The official record offers us little about what Amelia Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, thought and did about her older sister’s tragic disappearance. In fact, Muriel was basically AWOL, at least publicly, and her few words and actions suggested that she likely accepted the government narrative.
This letter appeared in the March 1998 edition of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and has been presented on this blog previously, in an Oct. 12, 2015 post titled, “Goerner and Devine reach out to Muriel Morrissey: Did Amelia’s sister know more than she let on?” I present it again because other relevant information, not presented here before, will be added following its conclusion, and it never hurts to re-examine salient clues about the Earhart saga, especially those that concern her family.
Boldface emphasis is mine; italic emphasis is in the AES version, and I assume in Goerner’s as well, though can’t know for sure.
Mrs. Albert Morrissey August 31, 1966
One Vernon Street
West Medford, Massachusetts
Dear Mrs. Morrissey:
Your letter of the 27th meant a great deal to me.
I can’t begin to tell you how I have agonized over continuing the investigation into Amelia’s disappearance and writing the book which Doubleday is just now publishing. I know how all of you have been tortured by the rumors and conjectures and sensationalism of the past years.
I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years. He said, “it (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.” The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that this knowledge was documented in Washington. He also said that several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.
Mrs. Morrissey, regardless of what the State and Navy Departments may have told you in the past, classified files do exist. I and several other people, including Mr. Ross Game, the Editor of Napa, California REGISTER and Secretary of The Associated Press, actually have seen portions of these files and have made notes from their contents. This material is detailed in the book. I am sure that we have not yet been shown the complete files, and General Wallace M. Greene Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, refuses to confirm or deny the testimony of many former marines that the personal effects of Amelia and Fred and their earthly remains were recovered in 1944.
Please believe what I am saying. If justice is to be achieved, it may require your assistance. You know I have the deepest respect for Amelia and Fred. My admiration for their courage has no limits. They should receive their proper place in the history of this country. A San Francisco newspaper editor wrote the other day that Amelia and Fred should be awarded the Congressional Medals of Honor for their service to this country. I completely concur.
I shall be in Boston sometime toward the end of September or early October. I hope that I can meet with you at that time and bring you up to date on all of our efforts.
My very best wishes to you and “Chief.” *
CBS News, KCBS Radio
San Francisco 94105
I have no response from Muriel in my limited files, but believe she probably did reply to Goerner’s cordial missive. Muriel’s role in the Earhart saga has always been a topic for speculation, especially considering her media silence about the overwhelming evidence Goerner brought back from Saipan. Some have suggested that Muriel could have been informed of the truth by the U.S. government at some point, in exchange for her cooperative silence. I think that’s possible, but we’ll probably never know for sure on this side of the Great Veil.
In a 1970 letter from Muriel to J. Gordon Vaeth, she thanked him for sending her a copy of the little known 1970 book, Before the Eagle Landed, an aviation history by the editors of the Air Force Times. She told Vaeth that she appreciated his “factual, unemotional reporting, which will, I am sure, do much toward debunking the tales begun by Captain Paul Briand [Jr.] and continued with a sad, poorly written, unproven story, Amelia Earhart Returns from Saipan  by a Cleveland veterinarian [Joe Davidson].”
If Muriel’s letter to Vaeth, once a staunch Goerner supporter before inexplicably becoming a stubborn, confirmed crashed-and-sanker, is any indication, she clearly wasn’t moved by Goerner’s appeal, nor had she been informed about the truth by the U.S. government or anyone else, at least at that time. Muriel made few public statements from then until her death in 1998, and what she may have learned or believed during the intervening years is anyone’s guess. Her mother, Amy Otis Earhart, was far more forthcoming.
For example, we have Amy’s statement to the Los Angeles Times in July 1949, in which she revealed that she knew almost precisely what had happened to Amelia: “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me. I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing in the sea,” Amy said. “She landed on a tiny atoll – one of many in that general area of the Pacific – and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall Islands, under Japanese control.”
For much more on Amy, Muriel and Thomas E. Devine’s strange encounter with Amelia’s sister, if only as a reminder, please click here.
* “Chief” was Albert Morrissey, a World War I veteran, who Muriel married in 1929 and passed away in 1979 at 81. They had two children, David, now deceased, and Amy Morrissey Kleppner, 88, alive and well in Wardsboro, Vt.
Kleppner, a 1952 graduate of Smith College, continued her education while working various jobs, earning both masters and doctoral degrees. She taught philosophy at several universities and later taught English at Walt Whitman High School, in Bethesda, Md., and has never spoken out on behalf of the truth about her famous aunt’s tragic fate.
In a November 2018 interview by David Ching in Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts THINK Magazine, “Purdue students help Earhart’s niece explain aviator’s feminist legacy,” Amy explained her lack of interest in the Earhart disappearance:
“(Solving the mystery) never seemed that important to me,” said Kleppner, who only met her famous aunt a couple of times as a small child before Earhart’s disappearance. “I know that lots of people are much more intrigued by it. I have good friends who are really intrigued by it and really want to get to the end of it. It hasn’t bothered me because, as I say, I think her legacy was her life and what she accomplished. She was very lucky, but she seized the moment. She had the opportunity and she did something with it, which had nothing to do with making money or being famous. It had to do with promoting the causes that she thought were important.”
Amy’s evasion in the THINK Magazine article is nothing more than a cop-out by a woman who apparently lacks the fortitude to deal with the Earhart problem in any forthright way. While there’s still time, someone should ask Amy why she has so little interest about how, where and why her aunt died, and why she doesn’t seem to care that Amelia herself would certainly want the world to learn the ugly, unfortunate truth, which has been hiding in plain sight for decades. I seriously doubt that will ever happen.
When the Almighty made Thomas E. Devine, He broke the mold. What He said when Devine returned to Him in September 2003 at age 88, only He and Devine know. But if I had never met the Saipan veteran and author of one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, I wouldn’t have become involved with the Earhart story, and today I’d be doing something entirely different with my life. I can’t conceive of what that might be.
I read Devine’s 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, for the first time in the spring of 1988, as I researched an assignment to do a news story about the so-called Earhart “mystery” as a civilian writer for the Navy Editor Service in Arlington, Va. The piece went out to the fleet worldwide, as well as all Navy bases, shore stations and Marine Corps facilities for use in their local newspapers, radio stations and other official media. I’ve always considered it extremely ironic that the first story I ever wrote about the Earhart case was supported and facilitated by the same U.S. Navy that has been so intimately involved with the cover-up and suppression of the truth, practically from the very beginning of the Earhart search.
I’ll have more to say about Thomas Devine and his contributions to the Earhart saga, as well as the strange and sometimes tenuous nature of our relationship, in future posts. But today, for those who haven’t read Devine’s extraordinary Eyewitness, this brief, cryptic chapter from the book provides a glimpse into the sometimes bizarre world of the man who once stood on the wing of Amelia Earhart’s Electra, NR 16020, at the captured Japanese Aslito Airfield on Saipan in July 1944.
As Sgt. Thomas Devine peered into the famed Electra’s cluttered interior, which he once described as “littered with broken glass” in a letter to me, he was looking into already forbidden American history, as well as a vision that would define and shape his life from that day until his last.
FROM SAIPAN TO BOSTON
Since Mrs. Odlum could not supply the dental records, I arranged to visit Earhart’s sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey, of West Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. (Bold emphasis mine throughout.) I arrived at the Boston depot early on Sunday, 16 July 1961. While proceeding with a crowd of passengers to find local transportation, a man about thirty years old pushed his way through the crowd. There was nothing remarkable about him, except that he stepped directly in front of me and called a peculiar invitation to the crowd.
“Anyone here on their way to West Medford?” he asked. “I’m taking my cab to the garage and I have a ride — a free ride.”
So many quickly accepted the driver’s offer that I decided against the free ride to West Medford. Yet for some reason, the man singled me out.
“Are you going to West Medford?” he inquired. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’ll find another cab.”
“Wait right where you are; don’t go away,” he ordered. “I’ll get the cab and be right back.”
Others in the crowd persisted, but he put them off saying, “I don’t have any more room.”
The cabbie again told me to wait and amazingly he did return, and escorted me to his cab. Oddly, there were no other passengers in the vehicle. Since I expected others to be joining us, I sat in front. But when three prospective passengers arrived to claim their free ride, the cabbie turned them away!
“Turn on the meter,” I said as the driver got in. “I’ll be more than happy to pay.”
“It’s a free ride,” he countered. “I’m returning the cab to the garage. You’re lucky you ran into me because cabs don’t operate on Sundays.” Reluctantly he accepted a dollar tip, and off we drove. The driver never asked my destination; we had little conversation. Shortly after entering West Medford, he stopped.
“This is as far as I go,” he said.
“Thanks. Do you have any idea where Vernon Street is?”
“This is it, right up the hill. It’s that corner house,” he said, pointing.
“Oh, I’m looking for number one,” I remarked absently. “That’s it, the corner house on the hill, where Amelia Earhart’s sister lives.”
“Thanks again,” I replied.
Completely baffled by this whole encounter, I walked up the short hill and was greeted by Mrs. Morrissey. Her husband [Albert Morrissey, who died in 1978], a former Navy man, had hoped to be there, but he had to work. She had advised the Navy of our appointment, she said, but had received no reply. I was curious why she had contacted the Navy, but I didn’t ask.
Mrs. Morrissey was charming and gracious. The resemblance to her famous sister was so striking that she could be taken, for Amelia herself. We enjoyed an amiable discussion for several hours. She said she knew of my efforts, and was interested in the real solution to her sister’s mysterious disappearance. I related the information I had concerning the gravesite on Saipan, as well as a summary of my efforts to obtain a dental chart. Mrs. Morrissey said both she and her sister had dental work done in Boston many years before, although she could not recall the name of their dentist. Later, I spent many hours in Boston attempting to locate Earhart’s dental chart, but to no avail.
Mrs. Morrissey said she had sought information about her sister’s fate from the Japanese government, but her requests went unanswered. Their mother [Amy Otis Earhart], who was bedridden and living in the Morrissey home, believed Amelia was on an intelligence flight* for the United States government when she and Fred Noonan disappeared. I could not corroborate Mrs. Earhart’s belief, but I assured Mrs. Morrissey, “I am certain of the events that occurred while I was on Saipan. I only want an opportunity to bring forth the proof, and your sister’s dental chart would be of prime importance in doing so.”
Mrs. Morrissey mentioned that she had been visited recently by Paul Briand [Jr.], who was associated with Joseph Gervais and Robert Dinger. Briand, she said, was writing a thesis about Earhart which he hoped would evolve into his second book.
Over the years, she said several people had brought information to her, which they irresponsibly claimed would solve the Earhart mystery. These sensational disclosures had put a tremendous strain on the family. I hoped Mrs. Morrissey was not classing my investigation with those. After years of investigative failures, she said she had accepted the 1937 report that Amelia Fred were lost at sea near Howland Island.* I pointed out that no physical evidence substantiated this conclusion. I reviewed how the gigantic sea and air search for Earhart and Noonan had failed to turn up one scrap of wreckage or equipment.
We both enjoyed our conversation, but an odd thing happened as I was preparing to leave. Mrs. Morrissey went to a window where the shade was pulled. She raised and lowered the wind shade its full length, then made a remark about protecting the room from the effect of the sun. Saying she would be right back to see me off, she excused herself to look in on her mother. After Mrs. Morrissey left, I peeked out the window. A short distance from the house, I saw two men. One was the cabbie who had driven me from the depot. I did not recognize the other, who was shorter and stockier.
Saying goodbye, I left the house and walked down the hill. The two men were nowhere to be seen. As I rounded the corner, looking for transportation to Boston, there was the cab driver! Without the slightest awkwardness, he directed me to a stop on the MTA which would shuttle me back to Boston. While I was waiting for the local train, I noticed the man who had been talking to the cab driver, standing a short distance from me.
Back at the depot, I stopped for a quick lunch. Except for two people at a table, the restaurant was empty. Presently two men and a woman entered the restaurant and claimed a table. The woman then walked behind the counter where I was seated, and went into the kitchen with my waiter. I caught only a portion of their whispered conversation, but she asked him for an apron. I paid no particular attention to the woman, who was apparently serving the two men at the table behind me. Suddenly she said, “You’ll have to sit at one of the tables, or I can’t serve you.”
Since I was nearly finished, I said nothing, but the woman persisted.
“You’ll have to sit at one of the tables.”
Contemplating another cup of coffee, I agreed to move. Turning, I saw the cab driver and the man who had been talking with him outside the Morrissey home. I pretended not to recognize them and took a seat a few tables away. They seemed oblivious to me. After I was seated, the two men began a real show. The woman encouraged me to speak to the men about their foul language, but I declined; then they pretended to argue. “Here I invite you in for a drink,” the cab driver roared, “but you don’t reciprocate!”
I stole a glance at their table and saw three full beers in front of the man. Again the woman prodded me to speak up, but I refused.
The cab driver pounded on the table, threatening to beat up the other man. They rose and left. Amazingly, the woman urged me to go out and intervene, but I had seen enough of this ridiculous charade. I was not about to be relieved of my briefcase. Instead, I left the restaurant by another door. Shortly, who should I spy amidst a group of passengers in the depot but the cab driver! As I looked toward him, he turned his head. Finally my train arrived, and I boarded, but there was the cab driver, also boarding. Thoroughly unnerved, I walked to the last car and stepped off just as the train started moving.
Unfortunately, there was a long interval before the next train to New Haven. I wandered around in the railroad station until I found myself back at the restaurant, deciding to risk a cup of coffee.
The same waiter was behind the counter, but I did not see the man.
“Where’s your waitress?” I asked.
“She left,” was his only response. After several cups of coffee and a little conversation, I boarded the next train and arrived home without out further incident.
In 1963 when I visited the Hartford station of the Office of Naval Intelligence, I read a confidential report on the location of Amelia Earhart’s gravesite. Later I made a second visit to the facility to determine if the ONI were still active in its investigation. I was ushered into an office where two men and a woman were seated. One of the men opened the safe to get the Earhart file, shuffled through some of the pages, and pointed out certain passages for the woman to read. She was obviously acquainted with the file and understood the significance of the noted passages. During this exchange, the second man left.
I was haunted; the woman looked familiar to me. Slowly, I came to the astounding realization that this woman was the “waitress” in the Boston depot! The woman must have sensed that I recognized her, for she immediately excused herself. Hastily, the remaining ONI agent informed me that there had been no further investigation of Amelia Earhart’s grave. I left the meeting convinced that the people who had accosted me in Boston were agents of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Why their presence in Boston on the day of my visit with Mrs. Morrissey? I cannot say. Mrs. Morrissey did tell me that she had informed the Navy of my intended visit. But why would the ONI trail me to West Medford? I don’t know. What was the purpose of the ONI agents’ peculiar antics in Boston? That I do not know, either. Perhaps they were trying to frighten me into curtailing my investigation.
Although Mrs. Morrissey was unable to assist me in locating her sister’s dental charts, I was pleasantly surprised to receive from her a portrait of Amelia. On the back of the photograph, Mrs. Morrissey graciously wrote:
To Thomas Devine,
who is genuinely and unselfishly interested in
Amelia’s fate, I am happy to give this
photograph of her.
Muriel Earhart Morrissey
August 19, 1961
Devine’s Notes to Chapter 7
*Mrs. Morrissey said her sister used a new plane for her second attempt. Supporters of the spy theory contend that this faster, more sophisticated aircraft would have enabled her to deviate from her flight path and avoid detection. Mrs. Morrissey herself never believed that her sister had been sent to spy on the Japanese Mandates.
*Fred Goerner claims Mrs. Morrissey abandoned the belief that her sister had crashed near Howland Island after hearing his progress report in September October, 1961, and after his second expedition to Saipan. By 26 June 1962, however, Mrs. Morrissey had returned to her original conclusion. She wrote to me somewhat bitterly, “The claims of Captain Briand and the CBS have been shown to be completely false and unsubstantiated, so why continue the discussion? Amelia’s plane went down near Howland Island [and] because of a radio failure – the Coast Guard Cutter could not home her in.” (End of Chapter 7.)
Editor’s Note: To my knowledge, no Earhart researcher or author has ever been physically harmed by any U.S. government agency or operative while pursuing information in the Earhart disappearance, but the foregoing situation might have produced a different result had Devine behaved with less caution. Sixteen years earlier, in August 1945, Devine was probably even closer to serious harm when he was ordered to board a Navy plane by a man who was likely an Office of Naval Intelligence agent, who told Devine, “You can’t go back. . . You know about Amelia Earhart!” (See pages 64-66 in Eyewitness or 70-71 in Truth at Last.)
In February 1991, while I was visiting his home in West Haven, Conn., Devine told me he was “flabbergasted,” with the situation he faced in August 1945. “I don’t know what they were going to do with me,” he said. “Was I going to be interviewed? Would they have offered me a government position or something for silence? Because I think that might have happened to [Pfc. Paul] Anderson. The thought persists that if I had boarded the plane at Tanapag Harbor on Saipan in 1945 at the insistence of the ONI agent, I might never have arrived at any destination.”
Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey died in her sleep on Monday, March 2, 1998 at the age of 98.
Joe Klaas, who passed away earlier this year, is best known for his authorship of the notorious Amelia Earhart Lives: A trip through intrigue to find America’s first lady of mystery, the 1970 book that introduced Irene Bolam as Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart Lives forever cast a shadow on the credibility of all Earhart research, further driving the truth into the tiny corner it now inhabits, largely ignored, if not ridiculed by the mainstream media, entrenched in its longtime refusal to acknowledge the truth in the Earhart disappearance. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
But Klaas didn’t create the Irene Bolam travesty. His fellow Air Force officer and friend, Joe Gervais, wove the Bolam fiction out of whole cloth and his Earhart-addled imagination. Klaas, the author of 11 other books, served mainly as Gervais’ personal stenographer during the creation of Amelia Earhart Lives, though he might have questioned Gervais’ absurd Bolam claim a bit more assiduously before he wrote a book and exposed himself to ridicule from nearly every corner of the Earhart research community, as well as much of the reading public.
None of that is relevant to the following essay, however, written by Klaas in 2001 and posted on the website of the Amelia Earhart Society. In “Next Stop Kwajalein,“ Klaas takes the available eyewitness and witness testimony and crafts a plausible version of the events surrounding the delivery of Amelia and Fred Noonan by the Japanese, from stops at Jaluit and Kwajalein, to their final destination at Saipan.
Several aspects of the scenarios laid out by Klaas, such as his belief, based on statements made by Mrs. Amy Otis Earhart, Amelia’s mother, that Amelia was allowed to broadcast by captors or that the fliers may have been taken to Japan, are clearly false or highly doubtful, and are not endorsed by this writer, but have not been edited out of Klaas’ narrative, which I present for your entertainment and discernment.
“Next Stop Kwajalein”
by Joe Klaas with Joe Gervais
Four years prior to the three weeks of media frenzy triggered by the 1970 suggestion in Amelia Earhart Lives that the supposedly dead flying heroine might be alive in New Jersey, Fred Goerner, whose The Search for Amelia Earhart deduced she had died of dysentery or was executed on Saipan, wrote to her sister, Muriel Morrissey, in West Medford, Massachusetts.
“I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years,” Goerner told Earhart’s sibling on Aug. 31, 1966. “He said, ‘It (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.’ The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that his knowledge was documented in Washington. He also said several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.”
What “strong reasons for not wanting the information made public” short of their being assassinated by our own government would motivate the endless cover-up of the fact that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were still alive after July 2, 1937?
“Even when we investigators join together in The Amelia Earhart Society of Researchers, and The [Yahoo!] Earhart Group on the internet, those who’ve been out here spend so much energy picking each other’s evidence apart,” I said to Joe Gervais aboard a 95-foot boat anchored off a bomb-dented concrete relic of a seaplane ramp in Imiej harbor at Jaluit, “we look only at how one another’s interviews with islanders don’t agree.”
It was Joe’s seventeenth trip to Pacific islands in search of Amelia Earhart. Ten of us aboard the 1997 AES expedition led by Bill Prymak disagreed 10 different ways.
“To hell with the differences!” I complained. “Why don’t we focus on only those details which match?”
I told Joe that when we got home I would follow five decades of conflicting interviews from dot-to-dot to determine only the ways they agree on Amelia Earhart’s after death journey from across the 1937 pre-war Pacific until now.
“To hell with inconsistencies that lead nowhere!” I griped. “Let’s see only where we all match will take us.”
1937 residents of Jaluit and Majuro atolls said they heard the white woman pilot named “Meel-ya” and her flying companion with knee and head injuries were taken by Japanese ship to Saipan in the Mariana Islands where the Emperor’s South Sea Islands military governor was in command. Others said they took her first to Kwajalein, and then to Saipan.
“After I treated the man’s knee with paraply,” Bilimon Amaron told Joe Gervais and Bill Prymak, “I overheard Japanese nearby say the ship was going to leave Jaluit to go to Kwajalein. I remembered that because I had relatives on Kwajalein. From there it would maybe go to Truk and on to Saipan.”
Majuro Attorney John Heine, who clearly remembered seeing the flyers in custody at Jaluit after their prematurely reported deaths, also believed that “after the ship left Jaluit, it went to Kwajalein, then on to Truk and Saipan.” From there, according to what he was told by his missionary parents, whom the Japanese at Jaluit later beheaded as spies, “he thought the ship would later go to Japan.”
Heine told Joe and Bill a simultaneous event at his school enabled him to place the crash and departure for Kwajalein in “the middle of July 1937.”
Marshall Islanders Tomaki Mayazo and Lotan Jack told Fred Goerner in the 60s that the woman flyer and her companion “were taken to Kwajalein on their way to Saipan.” In The Search for Amelia Earhart, Goerner reported that four Likiep Island residents of Kwajalein, Edward and Bonjo Capelli, and two men known only as Jajock and Biki told Navy Chief Petty Officer J.F. Kelleher, stationed on Kwajalein in 1946, that a man and a woman who crashed a plane in the Marshalls “were brought to Kwajalein.”
Ted Burris, a 1965 government employee on Kwajalein, volunteered as neighborhood commissioner for the Aloha Council, Boy Scouts of America. He set out to establish Scouting three islands-north of Kwajalein on Ebeye [Island]. In January 1997 he informed members of the AES that while waiting for a boat back to his workplace one night his interpreter, Onisimum Cappelle, introduced him to an old man who had met two Americans there “five years before the war” even though “the Japanese had closed the Marshall Islands to foreigners in the late ‘20s.”
The war reached the Marshalls in 1942, so “five years before” meant 1937, when Earhart and Noonan vanished.
“How did you meet the Americans before the war?” Burris asked the old man.
“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.”
“Come. I show you.”
They walked to the south end of the perimeter road where there were two A-frame houses with a line of coconut trees.
“You see those trees?” the old man asked. “The plane was exactly in line with them.”
“How far out?”
“About a hundred yards from the land.”
“What happened then?”
“Two people got out. A man and a woman. The Captain made me take my boat out and pick them up. I didn’t talk to them.”
“The boss. The Japanese officer. The Captain took them away. I never saw them again. He said they were spies.”
Arrival of the boat to take Burris to nearby Kwajalein ended the conversation.
All who heard the story, including Burris, jumped to the conclusion that the plane was Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 10E, not a very “big plane” in comparison to Japanese flying boats that occasionally landed there. They assumed that was where she had actually crashed.
But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there. Aircraft with landing gear are seldom said to have “landed on the water.” They would normally have been said to have “crashed into the water” or “ditched in the water.” Not that they had “landed on the water.”
One simple question, “Did the plane land or crash?” might have cleared that up, but apparently assumption overcame curiosity, and that question was never asked.
Jaluit and Kwajalein had something in common. In 1936 a concrete seaplane ramp was built at Kwajalein in addition to its already existing airstrip for land planes. Land planes and seaplanes used two different Kwajalein facilities.
A year later in 1937 at Saipan, a concrete seaplane ramp was under construction to augment an air strip already used only by land planes. Had a flying boat ever before made a water landing at Saipan? It’s a good question.
Isn’t it more likely that, unbeknown to the Marshallese at Jaluit, instead of taking Earhart and Noonan to Kwajalein aboard ship on the Koshu, they changed plans and flew them there in a flying boat which would match the old man’s memory of “a big plane” which “landed on the water”?
To understand what an eyewitness meant, might it not be a good idea to take what they said literally? Going a step further, would it not be possible that natives of Saipan, who might only have previously seen planes touch down on their one airstrip, might mistakenly think a flying boat landing in Garapan Harbor was a land plane crashing into water off-shore?
How would the Japanese Captain be able to tell the old man “they were spies” if they hadn’t arrived from Jaluit already accused of espionage?
“None of this registered with me in particular until a couple of years later when I had moved to another assignment on Roi Namur (also in the Kwajalein group),” Burris said. “The Island Manager there was Frank Serafini. I mentioned the story the old man had told me.”
“Let me tell you a few things.” Frank went to his desk and took out a letter from a Navy Commander, whose name Burris couldn’t remember after thirty years. “He was with Navy Intelligence during the war, and 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 evidence that Amelia Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan, had been there!”
“Why here?” Burris 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.” He pointed to a place on its second page: “I was rummaging through a pile of debris in a corner 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. They were here all right!”
“What did the Commander do with the map case?” Burris asked.
“He said he turned it over to Naval Intelligence. He doesn’t know what happened to it after that.”
“Does anybody know about this?” asked Burris. “Why would they keep such a thing secret?”
“Because even now the Navy doesn’t want to admit they had anything to do with spying against the Japanese before the war.”
When Burris heard about a plane with two American spies aboard landing 100-yards off-shore at Kwajalein, he naturally assumed it was Earhart’s land plane.
But couldn’t a twin-engine Japanese seaplane have “landed in the water” at Kwajalein, from which they were then flown to Saipan where the Japanese pilot landed alongside the beach?
As reported in both Goerner’s book and mine, Josephine Akiyama watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water at Saipan and “saw the American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her . . . led away by the Japanese soldiers.”
At first, those who heard her story assumed it was Amelia Earhart’s plane.
All of us who heard eyewitness reports from Kwajalein or Saipan made the same mistake. We all wanted so hard to find the Earhart plane, we assumed any aircraft that came down with her aboard was hers. At both Saipan and Kwajalein we were wrong. She and Noonan were aboard all right in both places, not as pilot and navigator, but as captured spies!
Wouldn’t it be more logical to deduce from eyewitness reports that Earhart and Noonan were flown from Kwajalein Atoll in a seaplane which made no attempt to land on Saipan’s completed airstrip, but instead “belly landed” along a beach in Garapan Harbor?
“None of it can be true!” objected a radio engineer at a 1998 gathering in Aspen, Colorado. “Those islanders made it all up!”
“What makes you think that?” I gasped.
“Because it’s all predicated from the start on her originally ditching into the water at Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937 and then sending out a bunch of so-called radio signals for three days. That could never have happened.”
“Because if she went down in the water, she couldn’t have broadcast at all. Her transmitter was incapable of broadcasting from the water.”
No one thought to ask a radio engineer how he would have made a radio work if he crashed in the water off a strange island in the middle of the Pacific. In such a matter of life and death, wouldn’t a radio engineer figure out some way to make a transmitter broadcast from a downed airplane still afloat in salt water?
Absolutely impossible! Without a bigger source of power than the battery aboard that Lockheed 10E aircraft, I was assured by three other experts I consulted, there was no way it could happen! Without the extra power provided by the engines operating, she could not have broadcast from in the water!
And yet the messages existed, logged by professional radio operators all across the Pacific so they can be read to this day. AES President Bill Prymak sent me a copy of actual loggings of her radio calls for help. Remember, she was supposed to have died the morning of July 2,1937.
(Editor’s note: For a lengthy discussion of the alleged “post-loss messages,” please see Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last, Chapter III, “The Search and the Radio Signals.”)
Here were 30 distress call broadcasts recorded on paper as actually heard by experienced operators at twelve different radio stations from one side of the Pacific to the other. . . . Beginning on July 3, 1937, 12 experienced operators at official radio stations thousands of miles apart across the vast Pacific heard and logged 30 distress messages they identified as Earhart’s for three days after she supposedly crashed and drowned on July 2, 1937.
Since these 30 distress signals were obviously heard as logged by 12 of the most highly trained and experienced radio operators across the Pacific, how could she have sent them if her radio transmitter could not possibly operate from her plane sitting in the water at Mili Atoll?
Could Amelia Earhart’s mother, Amy Otis Earhart, give us a simple clue as to how her daughter managed to transmit these “impossible” broadcasts? Was Mother Earhart, from sources of information peculiarly available to her, in possession of knowledge withheld from the public that would explain how her daughter was able to send all these messages for help?
“I know she was permitted to broadcast to Washington from the Marshalls,” Amelia’s mother told the Los Angeles Times on July 25, 1949, and then does she give us the answer? . . . “because the officials on the island where she was taken — I can’t remember the name of it — believed she was merely a trans-ocean flier in distress. But Tokyo had a different opinion of her significance in the area. She was taken to Japan.”
Is it not rather clear from Mother Earhart’s inside information that Amelia Earhart was rescued as a celebrity by the Japanese on Mili Atoll? Wouldn’t the Japanese on that island permit the famous American flyers to use their island transmitter to call for help for three days?
Isn’t it obvious that if it were impossible for her to transmit messages from the water, she must have done so from the land? And wasn’t a Japanese transmitter the only way that could have been done? And wouldn’t the messages suddenly stop when Tokyo ordered the Mili Atoll Japanese outpost, through channels, to quit sending her distress broadcasts and arrest Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan for espionage?
“I am certain that Amelia’s voice was recognized in the radio broadcast from the Marshalls to the capitol,” Earhart’s mother told The Los Angeles Times and later repeated in a letter to Earhart’s flying instructor, Neta Snook.
“I have kept quiet through the years, but certainly this could hurt no one now.”
“That’s quite a stretch,” Joe Gervais said in awe when I explained how all of us had mistaken Japanese planes for hers, and seaplanes landing on the water for her land plane crashing at sea. It may seem a stretch to those who want to believe Earhart and Noonan drowned at sea near Howland Island on July 2, 1937.
“All Earhart hunters have been so busy challenging differences in eyewitness reports each of us gathered,” I sighed, “we became blind to all the many points we agree on, where the truth may finally be found.” Well,” Joe exhaled slowly. “If we’re gonna quit sneering at one another’s versions of what happened, and connect dot-to-dot to what’ll crack one of the biggest cover-ups in American history, we’d best not be afraid to stretch!”
Next stop for prisoners Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was by land plane or flying boat to Saipan, it makes small difference which. There on Saipan, more witnesses than were talked to on all other islands combined remembered seeing them alive.
They were in custody as spies!
(End of “Next Stop Kwajalein.”)
Two years before Klaas and Gervais collaborated on “Next Stop Kwajalein,” Klaas advanced a scenario that differed from the seaplane-landing-on-Saipan situation they proposed in 2001. In a 1999 e-mail to Rollin Reineck, Bill Prymak and others, Klaas reviewed the Ted Burris account and insisted it wasn’t a seaplane that landed in Tanapag Harbor:
This incident has too long been thought to be a false report that Earhart’s Lockheed 10E crashed off Kwajalein. But what the old man precisely said was: “A plane landed on the water.” He didn’t say it crashed there or ditched there. Planes with landing gear don’t land “on the water.” What “landed” Earhart and Noonan “on the water” off Kwajalein was obviously a seaplane from Jaluit. . . . Nobody ever said there was a crash at Kwajalein.
Earhart and Noonan were then flown by land plane from Kwajalein to Saipan, where its pilot got into trouble. [Italics mine.] Josephine Akiyama, the very first witness in the Earhart mystery, watched “a silver two-engined plane belly-land” in shallow water along a beach. She “saw the American woman who looked like a man, and the tall man with her, led away by the Japanese soldiers.”
We must never assume every twin-engined aircraft in the Pacific had to be the Earhart Plane to be significant. We don’t need Darwin to find the missing link from Howland to Mili to Kwajalein to Saipan. Keep it simple and follow facts in sequence to the truth. Above all, let’s start believing our witnesses. Why would they lie?
I asked Klaas if he could explain his differing visions of Earhart’s arrival at Saipan, suggesting that a land-based aircraft might indeed be most likely in the Tanapag Harbor-landing scenario. “Very well could be,” Klaas told me in a September 2007 email.
“However, I do believe it was a seaplane that landed in the water at Kwajalein, according to the man who picked her up there and rowed her ashore,” Klaas wrote. “There was a landing field there at that time. A lot of people jumped to the conclusion that she had crashed into the water there, according to witnesses. However that was only because the native who picked her up said the plane had landed in the water, obviously flown there from Majuro. She could very well have been transferred to a land plane there [at Kwajalein] after that and have been flown in it on to Saipan, where a lot of us at first mistook as she and Noonan crashing on the beach in her own plane. It was obviously a Japanese aircraft, however.”
So despite the many witnesses who reported that they saw a woman flier who could only have been Amelia Earhart in the Marshalls and later on Saipan, how she reached Saipan from Kwajalein is a major question that lingers. Was it a land plane or a seaplane that took the doomed fliers to their final destination?