Tag Archives: Jabor

Conclusion of Bill Prymak’s “The Jaluit Report”

Finally, Expedition Amelia” is in our rear-views, and today we present Part II of “The Jaluit Report,” Bill Prymak’s account of his November 1990 trip to Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands with Joe Gervais, infamous as the creator of the mendacious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth.  The Jaluit Report” appeared in the May 1991 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.  Boldface and italics emphases are mine throughout, capitalizations for emphasis are Prymak’s, and some have been edited for consistency.

The Jaluit Report,” January 1991 (Part II of two)
by Bill Prymak and Major Joe Gervais, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)

DAY TWO ON EMIDJ: Spent the first hour with Joel who suggested we motor some ten miles further up the lagoon to visit a very old Japanese native who lived on a remote island.  “TOKYO apparently had worked on the construction phase of the seaplane base, and would surely have some interesting experiences to relate.  With great apprehension (OL’ BOOM-BOOM was really gasping and belching at this stage) we chugged northward past dozens of islands . . . finally, a settlement came into view, with a beautiful white church perched just off the beach.  The Pastor was amazed that any white man would chose to visit his Parish, but a ten dollar donation popped his eyes and put him at our service.  Yes, Tokyo was around, back in the bush.  He was frightened to have white visitors, but our Pastor soon put him at ease.  He was awed at the attention bestowed, spoke no English, but our Pastor conveyed the following, acting as interpreter:

Tokyo had been brought to Emidj from Japan as a labor foreman to run concrete pouring crews.  Thousands of Koreans and Marshallese were conscripted for this work, which began about 1934-’35.  Several years into the work, according to Tokyo, there was a great flurry of excitement one day as the weekly barge came up from Jabor.  

The barge normally carried construction materials off-loaded from the larger ships in Jabor Harbor, but on this day the barge carried no ordinary cargo.  All work was suspended for the day and the entire work force was kept off base.  Tokyo could see from a distance that a silver land airplane partially covered by a canvas tarp was being off-loaded by bulldozers with winches and dragged to a remote area where it was promptly fenced off and camouflaged.  Tokyo stated that this event was excitedly discussed amongst the Japanese soldiers, but such talk amongst the civilian work force was forbidden, and would result in severe punishment.

“Joe Gervais with donut maker Kubang Bunitak, who corroborated Bilimon Amaron and John Heine’s experiences,” wrote Bill Prymak in the original AES Newsletter photo caption of May 1991.

Tokyo worked as foreman on. the base until the start of bombing raids, when he fled, with other Marshallese, to remote islands in the Jaluit Chain.  With no family to go home to in Japan after World War II, Tokyo decided to embrace the Marshallese as his own and remain for the rest of his days.  He is currently 75 (give or take a few) years old.

DAY THREE: JABOR: The BOOM-BOOM boat finally boomed out, so we decided to seek out old-timers in the village.  The Mayor was still gracious and helpful. First stop: KUBANG BUNITAK, the donut baker.  He’s some 75 years old, and his donut shop is something to behold: #5 bunker oil in a 55-gallon drum over a wood fire . . . and there you have it!  DONUTS!  Joe gave Kubang five dollars for a bag of donuts, and his eyes nearly popped out!  He had never received so much money for his goods.  I accidentally dropped one of the donuts: it hit the floor and bounced up to the ceiling!  Joe later remarked that they would make great wheels on supermarket shopping carts!

The interview with Kubang was brief but very interesting.  He had been at Jabor since 1935.  Many thousandsof Japanese soldiers and construction workers were based both at Jabot, the deep harbor, and at Emidj, the Naval seaplane base, he related.  He remembered Bilimon Amaron working in the Naval Hospital and the flurry of excitement when Bilamon treated “two American flyers who were ’shot down’ near Mill Island and brought to Jabor for medical treatment and interrogation.  He further described how a strange-looking airplane was unloaded from a Naval Tender ship, put onto the Emidj barge, and disappeared from Jabor that night.  Great secrecy was imposed by the military during this operation, and several Marshallese received cruel punishment for “being too close.” 

Kubang went on to describe the terrible devastation rendered Jabor Island during the American bombing raids.  He remembered well Carl Heine and his two sons John and Dwight.  The previous Marshall Island Report describes our interview with John Heine and his witnessing the silver airplane on a barge at Jabor(See newsletter for Mr. Heine’s interesting report re: the letter addressed to Amelia Earhart that was delivered to the Jaluit Post Office in November, 1937.) 

The only white men Kubang had ever seen were the occasional contract school teachers at Jabor, and, rarely, when a sailing ship popped into the Harbor.  He told us that he was delighted to share with us his experiences, as he had never talked with white visitors before.  He never asked what the outside world was like . . . their simple lives seem to be self-fulfilling and pretty content.

Mr. Hatfield was next interviewed.  A very soft-spoken elderly gentlemen who could communicate with us in broken English, he was the Mobil agent for the Island, and ran what passed for a country store.  It was here that Joe and I found our survival rations for the week . . . Spam and beans!  In discussing the Earhart issue, yes, he knew Tomaki Mayazo, the coal tender who [believed he] loaded the Kamoi.  He remembered the ship hurriedly leaving port for Mili and returning a few days later to Jabor under great security and much fanfare.

The aircraft carrier Akagi entered service with the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1927 and took part in the opening campaigns of World War II.  Akagi was a major player in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and aided in the rapid Japanese advance across the Pacific until sunk by American dive bombers at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.  Claims of Akagi-based aircraft involvement with the downing of Amelia Earhart near Mili Atoll in July 1937 do not hold up under scrutiny.

Mr. Hatfield’s most interesting story was of his close relationship with a Mr. Lee, who, unfortunately for us, had died in 1987.  Lee was the chief translator between the Marshallese natives and the Japanese military, and evidently commanded considerable respect and fraternized quite frequently with Japanese officers.  Lee told Mr. Hatfield several times the events on the night of July 2nd, 1937, when he (Lee) was drinking heavily with some high-ranking naval officers.  Suddenly one of the officers jumped out of chair, slammed his fist on the table, and boasted to Lee: “We know that the American Lady Pilot is flying over (these) islands tonight!”  Joe and I were astonished to hear such a statement.  Hatfield went on to relate how Lee told him of the arrival of ahugeaircraft carrier and several destroyers that engaged in war games back in 1937 (this, incidentally, was corroborated by Capt.  Alfred Parker; see Joe Klaas’s book, Amelia Earhart Lives, page 40).  These war exercises were conducted at Jaluit and surrounding waters.

Mr. Hatfield concluded our interview with a startling statement: Lee told him that he had met one of the carrier pilots who, during a drinking bout, had claimed that he had shot down Amelia Earhart near Mill Atoll!  Such a statement by itself may not be very credible, but I refer the reader to [T.C.] Buddy Brennan’s book Witness to the Execution (page 117) and immediately we see a hard connection.  Brennan, nor Lee or Hatfield had never met before.  Could Fujie Firmosa be the one and same person?  Could the Akagi be the aircraft carrier seen at Jabor by several different persons?

(Editor’s note:  The Akagi was shown to be in Japan’s Sasebo Navy Yard from 1935 to 1938, undergoing a major modernization.  Fujie Firmosa, who, according to Buddy Brennan, told Manny Muna on Saipan that he shot down Amelia Earhart’s plane in the Marshalls while assigned to the Japanese carrier Akagi.  Firmosa’s last known address was in Osaka, according to Brennan (Witness to the Execution, footnote p. 118) but he “was recently deceased” circa 1983.  Further, I’m not aware of any claim by “several different persons” of seeing an aircraft carrier at Jabor.  Anyone out there who can shed light in this one?]

DAY FOUR: BACK TO EMIDJ: Boom-Boom boat was dead.  But somebody had another outboard, and after much ceremony and cussin’ the engine kicked into life and we were on our way.  Joel, our schoolmaster friend, greeted us with the warmest smile imaginable, and the candy we had brought from the States made a great hit with the kids.  We were told that an American airplane has been shot down during the February 1942 air strike, and that a native boy had recently seen it in some twenty feet of water several hundred yards off the seaplane ramp. It took some 30 minutes of trolling before I finally spotted the outline.  Donning fins and snorkel gear, I made an amazing discovery: As I dove on the aircraft, it clearly turned out to be a TBF Torpedo Bomber in pristine condition.  The black barrels of the twin machine guns on each wing clearly stood out in the semi-hazy water.

The aircraft had apparently pancaked into the water, nosed over, and settled in 20 feet to the bottom on its back.  I was to learn later that the pilot, either Ensign R.L. Wright or Ensign W.A. Haas was still in the plane.  Studying the strike reports from the Yorktown, the two pilots had radioed they were ditching together.  Both to this day are [listed as] MIAs.  Neither Joel, nor the other older natives had any knowledge of any person ever making an attempt to recover either parts or the remains of the pilot.  It was an eerie feeling, knowing that I was the first to dive on an American military plane sequestered in the water for nearly 50 years.  I plan to go back and complete my search of the aircraft.

At the old Emidj seaplane ramp, Joe Gervais stands in the crater of a 500-pound direct hit, incurred during one of several American bombing missions against Emidj between Feb, 1, 1942 and Oct. 6, 1944.  (Photo courtesy Bill Prymak.)

It was sad leaving Emidj; we cemented deep bonds of friendship with natives, and promised to come back.

Parting Jabor on our final day, Mr. Hatfield had one last bit of information for us: Capt. Fukusuke Fujita, commanding the base at Emidj during the war, wrote a book re: his experiences, and this book is in the possession of a certain Japanese restaurant owner on Majuro.”  We held our breath: could this be the final clue?  The undeniable clue?  Landing at Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands, we did meet the restaurant owner, we did make a copy of said book; after weeks of tracking down competent translators . . . no cigar!  Capt. Fujita had simply documented his post-war trips to the Islands to honor the war dead.

EPILOGUE

The long flight back to the states gave ample time for reflection.  So many compelling questions begging for a rational answer need to be addressed: Exactly whose airplane was down there on the ramp at Emidj as shown on the United States Air Force pre-strike photo?

What did the bulldozers bury or push into a indefinable mass of aluminum back in 1977?

Just what did the old Japanese labor foreman see on that barge in 1937?

Why would a Japanese donut baker, who had never been interviewed before, talk of a “strange-looking” (can we read-non Japanese?) airplane being loaded onto a barge during the same period of time as the Bilamon Amaron experience?

Is this all hot smoke and sheer coincidence?

Joe and I did agree on one point: Our week at Jaluit and Emidj sure n’ hell beat laying on the beach at Fiji sipping pina coladas!  (End of “The Jaluit Report.”)

Bill Prymak, along with several members of the Amelia Earhart Society, returned to Jaluit in late January 1997 and interviewed several new witnesses for the first time ever.  We’ll hear from them soon. 

 

An interview with Marshalls icon Robert Reimers: “Everyone knew” of AE’s landing, tycoon said

Once again we dip into the archives of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters to present another of  the late Bill Prymak’s invaluable contributions to Earhart research, an interview with the legendary Robert Reimers just a year before his death in 1998.  Without Prymak’s efforts, the voice of this well-known Marshallese entrepreneur would likely never have been heard outside of his beloved islands.  The following piece appeared in the May 1997 issue of the AES Newsletters, and is presented for your information and entertainment, as always.

“INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT REIMERS”
by Bill Prymak

The passengers queuing up at the Majuro International Airport for the Air Micronesia flight to Honolulu were getting restless.  The flight was already one hour late, there were no seat reservations, the plane was overbooked (as usual) and the terminal was crowded and hot.

Quite inconspicuously, but with obvious authority, an elderly couple (the man deeply tanned and spry), were ushered to the head of the line and escorted to the airplane.  Not feeling slighted, but curious, I asked one of the airport security men who the couple was.

With great reverence he whispered, “Why that is our Mr. Robert Reimers, with his wife.”

Robert Reimers, founder, CEO, and genius behind the sprawling Robert Reimers Enterprises, Inc. (RRE as it is known), has hotels, shopping centers, hardware stores, travel agents and dive boat operations at Majuro.  And flung across the vast length and breadth of the Marshall Islands, RRE owns perimeter hotels, fuel depots, stores and nearly every commercial enterprise that exists on the outer atolls and islands.  He is number ONE.  Even his address: P.O. Box 1, Majuro, Marshall Islands, tells you of his station. 

Robert Reimers, the top businessman in the Marshall Islands in 1991, told Bill Prymak that the Mili Atoll landing of Amelia Earhart in 1937 was common knowledge among his people. Reimers passed away in 1998.

Robert Reimers, the top businessman in the Marshall Islands in 1991, told Bill Prymak that the Mili Atoll landing of Amelia Earhart in 1937 was common knowledge among his people.  Reimers passed away in 1998.

This man, I said to myself, has got to be interviewed!

Once we were aboard and seated on the plane, I was able to finagle Mr. Reimers’ grandson into swapping seats with me, and for the next three hours I had a fascinating insight to one of the most powerful and influential men in the whole Marshall Islands.  My interview:

 AES:  Mr. Reimers, we just came back from Jaluit . . . do you personally know much about the Island?

REIMERS:  Bill, I was born at Jabor (Ed. note: main island and town at Jaluit Atoll) in 1909, and was raised there until 1935, when our family moved to Likiep Atoll.  Tourists never visit Jaluit; what made you go there?

AES:  Some of my group had been there before.  We wanted to see the children again, and we were looking for additional information on Amelia Earhart.

REIMERS:  Ah, yes, the Earhart woman . . . why are you Americans still looking for her and her airplane?

AES:  Mr. Reimers, she has never been found, and her sister, still living, and other family have been searching for so many years . . . they deserve to know.

REIMERS:  Ah yes, family.  I know family very well; do you know I have 11 children and 67 grandkids?

AESThat is remarkable.  We have observed that family ties are very strong in the outer islands.  Can you tell me some of your experiences with the Japanese before Word War II?

REIMERSThe Germans had made Jaluit their commercial headquarters before WWI, but you’re not interested in events that far back.  When the Japanese Navy kicked out the Germans, they sealed the (Marshall) Islands to all foreigners.  Those very few Americans and other foreign nationals that did sneak under the curtain were shown only what the Japanese wanted them to see, and that was very little.  About 1930, I had established myself with the Japanese as a responsible trader, and I did much commerce with them right up until and through WWII.  I even supplied them with construction materials and local labor for their island projects.

AES:  In what kind of projects were you involved?

REIMERS:  Well, before 1935, it was mainly commercial and communication facilities: harbor dredging; wharves; docks; hospitals; and big, tall radio towers.  But after 1935, the Japanese began some military projects like the airfields at Wotje and Maloelap.  I had a good business relationship with them.  But after 1936, they began bringing in foreign construction laborers, and conditions got worse for my local people.

AES:  When did construction work begin at Emidj?

In June of 1946 Dr. Leonard Mason snapped this shot of Robert Reimers standing on the stern of an outrigger canoe with two friends as they sailed across the lagoon, probably at Kwajalein.

In June of 1946 Dr. Leonard Mason snapped this shot of Robert Reimers standing on the stern of an outrigger canoe with two friends as they sailed across the lagoon, probably at Kwajalein.

REIMERSEmidj was a very secret place, and even my local people had little access to this area. I was one of the few Marshallese allowed in because I delivered construction materials regularly.  Jabor docks were built in 1936, and the seaplane ramps and docks for the naval base at Emidj were started about the same time.  My shipping records were all taken by the Japanese when the great war started, but I am sure of the dates I just mentioned.  Military construction projects at Mili did not start until 1940.

AES:  What hospital facilities were available in 1937 at Jaluit?

REIMERSThe Japanese converted the old German hospital at Jabor to a very small medical facility, and at Emidj they built a hospital because so many workers, mostly Korean, were there working on the concrete phase of the seaplane naval base.

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A meal break was taken at this point, so I had time to reflect on what he had stated so far.  Mr. Reimers has a remarkable memory, and perfect command of the English language.  At first glance, and after listening to him, you’d swear he was only sixty or so.  His wife, hearing the conversation but not participating, obviously understood every word, with her smiles, nods, and concurrence to her husband’s words.  Without any doubt, this man was telling it as it indeed happened. When everyone finished their meal, we continued:

AES:  Many of your people that we interviewed at Jabor and Emidj, notably the elders, speak of the brutality of the Japanese against your people during the war years.  They described how for the theft of a coconut, a head was severed . . . how Emidj became the execution center for both Allied prisoners of war, and the local population.  Can you comment on this tragic chapter in your country’s history?

REIMERSRemember, Mr. Bill, I called Likiep Atoll my home during the war period, but I was conscripted by the Japanese military to continue my supply lines of materials to their many island bases. And some of my travels took me back to Jabor.  Emidj was very secretive, but the stories you hear today from the elders ring true.  I must add that towards the end of the war, when things were going badly for the Japanese, my people feared for their lives, and fled to unoccupied islands to escape what they expected as mass slaughter for those who stayed.  These times were very bad for the Marshallese . . . the elders remember as I do.

AESIn July of 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator disappeared, and the Western world did not hear from them again.  Can you help me, and her family, with any information you may have regarding the possibility of her being down in your islands?

REIMERS:  It was widely known throughout the Islands by both Japanese and Marshallese that a Japanese fishing boat first found them and their airplane near Mili.  They then transferred them to a bigger boat. They were brought to Jabor, where Bilimon [Amaron] treated them.  Oscar deBrum, and the Carl Heine family (including the boys), were living there and knew of this.  They were then taken to Kwajalein and from there to Truk and then Saipan.  There was no mystery . . . everybody knew it!

AES:  But Mr. Reimers, the Japanese strongly denied seeing the two American aviators.  They even sent airplanes and ships out to search for her.  How can this be?

REIMERS:  Even in 1937, an intrusion in these islands was a very serious offense.  And in the case of Earhart, a woman pilot, great cover and secrecy was placed upon them by the Japanese.  But, of course, these are our islands.  And my people — even in their fear — proved very resourceful knowing about such things.

AESDid you personally know Bilimon [Amaron], and the Heine family?

REIMERSI knew Bilimon very well, and rest easy if you worry about his story of treating the two Americans.  You will never find a more honest man.  You know, of course, he died last year.  He was a good man And the Heine family . . .  John and Dwight’s parents were executed during the war.  I grew up with them, and they were the finest missionary people I had ever met.  John and Dwight knew about the Americans, but would never talk much.

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

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

AESResearchers like Joe Gervais, sitting across the aisle, have visited your islands several times.  Even as far back as 1960, he made several trips to SAIPAN where he met the same curtain of silence.  Do the natives not care, or are they still fearful of the Japanese?

REIMERS It is difficult for Americans to understand the fright and fear of my people during the war.  At any moment the Japanese could come smashing into your house and take away any possession you may have, and then march you off to prison — or even worse.  After the war, these fears did not die easily. There are some old timers who still think the Japanese might come back.  It would not be wise to discuss things deemed secret during the great war.  People saw so much killing, they may say, “Why the big fuss over one lady flyer?  We saw thousands die!”

AES: Ah, but Amelia was special to the American people.

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I could hear the 727’s engines power back for descent, and Mr. Reimers’ eyes told me the interview was concluded.  After expressing my deepest gratitude, I wished him well, and told him our group would come back again to his Islands.

Don’t forget, he chided with a parting smile, call me, and I’ll  find the right boat you.  Maybe one of mine will do the job.  Good Luck!  Find your Amelia.”

POSTMORTEM THOUGHTS:  Three hours with Mr. Reimers certainly taught me a great deal more about the man and his country than the above highlights reveal.  Here was a man of intense pride, unquestioned integrity, and now in his mid-eighties, a very private person.  I kept imagining what it would be like, to be at his side in the mid-thirties, sailing with his men and boats between the islands, dealing with the Japanese as they prepared for their inevitable confrontation with America.  Couldn’t we magically just once turn that clock back, only for a day, to be with Bilimon that summer morning in Jabor, 1937, and truly see the cast of characters that played out that historic event?  Oh, my kingdom for a camera, and all I ask for is only one photograph.  (End of Prymak article.)

Robert Reimers died on Sept. 27, 1998; his wife Lupe followed on July 23, 2000.  They are survived by seven children: Richard (Kietel), Francis (Teruo), Vincent, Ramsey, Minna, Ronnie and Reico; and hundreds of grand-, greatgrand and great-greatgrandchildren.  For more information on the life of Robert Reimers, please click here. 

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