Van Dusen — a tiny sample of other Mantz letters I’ve seen are written in a normal style.  Note also the repetitive use of the personal pronoun “I.”  You don’t have to be a licensed psychoanalyst to recognize egomania on steroids.

As for the message in Mantz’s missive to the Eastern Airlines executive, he couldn’t have been more emphatic that he was in complete charge of the building of this airplane and equipping it for Amelia — working with Lockheed, that there was no special equipment installed and thatif there had been any camera guide lines or cameras installed, I would have been in complete charge of it.” And what did Mantz mean when he wrote, “She didn’t listen to Papa” when referring to Earhart’s Hawaii crackup?

William Van Dusen, circa 1930. (University of Miami Special Collections.)

Mantz’s letter, for all its bluster, seems rather authoritative, if not definitive.  According to Mantz, when it came to Amelia Earhart’s Electra, he was the The Man.”  But a paragraph from a May 13, 1979 letter from Fred Goerner to radio expert Joseph Gurr that appeared in the March 2000 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters directly contradicts Mantz’s claims about being “in complete charge” of any changes to the Earhart bird:

Joe, did you know that Paul Mantz was removed as the so-called technical advisorfor the AE flight after the crackup in Honolulu, and that the real man behind the scenes was ClarenceKelly Johnson, of Lockheed? Johnson in recent years has been head of the U-2 and SR-71 programs.  Johnson tells me he still is not permitted to tell the degree of U.S. Government involvement in the AE flight.  I’m still in communication with him, and I am hopeful he will experience a change of attitude.

I don’t know when Goerner learned that Mantz had been taken off the Earhart team following her March 1937 Luke Field crash in Hawaii, but in a 1971 letter to Fred Hooven, Goerner called Johnson “the real technical advisor for the AE flight.  So it appears that in addition to Mantz’s egomania, we can add dishonesty to the list of his notable traits, as he lied by omission in not including the fact that he had been removed as Earhart’s technical guru prior to her second attempt in June 1937.

When considering Paul Mantz and Clarence Kelly Johnson, who an unnamed Lockheed publicist called the “Architect of the Air,one could not imagine two more disparate personalities.  “To this day, Kelly Johnson’s resume of accomplishments reads like a list of the most iconic airplanes in aviation history,” Lockheed’s “Architect of the Air” proclaims:

During World War II, he designed the speedy P-38 Lightning, which pummeled destroyers and intercepted enemy fighters and bombers from Berlin to Tokyo; late in the war his team developed America’s first operational jet fighter, the P-80, in less than six months.  Then he delivered the immortal Constellation, which revolutionized commercial aviation.  By 1955, Johnson and his secret division of engineers — dubbed Skunk Works — launched the world’s first dedicated spy plane, the U-2, just nine months after receiving an official contract.

Imperious, passionate, and demanding, Johnson was just as likely to deliver a kick to someone’s pants as a compliment to his face.  In the pursuit of breakthrough designs, he tolerated errors — with the caveat that they were made just once.  He asked only for hard work, good communication, and unwavering honesty.  Despite his volatile approach, Johnson earned unparalleled loyalty from his highly skilled team.  (Italics mine.)

I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Johnson ever experienced thechange of attitude that Goerner told Gurr he hoped would happen, and we’re left to speculate about what Johnson’s role in Earhart’s last flight might have beenThere’s nothing in Johnson’s amazing Wikipedia page that even hints that he had anything to do with the Earhart plane or her last flight, at a time when he was only about 27 years old and earning the 1937 Lawrence Sperry Award, Presented by the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences for “Important improvements of aeronautical design of high-speed commercial aircraft.” 

A young Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and Amelia Earhart, in an undated photo, consult before her Electra, probably sometime in summer 1937.  Johnson was characteristically tight-lipped about his role with Amelia and her Electra 10E, but Fred Goerner called Johnson “the real man behind the scenes.”

But we know Wikipedia is an establishment reference site designed to protect our sacred cows, among other functions, and my knowledge of Kelly Johnson borders on superficial at best.  Perhaps an astute reader might know more about Johnson’s possible involvement with Amelia Earhart, her plane or her disappearance, but I suspect nothing new will surface.   

We’ll probably never know precisely what Johnson’s involvement with Earhart might have been, but some will always wonder about it, and whether Kelly Johnson was the face behind the U.S. government’s covert plan for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan that went awry and resulted in their tragic, unnecessary deaths on Saipan.  How much of this wretched story was Johnson responsible for creating, if any at all?

Paul Mantz died on July 8, 1965 while working on the movie The Flight of the Phoenix.  Flying an unusual plane, the Tallmantz Phoenix P-1, built especially for the film, Mantz struck a small hillock while skimming over a desert site in Arizona.  As he attempted to recover by opening the throttle to its maximum, the over-stressed aircraft broke in two and nosed over into the ground, killing Mantz instantly.  He was 62.

The FAA investigation noted Mantz’s alcohol consumption before the flight and said the resulting impairment to his “efficiency and judgment” contributed to the accident.  Some might agree that, in the end, Mantz’s oversized ego was also a factor, one that proved to be his fatal undoing. 

UPDATE OCT. 15: Longtime reader William Trail found an informative story on Paul Mantz in the May 2020 issue of Aviation History magazine.  Titled “King of Hollywood Pilots,” it’s subtitled, “Stunt Pilot and Air Racer Paul Mantz Flew In More Than 250 Movies And Once Owned The World’s Seventh Largest Air Force.” 

Little is mentioned about Mantz’s relationship with Earhart in this story.  Here’s the closing two paragraphs:

An autopsy finding his blood-alcohol level to be .13 has been disputed by witnesses.  I know he had nothing to drink, Mantz’s secretary stated.  I knew him for many years, and he never seemed sharper than he did that morning.”  It’s conceivable desert heat might have hastened decomposition, raising microbial ethanol levels.  As a friend shrugged, “Drunk or sober, he was one hell of a pilot.”

More than 400 people attended Mantz’s funeral at Hollywood’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park.  His pallbearers included Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Doolittle, John Ford and Chuck Yeager.  He left a photo of Amelia Earhart at his desk.  In 2006 The International Council of Air Shows inducted Paul Mantz into its Hall of Fame, naming him the “King of Hollywood Pilots.”  He died the way he lived: flying for the cameras.

 

Nabers’ Saipan account among GIs’ most compelling

Readers here are familiar with Thomas E. Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, the former Army postal sergeant’s dramatic recollection of his three eyewitness encounters with the Earhart Electra on Saipan during the U.S invasion in summer 1944, the final time watching as the Earhart plane was torched, strafed and burned beyond recognition.  Devine closed Eyewitness with an emotional plea to any and all with similar knowledge to step forward in support of his efforts to establish the truth:

. . . But now, after four decades of exhaustive study and analysis, I can unequivocally substantiate the presence of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan in 1937 as well as their deaths and subsequent interment in an unmarked grave in the southern outskirts of Garapan.

I am determined to return to Saipan and authenticate the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.  I appeal to readers to join me in this effort by supplying any documents, foreign or domestic, which have bearing on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, her navigator Frederick Noonan, or their Lockheed Electra.  Should you merely hold memories in the shadows, I urge you to correspond with me now.  The challenge is there and the burden of proof is ours to share. 

Thomas E. Devine, whose involvement with events surrounding the discovery and destruction of Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E as a 28-year-old Army postal sergeant on Saipan in July 1944 shaped the rest of his life.  Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, is among the most important books about the Earhart disappearance ever penned.

After his 1963 Saipan visit with Fred Goerner to search for the gravesite shown him by an Okinawan woman there in 1945, Devine would never return, for a variety of frustrating reasons — mainly the CNMI and Saipan governments’ concerted opposition to his plans — an outcome he never imagined.  But as a result of his appeal in Eyewitness and elsewhere, 26 former GIs who served on Saipan contacted him and shared their experiences relative to Earhart and Noonan’s presence and deaths there, and this formed the basis for our 2002 book, With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart.

Robert E. Wallack, of Woodbridge, Conn., a short drive from Devine’s West Haven home, contacted him shortly after learning of Eyewitness’s publication.  With his gregarious personality and riveting account of his discovery of Amelia Earhart’s briefcase in a blown safe on Saipan, he became the best known of all the GI witnesses.  For much more on Wallack’s account, see my Sept. 28, 2015 post, Son Bill tells Robert E. Wallack’s amazing story.

Earskin J. Nabers, of Baldwyn, Mississippi, also had a Saipan story to tell, every bit as compelling and important as Wallack’s, but it almost never got out.  The low-key Nabers was content to live a quiet life in rural Mississippi, and never sought attention, despite the fact that his story features more twists, turns and chapters than Wallack’s, and is the most fascinating and complex of all the Saipan GI witnesses.

Nabers was a 20-year-old code clerk in the H & S Communication Platoon of the 8th Marines during the invasion of Saipan.  In October 1992, a friend showed him this notice placed by Devine in the spring edition of Follow Me, the official publication of the 2nd Marine Division Association, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina:

I am seeking to contact any of the Marines, who, during the
invasion of Saipan, were placed on guard duty at Aslito Field,
to guard a padlocked hangar containing Amelia Earhart’s
airplane.

The hangar was not one of those located along the runway.
It was located near what may have been a Japanese administration
building, and an unfinished hangar at the tarmac, in the southwest
corner of the airfield.

Please contact: Thomas E. Devine,
81 Isadore St., West Haven, CT 06516
(Yes, I was there.) Thomas E. Devine

Marine Corp. Earskin J. Nabers at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in 1946, just before his discharge and return to his Baldwyn, Miss., home.  As a code clerk in the communications center of the 8th Marine Regiment on Saipan in July 1944, Nabers decoded the top-secret message announcing the discovery of Amelia Earhart’s Electra in a hangar at Aslito Field. (Courtesy Sandra Nabers Sealy.)

The following is Nabers’ reply to Devine (handwritten), dated July 11, 1992:

Dear Thomas,

I want to apologize first for not writing earlier.

I will start from the first. I was a code clerk in the H & S Communications Plt. It was made up of wire section, radio section and message section.  I was in the message section, all the messages came through our message center.

We were on mopping up duty on opposite end of Saipan from where we landed (the South end).  The message came over our field radios.  I decoded it and I was quite excited when I read the message.  The message read (the best I remember) that Amelia Earhart’s plane had been found at Aslito Field, this was about the middle of the morning.

(We had to get Col. [Clarence R.] Wallace to sign all the messages that came through the message center.)

Shortly after we received the message, Hq. 8th moved back to bivouac area.  I was dropped off at the Hangar for guard duty [at] the main road that went by west side of hangar.  The road that went out to hangar, I was placed on the right side, just as it left the main road.  And there was an Army man on the opposite side. He had arrived on the island just a few days before.  I don’t remember his name but I think he was from Minnesota.  I stayed on duty first day, that night, most of next day.

We were told not to let anyone go in.  There was a jeep come by with some officers in it.  They wanted to go in to see the plane.  We told them our orders, they said what if we go anyway.  We stepped in front of the Jeep, and told them that it would be in the best interest of all involved for them to turn around and leave.  There was some other people come and checked us out, but they did not go in, they were just checking on security.

After I went back to my platoon there was another message come through that said something about destroying the plane.  Myself and two more boys went back down to the airfield to see it destroyed.  (the message give the time it was supposed to be destroyed)

The best I can recall the plane was pulled on the field by a jeep (driven by some Marines.  I have got ahead of myself, the first time we went down there wasn’t anything done to plane it was the second day that the plane was pulled on the field but we went both times and we learned the second time from a message that come off the radio.

Saipan’s Aslito Airfield just after its capture by the 165th Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division on June 18, 1944.  Standing hangars and Japanese aircraft, though damaged, belie skeptics’ claims that the Navy’s pre-invasion aerial bombardment leveled all buildings, and therefore Amelia Earhart’s Electra could not have been housed and discovered there.  (U.S. Army photo.)

Picking up from the plane being pulled on the field.  The plane was facing north after the plane was parked and jeep moved.  A plane come over real low and the next pass he strafed the plane and it went up in a huge fireball.  (We were sitting on the west side of the airfield about one hundred yard from plane.  We were on higher ground.  As far I remember, the ones that pulled the plane on the field and us guys from H & S 8th were the only ones there.  We were not there officially, you know how Marines were, got to see what was going on.)

. . . This is a bit sketchy, but I hope it is worth something to you, as you know not everyone believes us.  I told about it a few times & got the look as if to say that guy must have got shell shocked & had one guy tell me that can’t be so.  I will stand by what I have said and I will place my hand on the Holy Book and repeat the whole thing over.

If ever I can be of any help to you in any way feel free to call on me.  I guarantee that I will reply pronto.

Best Wishes,
Earskin J. Nabers

P.S. about not writing earlier, I had a problem to come up in the family that left me emotionally or I should say took the most of my time thinking about it.  But thank God everything seems to be working out for the best. E.J.N

During an October 1992 phone conversation with me, Nabers, a receiving clerk in Baldwyn, repeated the details of his account.  He added he was able to get a look into the padlocked hangar through a small opening between the doors.  Nabers described a silver, twin-engine civilian plane.  He said he couldn’t make out the registration marks from his vantage point.  Neither could he discern its registration as he witnessed the Electra’s destruction because, “It was dark and we were too far away to read them.”

We’ll hear more from Earskin J.  Nabers in future posts, and I promise you won’t be bored.  For more on what we’ve already done about American military personnel on 1944-’45 Saipan and their experiences that revealed the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan there, please see “Veterans recall seeing Earhart photos on SaipanandKanna’s letter among first of GI Saipan witnesses,” my March 13, 2020 and Jan. 4, 2022 posts.

 

Goerner on Pearl Harbor in San Francisco Chronicle

Readers of this blog know that since its inception in 2012, concurrent with the publication of the first edition of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, I have focused exclusively on the Earhart disappearance, and virtually all of the 285 posts here deal with Earhart and closely related subjects. 

Today we move away from the Earhart case, but only slightly, as we feature a Dec. 1, 1991 San Francisco Chronicle Sunday supplement article about Pearl Harbor by Fred Goerner, the bestselling author of The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966), the foremost Earhart researcher of his or any day, who was also intensely interested in the Pearl Harbor debacle, as he called it, and its possible relationship to the Earhart mess.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)

I’ve tried to reproduce the original look of the “This World” Sunday supplement, but it’s better to type out much of copy because the multi-column layout doesn’t allow for easy presentation.  This is the first of two parts.

tary strategists who had been predicting such an attack for 20 years?  If the U.S. military had broken Japanese secret codes, why didn’t somebody know what Japan was going to do?

Six investigations during World War II, and two inquiries in the year after the war, including a joint congressional probe, failed to produce satisfactory answers.  Argument continues, and vicious accusations still abound.  Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Pearl Harbor trying to assign responsibility to individuals and/or departments of the American government and military.  For some the subject is extraordinarily bitter and larded with vituperation. 

There are many who allege President Franklin Roosevelt withheld vital intelligence from Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and General Walter C. Short, commander of U.S. Army forces at Pearl Harbor, to allow the attack to occur as a means of branding Japan as an immoral aggressor and to being America into World War II on a time of passionate patriotism.  Roosevelt was at once one of the most loved and most hated of America’s presidents.  Even 50 years later, dozens of authors and scholars are trying to establish that FDR was somehow a traitor to his country and to the U.S. Navy he loved so much. 

And a recently published book alleges that Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew the Japanese carrier fleet was sailing toward Hawaii but, in order to bring the United States into the war, did not share that intelligence with President Roosevelt.

Only now, 50 years later, are historians beginning to understand what really happened on the morning that changed the world.

The harbor tug USS Hoga (YT-146) sprayed water on the battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) following the surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

World War II took more than three years of my own life as I served with the U.S. Navy Seabees in the Pacific, and I had often wondered about the Pearl Harbor debacle.  It was not until 1961, however, that a CBS documentary I was writing brought me into contact with Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, who commanded U.S. Pacific naval forces during most of the war.  It began a friendship that lasted until the admiral’s death in 1966.

Nimitz had been ordered to Pearl Harbor to replace Admiral Kimmell, who would receive the bulk of the blame for American unpreparedness, just days after the attack.  Roosevelt directed Nimitz to “get the hell out of Pearl and stay there until the war is won.

On Christmas morning, 1941, the U.S. Navy flying boat carrying Nimitz circled Pearl Harbor.  He could see most of the main anchorage, which was covered with black fuel oil and floating debris.  The capsized battleships Oklahoma and Utah were clearly visible, and farther down the harbor he could see Arizona, West Virginia and California sunk in deeper water with only the topsides exposed.  Dozens of small power boats were circling in the harbor, picking up the bloated bodies of dead sailors who had been blown off their ships by Japanese bombs and torpedoes.  There were 2,403 Americans killed in the attack, including 68 civilians.

Nimitz found Kimmell a disheartened man.  A spent bullet had struck Kimmell during the attack, but he had not been wounded.  He told Nimitz he wished the bullet had killed him.

Kimmell returned to the U.S. mainland in what many considered to be disgrace.  Nimitz restored American confidence, projected American forces across the Pacific and accepted the final Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945.

Nimitz’ Recollections

To my surprise, Nimitz did not consider the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor to be a complete disaster; in fact, he believed it to have been a Japanese strategic failure.  He pointed to the inflexibility of the Japanese plan, with its emphasis upon attacking battleships (most of which were later repaired and saw war action) and ignoring Navy storage tanks, which contained 4,500,000 barrels of fuel oil.  Had those been destroyed, the U.S. victory in the Pacific might have been delayed six months or more.

Nimitz also felt Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the Japanese attacking force commander, had missed the opportunity to truly disable American forces by limiting the attack to two air strikes.  Had the Japanese plan been more bold, an invasion and occupation of the Hawaiian Islands might have succeeded.  That would have been a complete disaster for the United States.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, circa 1942, the last of the Navy’s 5-star admirals. In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Nimitz called Goerner in San Francisco. “Now that you’re going to Washington, Fred, I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese,” Goerner claimed Nimitz told him.

As to Kimmel’s responsibility for American unpreparedness for the air attack, Nimitz would not assign it.  He called it a hazard of command and he indicated it could have happened to anyone, himself included.  He stressed that almost everyone in the U.S. military had believed the Japanese would strike at Malaya and probably Guam and the Philippines.  That was a fatal estimation.  Instead of stretching its imagination — planning for what the Japanese could do — American military intelligence was busy speculating about what the Japanese would do. 

Nimitz felt it might be considered a blessing that Kimmel had not gotten brief notice of the true Japanese intention.  He might have commanded the American fleet to sail for open water, and had the Japanese planes bombed and torpedoed the ships there, they would have been lost forever in deep water and the human casualties would have been much greater.

Nimitz also believed that ignorance and arrogance — both American and Japanese — played major roles in Pearl Harbor.  In 1941, Americans were generally ignorant about Japan and its people, believing America completely superior in leadership, equipment and fighting ability.  The prevalent military and civilian attitude was that Japan would not dare attack America.

At the same time, many in Japan saw America as a weak and divided nation that could never match Japan in spirit and willingness to sacrifice.  Japan believed it could overwhelm American forces early in a war, and that America would ask for peace on Japan’s terms.

Nimitz did not accept any of the theories about a Roosevelt conspiracy to withhold information obtained through secret Japanese codes, but he believed it would be many years, perhaps several decades, before highly classified records dealing with American cryptology activities prior to Pearl Harbor would be released and the full truth known.  When that day arrived, he admonished, historians should pay particular attention to what exactly the British cryptologists knew before the attack. 

Kimmel’s Agony

In the winter of 1967, I journeyed to see Admiral Kimmel at his home in Groton, Connecticut.  It was a cold, snowy day, well matched to his attitude.  He was brought into the small living room in a wheelchair.  His balding head glistened in the overhead light, and he squinted at me as if trying to determine whether I was friend or foe.  At 85, the fire still burned.

Adm. Husband E. Kimmell told Fred Goerner in 1967 that FDR was “a damned traitor” and put Adm. Harold Start, the chief of naval operations in 1941, in the same category.  “Stark picked me up when I returned to D.C. from Pearl Harbor, and he lied about everything,” Kimmel said. 

To call Kimmel bitter is an understatement.  He raged at me.  He called Roosevelt a “damned traitor,” and put Adm. Harold Start, the chief of naval operations in 1941, in the same category.  “Stark picked me up when I returned to D.C. from Pearl Harbor, and he lied about everything,” Kimmel said. 

Kimmel believed that Roosevelt, Stark and Army Chief George Marshall had purposely withheld vital intelligence that would have given him a chance to prepare for the Japanese air attack, and then they had made him the scapegoat, ruining his career and abandoning him to be scorned by history.  He told of vile letters he and his family had received over the years and said lies had been told about him and repeated as truth by the media.  In anecdote, Kimmel’s wife, Dorothy, was supposed to have returned from Hawaii by plane, mumping wounded Americans so her furniture could accompany her.  The truth was, Dorothy Kimmel has not been at Pearl Harbor.  The entire story was fabricated.

For more than two hours, Kimmel wove an intricate scenario of disappearing records, reluctant witnesses, deceit and chicanery.

His voice became a shout as he said, “That’s why I’m still living.  I’m going to be vindicated!  Some people are working on it right now.”

Kimmel died five months later, without the vindication he so wanted.  (End of Part I.)

 

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