In ’85 letter, eyewitness describes Earhart’s takeoff, Insists Noonan “had no drink” before last flight
Bob Iredale, Socony-Vacuum Corp. manager at Lae, New Guinea, spent two days with Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan before the last leg of their world flight attempt in early July 1937. In this 1985 missive, he offers Fred Goerner a firsthand account of their last takeoff, plus his opinion about what happened later. The following letter appeared in the November 1998 issue of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Boldface emphasis mine throughout.
Victoria Aust. 3931
July 28, 1985
Dear Mr. Goerner,
Through good work by Australia Post, I received your letter 15 days after your post date of July 11. I am glad to be able to assist your research about Amelia Earhart, as I have read many views by writers, example, spying for the U.S. against Japanese in the Marianas, beheaded by the Japs, still alive in the U.S., etc., etc., all of which to me is a lot of sensationalist garbage.
C.K. Gamble was president of the Vacuum Oil Co., a subsidiary of U.S. Standard Vacuum, when he was a young man. Fred Haig, our Aviation officer, and I knew him quite well, then and later. Up until a year ago I chatted to him about Amelia many times and he recorded the views I’ll relate to you. Fred left the Planet over 12 months ago, hence no response to your letters. He was in his 80s.
Yes, I fueled the Lockheed and did it personally. Fred had arranged 20 x 44 gallon drums of Avgas 80 octane shipped out to us from California many months before. I can assure you all tanks were absolutely full — the wing tanks and those inside the fuselage. After she had done a test flight, I topped them up again before her final take-off. I think she took somewhere around 800 gallons all up. Fred Noonan was with me at the fueling and checked it out. He was also with me when we changed the engine oil, as was Amelia. I enclose a much faded photo, me in white, Fred in brown, and Amelia leaning on the trailing edge of the wing. [Photo not available.]
You are aware that because of an unfavorable weather forecast from Darwin (some 700 miles SW of Lae), of at least 2 days, Amelia decided on a two-day layover at Lae. She stayed with Eric Chater, General Manager of Guinea Airways, and Fred with Frank Howard and myself at Voco House. Frank and I shared quite a large bungalow as the two representatives of Vacuum Oil in N.G. He died, unfortunately, in 1962. As was our custom, we had a drink in the evening — 90 degrees F, and 95 percent humidity made it that way.
We asked Fred if he would join us the first night, and his comment was, “I’ve been 3 parts around the world without a drink and now we are here for a couple of days, I’ll have one. Have you a Vat 69?” I did happen to have one so the three of us knocked it off. He confessed to Amelia next morning he had a bit of a head, and her comment was, “Naughty boy, Freddie.” That was the only drink session we had, and to suggest he was inebriated before they took off is mischievous nonsense. I can assure you or anyone he had no drink for at least 24 hours before take-off.
We talked a lot about his experience as a Captain on the China Clippers flying from the West Coast to China, and he told us of his expertise in Astro-navigation, amongst other things. We all talked about ourselves, and he showed great interest in our life at Lae. He came around our little depot, where we stored drums of petrol, oil, and kerosene in the jungle to keep the sun off, etc. He told us how keen Amelia was to write a book about the flight, and the different people.
In the two days at Lae, she tried to learn pidgin English and talk to the [natives], and about her ability wherever they landed to take the cowls off the engines and do a Daily Inspection. A remarkable woman, and he has great admiration for her ability. He spent a lot of time with me in Guinea Airways hanger, and around the airfield, looking at the JU31’s, the tri-motored metal Junkers planes that flew our produce and the dredge up to Bulolo, how they were loaded with cranes and all that.
Their final take-off was something to see. We had a grass strip some 900/1000 yards long, one end the jungle, the other the sea. Amelia tucked the tail of the plane almost into the jungle, brakes on, engines full bore, and let go. They were still on the ground at the end of the strip. It took off, lowered toward the water some 30 feet below, and the props made ripples on the water. Gradually they gained height, and some 15 miles out, I guess they may have been at 200 feet. The radio operator at Guinea Airways kept contact by Morse for about 1,000 miles where they were on course at 10,000 feet, and got out of range.
In 1940, I joined the Australian Air Force as a pilot, trained in Canada, and operated in England with the RAF before being promoted to a Wing Commander, commanding an Australian Mosquito Squadron attached to the 2nd Tactical Air Force. I did 70 missions in all sorts of weather, awarded Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, French Croix de Guerre with Palm for blowing up a prison in France, and other operations for the French. I mention this only as that experience confirmed what I believe happened to Amelia. It is just another view.
The possibility is that they ran into bad weather, 10/10th cloud up to 30,000 feet at the equator, which negated Fred’s ability of Astro-navigation; he would have relied on DR navigation where wind can put you 50 miles off course, cloud base too low to get below it because the altimeter is all to hell if you do not know the barometric pressure, and to see a searchlight provided by a U.S. Cruiser under those circumstances would be impossible. My guess is they got to where Howland Island should have been in the dark, spent an hour looking for it, before having to ditch somewhere within a 50 mile radius of Howland. I find it hard to accept anything else.
I hope I have not bored you. If I can provide anything at all beyond these comments, do write. As long as I am above ground, I’ll reply.
P.S. Can I get your first book in Australia?
Doubtless Iredale could have obtained The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner’s only book, in Australia, though the shipping and handling charges might have been a bit stiff. He certainly needed to read it closely, considering his closing statement, “My guess is they got to where Howland Island should have been in the dark, spent an hour looking for it, before having to ditch somewhere within a 50 mile radius of Howland. I find it hard to accept anything else.”
Perhaps Iredale’s most important contribution in this letter is his up-close-and-personal account of drinking Vat 69 with Fred Noonan two nights before the doomed fliers took off, and his assurance to Goerner, that “he had no drink for at least 24 hours before take-off.”
For an extensive examination of the always-controversial issue of Noonan’s drinking, please see my Jan. 6, 2015 post, “Fred Noonan’s drinking: In search of the true story.”
I don’t believe I have Goerner’s reply to Iredale, but if anyone out there does, please let me know and I’ll be glad to post it.
The official record offers us little about what Amelia Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, thought and did about her older sister’s tragic disappearance. In fact, Muriel was basically AWOL, at least publicly, and her few words and actions suggested that she likely accepted the government narrative.
This letter appeared in the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and has been presented on this blog previously, in an Oct. 12, 2015 post titled, “Goerner and Devine reach out to Muriel Morrissey: Did Amelia’s sister know more than she let on?” I present it again because other relevant information, not presented here before, will be added following its conclusion, and it never hurts to re-examine salient clues about the Earhart saga, especially those that concern her family.
Boldface emphasis is mine; italic emphasis is in the AES version, and I assume in Goerner’s as well, though can’t know for sure.
Mrs. Albert Morrissey August 31, 1966
One Vernon Street
West Medford, Massachusetts
Dear Mrs. Morrissey:
Your letter of the 27th meant a great deal to me.
I can’t begin to tell you how I have agonized over continuing the investigation into Amelia’s disappearance and writing the book which Doubleday is just now publishing. I know how all of you have been tortured by the rumors and conjectures and sensationalism of the past years.
I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years. He said, “it (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.” The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that this knowledge was documented in Washington. He also said that several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.
Mrs. Morrissey, regardless of what the State and Navy Departments may have told you in the past, classified files do exist. I and several other people, including Mr. Ross Game, the Editor of Napa, California REGISTER and Secretary of The Associated Press, actually have seen portions of these files and have made notes from their contents. This material is detailed in the book. I am sure that we have not yet been shown the complete files, and General Wallace M. Greene Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, refuses to confirm or deny the testimony of many former marines that the personal effects of Amelia and Fred and their earthly remains were recovered in 1944.
Please believe what I am saying. If justice is to be achieved, it may require your assistance. You know I have the deepest respect for Amelia and Fred. My admiration for their courage has no limits. They should receive their proper place in the history of this country. A San Francisco newspaper editor wrote the other day that Amelia and Fred should be awarded the Congressional Medals of Honor for their service to this country. I completely concur.
I shall be in Boston sometime toward the end of September or early October. I hope that I can meet with you at that time and bring you up to date on all of our efforts.
My very best wishes to you and “Chief.” *
CBS News, KCBS Radio
San Francisco 94105
I have no response from Muriel in my limited files, but believe she probably did reply to Goerner’s cordial missive. Muriel’s role in the Earhart saga has always been a topic for speculation, especially considering her media silence about the overwhelming evidence Goerner brought back from Saipan. Some have suggested that Muriel could have been informed of the truth by the U.S. government at some point, in exchange for her cooperative silence. I think that’s possible, but we’ll probably never know for sure on this side of the Great Veil.
In a 1970 letter from Muriel to J. Gordon Vaeth, she thanked him for sending her a copy of the little known 1970 book, Before the Eagle Landed, an aviation history by the editors of the Air Force Times. She told Vaeth that she appreciated his “factual, unemotional reporting, which will, I am sure, do much toward debunking the tales begun by Captain Paul Briand [Jr.] and continued with a sad, poorly written, unproven story, Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan  by a Cleveland veterinarian [Joe Davidson].”
If Muriel’s letter to Vaeth, once a staunch Goerner supporter before inexplicably becoming a stubborn, confirmed crashed-and-sanker, is any indication, she clearly wasn’t moved by Goerner’s appeal, nor had she been informed about the truth by the U.S. government or anyone else, at least at that time. Muriel made few public statements from then until her death in 1998, and what she may have learned or believed during the intervening years is anyone’s guess. Her mother, Amy Otis Earhart, was far more forthcoming.
For example, we have Amy’s statement to the Los Angeles Times in July 1949, in which she revealed that she knew almost precisely what had happened to Amelia: “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing in the sea,” Amy said. “She landed on a tiny atoll – one of many in that general area of the Pacific – and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall Islands, under Japanese control.”
For much more on Amy, Muriel and Thomas E. Devine’s strange encounter with Amelia’s sister, if only as a reminder, please click here.
* “Chief” was Albert Morrissey, a World War I veteran, who Muriel married in 1929 and passed away in 1979 at 81. They had two children, David, now deceased, and Amy Morrissey Kleppner, 88, alive and well in Wardsboro, Vt.
Kleppner, a 1952 graduate of Smith College, continued her education while working various jobs, earning both masters and doctoral degrees. She taught philosophy at several universities and later taught English at Walt Whitman High School, in Bethesda, Md., and has never spoken out on behalf of the truth about her famous aunt’s tragic fate.
In a November 2018 interview by David Ching in Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts THINK Magazine, “Purdue students help Earhart’s niece explain aviator’s feminist legacy,” Amy explained her lack of interest in the Earhart disappearance:
“(Solving the mystery) never seemed that important to me,” said Kleppner, who only met her famous aunt a couple of times as a small child before Earhart’s disappearance. “I know that lots of people are much more intrigued by it. I have good friends who are really intrigued by it and really want to get to the end of it. It hasn’t bothered me because, as I say, I think her legacy was her life and what she accomplished. She was very lucky, but she seized the moment. She had the opportunity and she did something with it, which had nothing to do with making money or being famous. It had to do with promoting the causes that she thought were important.”
Amy’s evasion in the THINK Magazine article is nothing more than a cop-out by a woman who apparently lacks the fortitude to deal with the Earhart problem in any forthright way. While there’s still time, someone should ask Amy why she has so little interest about how, where and why her aunt died, and why she doesn’t seem to care that Amelia herself would certainly want the world to learn the ugly, unfortunate truth, which has been hiding in plain sight for decades. I seriously doubt that will ever happen.
We continue our retrospective on the Smithsonian’s 1982 Amelia Earhart Symposium, which was the last time a group of informed individuals — and many that weren’t — gathered for the purpose of presenting and discussing salient and important aspects of the Earhart disappearance.
Following is the conclusion of Dean Magley’s letter to Joe Gervais as presented in the July 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, in which Magley describes the people and events that defined the one and only Earhart symposium that the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has ever sponsored, or ever will, barring a completely unexpected change in the establishment’s policy of denial and deceit in the Earhart disappearance. Boldface is mine and in the AES original.
“THE GREAT DEBATE of 18 June 1982
at the SMITHSONIAN, WASHINGTON, D.C.” (Conclusion)
(A letter from Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who could not attend.)
Elgen Long was introduced by his wife. He had a canned slide presentation complete with audio track describing why he thinks A.E. crashed just west of Howland. He is setting up a non-profit organization to raise five million dollars to locate the plane in 16,000 feet of water. He hopes to have found same, and promised to return to Air & Space Museum in 1987, to describe the proceedings.
Fred Goerner was smooth and professional, proving his radio background. He referred to your book twice in his talk but would not mention your name nor, do I think, the actual title of your book. At one point he said, “Those two guys who wrote a book in the early 70s.” He was very sarcastic as he said it. I guess there isn’t much love lost between you two — Ha!
He claims the Department of Defense funneled money through two people who gave to Purdue to purchase the Electra. He also said A.E. knew about the H. Frequency D.F. on Howland as per a letter to F.G. by Admiral? He waved the letter to us. He said A.E. had been directed to test D.F.’s. According to Admiral Winger [sic, probably Vice Adm. Joseph Wenger], the Japanese had better D.F.’s than us and were probably able to track her better than we could.
F.G. said General [Alexander A.] Vandergriff [sic] told him A.E. probably was on Saipan at one time. He referred to a “Smith’s Weekly Journal” of the 1938 article congratulating the U.S. on A.E.’s flight. He told of finding out on 6/17/82 that the F.C.C. conducted a study of A.E.’s communications and gave the results to the Navy. He didn’t say how he learned this, nor if he knew how to get ahold [sic] of the findings.
He claims a Professor [Fred] Hooven installed a D.F. in the Electra and says the Navy replaced it before the flight. He spoke of locating Lt. [John] Lambrecht (who led the three plane flight to Hull Island), and was informed by him that their original objective was to check three reefs southeast of Howland.
F.G. said Joe Gurr installed the radios in the plane and that Amelia could transmit even if in the water (while it still floated). He also told of Paul Mantz being removed as flight technical director before the flight, and being replaced by Mr. [Clarence I. “Kelly”] Johnson, of Lockheed, who later designed the U-2. F.G. claims he learned this fact in 1968.
Johnson told F.G. that A.E. trained for the flight in two (2) planes, and that he never saw photography equipment in the planes. A Tom McKean claims to have talked to the Japanese officer who interrogated A.E. as a prisoner.
Fred ended by saying that because of a personal health problem [cancer diagnosis?], he will bow out of the search and give all his reference material to Admiral Kent Carroll, head of Military Air Command.
[J.] Gordon Vaeth was the weakest link of the day. His main statement was that he feels the government has not tried to hide anything about A.E.! He used 20 minutes of the hour allotted, and could have been done in 5 minutes. He kept repeating that F.G. got him into the search but that this was all done in the ’60s.
Mr. and Mrs. Long left the theater as Vaeth was introduced. Mrs. Long did return 10 minutes into his talk. Vaeth quoted, H. Manning, an ex-editor of “Flying,” as saying A.E. was not on a government flight. Vaeth did say G.P.P. toured Saipan after the war, asking natives about A.E.
Vaeth’s biggest statement was telling that “According to the Japanese aircraft authority at the Air and Space Museum, the Zero is not a copy of the Hughes racer plane!!”
Claudia Oakes ended the meeting with the announcement that we could inquire of her in about one month, and audio tapes of the Symposium should be available. (This will prove if I misunderstood any of the information I’m passing on to you.) [See comment by Les Kinney, who has audio tapes of all presenters.] They also video taped the entire affair, but nothing was said of copies being available. It was also announced that Ann Pellegreno had been invited, but that she was having a porch installed on her home, and because of bad weather the previous week she had to stay home and supervise the installation!
At the lunch break I managed to talk to Muriel Morrissey and her daughter [Amy Kleppner]. They were ready to leave the theater, but did give me enough time to tell my Wally Schirra story. (Prymak’s note: see August 1994 Newsletter.) Amy sneered “Hrmph!” and turned away. Muriel took a couple of quick, short breaths, her eyes widened, then flicked sideways and then she sort of sagged, but said nothing. Amy then took her by the arm and they left. I intended to tell the story to Fay Wells, but decided that since she loudly proclaims A.E. to be dead, that in order to stay on her good side in hopes of getting additional information in the future, I decided not to mention it.
I did manage to meet Claudia Oakes in her office on June 17, and related the [Schirra] story [to be posted here in near future]. She had no reaction. She was so intent on watching something outside her office door, I’m not sure she heard anything I said.
At your suggestion I asked the proper person at WREX-TV (where I work) to ask for the revised episode on A.E. of the “In Search of . . .” series. We were turned down for that specific tape. Of course, they would have been happy to send their demo tape, but we declined.
About a month ago, Grace McGuire was interviewed on Good Morning America (ABC). I missed seeing the program, so I went through proper channels and asked for a tape of it to use in a news story. We were foiled again, even though we are the ABC outlet here.
I have listed on separate paper some questions. I would appreciate it if you would answer on the same paper and return in the envelope I am enclosing.
Please let me know if there is anything further I can do. I will contact Bobbie Trout and some of the others I met in D.C. I will let you know what results. I am also enclosing names and addresses of some of these people in case you wish to reach them.
If you ever have occasion to be in Chicago — even if for just a layover — please advise. I would like to meet you. Rockford is only a 1.5 hour drive from O’Hare, and I arrange my own time.
MERRILL DEAN MAGLEY
5216 Village Ct.
Rockford, IL 61108
Since the close of that event nearly 40 years ago, we’ve seen and heard little more than mainstream media infomercials masquerading as news stories that advertise and support the latest trending disinformation and deceit from the conga line of phony Earhart “experts.”
The major goals of these miscreants are to extract as much money as possible from the gullible and uninformed, while keeping that same public eternally ignorant about the Earhart disappearance. Worse, there appears to be no end to this shameless contempt for the truth, lying in plain sight since the early 1960s, and the chances that another Earhart symposium will be held within our lifetimes are slim to none. When it comes to the Earhart case, the news is almost never good, despite the best efforts of the faithful.
As we continue our trek through these ever-more interesting times, perhaps the most significant public discussion about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the June 1982 Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum, continues to fade from sight and memory.
Only the most well-informed even recall this event, or that it occasioned the great inventor Fred Hooven, after years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged post-loss radio receptions, to present his paper, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” the first academic, objective analysis of the Earhart post-flight transmissions.
Hooven’s thesis became better known as “The Hooven Report” and established him as the creator of the McKean-Gardner Island landing theory, soon to become TIGHAR’s infamous “Nikumaroro hypothesis” that continues to haunt us to this day, long after Hooven abandoned it. For more on Hooven’s work, see Truth at Last pages 56-57, 303-304 or click here.
For reasons clear to those of us who understand the truth, the symposium was not covered by Smithsonian Magazine or any other publications that I’m aware of, nor do I have a transcript or audio tape of it. The only significant mention of the event that I have can be found in the July 1998 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, which contains the below letter from little-known Earhart researcher Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog.
Forthwith is the first of two parts. Boldface emphasis mine throughout, underline emphasis in original AES article.
“THE GREAT DEBATE of 18 June 1982
at the SMITHSONIAN, WASHINGTON, D.C.”
(A letter from Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who could not attend.)
Dear Joe, 6/25/82
I thought I should bring you up to date concerning my attending the symposium on A.E. in D.C. on 18 June 1982.
I did make contact with Bob Jones and we were together the entire day. Nice fella. He is also very interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping, and a fellow named Olson, whom Bob had written but received no answer from, sat right in front of us for one session. Bob was so excited he could hardly concentrate on the speaker.
The audience totaled around 400. The first 5 or 6 rows were reserved for various preferred
people. I never learned how they were selected, but Bob and I weren’t included. Those who [attended] were, included the afternoon speakers: Sally Chapman, granddaughter of G.P.P. [George Palmer Putnam] who is writing a book on G.P.P.; Grace McGuire, A.E.’s look-alike who is to complete A.E.’s flight plan this year; Don Kothera and wife; Paul L. Rafford, Jr., who claims to be a close friend of Bill Galtin, the radio operator on Itasca; Milton R. Shils, an insurance man from Philly who had a picture taken of him at age 13 with A.E. and 4 or 5 others; Amy Kleppner, Muriel Morrissey’s daughter; [Evelyn] Bobbi Trout, charter member of the 99’s and her companion, Carol Osborne, who inherited some large collection of flying memorabilia; [William] Polhemus, the navigator on Ann Pellegreno’s [June-July 1967] duplicate flight; Cmdr. H. Anthony who was in charge of the search for A.E. (who relieved [Itasca Cmdr.] W. K. Thompson?); and possibly 30-40 others who were not introduced and I did not learn their names. One of these was a young lady of about 30 who had short cut hair like A.E., actually resembled her, and wore a new, shorter version of the leather coat A.E. wears in the first picture of your book. She also audio taped the entire program. She got out of the hall before I could talk to her. Darn!
There were basically three types of people represented: Those who say A.E. was taken by the Japanese but is now dead; those who agree with you that she still lives; those who say she was lost in the drink. One young man age 20-25, raised four or five questions with reference to your book. I did not get his name.
Muriel Morrissey spoke first. She spoke mainly of their childhood. Muriel is getting a little senile, I think. She did say “the Lindberghs didn’t get along too well.” I don’t know how she got on that topic. She also said, “We should have a true answer soon” (as to A.E.’s disappearance). This brought a murmur from the crowd. Questions from the audience asked for an explanation of her “true answer” statement. She flustered, then looked down at the front row of the audience and asked Elgen Long if she should say anything further. He indicated ‘no.’ She then said more would be told in the afternoon session.
Fay Gillis Wells — quite robust — speaks with authority. She had her entire talk on 3 x 5 cards and read it word for word. It was very well written and delivered. She was a foreign correspondent in 1933 in Russia, and handled the logistics for Wiley Post on his world flight. She also accompanied Nixon on his trip to China. She said there will soon be three new books on A.E. She vehemently denies that A.E. is alive. You recall when I spoke to her on the phone a month previously and mentioned there are some who think A.E. lives, she broke in almost before I could finish my statement said, “THAT’S PREPOSTEROUS! That poor woman in New Jersey should be left alone.” I have just realized that Fay was asked if she knew Irene Craigmile by the young man I mentioned earlier. Her reply was to the effect that she didn’t know what he was talking about but no, she didn’t know any Irene Craigmile. The young fellow then said Irene Craigmile is now Mrs. [Irene] Bolam and is pictured in your book, “A.E. [Amelia Earhart] Lives.” Fay said, “Oh, I’ve never read that book!”
Twice in her talk or in answering questions, Fay said, “A.E. would not throw her life away on a crazy spy mission.” She also said a TV series “distorts history,” and blasted an NBC three-hour production. I’m not sure what she was referring to on the NBC bit. She also stated that A.E. was born in 1897, and that Muriel Morrissey was here to back her up. Mrs. [Florence] Kothera asked her about her letter to Gen. [Wallace M.] Green asking about Privates [Everett] Henson [Jr.] and [Billy] Burks. Fay said she had never written to Gen. Greene. Mrs. Kothera then opened her scrapbook and said, “I have a copy of his answer to you, and if you would like me to read it, I will.” Fay then said, “Oh well, if I wrote a letter to the Marine Commandant, then I guess I did.” (Nothing had been said about his title by Mrs. Kothera!!) The Kotheras (who did the bulk of the research for “Amelia Earhart Returns From Saipan”), told me before the sessions started that they had letters from Henson and Burks stating that the government had NOT contacted them to ask about A.E.
Fay indicated throughout her talk that there is no way A.E. is alive, and tried to let on that she has not actively looked into her disappearance. Fay called Amelia “A.E.” and G.P.P. “Gyp.”
Fay also said A.E. paid for publishing the 99’s Newsletter. She mentioned Clara Livingston as helping Fay set up the 25th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp. I asked her if she believed in ESP as did A.E. and Jackie Cochran. Her answer was negative. She announced that May 22-24, 1983, would be a super big get-together in Atchison, Kansas. I can’t recall why she said it would be rated so highly though.
[Retired] Admiral [Richard B.] Black was introduced as having been given a medal for the Saipan-Tinian assault. (This means he may have been privy to firsthand information.) He said the H. Frequency D.F. [high frequency direction finder] was offered to him by a young lieutenant whose name he can’t recall (or I may have misunderstood) on Oahu. He told of the Itasca circling Howland on July 1 to calibrate it. It worked free. It was battery powered and they did lose some of their power so they were not at their best when they were needed. His opinion is that she crashed in the ocean after running out of gas about 10 A.M. He was on the Itasca until 5 A.M., when he went ashore to be with the H.F.D.F.
At the end of his talk (which seemed to be one he has given several times), he said: “And now for the first time I have an addendum.” He then stated that a Capt. Carter (whom he cannot now locate) told him a Japanese ship entered Jaluit* Harbor (with a white man and woman as prisoners). Black now believes they were A.E. and Fred Noonan. He offered no further information.
* The AES visited Jaluit and harbor in 1997. (End of Part I.)
Even casual students of the Earhart disappearance have heard and read about the photos of Amelia and Fred Noonan allegedly found on Saipan during and after the June 15-July 9, 1944 Battle of Saipan. I’ve heard the wistful regrets that none of these photos have ever publicly surfaced, and have shared in the disappointment of those who believe things would be different if we just had one of these photos that show so clearly that Amelia Earhart was a prisoner of the Japanese. (Boldface mine throughout; italics Goerner’s.)
Ralph R. Kanna, of Johnson City, New York, assigned to the Army’s 106th Infantry Regiment on Saipan, was among the first of the former American servicemen to contact Fred Goerner during his early Saipan investigations. In 1961, Kanna told Goerner that as platoon sergeant of his intelligence unit on Saipan, his duty was “to insure [sic] that we would take as many prisoners as possible for interrogation purposes.” One prisoner captured in an area designated as Tank Valley had “a photo of Amelia Earhart standing near Japanese aircraft on an airfield,” Kanna wrote. The photo was forwarded up the chain of command, and when questioned, the Japanese captive “stated that this woman was taken prisoner along with a male companion and subsequently he felt that both of them had been executed,” according to Kanna.
He provided Goerner the names of three men who had served as interpreters for his unit. Goerner located only one of them, Richard Moritsugu, in Honolulu, whose voice “quavered and broke” on the phone when Goerner asked about Saipan and Sergeant Kanna. Moritsugu told Goerner he had no desire to discuss the war.
Robert Kinley, of Norfolk, Va., served with the 2nd Marine Division during the invasion and claimed he saw a photo of Earhart with a Japanese officer that he believed was taken on Saipan. Kinley said he was clearing a house of booby traps near a graveyard when the picture was found tacked to a wall. A Japanese mortar shell exploded nearby moments later, tearing away part of his chest. He lost the photo at that point and couldn’t remember if it was destroyed in the explosion or taken by one of the medics who attended him. Kinley wrote that the photo “showed Amelia standing in an open field with a Japanese soldier wearing some kind of combat or fatigue cap with a single star in its center.”
Sometime after the 1966 release of The Search for Amelia Earhart, Marine Col. Donald R. Kennedy, commandant of the 12th Marine Corps District, told Goerner he came into possession of photographs in Japan in 1945 that showed Earhart in Japanese custody. “He [Kennedy] says he turned them over to [General Douglas] MacArthur’s Intelligence Headquarters,” Goerner wrote to Jim Golden in 1969. “Marine Corps G-2 is now trying to trace what happened to the photographs after Kennedy turned them over.” Kennedy attempted “to get clearance from USMC Headquarters before he could go on record,” Goerner told Theodore Barreaux 19 years later. “After eighteen months, he got the clearance but with the proviso that this did not represent official USMC position.” Kennedy’s file contains nothing else of significance, so something must have derailed Kennedy from pursuing the matter further, a common occurrence in the Earhart search.
Just as Robert Kinley contacted Goerner about seeing a photo of Earhart on Saipan, Stanley F. Serzan, of Orange City, Fla., was among several veterans who told Thomas E. Devine, author of the 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident about seeing photos of one or both of the fliers. Serzan, a member of the 4th Marine Division on Saipan and a retired Bayonne, New Jersey, police officer, said one of his fellow Marines found a number of photos of Earhart and Noonan while searching a dead Japanese soldier. “I will never forget seeing those pictures of Amelia Earhart,” wrote Serzan, who died in 1995:
There were several Japanese officers with her and she certainly looked in good health. . . . The one picture I do recall to mind was one where Fred was standing sort of behind a Japanese officer to his right, and next was Amelia and then two more Japanese officers. There were other pictures of her and an officer alone and she was in sort of a fly jacket—and half a dozen others I don’t remember. All were taken outdoors—no buildings in sight. Trees in background. Fred appeared much taller than Japanese. I wish I had been able to get one of those pictures. When leaving Hawaii to come back to the mainland, we were told to get rid of the souvenirs because we would have to pay a duty. We threw tons of stuff away and we never were searched. We could have killed for being lied to like that.
Jerome Steigmann, of Phoenix, a longtime member of the Amelia Earhart Society, sent Devine information provided by Frank Howard, of Pueblo, Colo. Howard told Steigmann that he was in the first wave of Marines to hit the beach on Saipan, and later “a buddy found two photographs in a Jap Officer’s outpost they had just captured . . . one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers,” Howard wrote. The below drawing by Howard appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter, with the following narrative from Howard:
There were two photos, one with Naval officers, and one with Army officers. In one picture, the Naval officers must have left, as only the Army officers remained and Fred Noonan had his jacket off and had laid it on his lap, so it must have been a hot day, as the soldiers and officers were in short white-sleeved shirts, as was Amelia and Fred. The soldiers also had those curtain type sun shade cloths behind their necks, but they had those wrappings around their legs. Amelia and Fred seemed very tired and the day must have been at high noon. Amelia was wearing “jodhpurs” trousers with cuffs, and Fred dark trousers with cuffs. My buddy was killed in action, and I never saw the photos again. I enclose a sketch as best as I remember.
Another Amelia Earhart Society member, Col. Rollin Reineck (U.S. Air Force, retired), received a letter from Dale Chandler, a former radioman aboard the USS Rocky Mount (AGC-3), the flagship for the Joint Expeditionary Force attacking Saipan, Guam and Tinian in June-July, 1944. The following also appeared in the September 1992 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter:
One afternoon in early July 1944, I was going to my shift in the radio room, and on the way I met one of the ship’s photographers. I asked him if I could see some of the photos of the invasion. He showed me a photograph of a man and a woman among other photos in a shoe box found in a captured Jap Officer’s billet. I could not tell who they were, but the photographer stated that they were Amelia Earhart and her “pilot” (sic). He further stated that it proved they were on Saipan in 1937, and not lost at sea. The photo was taken in front of the building where he had found the photograph. He said the building where the photo was taken was in the background, but was now partially destroyed by shellfire but parts of the building still standing were easy to recognize. I was 12 years old when the Earhart disappearance took place, and I assumed she was dead, lost at sea.
The snapshot was taken on the side of the building, and facing the camera she was on the left. She was wearing a kaiki (sic) jacket, breeches and a wrapping around her, below her knees. No hat. He was on her left wearing a dark jacket and pants, white shirt, no tie and his hat cocked on the side of his head. The photo went to CIC, now the CIA.
All of this information is true and accurate.
Nothing more is presented in the AES Newsletters about Chandler’s claim.
Joseph Garofalo, a former Seabee and Saipan veteran, claimed to have found a photo of Earhart in the wallet of a dead Japanese soldier. In a letter to Devine, Garofalo, of the Bronx, New York wrote that he “searched a dead Jap officer and it was in his wallet along with a picture of his family.” Garofalo continued:
As best I can remember the photo fit on the inside of the Jap officer’s wallet, it was in black and white, with sort of a sepia finish, which looked faded. It was about the third week after we landed [on Saipan]. Many of my buddies had seen the picture at that time. As you face the photo, Amelia Earhart was standing on the left-hand side, wearing pants and the shirt she was wearing had short sleeves, it was probably khaki; she looked very haggard and thin. The Jap officer was on the right wearing the traditional short visor cap and leggings. She seemed a few inches taller than the Jap. It has been 49 years ago, the description of the picture is still in my mind, and I consider it accurate.
None of the priceless photos Saipan veterans reported seeing have publicly surfaced. For years Devine tried to obtain a photo of Earhart an ex-GI claimed he found on Saipan in 1944. The man told Devine that a Japanese officer, a woman, and two children were standing with Earhart in the photo, which he gave to a friend along with other personal items after being wounded. Devine offered the man $10,000, but the trail dried up when the man, who had entered a veterans hospital, stopped responding to his correspondence.
In another near miss, Virginia Ward, of Waterbury, Conn., told Devine that her two cousins, Marines who were both badly wounded on Saipan, brought back photos of Earhart they found there. Both died within two years of their return to the states, and Ward never found the photos.
For much more on the substantial oral histories of American military veterans and their knowledge of Amelia Earhart on Saipan, please see Chapter IX, “Saipan Veterans Come Forward,” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, pages 180-204.