Smithsonian rejection letters to Briand Jr., others: Classics of sophistry in the Amelia Earhart saga
In an April 3 comment Les Kinney sent in response to my post of that same day, “Revisiting the ’82 Smithsonian Earhart Symposium,” Les wrote: “Joe Gervais, Don Kothera, and Vincent Loomis all asked to speak at [the 1982] symposium. All were denied. Only Fred Goerner represented the Japanese capture theory.” (Boldface and italic emphasis mine throughout.)
Three weeks later Les sent me a copy of a June 1982 letter from Ms. Claudia Oaks, then curator of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, to Paul Briand Jr. In her June 6 missive, dripping with condescension, Oakes deigned to inform Briand that he wasn’t important enough to stand and deliver the truth about Amelia’s tragic end to the sophisticates who would be populating the peanut gallery at the Smithsonian’s Earhart Symposium later that month.
Recall that Briand’s 1960 book Daughter of the Sky sparked the real modern-day search for Amelia Earhart, and that without it, Fred Goerner’s famed 1966 epic, The Search for Amelia Earhart, would never have been written. Les has a similar Oakes letter to Kothera; Gervais and Loomis must have also received them.
The Smithsonian has long been a central repository of Earhart disinformation — ground zero, as it were, for the establishment’s ongoing commitment to keeping the ugly truth hidden from those of the unwashed incurious enough to rely on government institutions to tell them the truth about America’s history, which is about 99.99 percent of the populace. Oakes’ letter, below, is a prime example of the carefully crafted mendacity we’ve come to expect from the revered Smithsonian.
Oakes begins her litany of deceit by informing Briand that “half the program [will be] devoted not to her disappearance but to her life. . . . We want the day to be more devoted to Amelia Earhart, the person and the pilot, than to the mystery of her disappearance.” Does anyone know the precise origin of, or who planted the seed that bloomed into the Smithsonian’s 1982 Earhart symposium? After 45 years and hundreds of magazine stories, biographies, movies, documentaries, billboards and ads, all celebrating and trumpeting Amelia Earhart’s amazing life, are we to believe that the Smithsonian brain trust actually thought their symposium was needed to preserve Amelia’s legacy?
Does anyone buy that? My guess is that the initial impetus for the event was created by the growing, annoying realization among the anointed that Briand Jr., Goerner, Gervais, Loomis and Kothera had all found aspects of the same truth, which would soon be further disseminated to the masses by Loomis’ 1985 book Amelia Earhart: The Final Story and Thomas E. Devine’s Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident two years later. More than likely, the Smithsonian elites felt something needed to be done to derail this train of Earhart enlightenment before it sped out of control and exposed their sacred cow to danger. They needn’t have worried. Besides being dishonest, they were also quite paranoid, failing to understand how effective many decades of government and media propaganda had been in keeping nearly everyone either ignorant or disinterested about the so-called “Earhart Mystery.”
Oakes, in her officious gibberish, was actually saying that the Smithsonian could handle Fred Goerner, whose ideas, though generally accepted by many if not most of the 400,000 who had made Search a bestseller in 1966, had been vilified and rejected by virtually the entire literary and historical establishment. Goerner by himself was tolerable, but things could get very uncomfortable if truth tellers such as Briand , Gervais, Loomis and Kothera were to chime in with their findings in support of the unhappy facts Goerner uncovered in four visits to Saipan in the early 1960s.
Thus nobody should be surprised that Oakes tells Briand, “Therefore, there are only two spaces on the program for speakers who will talk about her disappearance. These two [Goerner and the silver-tongued Elgen Long, the poster boy for the government’s crashed-and-sank verdict of 1937, rapidly becoming an anachronism by 1982] were selected after much consideration and with the knowledge, of course, that not everyone would agree with our choices.” And where was it written that only enough time would be allotted for these two to speak about Amelia’s disappearance, one of them the best-known and most vocal of the double-talking proponents of the false government narrative? (TIGHAR would not appear on the Earhart scene for several more years.) Never mind.
“Our aim, however,” Oakes continued in the same mendacious vein, “was not a public debate on theories as to her ultimate fate but a program that would highlight her life, her flying career, and her contributions to aviation, with some attention to, but not emphasis on, her disappearance.” The emphasis, of course, was on obscuring, deflecting and ultimately burying the truth about Amelia’s Saipan death with enough sugar-coated glorification, distraction and nonsense to keep the majority of the sheeple content, and that’s what happened: Another stage-managed Earhart disinformation production sold and in the can.
I have my own brief but inglorious history with the Smithsonian and its confreres, as my posts of Jan. 18, 2015, “Smithsonian mag throws “Truth at Last” a bone: Says, “it’s possible . . . Campbell is on to something“ and Aug. 6, 2019, “After five days and publication of this blog post, Smithsonian mag approves my Earhart comment“ clearly attest. Nothing in the Smithsonian’s behavior with me or anyone else invested in the truth has ever given me the slightest reason to trust them in any way when it comes to the Earhart matter.
Included in the former of the two Truth at Last posts cited above, “Smithsonian mag throws “Truth at Last” a bone,” are several paragraphs from my Earhart Disappearance Position Statement. Because this truth cannot be over-emphasized and has yet to be accepted by more than a scant few, I present the below excerpts, as these are more than appropriate for this particular post.
The Big Lie: The “Great Aviation Mystery”
This PRINCIPLE, which has become one of my constant memes, is that the very idea that the disappearance of Amelia Earhart is a “great aviation mystery” is among the biggest lies in American history. So effective has the U.S. government been in inculcating and maintaining this idea into the official historical narrative that it has become a normal piece of our cultural furniture, accepted without question by all but the few who care to closely examine this longtime canard, this straw man our establishment created so long ago to protect its own interests.
. . . Thus, when the Earhart disappearance is analyzed or examined by people we would normally consider intelligent, like Tom Crouch [who replaced Claudia Oakes and retired as Air and Space curator in 2018], all established, traditional rules of investigation, including objective evaluation of evidence, logic and the scientific approach, become virtually nonexistent and non-applicable.
Les Kinney ended his April 3 comment with another fascinating nugget, this one concerning researcher Don Kothera and former Marines Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks, whose story was the subject of my Dec. 26, 2017 post, “KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga.”
“As part of their June 1982 trip to Washington, D.C., the Kotheras tried to get Marines Headquarters to interview Billy Burks and Ev Henson on the record about their grave digging episode on Saipan [in 1944] directed by Marine Captain Tracy Griswold,” Les wrote. “The Kotheras even had signed affidavits from Henson and Burks. The Marines refused the Kothera request. I wonder why.”
Today present the conclusion of Paul Briand Jr.’s “Requiem for Amelia,” perhaps the best early synopsis of the accounts presented by the original Saipan and Marshall Islands witnesses, based on the interviews done by Fred Goerner and the “Operation Earhart” duo of Air Force officers Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960. (Boldface emphasis is both Briand’s and mine; capitalization emphasis is Briand’s.)
According to other witnesses, the American fliers were blind-folded, taken into custody, and driven away from the crash scene into the nearby village of Garapan. Jose Basa, who had been stacking gasoline drums for the refueling of Japanese construction equipment, saw the crash, clearly remembers that one of the apprehended pilots was a woman, then saw them blindfolded and driven away by Japanese officials. Jose Camacho and his wife, also witnesses to the crash in the Sadog Tasi area near the Chico base, stood nearby and watched the Americans being taken away in a vehicle toward the direction of Garapan.
Mr. Antonio A. Diaz, now a distinguished member of the Saipan legislature, was in 1937 the chauffeur for the Commanding Officer of the Japanese Navy Chico Base on Saipan. One day in the commander’s sedan he overheard a conversation between the commanding officer and another Japanese officer. The officers were discussing the airplane that had crashed at Sadog Tasi. Two American pilots were apprehended. One of them was a woman.
Contrary to expectations, the Americans were not taken directly to prison, but to the Hotel Kobayashi-Royokan in Garapan. Many Saipan natives remember seeing the Americans at the hotel, particularly the woman, because of the name they all called her by and best remember her by. The name was “Tokyo Rosa” the American spy girl with the camera up front.
Antonio M. Cepada, then 52, recalls that he saw the American woman on two separate occasions over a period of three months during the summer of 1937. Asked to explain the term Tokyo Rosa which he was using in his story (because of the connection with Tokyo Rose used later during the war), Cepada said they named the American woman themselves among his people. In 1937 in Saipan, Tokyo Rosa meant American spy girl, and that IS all it meant, nothing else.
“I saw her while going to work outside the hotel which is located in East Garapan village,” Cepada said. “She wore unusual clothes, belted in the center. The color was faded khaki, which looked like it had been washed many times. Clothes like pilots wear.” He described the woman as “average height, American girl not short, not extra tall — had thin build. Chest somewhat flat, not out like other American girls. Her hair appeared to be reddish brown color and cut short like man’s hair, trimmed close in back like man. She did not wear powder or lipstick.”
“The girl looked soft,” Cepada remembers, “very calm, not expressive, not smile —seem to be thinking far away and not notice her surroundings and people much.” He guessed her age to be about 35, but remarked it was hard to tell age of the American woman. When shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Cepada said, “Looks just like same girl then.”
Commenting on her capture, Cepada did not know how she had been caught. But the belief then was: “she take secret picture with flying suit in front hidden camera.”
Another man who saw the American girl under similar circumstances and also referred to her as Tokyo Rosa, was Carlos Palacios, then 48, who in 1937 worked as a salesman in a merchandise store near the Kobayashi-Royokan hotel. Palacios, too, had only seen the woman twice, while going to and from his place of work. The first time was at an open window on the second floor of the hotel. She had on what seemed to him a man’s white shirt, with short sleeves, and open at the neck. She had dark reddish-brown hair, cut like a man’s hair in back too. He could not see any make-up or lipstick.
The second time Palacios saw the woman she was standing at the entrance to the hotel. She wore the same white shirt, and a dark skirt and American-type shoes. “It was the same girl,” he affirmed, “hair cut short, no make-up, slim girl, not fat, not big in front of chest.”
He said he did not know where the woman was caught and does not remember a crash incident – “only American spy girl and secret pictures she take.” She was Tokyo Rosa, his people’s 1937 expression for the American spy girl. Like Cepada when shown a photograph of Amelia Earhart, Palacios said, “Looks and haircut look like same girl.”
A resident of the hotel, Antonio G. Cabrera, then 62, now a farmer, who lived downstairs and owned the land on which the hotel was located, remembers that in 1937 an American man and woman lived at the Kobayashi-Royokan and were under the custody of the Japanese. The Americans lived at the hotel for only a short while and then were taken away by the Japanese.
When asked to examine some photographs, Cabrera positively identified the man as Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart as a woman who looked just like the woman who stayed at the hotel.
Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera [relationship to Antonio G. unknown], then 49, employed as a servant at the hotel in 1937, recalled seeing the two Americans and that as part of her duties she took a list of the guests to the governor’s office every day. On one particular day while carrying out this duty, Mrs. Cabrera saw the two Americans in the rear of a three-wheeled vehicle. They were blindfolded and their hands were bound behind them. One of them was the American woman. When she looked at a newspaper picture of Amelia and Fred, Mrs. Cabrera said they looked like the same people, and they were dressed in the same manner as the people she saw in the truck. She never learned what then happened to the two Americans.
Living next door to the hotel was Mrs. Matilda Ariola Saint Nicholas, then 47, perhaps the last woman to see the woman flier alive. The American woman visited Matilda and her younger sister on two different occasions in a one-week period while she was still living at the hotel. On the first visit the American girl wore a trench coat, and appeared very pale, as if she were sick.
The Nicholases offered her some food; the woman accepted, but ate very little, only some fruit. When the American woman visited the second time, she was noticeably changed in appearance, for although still pale and sick-looking, she now had bruises or burns on the right side of her neck and had her left forearm wrapped in bandages. It was on this visit, Mrs. Saint Nicholas remembers, that the American girl, despite her pain and sickness, helped the sister with her geography lesson, guiding her as she drew correctly the location of the Mariana Islands in relation to the other islands in the Pacific.
Matilda Saint Nicholas did not see the American girl again, nor did she hear about her again until a busboy from the hotel told her he had learned that the American girl had died. Lately he had noticed how often she had to use the outside toilet and how, most recently, he saw that the bed she slept on was soaked with blood. It was later, Mrs. Saint Nicholas said, that the same busboy asked her to make two wreaths for a burial.
From the hotel the American fliers were taken to the prison in Garapan. An Insular policeman and prison guard for the Japanese at the time was Ramon Cabrera, then 41, who saw the pi1ots, bound and blindfolded, brought to the prison. They both wore khaki-colored flying clothes. One had a beard with thick whiskers. The other, he noticed, was strange looking, with no whiskers and a smooth face, smaller in height than the other, and slender in build. But both had short haircuts. The fliers were kept in separate cells, but were permitted to exercise out in the main prison yard for short periods during the day. There were approximately 200 prisoners in the prison at the time, composed of Saipanese, Carolinians and Guamanians. But the two pilots were the only Americans there.
For the first few days, Cabrera recalls, the Americans could not eat their prison food — breadfruit and other bits thrown in. But by the fourth day they began to eat, although they still did not like the food, because they only received one meal a day, served in thirds three times a day. Like other Saipan natives in 1937, Cabrera used the expression Tokyo Rosa, and in addition he used the term “driver” as it was meant by the Japanese then to refer to an American woman as a driver of a car, boat, or airplane.
Ramon Cabrera claims he does not know what happened to the American prisoners after they were taken from the Garapan jail. He guessed they were either deported to Japan or executed.
If the Japanese were convinced that the Americans were spies, that the cameras found in the crashed aircraft, or the camera carried by the girl, or both, were used to photograph the fortifications being built in the Pacific contrary to the terms of the League of Nations man- date, then they had but one recourse to silence this discovery by two Americans . . . death. If the Americans were executed as spies, however, there is no witness who is willing to come forth and confirm what can only be inferred.
That there was an execution can be inferred from the testimony of two natives, who claim they know the exact location of the unmarked graves of the American man and woman pilots, but who are unwilling to point them out for reasons fearful and mysterious even twenty years after the fact. If they continue unwilling, the jungle will finally reclaim the graves and the signs of the crosses, now broken and mute to the outrage committed.
The two men are Joaquin Seman, then 48, a sugar mill worker on Saipan in 1937, and Ben Salas, then 43, a carpenter at the Japanese Chico Navy Base at the same time. They are good friends. When they were interviewed [by Gervais and Guam Police Sergeant Eddie M. Camacho] they both stated that they remembered the two Americans on Saipan in 1937, and that one of them was the American spy woman, Tokyo Rosa. The executions, they said, were performed not at the Garapan prison, but at the main Chico base.
Salas and Seman were in complete agreement that there were only Americans killed before the war by the Japanese — an American man, and an American woman. They were buried in unconsecrated ground in the Catholic cemetery at Liyang on Saipan, near the quarry and lumberyard, one mile south of the main prison.
Perhaps the one native witness who could reveal the certain identity of the American man and woman on Saipan in 1937 is the one man whose story does not agree with the testimony of all the other witnesses. The man is Jesus De Leon Guerrero, then 51, alias “Kumoi,” who in 1937 on Saipan was chief investigator on the police force for the Japanese. (He gave a negative response to the civilian administration in Saipan in the official report.) Although today he has no official connections with either the American or Japanese governments — he is a dealer in scrap metal — he is still greatly feared and respected on Saipan as the man who could extract confessions out of anybody. For this reason he was very useful to the Japanese authorities on Saipan in dealing with the natives and getting necessary information out of prisoners.
Guerrero denies any knowledge whatever about two American fliers taken prisoner. He has said, however, there was an American-born Japanese woman who was hanged as a spy in 1938. “She was beautiful,” he was quoted as saying, “and about 25 years of age. She appeared to have been part American and would have been mistaken for one. She was born in Los Angeles, California.”
The woman had come to Saipan from Japan apparently to look for work, Guerrero recalled. But she didn’t look like a worker because she was well-groomed and spoke very good English.
Back and forth through almost thirty years, the story of Amelia Earhart has unfolded, not clarifying the mystery of her disappearance, but deepening and complicating it by hearsay evidence and the conflicting testimony of natives who should know, and be able to tell, the truth.
Amelia Earhart was not on a spy mission for her government, she did not crash-land on Saipan; she was not taken as a prisoner; she was not executed as a spy or allowed to die. These are the conclusions of the Navy in the official report I was allowed to read. Considering their evidence, they could reach no other conclusions.
Most interestingly, there is no villain in the piece. The U. S. Navy was not trying to suppress or hide information. On the contrary, the Navy was trying as hard as I was (or anybody else) to uncover the truth. [Editor’s note: In this statement, Briand could not be more mistaken. Clearly, he fell victim to a convincing Navy propaganda effort.]
What, then, are my conclusions about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, after having conducted research about her almost continuously for the nine years since 1957 when I decided to write her biography?
I believe, now that I have examined all my latest evidence, that Amelia Earhart accidentally crash-landed on Saipan, that she and Fred Noonan were taken prisoners by the Japanese, were imprisoned on Saipan, and later — perhaps even many years later — were executed or allowed to die either on Saipan or in Japan. I do not believe she was on a deliberate spy mission, but I think the Japanese did believe Amelia was a spy because of the evidence of cameras on her person and in the airplane.
The Japanese, of course, could not reveal that they had found her, for she had discovered what they had been trying to hide — preparations for war against the United States. Unwittingly and without a plan on their part, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been mistaken as spies. If they could have brought home evidence of a Japanese military build-up in the Pacific, they would have been rewarded as heroes. Fate, however, dealt them a contrary hand.
How can anyone explain why stories from widely scattered sources support each other in broad outline and even, at times in small detail? Natives are naturally hostile to or afraid of established authority and will say almost anything not to get officially involved. Witnesses like Jesus Guerrero, for example, would have much to fear from official sources.
The weight of my evidence adds up to Saipan, a crash-landing, imprisonment and death. Josephine Blanco, J. Y. Matsumoto, and Thomas Blas confirm a crash-landing on Saipan; Jose Blaza, and Jose Camacho and his wife saw a man and a woman pilot being driven away by Japanese officials; Antonio M. Cepada, Carlos Palacios, Antonio G. Cabrera, and Mrs. Joaquina M. Cabrera confirm that the pilots were held in custody; Ramon Cabrera saw the fliers, bound and blindfolded, brought to prison; Jesus Guerrero undoubtedly knows of any execution; and Joaquin Seman and Ben Salas most probably know the location of the graves.
“Courage,” Amelia Earhart once wrote, “is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” She paid the price, and all of America is ennobled because she was willing to pay it — all of her life, and up to what must have been its bitter end. May she at last rest in peace. (End of “Requiem for Amelia.”)
We now know beyond any doubt, based on a massive assemblage of credible evidence, not to mention common sense, that Amelia did not fly to Saipan from Lae, New Guinea, which would have been a nearly 90 degree mistake, virtually unthinkable for even the most incompetent aviators of her day.
Remember that Briand was writing in 1966, when we knew about 10 percent of what has been learned since, and had no knowledge of the fliers’ Mili Atoll landing off Barre Island. But with the seminal work of Paul Briand Jr., Fred Goerner and yes, even the creator of the Irene Bolam-as-Amelia Earhart lie, Joe Gervais, we would have had precious little to guide us, and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart might still be correctly called a mystery.
Today we take another look at the pioneering work of author Paul L. Briand Jr., whose findings revealed in his 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, sparked the true modern search for Amelia Earhart. Written in 1966, as far as I know, “Requiem for Amelia” is Briand’s last published piece; it’s an excellent summary of everything he learned in the years since Daughter of the Sky was published in 1960.
“Requiem for Amelia” is a succinct summation of the evidence presented by the original Saipan witnesses, based on the interviews done by Fred Goerner and the “Operation Earhart” duo of Air Force officers Joe Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan in 1960, following closely in Goerner’s heels, and presented to America by Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966) and Joe Klaas’ Amelia Earhart Lives (1970).
“Requiem” comes to us courtesy of Broad Cove Media and Paul Briand (no suffix), the son of Paul L. Briand Jr., who “started the freelance business through Broad Cove Media in 2008 after retiring from the Seacoast Media Group of newspapers that includes the Portsmouth Herald and Foster’s Daily Democrat.” Thus I assume the editor’s note below was written by Paul Briand. Boldface emphasis is mine throughout; capitalization emphasis is Briand’s. We begin Briand’s story with a note from the editor, possibly Paul Briand, though it’s not possible to know for sure:
Editor’s note: “Requiem for Amelia” was written in 1966 as a follow-up to Paul L. Briand Jr.’s 1960 Amelia Earhart biography, Daughter of the Sky. It was written as Briand was about to retire as a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel. He was allowed to view the official Navy file on Earhart provided that this manuscript be reviewed for military security, which it was in February 1967. Briand died in 1986, still in pursuit of the truth behind Earhart’s disappearance.
“REQUIEM FOR AMELIA” (Part I of Two)
By Paul L. Briand, Jr.
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“That’s it. There is no rest.”
“No. That’s all there is.”
It was November 1, 1966. I had just finished reading the official Navy file on Amelia Earhart, and I wanted my theories confirmed. I had been waiting to see the file for more than five years, convinced that its pages had hidden for almost thirty years the secret to the mysterious disappearance of the famous flier. I was allowed to see the file as a scholar who would then submit his manuscript for clearance. It is a privilege allowed any scholar, writer or reporter working with official material.
According to the evidence in the file, Amelia Earhart was not on a spy mission for the United States Government when she disappeared in 1937. For years I had been convinced that she was. The findings in the official file also revealed that if Amelia ended her flight on Saipan, she did by accident and not by plan. I was cheered by this because it supported the conclusion in my biography about Amelia Earhart, Daughter of the Sky, published in April 1960. My evidence in the book was slight, however, based as it was on the eye-witness testimony of a Chamorro native girl who later married and emigrated to San Mateo, California.
But her testimony was so startling — that AE had crash-landed on Saipan, was taken prisoner by the Japanese, and later was executed as a spy — it appeared on the front pages of newspapers all over the country . One of the papers was the San Mateo Times, which featured the local tie-in with Josephine Blanco Akiyama, my native girl. It was this story that CBS Correspondent Fred Goerner ran with to best sellerdom six years later in his book, The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart had been America’s greatest woman flier. In 1928 she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger; in 1932 she flew across the Atlantic again, this time alone; in 1933 she broke her own transcontinental speed record from California to New Jersey; in 1935 she conquered part of the Pacific, from Hawaii to California. Not satisfied with these accomplishments, however, she wanted to face the one great challenge which remained … the world. She made her plans to girdle it at the equator, a 29,000 mile flight. No one had done it before. Not even Lindbergh.
In May of 1937 Ame1ia Earhart set out on her world flight from Miami. With her in the twin engine Lockheed Electra was one of the best navigators available, a pioneer from the Pan American flights to the Orient, Fred Noonan. By July, after flying 22,000 miles in forty days, they had reached Lae, New Guinea, the last stop before Howland Island, Hawaii, and home. Of these legs, the most difficult was the 2,556 miles to Howland, a tiny speck of island amid an eternity of ocean. To reach it, the navigation would have to be perfect.
The fliers never reached their destination. Although the Coast Guard cutter Itasca had been anchored off Howland to help beam them in, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were lost somewhere over a possible area of 450,000 miles in the South Pacific.
The Navy ordered a search. For a sixteen-day period Navy and Coast Guard ships, including at one time or another the aircraft carrier Lexington with its full complement of 63 planes, the battleship Colorado, the four destroyers Perkins, Cushing, Lamson, and Drayton, the minesweeper Swan, and the cutter Itasca, searched the Pacific where her plane could have been lost. Not a trace of the fliers was turned up. The world was stunned.
One of the great mysteries of the century remained unsolved, until in April of 1960, when it was first suggested in my Earhart biography Daughter of the Sky that the flier crash-landed on Saipan and was executed as a spy.
Amelia Earhart was lost and I had looked for her. I looked for her in 1957 and 1958 while conducting research for my book. I looked for her in 1960 and 1961 while two officer-colleagues of mine conducted investigations on Saipan and Guam. I looked for her again, most recently, this year in Washington, D. C., because I was convinced after almost ten years of research that her whereabouts were hidden in a government vault marked SECRET. During the summer of 1960, two Air Force officers stationed on Okinawa, Captains Joseph A. Gervais and Robert S. Dinger, read my book, wanted to believe my conclusion, but suggested that I needed more supporting evidence. I agreed.
We formed “Operation Earhart” and they went to Saipan and Guam to see what they could find. They interviewed 72 people, most of them natives who corroborated my testimony from Josephine Blanco. Gervais and Dinger also uncovered information to indicate that AE’s flight to Saipan was not accidental but deliberate, that she was on a spy mission. The evidence gathered by the captains, however, was immediately put under a security clamp by the U. S. Air Force in the Far East until it could be checked. Later, Gervais and Dinger took leave and brought their findings to me at the Air Force Academy. I wrote the story and submitted it to the Department of Defense for clearance in February 1961. I had decided later, on this title: “ONE LIFE FOR HER COUNTRY: The Last Days of Amelia Earhart.”
Then, because President Eisenhower was on a trip to the Far East and had cancelled a visit to Tokyo because of student riots, the Department of Defense denied clearance to the manuscript on the grounds that its contents would jeopardize Japanese–American relations. But I was convinced, nevertheless, that my conclusions about Amelia Earhart on Saipan were correct and that she must have been on a planned spy mission for her government.
I was silenced and I did not know what to do. In the spring of 1961 Arthur M. Sch1esinger Jr. came to the Air Force Academy to be the guest speaker at its annual Assembly. I prevailed on two officer colleagues to intercede with him on my behalf.
At Mr. Schlesinger’s suggestion, I wrote him a memo. Trying to help me, he wrote to Rudolph A. Winnacker, official historian of the Department of Defense. Mr. Winnacker, also trying to help, wrote in turn to the Army, Navy, and Air Force historians. They responded, but with no encouragement. The Navy answer was to the point: “ . . . the files contain nothing to indicate Amelia Earhart was a spy or that she was known or suspected to have landed on Saipan . . . ”
During the summer of 1961, Ambassador [Douglas, nephew of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who became the commander of the Allied occupation of Japan immediately after World War II] MacArthur in Tokyo was queried by the Secretary of State, Christian Herter, concerning Amelia Earhart. In his preliminary report on July 15, MacArthur said an initial search of Japanese files “has uncovered no indications Amelia Earhart was executed by the Japanese.” Then he added: “CHECK WILL BE CONTINUED, HOWEVER, AND GOJ (GOVERNMENT OF JAPAN) HAS LOCATED EIGHT PERSONS WHO MIGHT HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF CASE. THESE INCLUDE ADMIRAL HOSHINA AND FOUR FORMER STAFF MEMBERS CONCERNED WITH SAIPAN AREA; GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL NOW WORKING WITH FONOFF; MEMBER OF FORMER JAPANESE NAVAL LIAISON MISSION IN SAIPAN; AND CAPTAIN OF JAPANESE WARSHIP KOSHU WHICH SEARCHED FOR EARHART IN COLLABORATION WITH U S NAVY IN 1937.”
But on August 10, message number 445, at 3 p.m., he reported: “FOREIGN OFFICE INFORMS US GOJ HAS COMPLETED EXHAUSTIVE INVESTIGATION WHICH REVEALED NO BASIS WHATSOEVER FOR RUMOR JAPANESE EXECUTED AMELIA EARHART ON SAIPAN IN 1937. ALL AVAILABLE JAPANESE RECORDS SEARCHED AND ALL FORMER OFFICERS AND OFFICIALS CONTACTED (REFTEL) DURING COURSE INVESTIGATION. MACARTHUR”
Unfortunately for me, neither the Schlesinger-Winnacker correspondence, nor the MacArthur-Herter interchange, was shown to me; moreover, Mr. Schlesinger did not answer my memo to him — but he doubtlessly thought the Air Force would — which it did not. On November 21, 1961, after the supposed bones of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan had been found on Saipan by Fred Goerner, my manuscript was finally cleared by the Department of Defense for publication. The bones, however, proved to be those of Orientals, and there wasn’t a publisher in America interested in my story — not unless I had concrete proof-positive information, which didn’t have. Nor has anyone since.
Perhaps the most interesting document in the official file is an exhaustive report, a Navy investigative report [known to readers of this blog as the ONI Report] on the alleged location of Amelia Earhart’s grave. Compiled in November 1960, it is nine pages long and has a number of supporting documents, most of them photos of the Chamorran cemetery and surrounding area taken by Thomas E. Devine, from Connecticut, who had claimed he knew the location of the Earhart grave. Devine had written to me in the summer of 1960, telling me his story; but I was not interested. My Captains Gervais and Dinger had already written to me, telling me they had found the “one and only gravesite” of Amelia Earhart.
Here is the reporting official’s [ONI Special Agent Joseph M. Patton] synopsis:
Request was made for the evaluation of and comment on information furnished by Thomas E. DEVINE, who claimed that he had been told where Subject’s (Amelia Earhart’s) grave was located on Saipan, M.I. Enclosures (1) through (9) were furnished by DEVINE and their locations were described by DEVINE. Investigation at Saipan, M.I., developed that the location of enclosure (9) was erroneous as described by DEVINE. The building was located in Camp Susupe, several miles from the walk on fishing dock as mentioned by DEVINE. The Chamorran woman seen in enclosure (9) was in Camp Susupe and did not need rounding up. In 1937 the location shown in enclosure (9) was farm land under cultivation by the BLANCO family.
No evidence was disclosed by this investigation that Subject landed an airplane on Saipan. Mrs. Antonia BLANCO stated that her daughter (Josephine, the same who had furnished me with the conclusion for “Daughter of the Sky”) claimed to have seen a white woman of Subject’s description at Saipan prior to WW II. Mr. Jesus SALAS said he had overheard Japanese military people talking about the crash of Subject’s plane at Jaluit Atoll, in the Marshall Islands; and Mr. Jose VILLA-GOMEZ said that he overheard a similar conversation.
Some of the testimony in the report itself was very startling to me: Native guards during Japanese rule “stated they had known of no plane crash in Tanapag until the Military planes fell there during the bombing raids in 1944.” It refuted what I had learned from Gervais and Dinger. As startling is a copy of a letter from the civilian administrator, Saipan, to the Navy liaison officer to the trust territory high commissioner:
Now to the police. We contacted all presently available men who were policemen in 1937. None of them knew anything concerning the alleged incident. Next, we contacted all persons who were remembered as being jail wardens in 1937. Still no news of Amelia. Next, to Dr. Jose TORRES who worked in the Japanese hospital. Again no news. Jesus GUERRERO, a detective for the Japanese Government. No knowledge. Next, talked to Saipanese labor foremen who were in charge of labor gangs in the Garapan-Tanapag Harbor area. Again no soap.
Incredibly, the testimony of all these people as reported in the official file does not square with the testimony gathered for me by Captains Gervais and Dinger. It was as Department of Defense historian Rudolph Winnacker had said of my findings: “. . . contrary testimony by people who might have been expected to know.”
Contrary indeed! The evidence uncovered by Captain Joseph A. Gervais and Captain Robert S. Dinger in the summer of 1960 fully corroborates the story of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, first presented in Daughter of the Sky, in which the Saipan native girl saw a twin-engine silver plane fly overhead and crash land at Tanapag Harbor, about noon time one summer day in 1937. From the plane emerged two fliers, one of them a woman. Josephine, who later identified the fliers as Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart, learned later that they had died. Who is telling the truth and to whom?
Here my evidence: While Josephine Blanco was bicycling toward the Japanese installation with her brother-in-law’s lunch and looked up to see Amelia’s Electra fly over low and crash, other Chamorro natives witnessed the same event at the same time.
One was Josephine’s brother-in-law, J. Y. Matsumoto. Having been found and interviewed by Gervais and Dinger, he acknowledged that the incident was one that both he and Josephine witnessed, just as Mrs. Akiyama has related it. He confirmed that he did see the plane crash, that two Americans were apprehended, and that one of them was a woman.
Another Saipan native was Thomas [“Buko”] Blas, then 45, a construction worker at the time, who had just started to eat his lunch. As he sat looking out over Tanapag Harbor, Blas heard a plane overhead; looking up, he saw that it was very low, then watched with fright as it hit the tops of trees edging the Sadog Tasi area, pitch down out of control, and crash land on the beach 100 feet in front of him, very close to the Japanese Chico Naval Air Base.
Blas clearly remembers that the plane was two-motored, aluminum- colored, and had no Japanese markings. Many other workers, coming from all directions, gathered at the scene. Barred from getting too close to the plane by Japanese Navy personnel, Blas nevertheless saw that one of the pilots was lying face down on the ground, apparently injured, and that the other pilot had climbed out of the plane to help him.
Japanese officers and soldiers, however, kept the pilots separated, pushing and shoving the standing one away from the one lying on the ground, even knocking him down with the butt of a rifle. The injured one turned on his back, and as he tried to get up a Japanese soldier placed a bayonet at his throat.
Then a surprising thing happened. Blas could see that the fliers were certainly not Japanese; they looked more like Europeans, more like Americans because of their light coloring.
The Japanese, rather than search the pilots for concealed weapons, quickly stripped them and to their amazement, and embarrassment, one of the pilots, naked and undeniable, was a woman. Greatly disturbed, the Japanese quickly dressed the woman and the man; then with considerable irritability, they loudly complained that the poor Americans had no more men pilots and now had to use women for their military aircraft.
Blas said that both fliers wore flying jackets and well-washed khaki trousers, and that the woman wore a long-sleeved black shirt. But to his surprise, the woman had her hair cut short just like the man. The Japanese now took many photographs of the crash scene and the pilots. Then they dismissed all the workers in the Chico area, telling them to go home immediately. (End of “Requiem” Part I.)
Jesus Guerrero, the detective for the Japanese Government briefly referenced in a letter “from the civilian administrator, Saipan, to the Navy liaison officer to the trust territory high commissioner,” was in fact Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, a sinister character who collaborated with the Japanese police during the war, an enforcer whose job was to “keep the rest of the natives in line and his methods hadn’t been gentle,” Fred Goerner wrote in The Search for Amelia Earhart.
Many Saipanese said Guerrero was the man who could best answer his questions about events before and during the war, and Goerner had more than one unpleasant encounter with the surly Chamorro, whom he described as a “tough, bitter, hate-filled man who looks his reputation.” Goerner used the pseudonyms Francisco Galvan and Kobei for Guerrero in Search, but Guerrero was named correctly by Joe Klaas in Amelia Earhart Lives and by Thomas E. Devine in Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.
Now that the establishment’s latest phony effort to find Amelia Earhart’s plane as far away as possible from where it’s buried on Saipan has ended, I think a review of the true history of the search for Amelia is appropriate. (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)
Most informed observers of the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan believe that Fred Goerner’s The Search for Amelia Earhart is the seminal work in the genre, and all that followed sprang from the San Francisco radio-newsman’s initial Saipan forays. But neither Goerner nor anyone else would have ever heard about Earhart and Noonan’s arrival at Saipan in 1937 if not for the 1960 book that started it all — Daughter of the Sky, by Paul L. Briand, Jr., a Ph.D., captain (later promoted to major) and assistant professor of English at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
I never met Briand, who was born in 1920 and died in 1986, to ask him definitively, but it appears that Daughter of the Sky was conceived and written as another Earhart biography, this one by an aviation expert and co-editor of The Sound of Wings (not the biography by Mary Lovell), an anthology of flying literature published in 1957. We must assume, based on its presentation, that as the book neared completion, Briand was informed of new material that he shoehorned into Daughter’s closing pages, information that changed everything about the Earhart disappearance.
Since few readers have a copy of Daughter of the Sky, I think it’s instructive to re-present its closing pages, for those interested in something more substantial than the latest failed searches and incoherent dispatches about native bones found and lost on a central Pacific atoll circa 1940.
In the last of its three parts, “The Last Flight,” Daughter of the Sky distinguished itself from all previous Earhart literature. In its next-to-last chapter, “The Fog of Rumors,” an apparently unconvinced Briand introduced the “great rumor” that Earhart and Noonan had been prisoners of the Japanese, attributing this idea “largely” to the 1943 Hollywood film Flight for Freedom, a red herring starring Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray, and speculation by Dr. M.L. Brittain of Georgia Tech, who had been onboard USS Lexington during the Earhart search, that the fliers became prisoners of the Japanese.
Here Briand presented some helpful information as well, noting Amy Otis Earhart’s claim that “her daughter was on a secret government mission and that she was captured by the Japanese,“ but writing that Mrs. Earhart had no “official basis” for making such as statement. For more on that story, please click here. Briand also cited the March 1944 Associated Press article, “Putnam Flight Yarn Revived,” by Eugene Burns that introduced the fishing boat pickup and Marshall Islands landing scenario that Elieu Jibambam had initially shared with Navy Lieutenants Eugene T. Bogan, Bill Bauer and Jimmy Toole (see Truth at Last pages 130-131). Burns’ story was buried in newspapers where it appeared at all, and was largely ignored.
Astute readers will note several discrepancies in Briand’s narrative of Josephine Blanco’s eyewitness account as reported by Navy dentist Casimir R. Sheft to him and later findings by Fred Goerner and others; after all, the book was published in 1960, so we’re talking circa 1959 that Briand was made privy to Sheft’s revelations.
Very little of substance was known at that time, but the key event, Josephine’s 1937 sighting of the American fliers at Saipan’s Tanapag Harbor, is presented in stark detail by the Air Force Academy English professor as Sheft related it to him, and thus the true modern search for Amelia Earhart was quietly launched. Very few were even aware of it, as the revelations in Daughter of the Sky were suppressed throughout the establishment media. Following are the closing pages of Paul Briand Jr.’s Daughter of the Sky.
9. “The Light of Fact: A Mystery Solved?”
Two additional events, however, separate in time and both involving Amelia Earhart — but heretofore never interrelated — do fit together in a logical and revealing pattern. All the pieces of the puzzle are not available, but there are enough of them to form a discernible picture.
At the end of World War II Jacqueline Cochran, then head of the WASPS, the famous organization of women ferry pilots, was asked by General Hap Arnold to go to Tokyo and investigate the role that Japanese women had played in aviation during the war. While she was in Imperial Air Force Headquarters Miss Cochran noticed that there were numerous files on American aviation notables — and many filed on Amelia Earhart.
These documents since that time have mysteriously disappeared. They are not in the official custody of the United States Government, or any of its departments, services, or agencies; nor do they seem to be in the possession of the Japanese Government. (All captured documents, those of historical importance having been copied on microfilm, have been returned to Tokyo. No AE files were discovered among the captured materials.) Nevertheless, these files seem to indicate that the Japanese had more than a normal interest in Amelia Earhart, because of another event that happened, curiously, again in the Marianas. This new evidence has never before been made public.
At the end of the war on the island of Saipan a Navy dentist worked with his assistant, a native girl named Josephine Blanco. It was 1946. Dr. Casimir R. Sheft, now practicing in New Jersey, was taking a break between appointments and talking with a fellow dentist. During the conversation Dr. Sheft casually mentioned the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and speculated about whether the famous flier could have ended her flight in the Marianas, and possibly near Saipan, for he had read somewhere that the Marines had found AE’s flight log during the invasion (actually, it had been the photograph album). Suddenly his dental assistant, Josephine, broke in: She had seen an American woman flier many years ago — nine or ten — on Saipan, when she was a little girl. The American woman wore khaki clothes and had hair cut like a man. . . .
Josephine Blanco, now Mrs. Maximo Akiyama, and living in California with her husband and their young son, was witness to an incident which is as incredible as it is enlightening,
In the summer of 1937 Josephine was riding her bicycle toward Tanapag Harbor. She was taking her Japanese brother-in-law, J.Y. Matsumoto, his lunch, and was hurrying along because it was nearly twelve o’clock.
That summer she had just finished Japanese grammar school, where she had gone for the last five years, ever since she was seven years old. In March she had celebrated her eleventh birthday, and now she could begin Catholic school. She was looking forward to studying with the Spanish missionary sisters. Father Tadzio had hoped that someday Josephine, too, like some of the other Chamorro native girls in the Marianas, would answer Gods call and become a native sister.
Josephine had a special pass to the Japanese military area near the harbor. Not even Japanese civilians were admitted to the area unless they carried the proper credentials. The young girl rode up to the gate, stopped her bicycle, and presented her pass. The guard allowed her into the restricted area.
On the way to meet her brother-in-law, Josephine heard an airplane flying overhead. She looked up and saw a silver two-engine plane. The plane seemed to be in trouble, for it came down low, headed out into the harbor, and belly-landed on the water.
It was not until she met her brother-in-law that Josephine discovered whom it was that had crash landed in the harbor.
“The American woman,” everyone was saying, greatly excited. “Come and see the American woman.” Josephine and her brother in-law joined the knot of people who gathered to watch.
She saw the American woman standing next to a tall man wearing a short-sleeved sports shirt, and was surprised because the woman was not dressed as a woman usually dressed. Instead of a dress, the American woman wore a man’s shirt and trousers; and instead of long hair, she wore her hair cut short, like a man. The faces of the man and woman were white and drawn, as if they were sick.
The American woman who looked like a man and the tall man with her were led away by the Japanese soldiers. The fliers were taken to a clearing in the woods. Shots rang out. The soldiers returned alone. (Editor’s note: No evidence has ever surfaced that supports the fliers being shot so soon after their arrival on Saipan. Some evidence exists that Amelia was shot much later, but none suggests that Fred Noonan was ever shot.)
Mrs. Akiyama has affirmed, after identifying a photograph of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan taken on the world flight, that the couple was unquestionably the same man and woman she and her brother-in-law had seen on Saipan: the clothes were different, but the woman’s haircut was unmistakable.
Josephine Blanco’s story, which is basically the same one she told Dr. Sheft in Saipan, is most probably true. It is extremely unlikely this native girl could have invented her story. If she had, then for what purpose? If for profit or gain, she had, for more than ten years after the American invasion, the opportunity to capitalize on her sensational news.
As an eleven-year-old girl, Josephine of course had no idea of the significance of what she had seen other than it was indeed an American woman she had seen. Dr. Sheft has never doubted her story, and for many years he has hoped that a thorough re-examination of the facts would be made. They were.
Amelia Earhart could have ended her flight around the world at Saipan, If she were indeed headed for Howland Island, however, she somehow made an error of about 100° in reading her compass.
(Editor’s note: The following scenario, in which Briand has the Electra and its crew reaching Saipan directly from Lae, is typical of the wild speculation that characterized the early days following the public release of Josephine’s Earhart sighting, and is included here only because it, too, is part of Briand’s closing chapter.)
It means that all during the night of July 2, beginning after sundown at 5:55 p.m., Fred Noonan was not able to get a fix from the stars to determine his position. And if, after fourteen hours out from Lae, he looked down and saw a chain of islands, he would have determined that he was on course and over the Gilbert Islands; but if AE had turned north while he was napping, and he had still awakened in time to see islands, they would have been, not the Gilberts as he might have thought, but the Caroline Islands — exactly the same distance away but in the wrong direction.
By somehow departing from her course, and making the tremendous error of steering north and west instead of east — as she had done once before on the world flight, when she had turned north to St. Louis instead of south to Dakar, overriding Fred’s directions, after the flight across the South Atlantic — AE would have found herself after twenty hours of flying time somewhere along the chain of islands that marks the Marianas.
Her last report, at 8:45 a.m., gave her line of position at 157-337. The Navy’s search satisfied judgments that the line was not a radio line, for the areas northwest and southeast from Howland were thoroughly investigated. One hundred fifty-seven-337, therefore, was undoubtedly a sun line.
Near Howland, at position 01° 00′ North Latitude and 177° 20′ West Latitude, on July 3, 1937, the bearing of the sun was 66° from the north point at 7:00 a.m., Howland time. The sun line, therefore, would have been 156-336.
Near Saipan, at position 13° 00′ North Latitude and 153° 00′ East Longitude, at 5:00 a.m., Saipan time, the sun was 64° from the north point. A sun line there would have been 154-334.
If Noonan had thought he was close to Howland when he shot his last sun line, his geographical point of reference — used for computing and plotting his observation — would obviously have been close to Howland. If he had actually been close to Saipan, however, the relative position of the sun would still have been almost the same: 64° from the north point near Saipan, as opposed to 66° from the north point near Howland. But his observation, when computed and plotted on his chart, would have shown him to be the same number of miles from his geographical point of reference.
An experienced navigator with trust in his abilities such as Noonan would have tended to believe that either his observations or his computations were somehow wrong. He would not have thought, at least immediately, that he was some 2,600 miles off course. If AE had been pressing him for a position to radio to the Itasca, he might have, in agonies of doubt, merely given her the line of position, which he could be sure of, but not the geographical point of reference, because he could now no longer determine that point with certainty. This possibility would explain the irregularity of Amelia having transmitted the line of position without the necessary point of reference.
On the basis of these determinations, therefore, there is strong support for believing in Josephine Blanco’s story.
The Navy gave Amelia until about noon before she would go down. It was at noontime that Josephine saw the two-motored plane ditch in Tanapag Harbor.
The Navy’s final conclusion was that Amelia had ended her flight somewhere north and west. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were seen by two eyewitnesses north and west of Howland on Saipan. At that time of the year the American woman and her tall male companion could have been none other than AE and Fred Noonan.
In 1937 on Saipan, according to Maximo and Josephine Akiyama, the Japanese military did not hesitate to kill anyone. Japanese civilian or Chamorro native, whom they suspected of supping on their illegal fortifications.
Japanese officialdom maintaining an enigmatic silence (the Japanese Embassy in Washington knows nothing of the Earhart case, nor does Dr. John Young of Georgetown University, who examined captured Japanese documents for the American Government) concerning the disappearance of the two fliers, it may be idle to speculate upon the final fate of Fred Noonan and Amelia Earhart. The evidence, however, justifies at least one tenable conclusion.
When Josephine Blanco saw the twin-engined silver plane, Amelia and Fred had been flying for twenty-six consecutive hours and for 4,000 futile miles. The sight of the island that was Saipan must have cheered the fliers with renewed hope for safety, and for life itself.
When they survived the crash landing in Tanapag Harbor only to be taken into custody as spies, their joy must have turned to inexplicable bitterness: they had been saved not for life, but for death before a Japanese firing squad.
For Amelia, who once had said to her husband, “I don’t want to go; but when I do, I’d like to go in my plane — quickly,” the last word of her wish must have struck her now with sudden and ironic force.
Yet, as she had so often before, Amelia Earhart must have met this challenge with stubborn self-control and resolute courage. For here at last was her unmistakable, but irrefutable, fate.
Thus ended Daughter of the Sky. Though it was riddled with erroneous conclusions and wild speculation, its most important feature, Josephine Blanco’s eyewitness sighting of Earhart and Noonan on Saipan in the summer of 1937, was quite real — and this reality launched the modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.
Few, and mainly those who read this blog regularly, know about the vital role that San Mateo Times reporter Linwood Day played in the earliest days of the Earhart investigation, newly launched by virtue of the blockbuster revelations in Daughter of the Sky. Day’s Earhart series reached its zenith on July 1, 1960, when the Times front page announced in 100-point headlines, all caps, “AMELIA EARHART MYSTERY IS SOLVED.”
Fred Goerner was already on Saipan in the midst of his first witness investigation, and in six years his book, The Search for Amelia Earhart, would sell more than 400,000 copies, only to be trashed by Time magazine as a work that “barely hangs together.” The rest is history.
It is nearly impossible to accurately quantify the number of eyewitnesses and witnesses to the presence and deaths of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan following their arrival there sometime in the summer of 1937. I’ve never tried, having seen others’ unsuccessful attempts to capture an arbitrary number that seems as fluid as mercury.
First, we have the native Saipanese witnesses, led by Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose eyewitness account ignited Fred Goerner’s early 1960s investigations on Saipan that revealed the undeniable, shocking truth. Next are the American GI witnesses, featuring the myth-busting accounts of Thomas E. Devine, Robert E. Wallack, Earskin J. Nabers and a host of others who saw or had firsthand knowledge of the Earhart Electra and other hard evidence of Amelia’s presence on Saipan prior to the war.
Many others were privy to information gleaned in the postwar years, and then we have the issue of defining what actually constitutes a witness, not to mention the entirely separate grouping of Marshall Islands witnesses, to whom I devote the longest chapter in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. Today’s post concerns a relatively obscure American witness from postwar Saipan, and though Charlotte White’s story is insignificant in the big picture, it’s yet another of countless footnotes to the Earhart saga.
In the Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune, of Dec. 27, 1990, Mrs. Charlotte White, of Burlington, Ky., described an incident that occurred while she was living on Saipan, from 1955 to 1961. Her husband, Edward, was a retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans who was working for the CIA on Saipan. Mrs. White said she was being driven home one day when they were stopped by some reporters from Look magazine, who said they were doing a story about Amelia Earhart. Though White knew nothing about the Earhart disappearance at the time, she began asking questions, and soon she “met the police chief . . . who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate,” according to the Tribune. “The chief showed Mrs. White a leather fliers’ jacket that he said belonged to ‘the lady flier.’“ Following is the entire article, written by Jack Hicks, which also appeared in the Dallas Morning News:
BURLINGTON, Ky. — Few mysteries have intrigued the American public like the disappearance of flier Amelia Earhart. Speculation about Miss Earhart’s fate surfaces in books and the media from time to time. Recently the prime-time television show Unsolved Mysteries featured the 53-year-old puzzler. Charlotte White of Burlington, Ky., hasn’t solved the puzzle of Miss Earhart’s disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937. But Mrs. White can add a few pieces.
Mrs. White met a man on the Pacific island of Saipan who claimed to know Miss Earhart’s fate. The man, a police chief on the island, showed Mrs. White a leather flyer’s jacket that he said belonged to “the lady flyer.” In tropical Saipan, it’s unlikely a native would wear a leather jacket at any time of year. Mrs. White lived on Saipan from 1955 to 1961 with her husband, Edward, who has since died. A retired Army master sergeant and World War II prisoner of the Germans, White worked for the CIA.* “I’d heard about Amelia Earhart being missing, everybody in America had. But I never connected it with Saipan,” recalled Mrs. White, now 71. “Then one day I was being driven home, and we were stopped by some people who said they were from Look magazine, and were doing research on a story about Amelia Earhart.”
(Editor’s note: Edward White’s CIA affiliation was likely connected to the Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU) on Saipan. In a July 1961 memorandum from Brig. General Edward G. Lansdale, Pentagon expert on guerrilla warfare, to Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, President John F. Kennedy’s military advisor on Resources for Unconventional Warfare, SE Asia, Lansdale wrote: “In 1948, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) closed off half of Saipan to islanders and outsiders, using the northern part of the island for covert military maneuvers. The end of WWII left a power vacuum that was being filled by communism; the Cold War objectives of the CIA’s covert facility on Saipan were to thwart communist expansion. The island’s remoteness and control by the military made it an ideal base for this training and the NTTU was established. The primary mission of the Saipan Training Station [was] to provide physical facilities and competent instructor personnel to fulfill a variety of training requirements including intelligence tradecraft, communications, counter-intelligence and psychological warfare techniques. Training [was] performed in support of CIA activities conducted throughout the Far East.”
The NTTU was established in 1953 and closed down in 1962. Fred Goerner wrote at length about the NTTU and its role in discouraging media from visiting Saipan in search of Amelia Earhart. See The Search for Amelia Earhart and Truth at Last, pages 104, 105 for more.)
Mrs. White began asking some questions of her own, and ultimately talked with the police chief, named Gurerro [sic]. He had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese, before American forces captured it in 1944. “He said he remembered the flyers, and he described Miss Earhart to a T,” White said. “She had curly brown hair. ‘They killed her,’ he said of the Japanese.” Gurerro told her that Miss Earhart’s plane had crashed near Saipan, apparently when it flew off course and ran out of fuel. “Her co-pilot [sic], Fred Noonan, was injured in the crash and soon died, the police chief said. He took me to Garapan, a large city which had been heavily damaged during the war, and showed me the place where he said they kept her in an underground cell. ‘She was very sick,’ he said.”
Miss Earhart was buried within the military’s postwar training ground, which is off-limits, according to Gurerro. Gurerro had the jacket hanging on a hook in his office. “He said it was the lady flyer’s jacket, but he didn’t say how he got it. I tried to touch it and he said, ‘No Missy, don’t touch.’ He let me look at it, but he wouldn’t let me touch it,” Mrs. White said. “I have absolutely nothing to authenticate any of this. All I know is what he told me all those years ago.”
The memory comes back to her from time to time, especially when someone mentions Amelia Earhart or something appears in the news or on television, such as the Unsolved Mysteries segment. No investigator has ever contacted her since she met the Look magazine reporters. She didn’t know anything at the time, she said. Her husband, who may have known something he never told her, admonished her not to talk about it. Edward White, who worked as a security guard after the family returned to Kentucky, died in 1989. Mrs. White would like to go back to Saipan for another look, but she isn’t keen on a flight across the ocean. She had enough of that, she says, as an Army and CIA wife. (Jack Hicks is a reporter for the Kentucky Post in Covington.)
Perhaps the most curious aspect of this story is that the police chief’s name was “Gurerro,” according to Mrs. White, and he had been on the island when it was occupied by the Japanese. Could this have been the same Jesús De Leon Guerrero, also known as Kumoi, who terrorized his fellow Saipanese as a Japanese collaborator and police officer before and during the war years?
Paul Briand Jr., author of the seminal 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, which introduced the eyewitness account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama to the world, wrote in a 1966 essay, “Requiem for Amelia,” that Kumoi was 51 in 1937. In 1966, Briand wrote, Kumoi had “no official connections with either the American or Japanese government—he is a dealer in scrap metal.” Briand added that Guerrero was “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.”
I haven’t been able to locate Jesús De Leon Guerrero’s obituary, and if any reader out there can help with that information, it would be most appreciated.