In November 2006, Amelia Earhart Society member David Bowman told the online Yahoo! Earhart Group about a story he wrote for the Walpole, New Hampshire-based Mysteries Magazine, “The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart.” In 2005, Bowman self-published Legerdemain: Deceit, Misdirection and Political Sleight of Hand in the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, which would be published by Saga Books of Canada in 2007. Informative and entertaining, Legerdemain includes several strange and obscure Earhart tales, demonstrating the extent to which the Earhart disappearance has been stigmatized by fantasists since its earliest days.
In researching “The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart,” Bowman made a fascinating discovery. The Jan. 7, 2003 edition of The Kwajalein Hourglass, the weekly newsletter at the U.S. Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll, ran an article titled, “Did Amelia Earhart land on Kwajalein Atoll?” by Eugene “Gene” C. Sims, who was stationed there as a GI in 1945 and returned to work as a civilian from 1964 to ’71, and from 1983 to ’86.
Sims recalled his youth in Oakland, Calif., during the 1930s and how he grew to idolize Earhart after seeing her at the local airport. When Fred Goerner’s book was published in 1966, Sims was working on Kwajalein, and was soon inspired to pursue his own Earhart investigation. “I was surprised to hear them speak so openly about the white-skinned lady and man that came to Kwajalein in 1937,” Sims wrote. An unidentified Marshallese man told Sims that as a 12-year-old in 1937, “a large Japanese ship came into the harbor” and he saw “a white lady and man on the deck,” a rare sight in those times. Sims wrote that because Goerner had been denied access to Kwajalein in the early 1960s, “Goerner was never to learn [the] concrete proof that Amelia was on Kwajalein and Roi-Namur in 1937.” Sims continued:
Much of this proof was based on the testimony of a Jaluit woman named Mera Phillip. She had been the cook and interpreter for an American lady captured by the Japanese and held prisoner on Roi in 1937. The Mera Phillip story was further confirmed in 1993 by statements from John Tobeke, a Marshallese working on Roi.
Tobeke stated that when he was about 6 years old and living on Roi, he saw a white woman twice over a period of three months. In addition to the testimony he gave to Neal Proctor, an instructor from the University of Maryland who was visiting Kwajalein, Tobeke was shown pictures of three different white women. He successfully identified the picture of Amelia as the woman he had seen while a child on Roi in 1937.
Neither Mera Phillip nor John Tobeke had ever been mentioned in Earhart literature before they appeared in the pages of The Kwajalein Hourglass, where Jane Toma first reported the following accounts of Tobeke and Philip in 1993.
By Jane Toma
It’s one of the great mysteries of the century. What happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan in the summer of 1937 when they disappeared in the Central Pacific? Island folklore suggests Earhart was on Roi at one time. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.)
Speculation about their disappearance has been the subject of countless articles, books and documentaries. Some suggest that Earhart’s reputation as an exceptional pilot was due more to the efforts of her publicist husband George P. Putnam than her prowess as a pilot. She simply ran out of fuel, they say, and crashed into the ocean.
Others implicate her as a spy in the Japanese mandated islands. They argue that she and Noonan were captured and executed.
Some theories, which have gained national attention recently, place the duo in the Marshall Islands and suggest the following scenario: The twin-engine Lockheed Electra Earhart was flying, went down off Mili, where she and Noonan were captured. The two were sent to Jaluit, Kwajalein and eventually to Saipan. where they were held prisoner and finally executed.
Stories about Earhart being in the Marshalls are not new to old timers on Roi, who have heard about an American man and woman, believed to be Noonan and Earhart, who were there before the war.
Listed on historical guide
The Roi-Namur Kwajalein Atoll Historical Guide prepared by KREMS states under “Site of Japanese Main Aircraft Hangar”: “Under a pile of debris in one corner of this hangar, a Naval Intelligence commander came across a blue leatherette map case embossed in gold leaf with the letters A.E. The map case was empty, but it is believed to have belonged to Amelia Earhart.”
John Tobeke, a Johnson Controls World Services employee, recalls seeing an American woman twice when he was a child living on Roi.
It was about 1937, he says. and he was about 6 years old. Tobeke says that a woman from Jaluit named Mera Phillip cooked and interpreted for the American lady. Phillip had attended missionary school on Kusaie (now called Kosrae) and knew English.
She told some of the Marshallese people that the lady said she was captured by the Japanese and was on Mill and Jaluit before she came to Roi. The Japanese wanted to know why she came and she told them she lost fuel. The lady told Mera that she was with a man. but they had been separated. The American woman also confided to Mera that she thought she would be going to Saipan.
Tobeke adds that the woman lived on Roi for about three months, but the Japanese never talked about her. They were very secretive and suspicious of the Marshallese people, he explains.
University of Maryland instructor Neal Proctor visited Mili last summer to pursue some of the stories he had read about Earhart being there. He heard several accounts about her from Marshallese residents on Mill. Proctor also talked to Tobeke on Roi Namur and finds his recollections credible.
“John described her as a tall woman with short blonde hair, like mine, dressed in a Japanese uni form. He also picked her out of a photograph of three women.” Procter explains.
Grave on Saipan
Johnson Controls technical writer Bill Johnson says stories about Earhart being on Saipan were common when he lived there from 1963 until 1967. “When I lived on Saipan, a friend of mine, who was a retired Navy chief and married to a Saipanese woman, took me to a place in the jungle and said, ‘Bill, that’s where Amelia Earhart is buried.’ ”
“I also knew Amelia’s aunt Kathryn Earhart. On one occasion, when I had lunch with her in Hawaii. I asked her about the stories of Saipan, but she refused to talk, saying, ‘the Navy closed the books on that years ago.’ ”
Kwajalein resident Margaret Smith heard stories about the famed aviatrix both on Saipan and in the Marshalls, where she worked and attended school.
“There was a lot of talk about Earhart being held in jail and executed there,” Smith says. “The media people came several times to investigate those stories.”
In 1979, Smith was surprised to hear about Earhart on Jaluit. “I was teaching social studies on Jaluit and talked to Lee Komiej, a Marshallese policeman during the Japanese administration,“ Smith says. “I wanted to know more about the different administrations (German, Japanese and American) and when the war started.
“Komiej said the first indication something was happening was when a woman was picked up on Mili. Komiej said he overheard the Japanese talking about her and they suspected she was a spy.” Smith said the Marshallese were also suspicious and thought it was very strange that a woman would be a pilot and wear trousers. She added that the woman was light with short hair. “Komiej heard she had been picked up on Mili, and taken to Jaluit, which was the administrative center of the Marshall Islands during German and Japanese times. She left Jaluit and went to Kwajalein. The last Komiej heard was that she went to Saipan.”
The Marshall Islands Journal reported recently that an American news team was on Majuro working on an Earhart story which is scheduled to broadcast early in 1994. Maybe it will shed some new light on the 53-year-old mystery. (End of Kwajalein Hourglass article.)
John Tobeke’s statement to Neal Proctor that Mera Phillip told him that the “woman [Amelia Earhart] lived on Roi for about three months” could not have been true, based on the vast witness testimony that has Earhart and Fred Noonan arriving on Saipan during the summer of 1937. Tobeke was a child at the time Mera shared her very personal information with him, and he could easily have confused three months with three weeks, or even less. Recall that Josephine Blanco Akiyama reported seeing the American lady flier, Amelia Earhart, at Tanapag Harbor on Saipan sometime in the summer of 1937. She was never more specific than that regarding the date of her initial sighting.
Tobeke’s story is another that links to former Marine W.B. Jackson’s account as told to Fred Goerner about three Marines who discovered a suitcase with women’s clothing and an engraved diary in a room they described as “fitted up for a woman” on Roi-Namur in February 1944. Was this the same room where Mera Phillip served the captured American flier her non-Japanese meals?
The foregoing has become an increasingly rare phenomenon in recent years — real journalism in the Earhart case, without the lies and political agendas meant only to confuse and misdirect — and found, most surprisingly, in a U.S. government affiliated newspaper. Obviously nobody at the Kwajalein Hourglass thought it was necessary to get these stories approved by their superiors in Washington before they published them in the small newsletter that serves the local U.S. Army community on Kwajalein.
If media organizations such as the former History Channel, now known simply as History, Fox News, CNN, the Associated Press and the rest of the lying establishment shills were serious about informing the world about the facts in the Earhart disappearance, instead of pushing fake news about phony photos and ridiculous myths about giant crabs eating the lost fliers, we might have more stories like the gems Jane Toma and Eugene Sims gifted to us. Unfortunately, articles that reveal previously unknown eyewitnesses in the Marshall Islands are extremely rare, so don’t expect to see more like this anytime soon.
The Amelia Earhart-Mili Atoll connection is well known to those familiar with the work of authors and researchers such as Fred Goerner, Vincent V. Loomis, Bill Prymak and Oliver Knaggs, as well as readers of this blog and Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.
Much less understood is what transpired between the time of Amelia and Fred Noonan’s pickup at one of Mili’s tiny Endriken Islands in July 1937 and their horrible deaths on Saipan on dates still not precisely known.
In “The Marshall Islands Witnesses” chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last is a subsection titled “The Kwajalein Connection.” The following is taken from “The Kwajalein Connection,” and was originally published in the February 1996 edition of Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters.
Other compelling stories, unseen in any published books before Truth at Last, will be presented in future posts so that interested readers can connect the dots in the Mili Atoll to Saipan logistical scenario.
ANOTHER GI EXPERIENCE IN THE PACIFIC ISLANDS
By Ted Burris
In 1965 I was working on Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands. Having been there since 1964, I knew my job well enough to become a bit bored, and cast about for some volunteer work to absorb time and interest.
As it happened, the Aloha Council, Boy Scouts of America out of Honolulu, was looking for a neighborhood commissioner for the islands. I thought I’d try it.
My primary assignment was to introduce Scouting into the Marshall Islands. Kwajalein already had a couple of troops made up of the children of American families working on the island. So I determined to try to establish the program on Ebeye, three islands north of Kwaj, where most of the Marshallese in that part of the atoll lived.
Organizational meetings required my presence on Ebeye sometimes two or three evenings a week. The meetings were usually concluded by nine or shortly after, but I had to wait until 11 o’clock to get the last boat back to Kwaj. My friend and interpreter, Onisimum Chappelle, tried to keep me entertained until the boat got there.
One evening he mentioned that there was an old man there who had a story to tell. This intrigued me because I was interested in the history of the area.
In the course of our conversation, I asked the old man when was the first time he met Americans? “Before the war.” I was surprised, because I knew the Japanese had closed the Marshall Islands to foreigners in the late ’20s. “I don’t understand,” I said. “How long before the war?” “Five years,” he said.
“How did you meet Americans before the war?” I asked. “Well, I didn’t exactly meet them,” he said. “But I did bring them in.”
“Bring them in? I don’t understand. What happened?”
“A plane landed on the water,” he said. “A big plane.” “Four motors?” I asked. “No, two.” “Where?” I asked again. “Come. I show you,” he said. The old man walked with us from his house to the eastern shore of Ebeye. We went to the south end of the perimeter road. There stood two A-frame houses with a line of four coconut trees. “You see these trees,” he said. “The plane was exactly in line with them.” “How far out?” I asked. “About a hundred yards from the land,” he said.
I should tell you that, at the lowest tides, the reef there is virtually dry. And the Marshallese consider the reef as part of their ’land-holding’ or ’weito’. In retrospect I was never sure whether the distance was 100 yards from the edge of the island, (i.e. on the edge of the reef), or 100 yards out from the edge of the reef. In the latter case the prevailing currents could have swept the plane south along the reef toward Big Buster before it sank.
“What happened then?” I asked. “Two people got out. A man and a woman,” he said. “The Captain made me take my boat out and pick them up. I didn’t talk to them.”
“The Captain?” I asked. He answered, “The boss, the Japanese officer. The Captain took them away. I never saw them again. He said they were spies.”
It was time to go for the boat back to Kwaj. I thanked the old man and left.
None of this registered with me in particular until a couple of years later when I had moved to another assignment on Roi Namur. The Island Manager there was Frank Serafini. He, too, was something of a history buff. Frank and I had many pleasant chats about the history of the islands. In one of these I mentioned the story the old man had told me.
“So that’s where it came down!” he exclaimed. “That answers it!”
“Answers what?” I said.
“Let me tell you a few things.” Frank went to his desk and took out a letter. “This is from Navy Commander so-and-so.” (I don’t remember the name.) “I’ve been corresponding with him for years.” “Who was he?” I asked.
“He was with Navy Intelligence dining the war, and he was attached to the 4th Marines when they invaded Roi-Namur. He went in with the first wave on Roi. His specific task was to look for any evidence that Amelia Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan, had been there!”
“Why here?” I asked. “Because Roi had the only airfield on the atoll at that time,” Frank said. “If the Japs were going to take them anyplace from Kwajalein Atoll, they had to come through here!”
“Did he find anything?”
“Here, read this letter. Starting here.” He pointed to a place on the second page. “I was rummaging through a pile of debris in a comer of the burned-out main hanger,” the writer said, “when I came across a blue leatherette map case. It was empty. But it had the letters AE embossed on it in gold leaf! They were here all right!”
“That’s enough,” Frank said. He took the letter back, and that’s the last I saw of it. “What did the Commander do with the mapcase?” I asked. “He said he turned it over to Naval Intelligence. He doesn’t know what happened to it after that,” said Frank.
“Does anybody know about this? Why would they keep such a thing secret?” I wanted to know. “Because even now the Navy’ doesn’t want to admit they had anything to do with spying against the Japanese before the war.” Frank said.
Frank eventually left Roi and went to Saudi Arabia on another project. He and his wife moved to Sun City, Ariz., and may still be there. He also may still have his correspondence from the Commander.
I went back to Ebeye to find the old man, but I was told that he had gone back to Likiep, his birthplace, to die. I had wanted to ask him about his “five years before the war” comment. Then it hit me. The old man probably counted the war as starting when the U.S. made their first carrier strike against Kwajalein in late 1942.
I tried to talk the Army into using their recovery submarine to look around the reef; they told me they wouldn’t touch that situation with a ten foot pole, and I should forget it. But — I never have. (End of Ted Burris account.)
The empty “leatherette map case” with the “letters AE embossed on it in gold leaf” reported by the unnamed Navy commander is strangely similar to a “locked diary engraved 10-Year Diary of Amelia Earhart,” discovered by former Marine W.B. Jackson on Namur Island in 1944. Jackson reported his experience o Fred Goerner in 1964, and Goerner presented it in his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart. Were these different descriptions of the same item?
And what about the twin-engine plane that ““landed on the water . . . about a hundred yards from the land,” as the old man told Ted Burris? Was it Amelia Earhart’s Electra, or an altogether different aircraft? We’ll try to answer this question in future posts.
I was unable to locate Burris, but the Roi-Namur Links page of the The Kwajalein Community Web Site, an impressive local history collection created by local personality Shermie Wiehe offers additional information about Frank H. Serafini, Roi-Namur assistant resident manager during the 1960s and ’70s.
“Frank was well known for making Roi-Namur beautiful by planting 100s of coconut trees,” Shermie wrote. “He was highly respected by the Roi-Rats for his excellent management of island life and not forgetting “Shermie & Friends Band” was treated very good by Frank’s Staff during our trips to entertain the Roi-Rats. Some of the best memories of performing was at Roi-Namur. Thanks Frank! Roi-Namur will never be the same. The days you were managing were the best!”
On the same page, Serafini’s son, Frank B. Serafini, a Shell official living in Egypt, recalled that his father was living in San Antonio, Texas, was in good health at 97, and though he didn’t hear well or use a computer, was otherwise “just the same ol’ guy he always was.”
In a recent email to me, Frank said his father will be 100 in December 2015, and though most of his friends are gone, “It is always a pleasure to hear from anyone who can recall his passion for work on the islands he so deeply cared for. Us people from the Pacific have an ingrained fascination for the Earhart story.”
I hope others who lived and worked on Kwajalein, where the captured Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were undoubtedly taken by the Japanese military in 1937 on their way to their miserable fates on Saipan, will help keep the truth alive, regardless of its continuing status as a sacred cow, not only in Washington but throughout the U.S. media establishment.