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.
Kwajalein Atoll is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Comprising 97 islands and islets, it has a land area of 6.33 square miles and surrounds one of the largest lagoons in the world, with an area of 839 square miles. Some 13,500 Marshallese citizens live on the atoll, most of them on Ebeye Island.
The southernmost and largest island in the atoll is Kwajalein Island, with a population of about 1,000, mostly Americans with a small number of Marshall Islanders and other nationalities, all of whom require express permission from the U.S. Army to live there. Kwajalein Island houses the mission control center for the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Test Site, commonly referred to as the Reagan Test Site, which primarily functions as a test facility for U.S. missile defense and space research programs.
Roi-Namur has several radar installations and a small residential community of unaccompanied U.S. personnel who deal with missions support and radar tracking. Japanese bunkers and buildings from World War II are in good condition and preserved. Roi and Namur were originally separate islets that were joined by a causeway built predominately by Korean conscripted laborers working under the Japanese military.
This brief introduction to Kwajalein is simply meant to help focus readers who may not be familiar with this Marshalls Islands atoll, located in the north-central Pacific about 1,500 miles from Saipan, which is always directly related to Amelia Earhart, at least in this blog.
Now to the point: The Jan. 7, 2003 edition of The Kwajalein Hourglass, the weekly newsletter at the U.S. Army facility at Kwajalein, ran an article, “Did Amelia Earhart land on Kwajalein Atoll?” by Eugene 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, California 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; after reading it, he was 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 twelve-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.”
In a future post, we’ll look at the previously unknown eyewitnesses Sims and others presented in the pages of The Kwajalein Hourglass, but today is for something different. As I’ve done before when it’s appropriate, I remind readers that I’m presenting this information for your own discernment, and am neither endorsing it or dismissing it.
In 1972 Sims was transferred to Agana, Guam, to set up a new business for Global Associates. He and his wife Betty remained on Guam for over eight years, and during that time Sims continued to learn more about the fate of Amelia Earhart. As an engineer and manager of the new business, he traveled extensively throughout Micronesia, and made weekly trips to Saipan, where he made friends with many of the island’s indigenous families. Some of them had lived on Saipan in the 1930s, and the subject of Earhart was discussed many times.
I contacted Sims in 2006 after his work in the Hourglass came to my attention, and he was happy to talk and share his findings. He also sent me a copy of the Winter 2002 Kwajaletter, a sister publication of the Hourglass, which featured a fascinating story, “The Ghost of Amelia Earhart,” that Sims wrote from his home in Coos Bay, Oregon. Following are the salient paragraphs of Sims’ article, along with the unique photo he shot on Saipan in 1973:
I found that few people wished to discuss the 1937 event of her disappearance or of her being brought to Saipan by the Japanese. My wife and I were shown various places on Saipan where Amelia allegedly had been seen. One man took me to a spot in the old cemetery where he claimed she was buried but the most interesting place we visited was the old Garapan prison used by the Japanese in the 1930s.
After the American forces recaptured Saipan in mid-1944, the old stone and steel-framed prison building was abandoned and left to decay. Cutting through the dense overgrown jungle and then stumbling over giant roots of tangatanga to gain access to the remnants of the old jail-like structure was a real effort. Our guide showed us the jail cells where Amelia and Fred were supposedly held captive. I took many pictures.
Several days later in Guam and after the photos had been developed, I was shocked to see one print of Amelia’s cell. In the rusted metal frame of the cell door stood a white ghostly figure! Was this some sort of photo misprint? I had the picture reprinted and again the ghostly outline was in evidence. I considered the ghost to be a message from Amelia and put my collection of Amelia in my locked files. What good would it do to show the picture?
At first, I reasoned the information might make a whale of a story, but then I realized maybe the data would just become more controversy about the fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. At this time I have no intention of writing anything more on the subject. My files are closed, but I still look at that ghostly picture . . . and wonder. (End of Sims story.)
Eugene C. Sims passed away in November 2013 at 86.