The late Bill Prymak’s abundant contributions to Earhart research, though ignored and unappreciated everywhere else in our know-nothing media, are gifts that keep on giving to readers of this blog and Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Bill, the founder and former president of the Amelia Earhart Society, who passed away in July 2014 at 86, was the central hub and repository of the writings, reports, analyses and speculations of a wide variety of Earhart researchers.
This material’s accuracy, also quite variable, must be carefully sifted to separate the wheat from the chaff, and was compiled in his two-volume Assemblage of Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, covering Prymak’s AES Newsletters from December 1989 to March 2000.
The following treasure appeared in the January 1997 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and concerns a familiar face among the Saipan witnesses, Joaquina M. Cabrera, and a revealing interview she did with Joe Gervais, Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam chief of police; and Eddie Camacho, Guam chief of detectives, during their 1960 Guam interviews. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“THE STRANGE STORY OF INTERVIEW #23”
When Joe Gervais and Joe Klaas presented their manuscript of Amelia Earhart Lives  to McGraw-Hill, it was bulging with some 650 pages of research work. Much good material had to be trimmed to meet the publisher’s mandate not to exceed 275 pages in final form, and it has always bugged Gervais that one of his most profound witnesses had a crucial part of her testimony stricken from the book by the editors. Major Gervais recreates that scene for us, the way it should have been presented in the book:
At Chalan Kanoa, a village on Saipan, the investigators located Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera, fifty-one, who during 1937 and 1938 had been employed as a servant in the [Kobayashi Royakan] hotel.
“l used to have to take a list of the persons staying in the hotel to the island governor’s office each day,” Mrs. Cabrera remembered. “One day when I was doing this I saw two Americans in the back of a three-wheeled vehicle. Their hands were bound behind them, and they were blindfolded. One of them was an American woman.”
Gervais showed her a photo of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. “Are these the two you saw?”
She squinted at the photograph. “They look like the same people I saw, and they are dressed the same way.”
“What happened to them?”
“I only saw them once in the three-wheeled truck. I don’t know what happened to them.”
The threesome, Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam Chief of Police; Eddie Camacho, Guam Chief of Detectives, and Capt. Gervais, were shocked when, after finishing the above interview, she suddenly came forward to Gervais and deliberately spat on the ground, in front of his feet.
Capt. Gervais regained his composure and asked Capt. Quintanilla
“Why is this woman so enraged at me? I had never met her before?”
Capt. Quintanilla, in a quiet voice, asked Mrs. Cabrera to explain her actions, and after a lengthy exchange of words in Chamorro, Quintanilla turned to Gervais with an ashen face and slowly, deliberately told him what Mrs. Cabrera had said:
“You Americans are two-faced people! What are you doing here in 1960 investigating what happened to Amelia Earhart 23 years ago when all the time you Americans knew she was here and none of you lifted a finger to help her?
“What kind of people are you?” (End Strange Story of Interview #23)
Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas, who passed away in February 2016 at 95, was a pilot and World War II hero, a POW and a talented writer with 12 books to his credit. But sadly, Klaas fell victim to the insane delusion that Joe Gervais had birthed and spread to other witless sheep over the years, that New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was actually Amelia Earhart returned from Saipan via the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo, determined to live out her life in obscurity and isolation from her family — something Amelia was incapable of doing.
It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais, Robert Dinger and the detectives on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan, were some of the most compelling ever done. The above incident is another example of important witness testimony that most will never see.
If you’d like to get reacquainted with all the sordid details of the long-debunked, worm-eaten Earhart-as-Bolam myth, I did a four part series on this dark chapter of the Earhart saga, beginning with “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” on Dec. 29, 2015.
Fred Goerner also interviewed Joaquina at length in 1962, and later wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart, “Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera brought us closer to the woman held at the Kobayashi Royokan [Hotel] than any other witness.” See my April 17, 2018 post, “Revisiting Joaquina Cabrera, Earhart eyewitness“ and pages 101-102 of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last for more on Goerner’s interview with Joaquina.
(Editor’s note: “I was surprised to learn what Joaquina did after she was interviewed,” Marie Castro wrote from Saipan just after this post was published. “But I can also understand Joaquina’s reaction to Gervais, it was out of frustration because of the way Amelia suffered as a detainee. Joaquina noticed the bruises around Amelia’s arm and neck, so did Matilde.)
Today we present the conclusion of the three-part presentation of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy. Marie conceived of this project back in early January, “mostly for the locals to educate and induce them to read” the truth about Earhart’s sad demise on Saipan by presenting them a succinct compilation of the major witnesses — both local and American — that have come forward since 1937.
The intention, of course, is to somehow begin to move a brainwashed, intransigent populace that remains firmly entrenched against the idea of building the proposed Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument on Saipan. Here’s the conclusion of Marie Castro: My Life and Amelia Earhart’s Saipan Legacy:
In 1962 Joaquina M. Cabrera was interviewed by Goerner. “Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera brought us closer to the woman held at the Kobayashi Royokan [Hotel] than any other witness” Goerner wrote.
At the Cabrera home in Chalan Kanoa, Goerner and several others including Fathers Arnold Bendowske and Sylvan Conover, and Ross Game, editor of the Napa (California) Register and longtime Goerner confidant “crowded into the front room . . . and listened to her halting recital.” Joaquina described her job as that of a laundress for the Japanese guests and prisoners kept there:
One day when I came to work, they were there . . . a white lady and man. The police never left them. The lady wore a man’s clothes when she first came. I was given her clothes to clean. I remember pants and a jacket. It was leather or heavy cloth, so I did not wash it. I rubbed it clean. The man I saw only once. I did not wash his clothes. His head was hurt and covered with a bandage, and he sometimes needed help to move. The police took him to another place and he did not come back. The lady was thin and very tired.
Every day more Japanese came to talk with her. She never smiled to them but did to me. She did not speak our language, but I know she thanked me. She was a sweet, gentle lady. I think the police sometimes hurt her. She had bruises and one time her arm was hurt. . . . Then, one day . . . police said she was dead of disease. [DYSENTERY most likely.]
Mrs. Amparo Deleon Guerrero Aldan was my classmate in the third grade in Japanese school before World War II. Her brother, Francisco Deleon Guerrero and my cousin’s husband Joaquin Seman came to my house one evening to visit in 1945. The conversation was all about Amelia Earhart. I heard them describing what Amelia wore when they saw her. In our culture, a woman should wear a dress not a man’s outfit.
“Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan crash landed in the Garapan harbor near the Tanapag Naval Base on Saipan in 1937,” Fred Goerner wrote in his summary of the accounts he gathered from the first group of Saipan witnesses in The Search for Amelia Earhart. “A Japanese naval launch picked up the two fliers and brought them to shore. They were taken to the military headquarters, questioned and separated. Noonan was forced into an automobile by his captors and was never seen again. Amelia was moved to a small building at the military barracks compound.”
I have a photo of Mr. Jose Tomokane. He told his wife one day the reason for coming home late. He attended the cremation of the American woman pilot.
Mrs. Tomokane and Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes were neighbors during the Japanese time. They often visited with one another. Dolores, daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, heard their conversation about the cremation of an American woman pilot. These two wives were the only individuals who knew secretly about the cremation of Amelia through Mr. Tomokane.
Had it not been for the daughter of Mrs. Rufina C. Reyes, who heard the conversation of the two wives, we would have never known about Mr. Tomokane’s interesting day. David M. Sablan has also said that he heard about Amelia being cremated according to Mr. Tomokane.
The American GI Witnesses on Saipan
The Battle of Saipan, fought from June 15 to July 9, 1944, was the most important battle of the Pacific War to date. The U.S. 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Holland Smith, defeated the 43rd Infantry Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito.
The loss of Saipan, with the death of at least 29,000 Japanese troops and heavy civilian casualties, precipitated the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and left the Japanese mainland within the range of Allied B-29 bombers. Saipan would become the launching point for retaking other islands in the Mariana chain, and the eventual invasion of the Philippines, in October 1944.
The victory at Saipan was also important for quite another reason, one you will not see in any of the official histories. At an unknown date soon after coming ashore on D-Day, June 15, American forces discovered Amelia Earhart’s Electra 10E, NR 16020, in a Japanese hangar at Aslito Field, the Japanese airstrip on Saipan.
Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, was a sergeant in the Army’s 244th Postal Unit, and came ashore at Saipan on July 6, just a few days before the island was declared secure. Devine was ordered to drive his commanding officer, Lieutenant Fritz Liebig, to Aslito Field, and there he was soon informed that Amelia Earhart’s airplane had been discovered, relatively intact. Devine later claimed he saw the Electra three times soon thereafter – in flight, on the ground when he inspected it at the off-limits airfield, and later that night in flames.
During that period, Marine Private Robert E. Wallack found Amelia’s briefcase in a blown safe in a Japanese administration building on Saipan. “We entered what may have been a Japanese government building, picking up souvenirs strewn about,” Wallack wrote in a notarized statement. “Under the rubble was a locked safe. One of our group was a demolition man who promptly applied some gel to blow it open. We thought at the time, that we would all become Japanese millionaires. After the smoke cleared I grabbed a brown leather attaché case with a large handle and flip lock. The contents were official-looking papers, all concerning Amelia Earhart: maps, permits and reports apparently pertaining to her around-the world flight.
“I wanted to retain this as a souvenir,” Wallack continued, “but my Marine buddies insisted that it may be important and should be turned in. I went down to the beach where I encountered a naval officer and told of my discovery. He gave me a receipt for the material, and stated that it would be returned to me if it were not important. I have never seen the material since.”
Other soldiers saw or knew of the Electra’s discovery, including Earskin J. Nabers, of Baldwyn, Mississippi, a 20-year old private who worked in the secret radio message section of the 8th Marine Regiment’s H&S Communication Platoon. On or about July 6, Nabers received and decoded three messages about the Electra – one announcing its discovery, one stating that the plane would be flown, and the final transmission announcing plans to destroy the plane that night.
Nabers was present when the aluminum plane was torched and burned beyond recognition, as was Sergeant Thomas E. Devine, among others who ignored warnings to stay away from the airfield, which had been declared off-limits.
In addition to the many soldiers, Marines and Navy men who saw or knew of the presence and destruction of Amelia Earhart’s Electra on Saipan, three U.S. flag officers later shared their knowledge of the truth with Fred Goerner, acting against policy prohibiting the release of top-secret information, likely in order to encourage the long-suffering Goerner in his quest for the truth.
In late March 1965, a week before his meeting with General Wallace M. Greene Jr. at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, former Fleet Admiral Chester W. 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 said Nimitz told him.
The admiral’s revelation appeared to be a monumental breakthrough for the determined newsman, and is known even to many casual observers of the Earhart matter. “After five years of effort, the former commander U.S. Naval Forces in the Pacific was telling me it had not been wasted,” Goerner wrote.
In November 1966, several months after The Search for Amelia Earhart was released, retired General Graves B. Erskine, who as a Marine brigadier general was the deputy commander of the V Amphibious Corps during the Saipan invasion, accepted Goerner’s invitation to visit the radio studios of KCBS in San Francisco for an interview. While waiting to go on the air with Goerner, Erskine told Jules Dundes, CBS West Coast vice president, and Dave McElhatton, a KCBS newsman, “It was established that Earhart was on Saipan. You’ll have to dig the rest out for yourselves.”
General Alexander A. Vandegrift, the eighteenth commandant of the Marine Corps, privately admitted the truth to Goerner in a handwritten, August 1971 letter.
“General Tommy Watson, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the assault on Saipan and stayed on that island after the fall of Okinawa, on one of my seven visits of inspection of his division told me that it had been substantiated that Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan,” the handwritten letter states.
“That is the total knowledge that I have of this incident. In writing to you, I did not realize that you wanted to quote my remarks about Miss Earhart and I would rather that you would not.”
Vandegrift’s claimed source for his information, former Lieutenant General Thomas E. Watson, died in 1966 – very possibly the reason Vandegrift shared the truth with Goerner in that way. Legally speaking, Vandegrift’s letter is hearsay, and he probably assumed it would afford him a level of protection against any ramifications he might face for breaking his silence with Goerner.
In assessing Vandegrift’s credibility, a sterling career culminating in his selection as the Marine Corps’ first four-star general is impressive enough. But Vandegrift also received the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his actions at Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Gavutu in the Solomon Islands in 1942. In those days, receiving his country’s highest award for valor conferred upon its bearer the gravest moral responsibilities, and it’s safe to presume that the word of a Medal of Honor awardee, especially a former commander of the world’s greatest fighting force, was as good as gold. Moreover, Vandegrift had nothing tangible to gain from telling Goerner that Earhart had died on Saipan, and had no obvious reason to do so.
How Did Amelia Die?
It was common for locals to conclude that the Japanese military treated certain offenses with severe punishment, including execution by shooting or beheading. This included the early, though inaccurate account of Josephine Blanco about Amelia Earhart being shot soon after her arrival at Saipan. In 1983 Nieves Cabrera Blas told American author T.C. “Buddy” Brennan that she saw Amelia shot by a Japanese soldier in 1944, shortly before the American invasion.
However, the preponderance of Saipan witness accounts suggest that Amelia was not executed. According to Matilde F. Arriola and Joaquina Cabrera’s accounts, Amelia died from dysentery. Matilde noticed that one day the lady used the toilet many times that same day and that was the last time she saw her. The next day the caretaker came to ask for a wreath because the lady had died.
Mr. Jose Tomokane was Japanese himself, but we don’t know how loyal he was to his Emperor. I went to his house to talk to anyone in the family a few months after I came back from the States. In December I learned that the only child living today is the youngest son, Mitch Tomokane, and he is suffering from a bad heart problem.
My first question to Mitch, was, do you know how your father came to Saipan? Mitch said he came from Japan as an agricultural instructor during the Japanese era. He stayed on Saipan, got married and built his family, and he died in 1956 on Saipan. Another interesting thing was the location of the house today. The house Mitch is living today in is very close to the Japanese crematory. The only remaining part of the crematory is the base of the crematory statue.
So Mr. Tomokane, who may well have been an eyewitness to the cremation of Amelia Earhart, died four years before Fred Goerner arrived on Saipan. I was a Catholic nun then, here on Saipan, and as I recalled, Saipan was still strictly under U.S. Navy control. It was also secretly used by the CIA, which operated their spy school they called the Navy Technical Training Unit. I remember from reading Goerner’s book that he had a problem trying to enter Saipan because of this.
My dear people of Saipan, this is the story about the tragic incident that happened on our island in 1937. I’ve tried to make it easy to read for those interested in learning the truth of this extremely important historic event – a completely unnecessary tragedy that has yet to be recognized by mainstream historians.
After learning the truth of the lonely, wretched deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, we invite you to join us in supporting this most worthy and long overdue cause in giving the fliers the respect and dignity as human beings they deserve and building a memorial monument in their honor.
The people of Saipan had nothing to do with the deaths of Earhart and Noonan; however, given the fact that it happened on our soil, it is our responsibility as citizens of Saipan to recognize and acknowledge the truth, as painful and uncomfortable as the truth may be for many. If not now, when?
Let us not sit and do nothing while the Marshall Islands have long proclaimed the truth about the famous American aviators, most notably by creating four postage stamps in 1987, the 50th anniversary of their arrival at Mili Atoll, to honor and recognize the events of their arrival and pickup by the Japanese ship Koshu.
Never forget World War II! Over 3,000 American lives were lost to save your grandparents, great grandparents, other relatives and the entire Saipan community, which endured unimaginable suffering until their liberation in 1944.
Our CNMI Administration should step up with a gesture of sincere appreciation to the two great American fliers, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, and honor the heroic sacrifices they made at the hands of the militaristic pre-war Japanese on Saipan, and who were in fact the first American casualties of World War II.
“WE, the People” of Saipan most sincerely urge the CNMI leadership to support building the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument for these two great American aviators who met their tragic end on Saipan soil.
RESPECT among the CNMI is firmly rooted into our culture, so let us continue to preserve this beautiful legacy handed down through our elders and to the future generations.
To support the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, please send your tax-deductible contribution to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950.
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.)