Tag Archives: Fred Goerner

Revisiting Joaquina Cabrera, Earhart eyewitness

In our most recent post, we met Matidle F. Arriola, later known as Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas, a native Saipanese eyewitness who shared her fascinating personal encounter with Marie S.C. Castro on at least two occasions, and whose later interviews by researchers Joe Gervais, Robert Dinger and Fred Goerner are presented on pages 102-103 of Truth at Last.  Needless to say, Matilde is among the most important of the Saipan eyewitnesses, her story well known to Earhart enthusiasts. 

Closely associated with Matilde’s reports are those of Joaquina M. Cabrera, because both eyewitnesses encountered Amelia Earhart in or in close proximity to Saipan’s Kobayashi Royokan Hotel, where other Chamorros also saw her in the months following her July 2 disappearance.

Joaquina, who was born on October 4, 1911 and died July 22, 2004 according to recent information from Marie Castro, told researcher Joe Gervais in 1960 that she worked in the hotel in 1937 and ’38, and that each day she had to take a list of the people staying at the hotel to the island governor’s office.  “One day when I was doing this I saw two Americans in the back of a three-wheeled vehicle,” she said.  Their hands were bound behind them, and they were blindfolded. One of them was an American woman.”  Cabrera said a photo of Earhart and Noonan that Gervais displayed “look like the same people I saw, and they are dressed the same way,” adding that she saw the Americans only once, and didn’t know what happened to them.

Undated photo of Earhart eyewitness Mrs. Joaquina Cabrera, who passed away in 2004 at 92.  (Courtesy Marie Castro.)

Contrast this with her account to Goerner in 1962, when he 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.”  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.”  Cabrera said nothing about delivering daily lists of people staying at the hotel, describing 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.

Joaquina said the woman was kept at the hotel for “many months. Perhaps a year.”  She heard the man had also died, though she didn’t know the cause of his demise, and she thought the woman was buried in the cemetery near Garapan, long since reclaimed by the jungle.  Though Joaquina offered two different stories, both may have been true.  Her testimony to Goerner seems more credible, however, considering the presence of the priests and the rich details in her recollection, than the brief, rather stiff account she rendered Gervais.  Joaquina passed away in July 2004 at 92.

Without a penny in my Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After World War II, Marie Castro’s moving 2013 autobiography.  In a 2014 review for the Saipan Tribune,  William Stewart wrote, “Today’s youth would be well-advised to learn from the experiences of the author and her family and friends, of the heartbreak and suffering the people of Saipan endured and the faith they all exhibited to overcome such adversity. . . . She is an inspiration for all who aspire to make a contribution by helping others through education and good deeds.”

Along with Marie’s recollections of Matilde F. Arriola, she also wrote briefly of Joaquina Cabrera in Without a Penny:

In 1937 Joaquina M. Cabrera, a young woman, worked in the laundry at the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel.  Joaquina was our neighbor and a relative.  One day a number of years later, Joaquina, accompanying her mother  on a regular visit to our house, mentioned a leather jacket that had turned up in the laundry to be washed.  Suddenly she remembered seeing the lady pilot wearing the jacket.  Joaquina handled the leather jacket with care.  In Saipan’s warm climate Amelia wouldn’t be wearing it.  So what happened to her jacket?  No one ever knew!

The puzzle that remains unsolved regarding the location of Amelia Earhart’s final resting place should focus on the island of Saipan in the Mariana Islands.  I believe that — based upon the fact that during her exile as a political detainee of the invaders, Saipan is the island where she was known to have last lived — by taking advantage of today’s sophisticated technology, it should be possible to finally uncover the place of her mysterious burial, unknown to the world for the past 75 years.

Is it possible that after all these years the solution of one of the most vexing mysteries of the last century will finally be solved?  We can only wait and see. 

Once again, I ask everyone who cares about the truth to donate whatever you can to the planned Amelia Earhart Memorial on Saipan (see March 16 story, Saipan architect unveils planned Earhart Memorial.”  Please make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950.  

The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation, like the one below, from the Earhart Memorial Monument Committee. Thank you.

Anyone who contributes to the Earhart Saipan Memorial Monument will receive a letter similar to this one from Marie Castro, the vice president of the memorial committee.  It is destined to become a collector’s item, and I’ve already framed it.

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Marie Castro: Iron link to Saipan’s forgotten history

Since the Feb. 7 publication of Junhan B. Todiño’s Marianas Variety story, Group to build Amelia Earhart monument on Saipan,” much has been written about the Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument Committee’s plans to build a memorial to Amelia at the Saipan International Airport.

Most of the vocal opposition to the monument is coming from the younger people of Saipan, many of whom have lost contact with their past, and have been subjected to historical revisionism and U.S. establishment propaganda on a grand scale about the facts surrounding Amelia Earhart’s presence on the island in the pre-war years.

Marie S.C. Castro, 84, is not among Saipan’s historically challenged, however.  In fact, some of the most compelling evidence attesting to the presence and deaths of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan can be found in her fine 2013 autobiography,  Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After WWII.

Marie S.C. Castro, vice president of the Saipan Earhart Memorial Monument Committee, holds a copy of her moving autobiography, Without a Penny in My Pocket as she as speaks on Feb. 6 to Saipan Rotarians about the personal accounts she’s heard about Amelia Earhart’s detention on Saipan. (Photo by Junghan B. Todiño, for Marianas Variety.)

Recently Marie kindly sent me a copy of Without a Penny, and I read it eagerly.  Marie isn’t a trained journalist or professional writer, but this deficit seems to enhance rather than detract from the impact of this moving account of her life. It’s written with great love and deep feeling for those you’ve met along the way of your amazing life,” I wrote to Marie. “Thank you so much for sending it; it’s truly a precious chronicle of yours and Saipan’s history.”

Despite enduring hardships under the tyrannical rule of the Japanese during the years leading to the June 1944 U.S. invasion of Saipan and the liberation of its Chamorro residents, nowhere in Without a Penny will you find the slightest a hint of the self-pitying, blame-casting or victim-status seeking rhetoric that has become so common in today’s “social media,” “snowflake” culture.

The Chamorros had no rights, our peaceful way of life on our island was gone under the Japanese,Marie wrote in a recent email.  We were under constant fear of anything.  The Japanese civilians knew what went on, we the locals knew nothing about it.  The Japanese considered us third class citizens.  They took over the land, cultivated it for their own good.  We had no authority whatsoever. . . . When you walk on the street, look straight forward, do not turn sideways, or else you would become a suspect.  Mike, even after the war, people were hesitant to say anything.  Thanks to the Americans we became again like human beings.  We are at peace now.”

One of the most poignant passages in Without a Penny is Marie’s description of her family’s terrifying ordeal during the American shelling and bombing of Saipan, which resulted in many unfortunate and unintended civilian casualties, as well as traumatic memories for the survivors.

After we were liberated by the American Marines in 1944 . . . we were so thankful to the Americans,” Marie wrote in an email.  “I was 11 years old then and I thought someday I will do something on my own to thank the Americans.” 

She was a professed Catholic nun for 17 years, from 1954 until her resignation in 1971. It was the time when I really examined what was I meant to be in this world,Marie wrote.  I wanted to do more.  I prayed hard to God to lead me in my decision.  I believed it was the right thing to do.  I resigned from religious life.  I will commit my life in education to thank the American Marines  in 1944.”  

She remained in Kansas City, teaching in the public schools, retired in 1989 and became involved in other community service organizations, finally returning to Saipan in October 2016.  Considering the 50 years in Kansas City,Marie wrote, I felt that I have given a productive life for 50 years.  Now I am involved with a challenging undertaking with the Amelia Earhart project, to erect an AE Memorial Monument.”

These and other notable chapters of a life well lived can be found in Without a Penny.  Right now, Marie is fully engaged in the effort to erect the Earhart Memorial Monument; indications are that it could be a long and bitter struggle, and not a penny will come from the local or federal government, which has a vested interest in the memorial project’s failure.

Marie, the vice president of the memorial committee and the driving force behind the initiative to build the monument, told Saipan Rotarians about her interview in 1983 with Matilde F. Arriola who, Castro said, met Earhart when she being held on Saipan following her disappearance in early July 1937.  According to Matilde, Earhart died of dysentery.  “There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan,” Marie said.

Since I came back home, Marie wrote in a Feb. 18 email,I had an urge [to do] something dating back to 1937 . . .  Amelia Earhart’s fate. On Feb. 2/ 2017, I approached Congressman Barcinas about my idea of building a Memorial Monument for Amelia Earhart here on Saipan to celebrate her 80th year.  All our elders who witnessed the American woman pilot’s presence here on Saipan are long gone; however, in 1983 I interviewed a local woman [Matilde F. Arriola] who had personal contacts with Amelia Earhart in 1937, who was living next door from the political detainee hotel called the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel. [Mrs. Matilde Shoda San Nicholas (the former Matilde Fausto Ariola), see pages 102-103 of Truth at Last.]  I want to pursue the Monument for Amelia Earhart and finalize the biggest lingering unsolved mystery of the 20th Century. . . . What is holding us now is funding. We need $200 thousand for the project.

If Marie is correct that all the Saipan elders who were eyewitnesses to Earhart’s presence are gone, and no evidence contradicts this, Marie’s personal connection to Matilde F. Arriola and other eyewitnesses, including Joaquina M. Cabrera, who washed Amelia’s laundry and whose account was also made famous by Fred Goerner in his 1966 bestseller The Search For Amelia Earhart (see pages 101-102 TAL), she is the strongest link to Saipan’s pre-war heritage now living, a role she deeply embraces.

Matilde and her family had personal contacts with the American woman pilot,” Marie wrote in a recent email.  The mother knew English and spoke with AE, Matilde, Consolacion her sister and Mariono her brother, they all communicated with Amelia [Editor’s note: None spoke English, according to interviews with Fred Goerner and others.] Matilde was 24 years [old] in 1937. The political detainee was next door from her house. Matilde was a student at the Sisters of the Mercedarian school in Garapan at the time.

The  passages from Marie’s book about her encounters with Matilde Arriola are too important to paraphrase, so I reproduce them here:

Evidently Amelia Earhart was found by the Japanese after she crashed somewhere within or near what may have been the Japanese Mandated Micronesian Islands [Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands], and was subsequently taken to Saipan, which also lay within the Mandated area.

The story of the famous American pilot was secretly known by a few men and women who were conscripted by the Japanese and worked for the Japanese government.  However, they had no knowledge of the lady pilot’s plight.  On a beautiful morning in the late ’50’s my Aunt, Sister Remedios, and I came upon our friend Matilde F. Ariola, who was working in her yard in Chalan Kanoa.  Our conversation immediately turned to the subject of Amelia Earhart’s fate.  Taking us into her confidence, Matilde related a story of having met a stranger who lived next door at the Kobayashi Royokan Hotel.

On a subsequent meeting, Matilde continued, the slender American woman, who wore a short hair style, gave Matilde’s younger sister Consolacion a ring with a while stone, set in a crown mounting.  Unfortunately Consolacion was wounded during the war and fell very ill.  Before she died of her wounds she gave the ring to Matilde who wore it until after the war.  The ring with a white stone remained in her possession during and after the war and was eventually given to her niece Trinidad.  Sometime later Trinidad had a stroke.  I had an opportunity to visit her and mentioned the ring her Aunt Matilde had given her.   Suddenly, she appeared cheerful and in good spirits as she described the ring.  However, the ring did not fit well on her finger and she sadly admitted that she had lost it somewhere around the house.

Time passes quickly and it was during one of my yearly visits to Saipan in 1983 that I once again had the opportunity to visit with my good friend Matilde.  The occasion was a friendly gathering in Garapan, attended by many old friends.  In a private conversation with Matilde we rehashed the subject once again: The lady pilot who remains still undiscovered.  During our conversation Matilde told me that she had received from Amelia Earhart a small diary in early days [sic] titled “Aviator” that contained many, many numbers, no explanations were offered.

Matilde kept the little diary until it was accidentally lost during the war.  Sadly, no trace of the diary was ever found by Matilde.  It wasn’t until after the war, upon seeing a picture of Amelia Earhart, that she was identified by Matilde as the stranger who had given her the diary.

Undated photo of a young Marie S.C. Castro, which appears on the back cover of her autobiography, Without a Penny in My Pocket: My Bittersweet Memories Before and After World War II.

After having heard the story of Matilde and the item she received from the woman pilot during the Japanese occupation, the Chamorro law enforcement officers whom I knew did not divulge any information they had at the time for fear of enemy reprisals.  Even after the liberation of Saipan, those individuals who possibly knew what happened to Amelia Earhart in Saipan refused to speak.

The residents in Saipan who had previously seen thelady pilot,” all described her as having worn a man’s outfit and short hair style.  Women who had seen the lady pilot, after having been shown photos of several women including Amelia Earhart, correctly identified Amelia Earhart.  Upon their identification the question was, would Amelia Earhart’s disappearance still remain a mystery? (End of section from Without a Penny.)

During the Japanese period, there was no running water,” Marie wrote in a recent email. The toilet was outside. When Amelia needed the facility she had to go outside to use the restroom. She would stop by Matilde’s house and would peep in to see if someone was around to talk to. One day Matilde gave Amelia a cooked breadfruit, Amelia took it and tasted it. At another time while Matilde was doing her geography homework  Amelia helped Matilde on her homework. Amelia took the pencil from Matilde’s hand and wrote something however Matilde did not understand what AE wrote, Matilde didn’t know English at the time. She conversed using signs. Consolacion received a ring from AE.  Mariono spoke to AE.

“One day Matilde noticed that the lady was ill, pale and used the facility too often that day,” Marie went on.  “That was the last day she saw her.  The next day the care taker came to Matilde’s house and asked for black material.  Matilde’s father, Tun Felipe, was a tailor.  Matilde’s father asked the caretaker why she needed black material she said, ‘Kookoo died, the American pilot.’ She continued, ‘amoeba.’  She didn’t know the lady’s name and called her ‘Kookoo.’ Amelia died of dysentery disease.”  Matilde died in 1996, at age 83.

Opponents of the Earhart Memorial Monument label accounts like Matilde’s and dozens of others from eyewitnesses and others with knowledge as “anecdotal,” proving nothing.  But when one considers these, and then adds those of U.S. flag officers such as Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Navy’s most revered wartime leader in the Pacific; Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, commandant of the Marine Corps during World War II;  and Gen. Graves  Erskine, a brigadier general on Saipan during the 1944 invasion and second in command of the entire land operation, all attesting to the presence and death of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan, these accounts begin to add up to far more than mere anecdotes.  As Marie told the Rotarians in early February, There is strong evidence that Earhart was here on Saipan.”  You decide, but please do so only after you know more about the real facts about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, facts that can be found everywhere you look on this blog.

A shorter, gentler version of this story appeared in the March 28 edition of Marianas Variety under the headline, Marie Castro: An iron link to Saipan’s forgotten past.”  As I said in the opening of this post, massive opposition to the proposed Earhart memorial is endemic on Saipan, and nowhere is it worse than in the brainwashed and propagandized Facebook crowd, where this story garnered a total of just four Likes.”  I could consider this a badge of honor, but I’d much prefer that more were in favor of building this long-overdue monument to Earhart at the place of her death.  Far too many on Saipan are dead against it.

Ed Williams, 67, a retired Merchant Marine (Military Sealift Command) radio electronics officer who’s lived and worked in many capacities on Saipan since 2004, recently painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground there.  “Marie is such a sweet soul,” Williams wrote in a March 21 email.  “But not many locals are interested in anything but beer and betel nut.  I would say 1 percent of the locals are on the same page as Marie.”  Williams, whose father was an Army medic who served on Guam, Saipan and Tinian, where he saw Enola Gay land and actually guarded the B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, is doing all he can on Saipan to educate the locals about Earhart’s tragic end there, but he’s a distinct minority. 

Williams’ appraisal sadly mirrors that of former Navy civilian archeologist Jennings Bunn, who spent 14 years on Guam and several months on Saipan during the Typhoon Soudelor in 2015. From what I saw in Saipan, it is over run by Chinese and Koreans, and the local folks aren’t real interested inHaole  [defined here as a white person who is not a native Chamorro] history,” Bunn wrote in a recent email.  My experience on Guam was that the local Chamorro knows very little about their own history, and few really care.” 

Please consider making a donation to the planned Amelia Earhart Memorial on Saipan (see March 16 story for more).  You can make your tax-deductible check payable to: Amelia Earhart Memorial Monument, Inc., and send to AEMMI, c/o Marie S. Castro, P.O. Box 500213, Saipan MP 96950.  The monument’s success is 100 percent dependent on private donations, and everyone who gives will receive a letter of appreciation from the Earhart Memorial Committee, suitable from framing.  Thank you.

Goerner’s “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” Conclusion

Today we conclude Fred Goerner’s 1964 Argosy magazine feature story, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”  When we left Part III, former Navy men Eugene Bogan and Charles Toole had contacted Goerner and shared their mutual wartime experiences in the Marshall Islands that pointed to Amelia Earhart’s presence there, launching Goerner’s Marshalls investigations, which were much briefer and less productive than his Saipan research. 

We open the final part of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” as Goerner is contacted by another World War II veteran, this one from Saipan, who has some fascinating information to share:

Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, has worked seventeen years in a responsible position for the New York Telephone Company.  In 1944, Kanna was sergeant of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company, 106th Infantry, 27th Division, during the assault on Saipan.  Kanna’s duty was to take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.

“On Saipan, we captured one particular prisoner near an area designated as Tank Valley,’ ” wrote Kanna.  “This prisoner had in his possession a picture showing the late Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield.  Assuming the picture of the aircraft to be of value, it was forwarded through channels to the S-2 intelligence officer.  But more important, on questioning of this prisoner by one of our Nisei interpreters, he stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion, and subsequently, he felt both of them had been executed.  From time to time, I have told these facts to associates, who finally have convinced me to write.”

Kanna went on to list three Nisei interpreters who served with his unit during that period:  Richard Moritsugu, William Nuno and Roy Higashi.

Joining Ralph Kanna and Robert Kinley, who claimed to have found photos of Amelia Earhart on Saipan, was Seabee Joseph Garofalo, pictured here on Saipan in July 1944.  While assigned to Naval Construction Battalion 121 during the invasion, Garofalo found a sepia photo of Amelia Earhart inside the wallet of a dead Japanese officer.  He lost the photo on Tinian several weeks later.  Garofalo, the founder and curator of the Bronx Veterans Museum, passed away in March 2016 at age 95.  (Courtesy Joseph Garofalo.)

I have located and spoken personally with both Moritsugu and Nuno.  Moritsugu, now living near Honolulu, is unwilling to discuss his part in the Saipan invasion.  Nuno lives in Pasadena, California, and indicates that he was not with Kanna that day in 1944.  I found Roy Higashi just three days ago.  He is living in Seattle, Washington, and almost seemed to be expecting my call.  He said he had something to tell me, but would rather do it in person.  Higashi is bringing his family to San Francisco on vacation, and will contact me on arrival.  I’m sorry I cannot include his information in this article because of the publication deadline.

Robert Kinley of Norfolk, Virginia, was a demolition man with the Second Marine Division.  Pushing inland from Red Beach One, his squad came upon a house near a small cemetery.  Kinley went inside to clear it of any booby traps.  On a wall, he found “a picture of Miss Earhart and a Japanese officer.  The picture was made in an open field, showing only a background of hills.  The officer wore a fatigue cap with one star in the center.” Kinley says he took the picture with him, but everything was lost in July 1944, when he was wounded.

Robert Kinley then added a bit of provocative information.  “The Japanese had a command post in a tunnel next to the house where I found the picture.  My demolition team closed up the tunnel.  You might be able to find more pictures or records in the tunnel.

Kinley sent along a map showing the location of the house, tunnel and graveyard.  It coincides almost perfectly with the area Devine was shown by the Okinawan woman.

In September 1962, I went back to Saipan for the third time, but I had to do it on my own time and money.  KCBS wasn’t uninterested, but there’s a limit to financial soundness in making assignments.  I couldn’t drop it, though; there was just too much to go on, and no one in official places had been able to satisfactorily answer any of the many questions raised by the investigation.

Fearing that I might have become prejudiced, I took along Ross Game, the editor of the Napa, California Register, consulting editor to the nineteen Scripts’ newspapers in the West and Secretary for the Associated Press on the Pacific Coast.  We picked up Captain Joe Quintanilla, Chief of Police of Guam, and his detective-lieutenant, Edward Camacho, and took them along, too.

In this September 1962 photo, California newspaperman Ross Game, who accompanied Fred Goerner during a few of his early 1960s investigations, including one on Saipan, is flanked on Saipan by Guam Detective Edward Camacho (left), and Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam Police Chief.

Things had changed in one year.  My, had they changed!  Commander Bridwell was gone; the Navy was gone; Mr. Schmitz was gone – and NTTU was gone.  I should say NTTU were gone, since there were eleven of them.

The fence gates were open, and we went in.  Commander Bridwell and the Naval Administration Unit had been a front for one of the most elaborate spy schools in the history of this or perhaps any country.  The faculty consisted of civilian professors of espionage, the very same men whom I had addressed that night at the club.  It’s hard to imagine the impact of coming out of the jungle and discovering a modern town of ninety two- and three-bedroom houses with concrete roofs, typhoon-proof and modern in every respect even to modern landscaping; a modern apartment house for the single members of the faculty; a library, snack bar, barber shop and theater-auditorium.  Seven of the NTTU training facilities were located on the north end of the island and four on the east.  For the spy-school student, there were sturdy, concrete barracks at each site and other concrete buildings in which classes were held.

For ten years, the students were flown into Kagman Field at night, taken in buses with the shades drawn to any of the eleven areas, trained in techniques of spying and a very specialized brand of guerrilla jungle warfare.  Most of them never knew where it was they were being trained.  When their courses were completed, they were dispatched on any one of a thousand missions, penetrating through or parachuting behind Communist lines.  Nationalist Chinese, Vietnamese, and men from other areas were brought to Saipan, trained and then assigned.

Where did the NTTU go?  Why did they go?

I can’t answer the first.  I don’t know that I want to.

The second has to do with the focus of international attention the Earhart story placed on Saipan twice within two years, but more importantly, the United Nations inspection team for the Trust Territory of the Pacific gave Commander Bridwell and the Navy bad marks in 1961 for the administration of Saipan.  They had done too much rather than too little for the people of Saipan.  It was out of line with what the Department of Interior was doing for the rest of the people of the Pacific area.  I don’t believe the UN team even knew about the NTTU.  They probably got the same trip to Bridwell’s quarters I did.  In any case, when the history of the post-World War II struggle between East and West is finally written, I’m sure Saipan and NTTU will be prominently mentioned.

Saipan’s Kagman Airfield, also known as East Field, fall 1944. Among the aircraft are Consolidated B-24 Liberators from  the 819th Bomb Squadron, of the 30th Bomb Group, C-47 Skytrains and, in the distance, a B-29 Superfortress.  Bruce M. Petty, author of Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War (2009), wrote, “The CIA had a secret base on the north end of Saipan in the 1950s and early 1960s where they trained Chinese Nationalists to fight Chinese Communists.  Kagman field was used to fly in trainees at night were they were bussed to their quarters at the north end of the island.  The building still survive are currently being used by the CNMI government. We lived in one for four years.”

We did some more excavation around the perimeter of the cemetery; this time outside the northern end, but found nothing.  We needed Devine to show us the spot, but permission was still being denied to him.  We did find where the house Kinley had entered once stood, and we found a huge mound which must be the command post he speaks of.  It would be, of course, a major and expensive earth-moving job to open it up.

Ross Game, Captain Quintanilla, Eddie Camacho, Father Sylvan and I went back over every piece of testimony, and even managed to turn up some new leads.  The consensus:  They were more convinced than I.  Two American flyers, a man and a woman, bearing an almost unmistakable resemblance to Earhart and Noonan had indeed been brought to Saipan by the Japanese in 1937.

The most important event of the third expedition came one morning at the mission house.  One Jesus De Leon Guerrero, a native Saipanese, came to see me.  Father Sylvan served as interpreter.  Guerrero proposed a trade.  He had been collecting scrap from the war for years and had a mountainous pile.  If I would arrange a Japanese ship to come to Saipan to pick up his scrap, he would give me the conclusive answer to the mystery of the two American flyers.

I remembered several Navy and Department of the Interior people telling me that U.S. policy was that no Japanese ships were permitted to enter the former mandated islands.

I couldn’t have changed that policy if I had wanted to, which I didn’t.  No story can be bought without being tainted.  I told Guerrero, through Father Sylvan, that if he had anything to say to me, he’d better say it now.  There would be no deal.  Guerrero blinked, turned on his heel and walked out of the mission.  The most striking thing about the whole conversation was that I recognized Guerrero.  He was the native who had been in my Quonset that rainy night the year before.  Father Sylvan told me later that the rest of the natives fear Guerrero.  Before and during the war, Guerrero worked with the Japanese military police.

The trip in ’62 produced another vital piece of information.  Ross and I went down into the Marshall Islands, and found Elieu [Jibambam].  Elieu teaches at the Trust Territory school at Majuro.  He tells exactly the same story he told to Bogan and Toole in ’44.  The American flyers landed near Ailinglaplap in 1937.

Elieu Jibambam, one of the earliest known Marshall Island witnesses, though not an eyewitness, told several Navy men on Majuro in 1944 about the story he had heard from Ajima, a Japanese trader, about the Marshalls landing of the white woman flier who ran out of gas and landed between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap.”  Elieu’s account was presented in several books including Fred Goerner’s Search.  This photo is taken from Oliver Knaggs’ 1981 book, Amelia Earhart: her final flight.

And now, as you read this, I’ll once more be on Saipan.  There is one important difference this time.  Thomas Devine is with me.  After nearly a four-year effort, permission has finally been granted for him to enter the island.

Why has such an effort been necessary?  What about Japan?  This long after the war, wouldn’t she be willing to admit an incident involving two white flyers?

The answer is no.  It involves far more than the detention of Earhart and Noonan.  Japan has categorically denied building military facilities in the mandated islands prior to Pearl Harbor.  In the war crimes trials in Tokyo in 1946 and ’47, Japan stated, “The airfields and fortifications in the mandated islands were for cultural purposes and for aiding fishermen to locate schools of fish.”  It is obvious that Japan cannot admit an incident involving two American flyers before the war without also admitting a far graver sin – the necessity for covering up their activities in the mandates.  If Japan ever concedes that the islands were used for military purposes, it will represent a violation of the League of Nations Mandate, a breach of international law, a most serious loss of face and the loss of the last chance to get the islands back.

Is there any other way to clear up the mystery, through extant records perhaps?

I don’t know.  The records that might shed light upon this matter seem beyond our reach.  According to the United States Navy, Army and other departments of the Government, the following have been declared missing, destroyed, or returned to Japan:

  • Twenty-two tons of Japanese records captured on Saipan, which were never interpreted.
  • The radio logs of Commander Bridwell’s four United states logistics vessels.
  • Records of a physical examination of both Earhart and Noonan, including dental charts made by Navy Chief Pharmacist Mate Harry S. George, in Alameda, in the year 1937.
  • The large bulk of Naval intelligence records for the Pacific from 1937 to 1941.

In spite of the fact that the Navy sent the carrier [USS] Lexington to Howland Island in 1937 and spent some $4,000,000 in a fruitless search, their official position today, at least to CBS and the Scripps’ League newspapers, is that “the Earhart-Noonan disappearance is a civilian matter.  There has been and is no reason for this Department to make an investigation.”

Bridwell told me an ONI man conducted an investigation in 1960 after my first visit, and the testimony could not be shaken.  The Navy maintains there has been no investigation at all As recently as four months ago, Captain James Dowdell, now Deputy Chief of Naval Information in Washington, vehemently denied to Ross Game that the Navy was withholding any information, and indicated that the Navy hadn’t conducted any investigation.  Yet, just two months ago, the U.S. State Department stated in a letter to me, “The State Department does have a limited amount of information about the Earhart matter which is Classified, but the Navy Department has informed us that they conducted a complete investigation in 1960, and there’s nothing to the conjecture that Earhart and Noonan met their end on Saipan.”

(Editor’s note: Goerner was shown part or all of the then-classified 1960 ONI report in April 1963, and he commented briefly on its contents on pages 236 and 307 of The Search for Amelia Earhart, First Edition.  Based on the publication date (January 1964) of this article, he clearly had seen the classified report in plenty of time to mention it here. Why he didn’t disclose this fact in this article is unknown to this observer.)

Just before The Search for Amelia Earhart was published in November 1966, True (The Man’s Magazine) ran a lengthy preview, extracting passages directly from the book. True also ran this photo, of Thomas E. Devine, who finally made it to Saipan in December 1963, with Goerner, (seated right) and missionary priests Father Sylvan Conover (smoking pipe) and Father San Augustin, preparing to search for the gravesite Devine was shown by an unidentified Okinawan woman on Saipan in 1945.

As I said earlier in this article, I can’t really blame the Navy Department for its evasiveness.  The Navy was fronting, at any cost, for the CIA, and it’s going to be a wee bit embarrassing, at the very least, to clear the record now.

Were Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on a spy mission in 1937?  I simply haven’t the space to begin that discussion here.  Let me simply say that those “two American fliers’ on Saipan are I believe, the key to an even more incredible story:  The twenty years in the Pacific before Pearl Harbor and the bitter battle between departments of our Government over what to do about the Japanese mandated islands.

There are many who say that the enigma of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan is best left untold. Embarrassment of Japan at this time would not be wise, they say. What good can it do to rake over old coals?

My answer is a simple one.  With most Americans, the individual still counts.  Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan fought a battle for most of their lives against the sea and the elements, not against men bent on war.  We orbit men around our earth and turn our eyes to the stars and what may lie beyond because of the courage and contribution of such as Earhart and Noonan.

If they won their greatest victory only to become the first casualties of World War II, the world should know.  Honor for them is long overdue.

When all is considered, a single question remains:  If the two white flyers on Saipan before the war were not Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, who were they?

 Within the next few days, we may know the answer.  (End of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”)

Readers should note that this article well summarized the state of Goerner’s Earhart research in late 1963, before his fourth trip to Saipan in December 1963.  Some of Goerner’s most important findings and ideas would undergo radical changes in the coming years, and long before his death in 1994, he would actually renounce his belief in Earhart’s Mili Atoll landing.  In future posts I will endeavor to flesh out as much of these small mysteries as I can.

Fred Goerner’s “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart” Part III

Today we move along to Part III of Fred Goerner’s January 1964 Argosy magazine opus, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”  When we left Part II, Goerner and missionary priest Father Sylvan Conover were trying to locate the gravesite of “two white people, a man and a woman, who had come [from the sky] before the war” that an otherwise unidentified Okinawan woman had shown to Devine in August 1945, and which Devine later wrote about extensively in his 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.  

 We continue with Part III of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart”:

Father Sylvan and I matched the photograph to the terrain as best we could, and one of the natives showed us where a small dirt train had run past the southern boundary of the cemetery.  Pacing offthirty to forty feet to the left,” we arrived in a grove of trees, and with a crew of eight Carolinian natives, excavation began.  We went to a depth of six feet among the trees, and then moved slowly to the west.  About one o’clock, the afternoon of September twenty-first, Commander Bridwell, who had been watching the proceedings, let out a shout and brushed the natives back from a newly opened area.

Dozens of pieces of skull and many teeth were visible at both ends of a shallow grave not more than two feet in depth.  Large teeth were found at one end, smaller ones at the other – indication that at least two individuals, perhaps a man and a woman, had been buried head to foot.  As quickly as Bridwell had moved, several shovelfuls had been thrown aside, so, for the next four days, we sifted every bit of earth for a dozen feet around.  Seven pounds of bones and thirty-seven teeth were recovered.  The island’s doctors inspected the remains, and generally agreed that the grave had been occupied by a man and a woman.  The dentists felt there was a strong possibility that the people had been Caucasians, as some of the teeth appeared to contain zinc-oxide fillings; the Japanese had never used that material.

Cutline from The Search for Amelia Earhart: “Father Sylvan Conover at grave site outside Liyang cemetery where remains were found in September 1961.  The cross and stones were placed here by natives after the site had been excavated.  Author’s Photo. (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

The afternoon the excavation was completed, we carefully wrapped the remains in cotton, and Father Sylvan placed the package in the church vault. 

That night came the strangest experience of my life. I was staying in what was laughingly referred to as the Presidential Suite.”  It was nothing more than a Quonset hut, about twenty-five yards above the commander’s quarters.  I don’t know what awakened me.  It was about two o’clock in the morning and it was raining quite hard outside.  As I sat bolt-upright on the cot, there was a flash of lightning, and I saw a man in the room by the door.  I jumped from the cot and yelled at him,What do you want?

As he turned, I saw he had a machete in his hand. He stared at me for a second, then ran out through the front of the hut, banging the screen door behind him.  I pursued him to the door, and in the glare of the running light on the front of the hut, I got a good look at him as he raced across the asphalt road and plunged into the jungle.  He was a native – a man I was to hear a lot more from later.

As I tried to figure out what had happened, I was shaking so badly I could hardly light a cigarette.

Were you really awake?  Did you really see the man, or did you dream it? I questioned myself.  Wet sandal marks around the room leading from the door answered my question.

What did he want?was the next logical challenge.  Certainly not my life.  If he had wanted, he could have killed me as I lay on the cot.  Expensive motion picture and still cameras and tape-recording equipment rested on the cot next to me.  Several hundred dollars in cash was exposed on top of the bureau next to my passport.  Nothing had been taken.  Nothing had been disturbed.  Nearly a year was to pass before the realization came as to what my visitor sought:  The package of human remains I had given to Father Sylvan for safe-keeping.

The next day, I asked Bridwell for permission to take the package to an anthropologist in the States for study.  He didn’t want the responsibility, and cabled Washington for clearance.

That night, as we waited for Washington’s answer, I received a mysterious summons by phone from a man named Schmitz.  I was to be admitted to the NTTU area for the purpose of addressing their personnel on the subject of Amelia Earhart.  A civilian in a handsome new car picked me up at my Quonset, drove me by circuitous route through the jungle, up a hill and deposited me in front of a night club!  I mean a night club – complete with canopy leading from the road, dance floor, bar and stainless steel kitchen.

From Search: “Interior of NTTU Club where author addressed CIA training staff in Saipan, 1962.”  Author’s Photo.   (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Mr. Schmitz (I never learned his full name) met me at the door and escorted me to the bandstand and waiting microphone.  For the better part of an hour, I told an audience of several hundred, including many wives, of the investigation.  Afterward, the applause was warm and prolonged, and many came forward to ask questions or contribute bits of information that had been heard from the natives.  Mr. Schmitz and I had a drink at the bar and chatted for a while and then I was driven by the same circuitous route back to my Presidential Suite.

Just before I left the island, Bridwell began to cooperate.  The invitation to NTTU had worked wonders.  He readily admitted, “An ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence] man [Special Agent Joseph M. Patton] has been here checking on what you turned up last year.  Most of the testimony couldn’t be shaken.  A white man and woman were undoubtedly brought to Saipan before the war.”

The commander went on to expound his own theory:  “I don’t believe Earhart and Noonan flew their plane in here.  I think you’ll find that they went down near Ailinglapalap, Majuro and Jaluit Atolls in the Marshalls.  The Japanese brought them to Saipan.  A supply ship was used to take them to Yap in the western Carolines, and a Japanese naval seaplane flew them to Saipan.  That’s why some of your witnesses said they came from the sky.”

What have you got that’s tangible to prove that?I naturally wanted to know.

I think you’ll find all the proof you need,” replied Bridwell,contained in the radio logs of four U.S. logistic vessels which were supplying the Far East Fleet in 1937.  Remember these names: The [USS] Gold Star, [USS] Blackhawk, [USS] Chaumont and [USS] Henderson.  I believe they intercepted certain coded Japanese messages that you’ll find fascinating reading.” (Editor’s note:  Goerner reported nothing more about these four U.S. Navy ships in Search, or anywhere else, to my knowledge.)

Returning to San Francisco October 1, 1961, I was still without the last key to the Earhart puzzle, and without quite a few keys to NTTU.  A few days later, a strange call came to me at KCBS from a Mr. Frederick Winter of the Central Intelligence Agency.

I’d like to visit with you regarding a matter of national security,” he said.

Of course,I replied.  “Come on up to our studios in the Sheraton-Palace.”

Thanks, but I’d rather not,rejoined Mr. Winter. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”

From the back cover of The Search for Amelia Earhart: “Fred Goerner is a CBS radio broadcaster in San Francisco. A former college professor and World War II Navy Seabee veteran, he has been with station KCBS for seven years and has a popular afternoon program heard by tens of thousands of Californians. In 1962, he was honored with the Sigma Delta Chi National Journalistic Fraternity Distinguished Service Award for the best radio reporting in America. Born in Pittsburgh, Mr. Goerner now lives in San Francisco.”  (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

How will I know you?” I asked.

Don’t worry about that,assured Mr. Winter.  “I’ll recognize you.”

Mr. Winter located me without any trouble, and suggested that we drop into the coffee shop for a bite of something.  As long as I live, I’ll never forget that conversation.  Mr. Winter had a dish of strawberry ice cream, and I had a cup of coffee.  We talked, there in the coffee shop, about one of the best-kept, most important U.S. Intelligence secrets since the end of World War II.

Mr. Schmitz has alerted us,began Winter, that you have turned up a good deal of information regarding NTTU and Saipan.  Washington has asked me to talk to you about the matter and to ask you to withhold this information from publication or broadcast until you are given a release.  We know you to be a good American, and we hope you will comply.

I agreed.  Mr. Winter didn’t know that I had already made that decision.

The conversation lasted a little more than a half-hour, and then, with a hearty handshake we parted.  I have not seen Mr. Winter since, although we’ve had one brief telephone conversation.

Was Mr. Winter really from the CIA?  I wondered for a while myself.  I hadn’t asked for identification, but I wouldn’t have known the proper card anyway.  For protection, I wrote a note to John McCone, head of the CIA in Washington.

“We’re happy to inform you that Mr. Frederick Winter is the man he represents himself to be,” was the answer.

Lengthy conversations began with the Navy Department about whether an expert was to study the remains.  The Navy stipulated a number of things that must be done before the package could be released; among them was written permission from the next of kin.  There was no definite indication the remains were those of Earhart and Noonan, but the Navy wanted as much time as possible and was taking no chances.

Dr. Frank Stanton of CBS flew out from New York, and the entire situation was discussed.  We all strongly felt that nothing should be broadcast or printed before a positive identification of the remains could be made.  If identification was not possible, the package could be returned to Saipan without publicity.  The primary consideration should be for next of kin.

I visited Amelia Earhart’s sister, Mrs. Albert Morrissey, in West Medford, Massachusetts, and presented the facts of the total investigation.

She thanked me for my efforts and granted permission on behalf of Amelia’s mother, who has since passed away [Oct. 29, 1962] at ninety-five years of age.

A week later, I met Mrs. Bea Noonan Ireland, the remarried widow of Fred Noonan, now living in Santa Barbara, California.  She also gave her consent to do whatever was necessary to write an end to the mystery.

Original caption from Search: “At nationally broadcast KCBS news conference in San Francisco, November 1961, the author (at table, right) is questioned by newsmen about package of remains being flown in from Saipan. Don Mozley, KCBS Director of News, sits at table with Goerner. Author’s Photo. (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Dr. Theodore McCown, University of California anthropologist, was then asked to do the study should the Navy release the remains. He agreed.

It was another month before Navy permission was granted, and unfortunately, we had to learn of it from a wire service.  A previous arrangement had been made for Father Sylvan to take the package from Saipan to Guam, address it to Dr. McCown, and ship it by commercial airliner to its destination.

Navy permission went direct to Saipan, and Father Sylvan carried through with his part.  Someone on Guam, however, perhaps a customs official, leaked the story to a representative of Associated Press, and it was on every broadcast and every paper in the country before we could do anything to stop it.

There was nothing to do but admit we had been pursuing the investigation.

Dr. McCown’s study took a week, and his findings were disappointing in the extreme.  Instead of two people, we had found three, perhaps four.  At least one man and one woman were represented by the remains, but the strongest indications were that these people had been indigenous to the Saipan area.  The zinc-oxidefillings that had excited the dentists on Saipan turned out to be calcified dentine.  X-rays showed there were no metallic fillings present. The hypothesis that the remains represented those of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, wrote Dr. McCown, therefore is not supported.

Privately, however, McCown told us, “Don’t be discouraged.  You may have missed the actual grave site by six or sixty feet.  That’s the way it is with archeology. In all my experience, I have never known a story with as much testimony supporting it as this one, not to have some basis in truth.”

Thomas Devine was also disappointed. His disappointment turned to frustration when he saw a complete set of photographs I had taken of our excavation and the surrounding area.

You were on the wrong end of the cemetery,” he wrote.  “I’m sure now that the site was outside the northern perimeter, not the southern.  There was a small dirt road that ran by the north side, too.  Did you try to match that one photo against the mountain from the north side?”

From Search:  “Dr. Theodore McCown, University of California (Berkeley) anthropologist, announces at December 1961 news conference his finding that the remains were not those of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Center background is Jules Dundes, CBS Vice-President and General Manager of KCBS Radio, San Francisco.  Author’s Photo.”  (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

I admitted I hadn’t because the jungle had grown too high in that area.

Nineteen sixty-one’s news reached the front page of nearly every newspaper in the nation, and a number of persons were motivated to come forward with bits of information. (Editor’s note: Here Goerner exaggerates the media coverage his investigation received, as I’ve found no evidence that any major newspapers published a single story about Goerner’s four Earhart investigations on Saipan in the early 1960s.  Many smaller newspapers around the country did run stories produced by the San Mateo Times, Associated Press and United Press International, as shown in this clip from the Desert Suna local daily newspaper serving Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley in Southern California.  But I’ve searched in vain for any traces of Goerner’s early 1960s Saipan investigations in papers such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or Los Angeles Times, to name just a few of the prominent newspapers that blacked out news of the search for Amelia Earhart on Saipan.)

Eugene Bogan, now a Washington, D.C. attorney, had been the senior Navy military government officer at Majuro Atoll in the Marshalls after the January 1944 invasion.  Bogan claimed that several natives told him that two white flyers, one of them a woman, had landed their airplane near Ailinglapalap, close to Majuro, in 1937, and were taken away on a Japanese ship bound for Saipan. The name of one of the natives is Elieu [Jibambam],Bogan said. Elieu was my most trusted native assistant.

Charles Toole, of Bethesda, Maryland, now an expert in the Manpower Division of the Under Secretary of the Navy, had been an LCT (landing craft tank) Commander, plying between the same islands in 1944.  “Bogan is absolutely right,” said Toole.  “I came across the same information myself.”

Why didn’t Bogan and Toole file an official report on their findings?

We were discouraged by the senior officer responsible for that over-all area in the Marshalls,they replied.  “The reason he gave was that there wasn’t any sense in raising false hopes at home that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan might still be alive.”  (End of Part III.)

Fred Goerner’s “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart,” Part II

Today rejoin Fred Goerner for Part II of his January 1964 Argosy magazine opus, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.”  When we left Part I, Goerner was learning a few details about the mysterious Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU), the CIA spy school located in the northern end of Saipan that he was told to judiciously avoid by Commander Paul Bridwell, the top Navy administrator on the island, who knew far more about the Earhart disappearance than he ever let on to Goerner or anyone else in the media.

Without further delay, here is Part II of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart”:

I started to draw the conclusion that the Navy was giving Nationalist Chinese some special training.  The guess was inadequate, although I felt my suspicions were confirmed by an inadvertent slip at the officer’s club.  Bridwell had a dinner party in my honor, and one officer’s wife, after a half-dozen cocktails, gushed, Yes, you have to know of a lot of languages on Saipan:  Chamorro, Spanish, German, Japanese.  And now we’re even speaking Chinese.

There was a hush at the table as if someone had used an especially pungent four-letter word, and then the conversation picked up at double time.

One day, Father Sylvan took me up Mount Tapochau, a little over 1,500 feet, the highest point on Saipan.  From there, one can see the whole island, but not down into the jungle.  I shot about a hundred feet of motion-picture film and a few stills, and then we headed back to the village.

Original photo and cutline from The Search for Amelia Earhart: “View from Mount Tapochau of northern end of Saipan Island in 1961. The jungle hides eleven installations of Naval Technical Training Units, where agents were trained. Author’s Photo.” (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

Commander Bridwell was waiting.  Understand you’ve been up Tapochau with your cameras? he said.

Right.  Nice climb and view.  Couldn’t see into your restricted areas, though.”

I wasn’t really worried about that.”  He smiled.  “But we’d like it very much if you dropped your film off with the PIO officers at Guam for a look-see.

Before I left Saipan in 1960, I let one question get the better of me:  Did Earhart and Noonan fly their plane to Saipan?  It seemed incredible.  Saipan lies about 1,500 miles due north of their final take-off point, Lae, New Guinea.  Saipan, with Howland Island as an intended destination, would have represented a navigational error of ninety to a hundred degrees.  Yet there was that possibility.  The question enlarged to:  If they did fly here, could any part of that plane still remain on the bottom of Tanapag?

Monsignor Calvo brought me Gregorio Magofna and Antonio Taitano, who had been shelling and fishing in the harbor for many years.  After viewing a photograph of Amelia’s Lockheed Electra, Greg and Toni agreed that they knew of the wreckage of a “two-motor” plane.  About three-quarters of a mile from what was once the ramps of the Japanese seaplane base, we went down in twenty-five to thirty feet of water.

The bottom of Tanapag Harbor is like another world.  Every conceivable type of wreckage is littered as far as a face mask will let you see.  Landing craft, jeeps, large-caliber shells, what’s left of a Japanese destroyer, the Japanese supply ship, Kieyo Maru, in deeper water beyond the reef, a huge submarine – all covered with slime and of coral.

The “two-motor” plane proved to be a huge, twisted mass of junk.  From this incoherent form, we hauled several hundred pounds of vile-smelling wreckage to the surface.  Later, I knocked a chunk of coral as big as a man’s head from one piece of equipment, and found the first sign of aircraft-parts wired together.  In the early days, before the advent of shakeproof nuts, this was standard procedure.

It was not until [Rear] Admiral [Waldemar F.A.] Wendt’s technicians at Guam announced that the equipment possibly could have come from the type of aircraft Amelia had flown, that I began to have some hope for its identification.  My motion-picture and still films were checked, and I headed back home. (Editor’s note:  After promotion to rear admiral, Wendt assumed command on Jan. 17, 1960 of U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, with additional duty as CINCPAC representative, Marianas-Bonins, as Deputy High Commissioner of the Marianas District of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and as Deputy Military Governor of the Bonin-Volcano Islands; with headquarters in Guam.)

From The Search for Amelia Earhart: “Examining the generator at a news conference in San Francisco in July 1960 are, left to right: Moe Raiser, Associated Press Reporter, Paul Mantz, and the author. World Wide Photo. (Courtesy Lance Goerner.)

In San Francisco, July 1, 1960, the tape-recorded testimony of Saipan’s natives made an impression on the press, but the wreckage created much more interest.  Several numbers found on the interior of what was once a heavy-duty generator were sent to Bendix Aircraft in New Jersey.  Several days later, Bendix, which had manufactured much of the electrical equipment carried on the Lockheed Electra, announced that the bearings had been produced by the Toyo Bearing Company of Osaka, Japan.  The equipment was a Japanese copy of Bendix gear!

The Saipanese witnesses somehow became lost in the reverberations from the Bendix press release, and Earhart and Noonan were again assigned to limbo. 

If detailed, the next part of the investigation would fill a book.  It concerns the search by the Navy and Coast Guard, in 1937.  I’ll sketch the high points in a very few words.

We obtained photostatic copies of the message log of the Itasca, Amelia’s Coast Guard homing vessel at Howland Island, and the search report of the U.S.S. Lexington, the carrier dispatched by the Navy to hunt for the missing flyers.  What we found produced a mystery within a mystery.  Immediately after the plane was thought lost, the Itasca had radioed to the San Francisco Division of the Coast Guard a group of messages purportedly to have come from the Earhart plane.  Three days later, another group of messages, also supposed to have come from Amelia, was sent to San Francisco.  From the first to the second group, the time and content of every message had been much altered.

How could such discrepancies occur?

The answers of two of the radio operators who were aboard the Itasca that morning in 1937 were a continuing contradiction.  William Galten, of Brisbane, California, was radioman, third-class.  He maintained that the first group was correct.  Leo Bellarts, of Everett, Washington, was the chief radioman, charged with handling all the communications with the plane.  He stipulated that the second group was accurate. 

Coast Guard Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts led the Itasca radio team during the last flight of Amelia Earhart.  According to Leo’s son, David Bellarts, this photo was taken on July 2, 1937.  Whether it was shot before or after the Earhart plane’s expected arrival is unknown.  (Photo courtesy David Bellarts.)

I went to see Galten, and when faced with the photostats and Bellarts’ statement, he admitted, I may have been mistaken.  We were under great pressure. (Editor’s note: Goerner’s description of “two groups” of alleged messages from the Earhart plane, with one being accurate, the other inaccurate, is itself inaccurate, as well as confusing.  For an accurate discussion on this topic, see “Chapter III: The Search and the Radio Signals” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.)

You may have already guessed this:  The Lexington’s planes flew over 151,000 square miles of open ocean, an area determined only by the first group of messages, not one of which was correct as to time or content.

Why didn’t the Navy double check with the Itasca, or why weren’t the corrected group of messages relayed from San Francisco to the Lexington? There are only two possible answers:  A completely unexplainable lack of communications between the Navy and the Coast Guard – or design.  When you know that the Navy spent nearly $4,000,000 on the search, it becomes utterly incredible.  Heads have certainly rolled for less.

The statement I have just made was contained in a monograph I sent to the Navy Department in 1962.  Some five weeks later, I received a call from a chief at the Coast Guard office in San Francisco, advising me to check the next day’s edition of the Navy Times for further information on the Earhart matter.  The next day, the Coast Guard released a report that had been kept in a classified file for twenty-five years.  It was the report of Commander Warner K. Thompson, who had been the commanding officer of the Itasca in 1937.  It revealed that the Coast Guard had known next to nothing about the plans for the final flight; that the Navy appeared to be handling the whole show; that the Navy had brought special direction-finding equipment aboard the Itasca; that on the morning of the disappearance, a number of secret messages signed with the code name Vacuum were received aboard Itasca addressed to one Richard Black, who ostensibly was a Department of Interior employee.  The Coast Guard felt it had been used as a front and could not be blamed for anything when it have been given so little information.

The overtones of “intelligence” become quite audible, but I’m ahead of the story.

This story, which announced Thomas E. Devine’s Saipan gravesite claim, appeared in the San Mateo Times on July 16, 1960.  Devine returned to Saipan in 1963 and located the gravesite shown to him by the Okinawan woman in August 1945, but did not share his find with Fred Goerner.  Instead Devine planned to return to Saipan by himself, but he never again got the opportunity.

Early in 1961, I felt we had more than enough to warrant another trip to Saipan.  In addition to further questioning of the natives and raising more of the wreckage from Tanapag Harbor to establish its identity, I wanted to follow through on information given to us by Thomas E. Devine of West Haven, Connecticut.  Devine had been a member of an Army postal unit on Saipan in 1945, and claimed that a native woman had shown him the grave of “two white people, a man and a woman, who had come before the war.” Devine said he had not connected the incident with Earhart and Noonan until he read of our investigation.  For evidence, he produced pictures of the native woman and an area near a tiny graveyard where the woman had lived.  He also provided a fairly detailed description of the unmarked grave’s location outside a small cemetery.

Navy permission to go to Saipan was really tough to come by this time.  The first application was filed in April 1961, and for several months, there was no answer.

In June, Jules Dundes, CBS Vice President in San Francisco, called Admiral [Daniel F. Jr.] Smith’s office in Washington, and finally got Captain [R.W.] Alexander, then the Navy’s Deputy Chief of Information, on the phone.  Alexander flatly stated that permission to return to Saipan was denied.

Not liking the tenor of that conversation, Dundes called CBS Vice President Ted Koop, in Washington, who promptly went to work with Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense.  Early in September, I departed for the now familiar Marianas – with the necessary clearance.

I went back with a bit more information about our friend, NTTU, too.  Control of Saipan had been transferred from Department of Interior to the Navy by Presidential order in 1952.  Shortly thereafter a contract amounting to nearly $30,000,000 was let to an amalgamation of three companies, Brown-Pacific-Maxon, for the construction of certain facilities on the north and east side of the island, the concrete foundations of which went down ten to twenty-five feet.

At Guam, I told Admiral Wendt what I thought might be going on.  Then, at Saipan, I met once again with my old friend Commander Bridwell, who quickly reiterated that I was to stay away from the north end and the east side of the island.

Cmdr. Paul W. Bridwell, chief of the U.S. Naval Administration Unit on Saipan, and Jose Pangelinan, who told Fred Goerner he saw the fliers but not together, that the man had been held at the military police stockade and the woman kept at the hotel in Garapan. Pangelinan said the pair had been buried together in an unmarked grave outside the cemetery south of Garapan. The Japanese had said the two were fliers and spies. (Photo by Fred Goerner, courtesy Lance Goerner.)

“Look, Paul,” I replied.  “I’m not after NTTU.  Quit muddying the water for me on the Earhart story.  Let us get the final answer and you’ll have me off your back.”

It’s not my business if you’re training Nationalist Chinese or operating ballistic missile sites; that’s a security matter.

We’re glad you feel that way,returned Paul, but if you do come up with the final answer to Earhart, a dozen newsmen will be knocking on our door.

Don’t you believe it, I retorted.  “No one is going to send a photographer six thousand miles to duplicate something we already have.  Just cooperate with me.”

Bridwell finally did cooperate – the day before I left Saipan for the second time, and only after I had received an invitation to enter the super-secret NTTU area.  Bridwell believes strongly that Amelia and Fred were brought to Saipan in 1937 and their lives ended six months to a year later, but at that time, he was obliged to block the investigation in any way he could.  He and the rest of the Naval Administration Unit were fronting for the Central Intelligence Agency.

I know now that word was passed to natives working for the Navy or NTTU that it would be best to reply in the negative to questions asked about any Americans being on the island before the war.  Bridwell even attempted to get witnesses to change their testimony.  In one case, he was successful.  Brother Gregorio, now with the Church at Yap, had been on Saipan in 1937.  Father Sylvan had seen him during the year I had been gone.  Brother Gregorio said that he had heard from several people that a white man and woman, reportedly flyers, had been brought to Saipan.  He had not seen them himself because the Japanese had restricted him to the church, but he gave the names of the two men who had told him.  Commander Bridwell got to them first.  The pair had jobs with the Navy and refused to talk.  I hold no grudge.  The Navy did what it felt necessary to protect the CIA.

During the ’61 stay, Magofna and Taitano took me back down to the wreckage off the old seaplane ramps, and an afternoon of diving produced conclusive evidence that the two-motorplane was Japanese.  A corroded plate from a radio-direction finder unmistakenly bore Japanese markings.

Father Sylvan and I then went to work on Thomas Devine’s information.  The small graveyard was easy to locate.  One of Devine’s photos showed a cross in the graveyard; another pictured an angel with upraised arms surrounded by crosses and tombstones.  The only change was the jungle.  It had grown up forty or more feet over the cemetery.  Devine had also sent a picture of the woman who had shown him the grave site.  Father Sylvan showed the print to a native who works for the mission, and the old man brightened.

Okinawan woman who showed Thomas E. Devine the location that Devine believed was the Earhart-Noonan gravesite on Saipan in 1945. (Photo by Heywood Hunter.  Courtesy of Thomas E. Devine.)

“Okinawa woman,” he said. Sent back Okinawa after war.

Father Sylvan acknowledged that many Okinawans and Koreans had been brought to Saipan by the Japanese before the war to build airfields and harbor installations.  All who hadn’t married Chamorros or Carolinians were repatriated.

Devine had indicated that the grave site was outside the cemetery.  Another of his photographs, taken from a narrow dirt road with the island’s mountain range in the background, was supposed to have the most significance. “The grave,” Devine had written, “is located thirty to forty feet to the left of this road.” (End of Part II.)

 

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