Tag Archives: Jaluit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical corpsman Bilimon Amaron told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak:

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

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

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

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

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

They didn’t say how they were transported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “How far out?” 

About a hundred yards from the land.” 

What happened then?” 

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

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

The Captain?” 

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

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

A plane landed on the water.” 

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

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

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

Nobody ever said there was a crash at Kwajalein.

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

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

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

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

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

Why would they lie?

— Joe Klaas, 7/14/99

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

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

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

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

For much more on Joe Klaas, please click here.

Original Air Classics “AE and French Connection”

Today we return to our recent two-part post, Amelia Earhart and the French Connection,” for a look at the original article as seen in the December 2000 issue of Air Classics magazine.  You’ll find it differs in several areas from the version that found its way into the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, though the story is basically the same, and still confuses me. 

Heartfelt thanks to longtime reader Willam Trail, who procured the December 2000 Air Classics, photocopied it and sent it here to make it available to all.

You can click on each page for a larger, clearer view and easy reading. 

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Comments are welcome!

 

Amelia Earhart and the French Connection

This is a fascinating, complex (for me, at least) story that at least three Earhart researchers have researched and written about in their own unique styles.  Retired Air Force Col. Rollin C. Reineck’s “Amelia Earhart and the French Connection” appeared in the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters

Clearly the best, most exhaustively researched version of the bottle messagestory was written by AES member Dave Horner, who, in his fine 2013 book, The Earhart Enigma, presented  a lengthy subsection, Genevieve’s Discovery,” in which Bill Prymak concluded thatthe message in the bottle is genuine.”  In 2001, Daryll Bolinger, another AES figure, wrote “Two If By Air, Two If By Sea,” also longer and more detailed than Reineck’s, and presented it on the AES Forum.  Last but maybe far from least, Polish author and publisher Sławomir M. Kozak is completing his Requiem for Amelia Earhart; he plans to release it soon, and tells me Requiem will include a chapter on the bottle message.

Retired Air Force Col. Rollin C. Reineck, circa 2003.

But for the purposes and format of this blog, I think Reineck’s “Amelia Earhart and the French Connection” is the best fit, though it’s far from the most exhaustive or accurate rendition of this story, which remains a strange and nearly inscrutable chapter in the Earhart saga.  Today I present the first of two parts.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout.

“AMELIA EARHART AND THE FRENCH CONNECTION”
by Rollin C. Reineck

(Bill Prymak note: This is an abbreviated account of Colonel Reineck’s story.  Col. Reineck has complete copies of all reports, original letters, and memorandum from the French and U.S. Government.  You may all plan to read the complete version in the Air Classics magazine.)

[Truth at Last editor’s note: I don’t have the unidentified Air Classics issue referenced by Prymak, have searched diligently for it and have been unable to even pinpoint its specific month and year.  Anyone who might have it, please contact me via email or comment to this blog.] *See update below Part I.*

In October 1938, the search for Amelia Earhart was over, without success.  Her name was no longer a headline, and her adoring public was gradually putting her out of their mindsBut suddenly, evidence of her survival surfaced off the coast of France!  Were the American people told this exciting news?  NO — the U.S. State Dept. immediately classified it “Confidential” to protect the security of the United States.  Without taking any action, the State Department sent it to the Navy Depsrtment, but without giving any orders or guidance concerning an investigation.  The accompanying message read, “TAKE SUCH ACTION, IF ANY, AS YOU MAY DEEM DESIRABLE.”  The Navy deemed only to keep the information classified from the public for 12 years.  Were they trying to hide something?  Does this action suggest a cover-up?  Follow this story, and you decide . . . .

Almost 60 years ago in a small residential community along the French coast, a 37-year old housewife was walking along the beach, and spotted a sealed bottle floating on the waves close to shore.  The lady’s name was Genevieve Barrat, place was Soulac-sur-Mer, France, and the date was 30 October 1938.  Genevieve picked up the bottle, removed the wrapping that covered the cork, and opened the bottle. Inside were three sheets of paper, and a lock of hair.  The writing on the paper was in both longhand and shorthand.  Genevieve read the writing, which among other things directed the finder to turn the contents over to the police without delay.  She did exactly that.

The beach at Soulac-sur-Mer, France, where Ms. Genevieve Barrat found one of the most provocative bottle messages of the 20th century in late October 1938.

The French Gendarme made a complete report, and forwarded it on 18 Nov. 1938, to the District Attorney at the Prefect of Gironde.  (Original reports in French were translated later at the American Embassy in Paris.)  They first reiterated Genevieve’s story and her actions.  They described the bottle (10 centilitres; bottom of the glass marked V.B.2.; closed with a cork and covered with wax).  They described the hair found in the bottle as light brown.  The inscriptions on the documents were:

1.  Further proof: a lock of hair.
2.  “May God guide this bottle. I entrust to it my life and that of my companions in misery.”
3.  In ordinary handwriting:

RECTO: Have been prisoner of Jalint (Jaluit, Marshall) of Japanese in a prison at Jalint.  Have seen Amelia Earhart (aviatrix) and in another prison her mechanic (man), as well as other prisoners held for so-called espionage of the gigantic fortifications which are built at Atoll. 

Earhart and her companion were picked up by a Japanese seaplane and will be
held as hostage, say the Japanese.  I was a prisoner because I debarked at Mili Atoll. My yachtViveo sunk, crew massacred (3 Maoris), the boat (26T) (sailing boat) was supplied with wireless.

VERSO: Having remained a long time at Jalint (Jaluit) as prisoner, was enrolled
by forces as bunker-hand, simple fed, on boardNippon NOM? going to Europe. Shall escape as soon as the boat is near the coast.  Take this message immediately to the Gendarmerie in order to be saved. This message was probably thrown off Santander, and will surely arrive at the Vendee towards September or at the latest in October 1938, remainder in the bottle tied to this one, Message No. 6.”

In Shorthand:

In order to have more chance at freeing Miss Amelia Earhart and her companion, as well as the other prisoners, it would be preferable that policemen should arrive incognito at Jalint?  I shall be with JO . . . . . eux [sic] and if I succeed in escaping . . . . . for if the Japanese are asked to free the prisoners they will say that they have no prisoners at Jalint.  It will therefore be necessary to be crafty in order to send further messages to save the prisoners at Jalint.  At the risk of my life, I shall send further messages.

Photo of “RECTO” of bottle message found by Genevieve Barrat at Soulac-sur-Mer, France in October 1938. (Courtesy of National Archives and The Earhart Enigma.)

This bottle serves as a float to a second bottle containing the story of my life and . . . . . . empty, and a few objects having belonged to Amelia Earhart.  These documents prove the truth of the story in ordinary writing and shorthand and that I have approached Amelia Earhart . . . . . believed to be dead.

The second bottle doesn’t matter.

I am writing on my knees for I have very little paper, for finger prints taken by
police.  Another with thumb.

Message written on cargo boat No. 6.

The report by the Gendarme at Soulac-sur-Mer was sent to the District Attorney at the Prefect of Gironde in Bordeaux on 18 Nov. 1938.  From there it was sent to the Minister of the Interior in Paris.

In Paris. on 2 Dec. 1938, the Minister of the Interior sent the file to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  However, they added a note concerning a lecture given on 25 Nov.’38, by a well known navigator, Mr. Eric de Bisschop, at the Geographical Society.  Mr. de Bisschop’s lecture was titled, “Six Years of Adventure in a Chinese Junk and a Polynesian Canoe.”  In it, he told of his voyage taking him through the Marshall Islands.  (The fact that his visit there was approximately a month after the bottle washed ashore in France, is probably coincidental.)

When Mr. de Bisschop stopped off in the Marshalls, he was very cordially received by
the local Japanese authorities, until he mentioned passing Mili Atoll.  They then became distinctly hostile toward him.  He was suspected of spying, and endured very close questioning, and his boat was subjected to a particularly severe inspection.  When nothing was discovered, he was released.

The next day, Mr. de Bisschop received a beautiful basket of fruit from the Japanese
authorities.  Being wary of Greeks bearing gifts, he did not touch the fruit, even though he could have used some fresh food after his tong voyage.  A day later, suspicious brown spots appeared on the fruit, so he threw it all into the sea.

It appears the Japanese at that time were up to more than just increasing commerce with the Marshallese.  It is difficult not to connect Mr. de Bisschop’s incident, and the details contained in the note in the bottle thrown overboard by an unknown sailor.  A note that gives information concerning the disappearance of the American aviatrix Amelia Earhart, and her mechanic.  Mr. de Bisschop did allude, in his lecture, to the passage of Amelia in the vicinity of the Marshall Islands during her attempted round-the-world flight.

[Editor’s Note: From Wikipedia, which cites Eric de Bisschop’s 1940 book, Voyage of the Kaimiloa, we learn that de Bisschop built a Chinese junk, the Fou Po and from 1932 to 1935 sailed with Joseph Tatibouet in the southwestern Pacific Ocean.  Fou Po was destroyed in a hurricane on Formosa (modern day Taiwan), but de Bisschop quickly built a new, smaller junk, Fou Po II in 1933.  In July 1935, they were detained for two weeks by the Japanese in Jaluit, under suspicion of being spies, and barely escaped, fleeing toward Hawaii.  (Italic emphasis mine.)  On Oct. 25, they reached, half starving, Molokai Island and were rescued at the Kalaupapa hospital.  On the 27th, the Fou Po II was destroyed by a storm, along with all the scientific work done during these years of seafaring.  After a while, they flew to Honolulu.]

Edwin C. Wilson, circa 1943, American diplomat, acting chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 1939, who served as U.S. Minister to Uruguay from 1939-1941, U.S. Ambassador to Panama from 1941-1943 and U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1945-1948. (Associated Press photo.)

On Jan. 3, 1939, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs handed all the documents to
Edwin C. Wilson, acting chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy in Paris.  Mr. Wilson immediately classified the reportConfidential, and dispatched it on Jan. 4, 1939, to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C.  The cover letter noted there were only two pages of notes, whereas the police at Lesparre said the bottle contained three pages of notes. There was also no mention of the lock of hair that allegedly belonged to Amelia Earhart.  (End of Reineck’s “AMELIA EARHART AND THE FRENCH CONNECTION” Part I.)

In The Earhart Enigma, Dave Horner notes that the top line of the RECTOmessage contains a series of numbers, 942 9652 9077 V 10 135 815613114 X 6 / 75 2865, that appears to be a code of some kind.  If you look closely at the photo on this page, you can see small traces of this series of numbers, though it’s not easy to make out.

Horner looked deeply into this possible code, consulting with cipher specialist General Ribadeau-Dumas, then 93, former chief of the Cipher Section of the Deuxième Bureau of the [French] War Department, who Horner described as having aclear mind and good memory.”  Though the general believed the bottle message could be authentic, he couldn’t help with the string of numbers at the top of the message.

Later, French intelligence sources told Horner the code was “Marine Code RD,” widely used from 1937 to 1939.  In spite of an intense search, Horner wrote, “no dictionary for Marine Code RD cold be found.  The absolute rule of incineration had been accomplished,” and the code remains a mystery.

*Update Nov. 7: Longtime reader William Trail has found the original issue of Air Classic Magazine, its December 2000 edition, that published Rollin C. Reineck’s “Amelia Earhart and the French Connection,” and sent the cover, below.  Thanks William!

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. 

 

Prymak’s “Jaluit Report” recalls ’91 Jaluit visit, interviews of hitherto unknown Earhart witnesses

Today we return to Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters for another look at true Earhart research history.  “The Jaluit Report” is Prymak’s account of his November 1990 trip to Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands with his longtime friend, the strange, unreliable researcher Joe Gervais, best known as the progenitor of the notorious Amelia Earhart-as-Irene Bolam myth“The Jaluit Report” appeared in the May 1991 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter.  Please understand that the words and opinions in this piece are those of the writers and others quoted, and not necessarily those of the editor.  Boldface and italics emphasis is mine throughout.

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

FOREWORD

This report summarizes the events experienced during our recent expedition to Jaluit and the great Japanese Naval Seaplane Base at Emidj, eight miles north of Jabor, the only harbor located in the Jaluit chain of islands, and where the administrative seat of Japanese Government was located prior to and during World War II.

Bill Prymak received considerable flak from the assemblage of critics out there for failing to maintain strict objectivity in the reporting of eyewitnesses interviewed during last year’s trip to Mill Atoll, so this report will simplytell it as it happened, with no editorializing, no personal opinions.  It shall be for the reader to judge the veracity of the many eyewitness experiences related to us, and the impact these experiences may have on the Earhart MysteryIt should be noted, however, that we went so far back into the bush that many of these natives interviewed had rarely, if ever, seen a white visitor to their remote part of the Marshall Islands: none of them had ever been interviewed before, so we were fortunate indeed to visit with “uncontaminated” witnesses. 

And yet, as the following report will detail, they knew of the “American Lady Spy who flew her own airplane” not from books (they have none there), not from previous visitors, not from their own government people, but they knew of the American Lady Spy relating only to a time many years ago, before the “Great War,” and always in concert with their servitude under harsh Japanese rule.

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Joe Gervais, the father of the Earhart-as-Bolam theory, and Joe Klaas, his right-hand man and author of Amelia Earhart Lives, in a typical news photo from 1970, when Amelia Earhart Lives was creating an international sensation.

“Hey Bill, this is Joe Gervais.  You gotta come down: I’ve got something important to show you, and when you see it, you’ll agree with me that we gotta take another trip to the Marshall Islands.  There’s some unfinished business there.”

A typical Gervais call.  Full of energy, optimism, and rarely failing to come up with a new tidbit on the Earhart mystery that has consumed the man for over thirty years.

Visiting Maj. Gervais has never been unpleasant nor without excitement; he lives in Las Vegas, and with my good fortune to own an airplane, it was a quick hop from Denver that late October, 1990.  He is ever the gracious host, and his EARHART SUITE contains literally thousands of research data painstakingly procured over the past thirty years.  It’s amazing how much Earhart material he has acquired that did not make his book.

Joe had photographs and spread sheets all over the table as he ushered me into the Earhart Suite.  Bill, let’s backtrack a bit: virtually every credible AE researcher has her down in the Marshall Islands, and every one of them tried to get to Jaluit, but because of time constraints, money, or logistics, none of ’em made it to Jaluit.  Think about it; we have at least five sightings of what might be the Electra at Jaluit: Bilimon Amaron see it on the fantail of a Japanese naval ship; John Heine sees it on a barge [see page 156 Truth at Last] ; Oscar DeBroom reports seeing it at Jaluit; Tomaki [Mayazo, see pages 140-141 TAL for clarification], loading coal on the Kamoi, hears about the American Lady pilot and plane.  And Jaluit was administrative headquarters for the Japanese long before World War II got underway.  Why shouldn’t a ‘spy’ airplane be brought to Jaluit, placed on a barge for the inland water trip to a naval seaplane base under construction at that time, and far removed from prying eyes?

Take a look at this, Joe continued, his eyes lighting up with excitement, as he showed me classified pre-strike Target Detail Photos of Emidj, the Japanese naval seaplane base, taken by U.S. Air Force reconnaissance planes July 1943.

My God, I uttered,that’s a mini Pearl Harbor down there, as I studied the photographs.  Clearly outlined were two massive concrete ramps leading into the lagoon, a main concrete apron 1,500 feet long by 360 feet wide, two enormous hangars scaling 240 feet by 160-feet wide (each!), numerous other support structures, and several giant Emily flying boats parked on the aprons.

Study that overhead photo real hard, Bill, and see if you note anything unusual.”  Joe was testing me.  Besides the aforementioned ramps, hangars and airplanes, I could pick out AA guns, barracks, roads, and evidence that a tremendous amount of labor and materials had gone into this huge complex.  But nothing that would precipitate an urgent trip to Las Vegas caught my eye.  I looked up at Joe, plaintively, my eyes conceding defeat: I give up — what’s so sensational down there?

Joe whipped out a photo-enhanced copy of the recon photo and proudly placed it in front of me, pointing to what obviously was an Operations building . Behind the building, in what was apparently several years’ growth of underbrush, was a silver airplane!  I was stunned!  Intense magnification and scrutiny showed the object to be a twin-engined land airplane, twin tail, 55-foot wingspan, and looking just like a Lockheed Electra would look like from an overhead camera shot.

This may have been the 1944 overhead photo of Taroa — not 1943 Emidj,  the Japanese naval seaplane base referenced by Prymak in his newsletter story — that so electrified Joe Gervais that he convinced Bill Prymak to take another trip to the Marshalls in search of the Holy Grail of Earhart Research:  the Earhart Electra.  I’ve seen no other that fits the description, though another could well exist in Gervais’ files, which I have not searched.  This photo can be found in Randall Brink’s 1993 book, Lost Star, which contains plenty of other dodgy material as well.  The plane in question was never found and could have been anything — anything except the Earhart Electra, which had been taken to Saipan, repaired, flown and later destroyed and buried under Aslito Field sometime in 1945, according to eyewitness Thomas E. Devine.  (Photo courtesy National Archives.)

“Bill,” Joe said softly, “What the hell is a civilian land based airplane doing on a Japanese Naval Seaplane Base in the middle of a war?”  I couldn’t even begin to answer, noting further on the photo that all the Jap military aircraft were clearly camouflage gray.  Our attention was riveted upon a silver-looking (READ-Aluminum) airplane that just didn’t seem to belong there.

“Joe,” I asked, “when do we leave for Jaluit?”

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You pay for at least three phone calls to the Marshall Islands before you finally connect with someone who might help you connect to Jaluit.  And then the response to our request to visit Jaluit went something like:Hey, mon, what for you wanna visit Jaluit?  Nobody goes dere . . .  dere ain’t no airport, no hotel, no beaches, no white folk . . . are you guys plannin’ on runnin’ dope or sumtin?  Finally, at no little expense, our twin-engine plane was headed southeast out of Majuro (capital of the Marshall Islands) some 115 miles down the road.  It’s a big, big ocean out there.

Jaluit Atoll will never make the cover of ISLAND PARADISE MAGAZINE.  It’s a scrawny looking string of very thin islands stretching some 40 miles in length and 20 miles at its widest girth.  No beaches to speak of.  We asked our pilot to make a low pass over Emidj for some photos; when we mentally compared our 1943 photos with the view below, we knew our work was cut out for us, as the encroaching jungle over the aprons and hangars showed a solid blanket of green.

 

As we approached Jabor, capital of Jaluit Atoll, I sat right seat next to the pilot; I jokingly asked if Jabor had a control tower.  “We don’t even have an airstrip to land on,” complained the pilot, pointing to a narrow winding coral road.  He skillfully dumped it in, however, and we were unceremoniously off loaded in front of a rusting hulk of metal vaguely resembling a beat-up pickup truck

It had been previously arranged that the Mayor of Jabor (population some three hundred natives and thousands of chickens and pigs) would meet our flight and arrange food and lodging.  But the fellow in the truck, a most agreeable chap who spoke some English, and who also happened to be the official Postmaster, advised us the Mayor was on a remote island attending a funeral, and his time or date or return was, well, uncertain.”  Mr. Johnson, our newfound Postmaster friend, took us to the Post Office to wait for the Mayor.

And then the rains came . . .  in sheets like I’ve never seen before.  Joe was resigned to sleeping on the P.O. desk, while I deliberated the delightful prospect of sleeping on the floor amongst all those crawling inhabitants.  Suddenly Mr. Johnson remembered: school was on holiday, but one teacher remained, and might find us a bed in the teachers’ quarters.  Miss Kimberly, a delightful transplant from Arkansas, saved the day for us, and proved to be a most charming hostess for the duration of our stay on Jabor.

Bill Prymak with Jabor Mayor Robert Diem in front of the original Jaluit Post Office. (Photo courtesy Bill Prymak.)

Mayor Robert Diem was to be our guide and translator for the rest of our stay on Jaluit.  His warmth, friendship and eagerness to help will be long remembered.  First order of business on the first day was to get the BOOM-BOOM BOAT as they called it (didn’t Mill also have a BOOM-BOOM BOAT?) operational for the trip to Emidj, some eight miles up the lagoon.  With much noise, fire and smoke by mid-morning we chugged northward and arrived some two hours later.

EMIDJ.  What a great naval seaplane base this must have been.  Begun in 1935 with 8,000 Korean and Marshallese labor, the enormous seaplane ramps, except for the 500-pound bomb direct hits, are today in excellent condition.  The 30-foot-high bomb depository, with its 6-foot-thick walls and roof, stands as a testimony to the advanced engineering skills of the Japanese in that era.  The structure today is as sound and solid as the day it was built.

Along the shore lay strewn dozens of radial engines, props, bomb carrier dollies, and rusting hulks of the machines of war.  The big hangars were downed, devoured entirely by the creeping jungle.  By my calculation, at least a hundred thousand tons of concrete were hand mixed to build this base.

In his description of this photo, Bill Prymak wrote, “Remains of a direct hit from American bombers on the Emidj ramp.”

Approximately 90 natives live on the concrete apron in tin shacks, with absolutely no visible sign of meaningful employment; the trading boat comes once a month with basic staples in exchange for the copra harvested.  We were introduced to Joel, the school teacher who spoke fairly good English, and two native boys were assigned to us for initial reconnaissance work.  We had previously plotted out precisely where the “aircraft in question” should locate, and as we brought in our survey lines, ground ZERO was surrounded by a solid wall of green.  We were bitterly frustrated and disappointed at this turn of events, but “take heart!” we cried.  This is only the first day.

Our two guides told us nothing existed at our ground ZERO, but we hacked our way to four corners of the huge hangars and were shown piles of aluminum aircraft debris that has been obviously bulldozed into one great mass.  The jungle had flexed its muscles and embraced this mass of aluminum with a canopy that virtually defied penetration.  We did identify several Japanese aircraft, including one huge Emily Flying Boat, but found nothing made in USA.

(Editor’s note: For those wondering about the one-winged plane that brought Gervais and Prymak to Jaluit, no trace of it was ever found.)

Crawling out of the jungle was like stepping out of a blast furnace, and nothing in the world refreshes like a cool drink of nectar out of a coconut.  Joel, our schoolmaster friend told us that in 1977 the U.S. Army came in with bulldozers to deactivate any live ordinance strewn about and resettle the natives on Emidj.  This was distressing news to us; it would take an army of men to cut through the jungle and mass of aluminum to affect a meaningful search for anything USA.  We thanked our gracious hosts for their help and promised to return the next day.  (End of Part I; witness interviews to come in Part II.)

 

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