Today we 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.)
“Requiem for Amelia” Conclusion
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 pilots, 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 mandate, 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 Jr.’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 Amelia 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. Schlesinger 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 US 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’s 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.
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.)
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 simply “tell 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 Mystery. It 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.
“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.
“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?”
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.
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.
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.)
The late Bill Prymak’s abundant contributions to Earhart research, though ignored and unappreciated everywhere else in our know-nothing media, are gifts that keep on giving to readers of this blog and Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Bill, the founder and former president of the Amelia Earhart Society, who passed away in July 2014 at 86, was the central hub and repository of the writings, reports, analyses and speculations of a wide variety of Earhart researchers.
This material’s accuracy, also quite variable, must be carefully sifted to separate the wheat from the chaff, and was compiled in his two-volume Assemblage of Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, covering Prymak’s AES Newsletters from December 1989 to March 2000.
The following treasure appeared in the January 1997 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and concerns a familiar face among the Saipan witnesses, Joaquina M. Cabrera, and a revealing interview she did with Joe Gervais; Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam chief of police; and Eddie Camacho, Guam chief of detectives, during their 1960 Guam interviews. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
“THE STRANGE STORY OF INTERVIEW #23”
When Joe Gervais and Joe Klaas presented their manuscript of Amelia Earhart Lives  to McGraw-Hill, it was bulging with some 650 pages of research work. Much good material had to be trimmed to meet the publisher’s mandate not to exceed 275 pages in final form, and it has always bugged Gervais that one of his most profound witnesses had a crucial part of her testimony stricken from the book by the editors. Major Gervais recreates that scene for us, the way it should have been presented in the book:
At Chalan Kanoa, a village on Saipan, the investigators located Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera, fifty-one, who during 1937 and 1938 had been employed as a servant in the [Kobayashi Royakan] hotel.
“l used to have to take a list of the persons staying in the hotel to the island governor’s office each day,” Mrs. Cabrera remembered. “One day when I was doing this I saw two Americans in the back of a three-wheeled vehicle. Their hands were bound behind them, and they were blindfolded. One of them was an American woman.”
Gervais showed her a photo of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. “Are these the two you saw?”
She squinted at the photograph. “They look like the same people I saw, and they are dressed the same way.”
“What happened to them?”
“I only saw them once in the three-wheeled truck. I don’t know what happened to them.”
The threesome, Capt. Jose Quintanilla, Guam Chief of Police; Eddie Camacho, Guam Chief of Detectives; and Capt. Gervais, were shocked when, after finishing the above interview, she suddenly came forward to Gervais and deliberately spat on the ground, in front of his feet.
Capt. Gervais regained his composure and asked Capt. Quintanilla
“Why is this woman so enraged at me? I had never met her before?”
Capt. Quintanilla, in a quiet voice, asked Mrs. Cabrera to explain her actions, and after a lengthy exchange of words in Chamorro, Quintanilla turned to Gervais with an ashen face and slowly, deliberately told him what Mrs. Cabrera had said:
“You Americans are two-faced people! What are you doing here in 1960 investigating what happened to Amelia Earhart 23 years ago when all the time you Americans knew she was here and none of you lifted a finger to help her?
“What kind of people are you?” (End Strange Story of Interview #23)
Amelia Earhart Lives author Joe Klaas, who passed away in February 2016 at 95, was a pilot and World War II hero, a POW and a talented writer with 12 books to his credit. But sadly, Klaas fell victim to the insane delusion Joe Gervais had birthed and spread to other witless sheep over the years, that New Jersey housewife Irene Bolam was actually Amelia Earhart returned from Saipan via the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo, determined to live out her life in obscurity and isolation from her family — something Amelia was incapable of doing.
It was a shame, because the eyewitness interviews conducted by Gervais, Robert Dinger and the detectives on Guam and Saipan in 1960, on the heels of Fred Goerner’s arrival on Saipan, were some of the most compelling ever done. The above incident is another example of important witness testimony that most will never see.
If you’d like to get reacquainted with all the sordid details of the long-debunked, worm-eaten Earhart-as-Bolam myth, I did a four-part series on this dark chapter of the Earhart saga, beginning with “Irene Bolam and the Decline of the Amelia Earhart Society: Part I of IV,” on Dec. 29, 2015.
Fred Goerner also interviewed Joaquina at length in 1962, and later wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart, “Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera brought us closer to the woman held at the Kobayashi Royokan [Hotel] than any other witness.” See my April 17, 2018 post, “Revisiting Joaquina Cabrera, Earhart eyewitness” and pages 101-102 of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last for more on Goerner’s interview with Joaquina.
(Editor’s note: “I was surprised to learn what Joaquina did after she was interviewed,” Marie Castro wrote from Saipan just after this post was published. “But I can also understand Joaquina’s reaction to Gervais, it was out of frustration because of the way Amelia suffered as a detainee. Joaquina noticed the bruises around Amelia’s arm and neck, so did Matilde.”)
(Editor’s note No. 2: In an Aug. 21 comment, Les Kinney wrote: “I don’t believe Cabrera’s statement. It’s inconsistent with remarks made to other researchers and out of character for a Chamorro woman to speak in this manner. Sadly, at times, Joe Gervais embellished and flat out lied to further his argument. It’s a shame since some of his reporting was sound. Goerner’s account is probably more credible. Don Kothera and the Cleveland group interviewed Cabrera twice – there is no mention of anything close to what Gervais reported.”)
After Marie Castro was told about Les’s comment, she responded with this in an Aug. 22 email: I also believed with Les Kinney, spitting at a person is unheard of in our culture. It is highly unlikely that a Chamorro woman would ever do such a thing. I was really surprised of that reaction on Joaquina. I would rather skip that comment of Joe Gervais, it was a made up story.”
As I wrote to Les, “Gervais, on balance, did far more harm than good for the truth in the Earhart disappearance. Bill Prymak obviously believed it, or he wouldn’t have included the story in his newsletters, but Bill was far too trusting of Gervais, and even kept the lid on the truth in the Bolam case to protect Gervais.” I should have picked this up before posting the story, and expressed at least some skepticism about it, but it slipped my attention. Now you have the rest of the story.)