As researcher Dean Magley referenced in his June 1992 letter to Joe Gervais, today we present Magley’s strange account of his brief encounters with famed astronaut Wally Schirra, beginning in 1979. The following item appeared in the August 1994 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. Bold emphasis is mine throughout; underline emphasis is in the AES entry.
“WALLY SCHIRRA AND AMELIA EARHART”
(From the personal memoirs of Dean Magley.)
In October 1979, the Rockford Airport Authority held a public “Airport Appreciation Days” [sic]. In addition to static displays of military and airline planes, Wally Schirra one of the original seven astronauts was asked to appear and give a short talk.
Representing my employer, WREX-TV, I was one of a handful of local people asked to go to Milwaukee on a Coleman Airline plane to pick up Wally. He had just completed a public appearance for his new employer, Realty World. You recall he made TV commercials for them having retired from NASA earlier.
On the return flight Wally sat across the aisle from me. I asked my favorite question, “What do you hear from Amelia?” He laughed and said, “I suppose you mean Amelia Earhart?” I nodded yes. He added, “Some people think she is alive and living on the east coast.” [sic] I told him I am one of those. He laughed again and our conversation ended.
After his talk at the airport, Realty World offices in this area gave a reception for him at the motel where he spent the night. On my way there I stopped to pick up my wife so that she might meet him. As we approached him he had a big smile on his face and was shaking hands with everyone. When it was our turn, he looked at me, wiped the smile off his face and in a very serious voice said, “You’re the fellow who was on the plane this afternoon and asked about Amelia Earhart.” I admitted it was me He said, “I can tell you that as of yesterday, or at the most two days ago, she was alive. I can’t give you proof, as such — but, as of no more than two days ago she was alive.”
With that he turned away, put on the big smile and greeted others. Later I phoned and wrote to him at his home. He would not acknowledge any communication.
In June, 1986, Wally returned to Rockford for a speaking engagement. I accompanied our news crew which was to interview him. When they finished, I asked that the cameras keep rolling.
I introduced myself and reminded him of our 1979 conversation. He turned on the big smile and said he recalled our meeting because few people bring up the topic. He stated that just a few days prior (in 1979) he had been in Florida and someone had given him that information. He was very gracious but would not supply the name of that person. (End of Magley account.)
What, if anything, can we take from Magley’s story? Did the famed astronaut really have inside information about Amelia Earhart? Clearly Magley thought it was possible, but this was 1979 and much that we know now was not widely disseminated.
The fact that Magley knew Joe Gervais well enough to write him a fairly lengthy summary of the 1982 Earhart Symposium tells us that he was likely sympathetic, at a minimum, with Gervais’ contention that Irene Bolam was Amelia Earhart returned from Japan’s Imperial Palace following World War II, as was presented in the infamous 1970 book Amelia Earhart Lives. If Magley could believe this all-time whopper from Gervais, he could believe anything. We should all know better.
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.)
Today present the conclusion of Paul Briand Jr.’s “Requiem for Amelia,” perhaps the best early synopsis of the accounts presented by the original Saipan and Marshall Islands witnesses, based on the interviews done by Fred Goerner and the “Operation Earhart” duo of Air Force officers Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960. (Boldface emphasis is both Briand’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Briand’s.)
According to other witnesses, the American fliers were blind-folded, taken into custody, and driven away from the crash scene into the nearby village of Garapan. Jose Basa, who had been stacking gasoline drums for the refueling of Japanese construction equipment, saw the crash, clearly remembers that one of the apprehended pilots was a woman, then saw them blindfolded and driven away by Japanese officials. Jose Camacho and his wife, also witnesses to the crash in the Sadog Tasi area near the Chico base, stood nearby and watched the Americans being taken away in a vehicle toward the direction of Garapan.
Mr. Antonio A. Diaz, now a distinguished member of the Saipan legislature, was in 1937 the chauffeur for the Commanding Officer of the Japanese Navy Chico Base on Saipan. One day in the commander’s sedan he overheard a conversation between the commanding officer and another Japanese officer. The officers were discussing the airplane that had crashed at Sadog Tasi. Two American pilots were apprehended. One of them was a woman.
Contrary to expectations, the Americans were not taken directly to prison, but to the Hotel Kobayashi-Royokan in Garapan. Many Saipan natives remember seeing the Americans at the hotel, particularly the woman, because of the name they all called her by and best remember her by. The name was “Tokyo Rosa” the American spy girl with the camera up front.
Antonio M. Cepada, then 52, recalls that he saw the American woman on two separate occasions over a period of three months during the summer of 1937. Asked to explain the term Tokyo Rosa which he was using in his story (because of the connection with Tokyo Rose used later during the war), Cepada said they named the American woman themselves among his people. In 1937 in Saipan, Tokyo Rosa meant American spy girl, and that IS all it meant, nothing else.
“I saw her while going to work outside the hotel which is located in East Garapan village,” Cepada said. “She wore unusual clothes, belted in the center. The color was faded khaki, which looked like it had been washed many times. Clothes like pilots wear.” He described the woman as “average height, American girl not short, not extra tall — had thin build. Chest somewhat flat, not out like other American girls. Her hair appeared to be reddish brown color and cut short like man’s hair, trimmed close in back like man. She did not wear powder or lipstick.”
“The girl looked soft,” Cepada remembers, “very calm, not expressive, not smile —seem to be thinking far away and not notice her surroundings and people much.” He guessed her age to be about 35, but remarked it was hard to tell age of the American woman. When shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Cepada said, “Looks just like same girl then.”
Commenting on her capture, Cepada did not know how she had been caught. But the belief then was: “she take secret picture with flying suit in front hidden camera.”
Another man who saw the American girl under similar circumstances and also referred to her as Tokyo Rosa, was Carlos Palacios, then 48, who in 1937 worked as a salesman in a merchandise store near the Kobayashi-Royokan hotel. Palacios, too, had only seen the woman twice, while going to and from his place of work. The first time was at an open window on the second floor of the hotel. She had on what seemed to him a man’s white shirt, with short sleeves, and open at the neck. She had dark reddish-brown hair, cut like a man’s hair in back too. He could not see any make-up or lipstick.
The second time Palacios saw the woman she was standing at the entrance to the hotel. She wore the same white shirt, and a dark skirt and American-type shoes. “It was the same girl,” he affirmed, “hair cut short, no make-up, slim girl, not fat, not big in front of chest.”
He said he did not know where the woman was caught and does not remember a crash incident – “only American spy girl and secret pictures she take.” She was Tokyo Rosa, his people’s 1937 expression for the American spy girl. Like Cepada when shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Palacios said, “Looks and haircut look like same girl.”
A resident of the hotel, Antonio G. Cabrera, then 62, now a farmer, who lived downstairs and owned the land on which the hotel was located, remembers that in 1937 an American man and woman lived at the Kobayashi-Royokan and were under the custody of the Japanese. The Americans lived at the hotel for only a short while and then were taken away by the Japanese.
When asked to examine some photographs, Cabrera positively identified the man as Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart as a woman who looked just like the woman who stayed at the hotel.
Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera [relationship to Antonio G. unknown], then 49, employed as a servant at the hotel in 1937, recalled seeing the two Americans and that as part of her duties she took a list of the guests to the governor’s office every day. On one particular day while carrying out this duty, Mrs. Cabrera saw the two Americans in the rear of a three-wheeled vehicle. They were blindfolded and their hands were bound behind them. One of them was the American woman. When she looked at a newspaper picture of Amelia and Fred, Mrs. Cabrera said they looked like the same people, and they were dressed in the same manner as the people she saw in the truck. She never learned what then happened to the two Americans.
Living next door to the hotel was Mrs. Matilda Ariola Saint Nicholas, then 47, perhaps the last woman to see the woman flier alive. The American woman visited Matilda and her younger sister on two different occasions in a one-week period while she was still living at the hotel. On the first visit the American girl wore a trench coat, and appeared very pale, as if she were sick.
The Nicholases offered her some food; the woman accepted, but ate very little, only some fruit. When the American woman visited the second time, she was noticeably changed in appearance, for although still pale and sick-looking, she now had bruises or burns on the right side of her neck and had her left forearm wrapped in bandages. It was on this visit, Mrs. Saint Nicholas remembers, that the American girl, despite her pain and sickness, helped the sister with her geography lesson, guiding her as she drew correctly the location of the Mariana Islands in relation to the other islands in the Pacific.
Matilda Saint Nicholas did not see the American girl again, nor did she hear about her again until a busboy from the hotel told her he had learned that the American girl had died. Lately he had noticed how often she had to use the outside toilet and how, most recently, he saw that the bed she slept on was soaked with blood. It was later, Mrs. Saint Nicholas said, that the same busboy asked her to make two wreaths for a burial.
From the hotel the American fliers were taken to the prison in Garapan. An Insular policeman and prison guard for the Japanese at the time was Ramon Cabrera, then 41, who saw the pi1ots, bound and blindfolded, brought to the prison. They both wore khaki-colored flying clothes. One had a beard with thick whiskers. The other, he noticed, was strange looking, with no whiskers and a smooth face, smaller in height than the other, and slender in build. But both had short haircuts. The fliers were kept in separate cells, but were permitted to exercise out in the main prison yard for short periods during the day. There were approximately 200 prisoners in the prison at the time, composed of Saipanese, Carolinians and Guamanians. But the two pilots were the only Americans there.
For the first few days, Cabrera recalls, the Americans could not eat their prison food — breadfruit and other bits thrown in. But by the fourth day they began to eat, although they still did not like the food, because they only received one meal a day, served in thirds three times a day. Like other Saipan natives in 1937, Cabrera used the expression Tokyo Rosa, and in addition he used the term “driver” as it was meant by the Japanese then to refer to an American woman as a driver of a car, boat, or airplane.
Ramon Cabrera claims he does not know what happened to the American prisoners after they were taken from the Garapan jail. He guessed they were either deported to Japan or executed.
If the Japanese were convinced that the Americans were spies, that the cameras found in the crashed aircraft, or the camera carried by the girl, or both, were used to photograph the fortifications being built in the Pacific contrary to the terms of the League of Nations man- date, then they had but one recourse to silence this discovery by two Americans . . . death. If the Americans were executed as spies, however, there is no witness who is willing to come forth and confirm what can only be inferred.
That there was an execution can be inferred from the testimony of two natives, who claim they know the exact location of the unmarked graves of the American man and woman pilots, but who are unwilling to point them out for reasons fearful and mysterious even twenty years after the fact. If they continue unwilling, the jungle will finally reclaim the graves and the signs of the crosses, now broken and mute to the outrage committed.
The two men are Joaquin Seman, then 48, a sugar mill worker on Saipan in 1937, and Ben Salas, then 43, a carpenter at the Japanese Chico Navy Base at the same time. They are good friends. When they were interviewed [by Gervais and Guam Police Sergeant Eddie M. Camacho] they both stated that they remembered the two Americans on Saipan in 1937, and that one of them was the American spy woman, Tokyo Rosa. The executions, they said, were performed not at the Garapan prison, but at the main Chico base.
Salas and Seman were in complete agreement that there were only Americans killed before the war by the Japanese — an American man, and an American woman. They were buried in unconsecrated ground in the Catholic cemetery at Liyang on Saipan, near the quarry and lumberyard, one mile south of the main prison.
Perhaps the one native witness who could reveal the certain identity of the American man and woman on Saipan in 1937 is the one man whose story does not agree with the testimony of all the other witnesses. The man is Jesus De Leon Guerrero, then 51, alias “Kumoi,” who in 1937 on Saipan was chief investigator on the police force for the Japanese. (He gave a negative response to the civilian administration in Saipan in the official report.) Although today he has no official connections with either the American or Japanese governments — he is a dealer in scrap metal — he is still greatly feared and respected on Saipan as the man who could extract confessions out of anybody. For this reason he was very useful to the Japanese authorities on Saipan in dealing with the natives and getting necessary information out of prisoners.
Guerrero denies any knowledge whatever about two American fliers taken prisoner. He has said, however, there was an American-born Japanese woman who was hanged as a spy in 1938. “She was beautiful,” he was quoted as saying, “and about 25 years of age. She appeared to have been part American and would have been mistaken for one. She was born in Los Angeles, California.”
The woman had come to Saipan from Japan apparently to look for work, Guerrero recalled. But she didn’t look like a worker because she was well-groomed and spoke very good English.
Back and forth through almost thirty years, the story of Amelia Earhart has unfolded, not clarifying the mystery of her disappearance, but deepening and complicating it by hearsay evidence and the conflicting testimony of natives who should know, and be able to tell, the truth.
Amelia Earhart was not on a spy mission for her government, she did not crash-land on Saipan; she was not taken as a prisoner; she was not executed as a spy or allowed to die. These are the conclusions of the Navy in the official report I was allowed to read. Considering their evidence, they could reach no other conclusions.
Most interestingly, there is no villain in the piece. The U. S. Navy was not trying to suppress or hide information. On the contrary, the Navy was trying as hard as I was (or anybody else) to uncover the truth. [Editor’s note: In this statement, Briand could not be more mistaken. Clearly, he fell victim to a convincing Navy propaganda effort.]
What, then, are my conclusions about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, after having conducted research about her almost continuously for the nine years since 1957 when I decided to write her biography?
I believe, now that I have examined all my latest evidence, that Amelia Earhart accidentally crash-landed on Saipan, that she and Fred Noonan were taken prisoners by the Japanese, were imprisoned on Saipan, and later — perhaps even many years later — were executed or allowed to die either on Saipan or in Japan. I do not believe she was on a deliberate spy mission, but I think the Japanese did believe Amelia was a spy because of the evidence of cameras on her person and in the airplane.
The Japanese, of course, could not reveal that they had found her, for she had discovered what they had been trying to hide — preparations for war against the United States. Unwittingly and without a plan on their part, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been mistaken as spies. If they could have brought home evidence of a Japanese military build-up in the Pacific, they would have been rewarded as heroes. Fate, however, dealt them a contrary hand.
How can anyone explain why stories from widely scattered sources support each other in broad outline and even, at times in small detail? Natives are naturally hostile to or afraid of established authority and will say almost anything not to get officially involved. Witnesses like Jesus Guerrero, for example, would have much to fear from official sources.
The weight of my evidence adds up to Saipan, a crash-landing, imprisonment and death. Josephine Blanco, J. Y. Matsumoto, and Thomas Blas confirm a crash-landing on Saipan; Jose Blaza, and Jose Camacho and his wife saw a man and a woman pilot being driven away by Japanese officials; Antonio M. Cepada, Carlos Palacios, Antonio G. Cabrera, and Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera confirm that the pilots were held in custody; Ramon Cabrera saw the fliers, bound and blindfolded, brought to prison; Jesus Guerrero undoubtedly knows of any execution; and Joaquin Seman and Ben Salas most probably know the location of the graves.
“Courage,” Amelia Earhart once wrote, “is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” She paid the price, and all of America is ennobled because she was willing to pay it — all of her life, and up to what must have been its bitter end. May she at last rest in peace. (End of “Requiem for Amelia.”)
We now know beyond any doubt, based on a massive assemblage of credible evidence, not to mention common sense, that Amelia did not fly to Saipan from Lae, New Guinea, which would have been a nearly 90 degree mistake, virtually unthinkable for even the most incompetent aviators of her day.
Remember that Briand was writing in 1966, when we knew about 10 percent of what has been learned since, and had no knowledge of the fliers’ Mili Atoll landing off Barre Island. But with the seminal work of Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner and yes, even the creator of the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart lie, Joe Gervais, we would have had precious little to guide us, and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart might still be correctly called a mystery.
Today we take another look at the pioneering work of author Paul L. Briand Jr., whose findings revealed in his 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, sparked the true modern search for Amelia Earhart. Written in 1966, as far as I know, “Requiem for Amelia” is Briand’s last published piece; it’s an excellent summary of everything he learned in the years since Daughter of the Sky was published in 1960.
“Requiem for Amelia” is a succinct summation of the evidence presented by the original Saipan witnesses, based on the interviews done by Fred Goerner and the “Operation Earhart” duo of Air Force officers Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960, following closely in Goerner’s heels, and presented to America by Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966) and Joe Klaas’ Amelia Earhart Lives (1970).
“Requiem” comes to us courtesy of Broad Cove Media and Paul Briand (no suffix), the son of Paul L. Briand Jr., who “started the freelance business through Broad Cove Media in 2008 after retiring from the Seacoast Media Group of newspapers that includes the Portsmouth Herald and Foster’s Daily Democrat.” Thus I assume the editor’s note below was written by Paul Briand. Boldface emphasis is mine throughout; capitalization emphasis is Briand’s. We begin Briand’s story with a note from the editor, possibly Paul Briand, though it’s not possible to know for sure:
Editor’s note: “Requiem for Amelia” was written in 1966 as a follow-up to Paul L. Briand Jr.’s 1960 Amelia Earhart biography, Daughter of the Sky. It was written as Briand was about to retire as a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. He was allowed to view the official Navy file on Earhart provided that this manuscript be reviewed for military security, which it was in February 1967. Briand died in 1986, still in pursuit of the truth behind Earhart’s disappearance.
“REQUIEM FOR AMELIA” (Part I of Two)
By Paul L. Briand, Jr.
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“That’s it. There is no rest.”
“No. That’s all there is.”
It was November 1, 1966. I had just finished reading the official Navy file on Amelia Earhart, and I wanted my theories confirmed. I had been waiting to see the file for more than five years, convinced that its pages had hidden for almost thirty years the secret to the mysterious disappearance of the famous flier. I was allowed to see the file as a scholar who would then submit his manuscript for clearance. It is a privilege allowed any scholar, writer or reporter working with official material.
According to the evidence in the file, Amelia Earhart was not on a spy mission for the United States Government when she disappeared in 1937. For years I had been convinced that she was. The findings in the official file also revealed that if Amelia ended her flight on Saipan, she did by accident and not by plan. I was cheered by this because it supported the conclusion in my biography about Amelia Earhart, Daughter of the Sky, published in April 1960. My evidence in the book was slight, however, based as it was on the eye-witness testimony of a Chamorro native girl who later married and emigrated to San Mateo, California.
But her testimony was so startling — that AE had crash-landed on Saipan, was taken prisoner by the Japanese, and later was executed as a spy — it appeared on the front pages of newspapers all over the country . One of the papers was the San Mateo Times, which featured the local tie-in with Josephine Blanco Akiyama, my native girl. It was this story that CBS Correspondent Fred Goerner ran with to best sellerdom six years later in his book, The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart had been America’s greatest woman flier. In 1928 she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger; in 1932 she flew across the Atlantic again, this time alone; in 1933 she broke her own transcontinental speed record from California to New Jersey; in 1935 she conquered part of the Pacific, from Hawaii to California. Not satisfied with these accomplishments, however, she wanted to face the one great challenge which remained … the world. She made her plans to girdle it at the equator, a 29,000 mile flight. No one had done it before. Not even Lindbergh.
In May of 1937 Ame1ia Earhart set out on her world flight from Miami. With her in the twin engine Lockheed Electra was one of the best navigators available, a pioneer from the Pan American flights to the Orient, Fred Noonan. By July, after flying 22,000 miles in forty days, they had reached Lae, New Guinea, the last stop before Howland Island, Hawaii, and home. Of these legs, the most difficult was the 2,556 miles to Howland, a tiny speck of island amid an eternity of ocean. To reach it, the navigation would have to be perfect.
The fliers never reached their destination. Although the Coast Guard cutter Itasca had been anchored off Howland to help beam them in, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were lost somewhere over a possible area of 450,000 miles in the South Pacific.
The Navy ordered a search. For a sixteen-day period Navy and Coast Guard ships, including at one time or another the aircraft carrier Lexington with its full complement of 63 planes, the battleship Colorado, the four destroyers Perkins, Cushing, Lamson, and Drayton, the minesweeper Swan, and the cutter Itasca, searched the Pacific where her plane could have been lost. Not a trace of the fliers was turned up. The world was stunned.
One of the great mysteries of the century remained unsolved, until in April of 1960, when it was first suggested in my Earhart biography Daughter of the Sky that the flier crash-landed on Saipan and was executed as a spy.
Amelia Earhart was lost and I had looked for her. I looked for her in 1957 and 1958 while conducting research for my book. I looked for her in 1960 and 1961 while two officer-colleagues of mine conducted investigations on Saipan and Guam. I looked for her again, most recently, this year in Washington, D. C., because I was convinced after almost ten years of research that her whereabouts were hidden in a government vault marked SECRET. During the summer of 1960, two Air Force officers stationed on Okinawa, Captains Joseph A. Gervais and Robert S. Dinger, read my book, wanted to believe my conclusion, but suggested that I needed more supporting evidence. I agreed.
We formed “Operation Earhart” and they went to Saipan and Guam to see what they could find. They interviewed 72 people, most of them natives who corroborated my testimony from Josephine Blanco. Gervais and Dinger also uncovered information to indicate that AE’s flight to Saipan was not accidental but deliberate, that she was on a spy mission. The evidence gathered by the captains, however, was immediately put under a security clamp by the U. S. Air Force in the Far East until it could be checked. Later, Gervais and Dinger took leave and brought their findings to me at the Air Force Academy. I wrote the story and submitted it to the Department of Defense for clearance in February 1961. I had decided later, on this title: “ONE LIFE FOR HER COUNTRY: The Last Days of Amelia Earhart.”
Then, because President Eisenhower was on a trip to the Far East and had cancelled a visit to Tokyo because of student riots, the Department of Defense denied clearance to the manuscript on the grounds that its contents would jeopardize Japanese–American relations. But I was convinced, nevertheless, that my conclusions about Amelia Earhart on Saipan were correct and that she must have been on a planned spy mission for her government.
I was silenced and I did not know what to do. In the spring of 1961 Arthur M. Sch1esinger Jr. came to the Air Force Academy to be the guest speaker at its annual Assembly. I prevailed on two officer colleagues to intercede with him on my behalf.
At Mr. Schlesinger’s suggestion, I wrote him a memo. Trying to help me, he wrote to Rudolph A. Winnacker, official historian of the Department of Defense. Mr. Winnacker, also trying to help, wrote in turn to the Army, Navy, and Air Force historians. They responded, but with no encouragement. The Navy answer was to the point: “ . . . the files contain nothing to indicate Amelia Earhart was a spy or that she was known or suspected to have landed on Saipan . . . ”
During the summer of 1961, Ambassador [Douglas, nephew of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who became the commander of the Allied occupation of Japan immediately after World War II] MacArthur in Tokyo was queried by the Secretary of State, Christian Herter, concerning Amelia Earhart. In his preliminary report on July 15, MacArthur said an initial search of Japanese files “has uncovered no indications Amelia Earhart was executed by the Japanese.” Then he added: “CHECK WILL BE CONTINUED, HOWEVER, AND GOJ (GOVERNMENT OF JAPAN) HAS LOCATED EIGHT PERSONS WHO MIGHT HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF CASE. THESE INCLUDE ADMIRAL HOSHINA AND FOUR FORMER STAFF MEMBERS CONCERNED WITH SAIPAN AREA; GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL NOW WORKING WITH FONOFF; MEMBER OF FORMER JAPANESE NAVAL LIAISON MISSION IN SAIPAN; AND CAPTAIN OF JAPANESE WARSHIP KOSHU WHICH SEARCHED FOR EARHART IN COLLABORATION WITH U S NAVY IN 1937.”
But on August 10, message number 445, at 3 p.m., he reported: “FOREIGN OFFICE INFORMS US GOJ HAS COMPLETED EXHAUSTIVE INVESTIGATION WHICH REVEALED NO BASIS WHATSOEVER FOR RUMOR JAPANESE EXECUTED AMELIA EARHART ON SAIPAN IN 1937. ALL AVAILABLE JAPANESE RECORDS SEARCHED AND ALL FORMER OFFICERS AND OFFICIALS CONTACTED (REFTEL) DURING COURSE INVESTIGATION. MACARTHUR”
Unfortunately for me, neither the Schlesinger-Winnacker correspondence, nor the MacArthur-Herter interchange, was shown to me; moreover, Mr. Schlesinger did not answer my memo to him — but he doubtlessly thought the Air Force would — which it did not. On November 21, 1961, after the supposed bones of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been found on Saipan by Fred Goerner, my manuscript was finally cleared by the Department of Defense for publication. The bones, however, proved to be those of Orientals, and there wasn’t a publisher in America interested in my story — not unless I had concrete proof-positive information, which didn’t have. Nor has anyone since.
Perhaps the most interesting document in the official file is an exhaustive report, a Navy investigative report [known to readers of this blog as the ONI Report] on the alleged location of Amelia Earhart’s grave. Compiled in November 1960, it is nine pages long and has a number of supporting documents, most of them photos of the Chamorran cemetery and surrounding area taken by Thomas E. Devine, from Connecticut, who had claimed he knew the location of the Earhart grave. Devine had written to me in the summer of 1960, telling me his story; but I was not interested. My Captains Gervais and Dinger had already written to me, telling me they had found the “one and only gravesite” of Amelia Earhart.
Here is the reporting official’s [ONI Special Agent Joseph M. Patton] synopsis:
Request was made for the evaluation of and comment on information furnished by Thomas E. DEVINE, who claimed that he had been told where Subject’s (Amelia Earhart’s) grave was located on Saipan, M.I. Enclosures (1) through (9) were furnished by DEVINE and their locations were described by DEVINE. Investigation at Saipan, M.I., developed that the location of enclosure (9) was erroneous as described by DEVINE. The building was located in Camp Susupe, several miles from the walk on fishing dock as mentioned by DEVINE. The Chamorran woman seen in enclosure (9) was in Camp Susupe and did not need rounding up. In 1937 the location shown in enclosure (9) was farm land under cultivation by the BLANCO family.
No evidence was disclosed by this investigation that Subject landed an airplane on Saipan. Mrs. Antonia BLANCO stated that her daughter (Josephine, the same who had furnished me with the conclusion for “Daughter of the Sky”) claimed to have seen a white woman of Subject’s description at Saipan prior to WW II. Mr. Jesus SALAS said he had overheard Japanese military people talking about the crash of Subject’s plane at Jaluit Atoll, in the Marshall Islands; and Mr. Jose VILLA-GOMEZ said that he overheard a similar conversation.
Some of the testimony in the report itself was very startling to me: Native guards during Japanese rule “stated they had known of no plane crash in Tanapag until the Military planes fell there during the bombing raids in 1944.” It refuted what I had learned from Gervais and Dinger. As startling is a copy of a letter from the civilian administrator, Saipan, to the Navy liaison officer to the trust territory high commissioner:
Now to the police. We contacted all presently available men who were policemen in 1937. None of them knew anything concerning the alleged incident. Next, we contacted all persons who were remembered as being jail wardens in 1937. Still no news of Amelia. Next, to Dr. Jose TORRES who worked in the Japanese hospital. Again no news. Jesus GUERRERO, a detective for the Japanese Government. No knowledge. Next, talked to Saipanese labor foremen who were in charge of labor gangs in the Garapan-Tanapag Harbor area. Again no soap.
Incredibly, the testimony of all these people as reported in the official file does not square with the testimony gathered for me by Captains Gervais and Dinger. It was as Department of Defense historian Rudolph Winnacker had said of my findings: “. . . contrary testimony by people who might have been expected to know.”
Contrary indeed! The evidence uncovered by Captain Joseph A. Gervais and Captain Robert S. Dinger in the summer of 1960 fully corroborates the story of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, first presented in Daughter of the Sky, in which the Saipan native girl saw a twin-engine silver plane fly overhead and crash land at Tanapag Harbor, about noon time one summer day in 1937. From the plane emerged two fliers, one of them a woman. Josephine, who later identified the fliers as Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart, learned later that they had died. Who is telling the truth and to whom?
Here my evidence: While Josephine Blanco was bicycling toward the Japanese installation with her brother-in-law’s lunch and looked up to see Amelia’s Electra fly over low and crash, other Chamorro natives witnessed the same event at the same time.
One was Josephine’s brother-in-law, J. Y. Matsumoto. Having been found and interviewed by Gervais and Dinger, he acknowledged that the incident was one that both he and Josephine witnessed, just as Mrs. Akiyama has related it. He confirmed that he did see the plane crash, that two Americans were apprehended, and that one of them was a woman.
Another Saipan native was Thomas [“Buko”] Blas, then 45, a construction worker at the time, who had just started to eat his lunch. As he sat looking out over Tanapag Harbor, Blas heard a plane overhead; looking up, he saw that it was very low, then watched with fright as it hit the tops of trees edging the Sadog Tasi area, pitch down out of control, and crash land on the beach 100 feet in front of him, very close to the Japanese Chico Naval Air Base.
Blas clearly remembers that the plane was two-motored, aluminum- colored, and had no Japanese markings. Many other workers, coming from all directions, gathered at the scene. Barred from getting too close to the plane by Japanese Navy personnel, Blas nevertheless saw that one of the pilots was lying face down on the ground, apparently injured, and that the other pilot had climbed out of the plane to help him.
Japanese officers and soldiers, however, kept the pilots separated, pushing and shoving the standing one away from the one lying on the ground, even knocking him down with the butt of a rifle. The injured one turned on his back, and as he tried to get up a Japanese soldier placed a bayonet at his throat.
Then a surprising thing happened. Blas could see that the fliers were certainly not Japanese; they looked more like Europeans, more like Americans because of their light coloring.
The Japanese, rather than search the pilots for concealed weapons, quickly stripped them and to their amazement, and embarrassment, one of the pilots, naked and undeniable, was a woman. Greatly disturbed, the Japanese quickly dressed the woman and the man; then with considerable irritability, they loudly complained that the poor Americans had no more men pilots and now had to use women for their military aircraft.
Blas said that both fliers wore flying jackets and well-washed khaki trousers, and that the woman wore a long-sleeved black shirt. But to his surprise, the woman had her hair cut short just like the man. The Japanese now took many photographs of the crash scene and the pilots. Then they dismissed all the workers in the Chico area, telling them to go home immediately. (End of “Requiem” Part I.)
Jesus Guerrero, the detective for the Japanese Government briefly referenced in a letter “from the civilian administrator, Saipan, to the Navy liaison officer to the trust territory high commissioner,” was in fact Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, a sinister character who collaborated with the Japanese police during the war, an enforcer whose job was to “keep the rest of the natives in line and his methods hadn’t been gentle,” Fred Goerner wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Many Saipanese said Guerrero was the man who could best answer his questions about events before and during the war, and Goerner had more than one unpleasant encounter with the surly Chamorro, whom he described as a “tough, bitter, hate-filled man who looks his reputation.” Goerner used the pseudonyms Francisco Galvan and Kobei for Guerrero in Search, but Guerrero was named correctly by Joe Klaas in Amelia Earhart Lives and by Thomas E. Devine in Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.
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.
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 thousands” of 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.
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 a “huge” aircraft 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.
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.
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.