Today rejoin Fred Goerner for Part II of his January 1964 Argosy magazine opus, “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart.” When we left Part I, Goerner was learning a few details about the mysterious Naval Technical Training Unit (NTTU), the CIA spy school located in the northern end of Saipan that he was told to judiciously avoid by Commander Paul Bridwell, the top Navy administrator on the island, who knew far more about the Earhart disappearance than he ever let on to Goerner or anyone else in the media.
Without further delay, here is Part II of “I’ll Find Amelia Earhart”:
I started to draw the conclusion that the Navy was giving Nationalist Chinese some special training. The guess was inadequate, although I felt my suspicions were confirmed by an inadvertent slip at the officer’s club. Bridwell had a dinner party in my honor, and one officer’s wife, after a half-dozen cocktails, gushed, “Yes, you have to know of a lot of languages on Saipan: Chamorro, Spanish, German, Japanese. And now we’re even speaking Chinese.”
There was a hush at the table as if someone had used an especially pungent four-letter word, and then the conversation picked up at double time.
One day, Father Sylvan took me up Mount Tapochau, a little over 1,500 feet, the highest point on Saipan. From there, one can see the whole island, but not down into the jungle. I shot about a hundred feet of motion-picture film and a few stills, and then we headed back to the village.
Commander Bridwell was waiting. “Understand you’ve been up Tapochau with your cameras?” he said.
“Right. Nice climb and view. Couldn’t see into your restricted areas, though.”
“I wasn’t really worried about that.” He smiled. “But we’d like it very much if you dropped your film off with the PIO officers at Guam for a look-see.”
Before I left Saipan in 1960, I let one question get the better of me: Did Earhart and Noonan fly their plane to Saipan? It seemed incredible. Saipan lies about 1,500 miles due north of their final take-off point, Lae, New Guinea. Saipan, with Howland Island as an intended destination, would have represented a navigational error of ninety to a hundred degrees. Yet there was that possibility. The question enlarged to: If they did fly here, could any part of that plane still remain on the bottom of Tanapag?
Monsignor Calvo brought me Gregorio Magofna and Antonio Taitano, who had been shelling and fishing in the harbor for many years. After viewing a photograph of Amelia’s Lockheed Electra, Greg and Toni agreed that they knew of the wreckage of a “two-motor” plane. About three-quarters of a mile from what was once the ramps of the Japanese seaplane base, we went down in twenty-five to thirty feet of water.
The bottom of Tanapag Harbor is like another world. Every conceivable type of wreckage is littered as far as a face mask will let you see. Landing craft, jeeps, large-caliber shells, what’s left of a Japanese destroyer, the Japanese supply ship, Kieyo Maru, in deeper water beyond the reef, a huge submarine – all covered with slime and of coral.
The “two-motor” plane proved to be a huge, twisted mass of junk. From this incoherent form, we hauled several hundred pounds of vile-smelling wreckage to the surface. Later, I knocked a chunk of coral as big as a man’s head from one piece of equipment, and found the first sign of aircraft-parts wired together. In the early days, before the advent of shakeproof nuts, this was standard procedure.
It was not until [Rear] Admiral [Waldemar F.A.] Wendt’s technicians at Guam announced that the equipment possibly could have come from the type of aircraft Amelia had flown, that I began to have some hope for its identification. My motion-picture and still films were checked, and I headed back home. (Editor’s note: After promotion to rear admiral, Wendt assumed command on Jan. 17, 1960 of U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, with additional duty as CINCPAC representative, Marianas-Bonins, as Deputy High Commissioner of the Marianas District of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and as Deputy Military Governor of the Bonin-Volcano Islands; with headquarters in Guam.)
In San Francisco, July 1, 1960, the tape-recorded testimony of Saipan’s natives made an impression on the press, but the wreckage created much more interest. Several numbers found on the interior of what was once a heavy-duty generator were sent to Bendix Aircraft in New Jersey. Several days later, Bendix, which had manufactured much of the electrical equipment carried on the Lockheed Electra, announced that the bearings had been produced by the Toyo Bearing Company of Osaka, Japan. The equipment was a Japanese copy of Bendix gear!
The Saipanese witnesses somehow became lost in the reverberations from the Bendix press release, and Earhart and Noonan were again assigned to limbo.
If detailed, the next part of the investigation would fill a book. It concerns the search by the Navy and Coast Guard, in 1937. I’ll sketch the high points in a very few words.
We obtained photostatic copies of the message log of the Itasca, Amelia’s Coast Guard homing vessel at Howland Island, and the search report of the U.S.S. Lexington, the carrier dispatched by the Navy to hunt for the missing flyers. What we found produced a mystery within a mystery. Immediately after the plane was thought lost, the Itasca had radioed to the San Francisco Division of the Coast Guard a group of messages purportedly to have come from the Earhart plane. Three days later, another group of messages, also supposed to have come from Amelia, was sent to San Francisco. From the first to the second group, the time and content of every message had been much altered.
How could such discrepancies occur?
The answers of two of the radio operators who were aboard the Itasca that morning in 1937 were a continuing contradiction. William Galten, of Brisbane, California, was radioman, third-class. He maintained that the first group was correct. Leo Bellarts, of Everett, Washington, was the chief radioman, charged with handling all the communications with the plane. He stipulated that the second group was accurate.
I went to see Galten, and when faced with the photostats and Bellarts’ statement, he admitted, “I may have been mistaken. We were under great pressure.” (Editor’s note: Goerner’s description of “two groups” of alleged messages from the Earhart plane, with one being accurate, the other inaccurate, is itself inaccurate, as well as confusing. For an accurate discussion on this topic, see “Chapter III: The Search and the Radio Signals” in Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last.)
You may have already guessed this: The Lexington’s planes flew over 151,000 square miles of open ocean, an area determined only by the first group of messages, not one of which was correct as to time or content.
Why didn’t the Navy double check with the Itasca, or why weren’t the corrected group of messages relayed from San Francisco to the Lexington? There are only two possible answers: A completely unexplainable lack of communications between the Navy and the Coast Guard – or design. When you know that the Navy spent nearly $4,000,000 on the search, it becomes utterly incredible. Heads have certainly rolled for less.
The statement I have just made was contained in a monograph I sent to the Navy Department in 1962. Some five weeks later, I received a call from a chief at the Coast Guard office in San Francisco, advising me to check the next day’s edition of the Navy Times for further information on the Earhart matter. The next day, the Coast Guard released a report that had been kept in a classified file for twenty-five years. It was the report of Commander Warner K. Thompson, who had been the commanding officer of the Itasca in 1937. It revealed that the Coast Guard had known next to nothing about the plans for the final flight; that the Navy appeared to be handling the whole show; that the Navy had brought special direction-finding equipment aboard the Itasca; that on the morning of the disappearance, a number of secret messages signed with the code name “Vacuum” were received aboard Itasca addressed to one Richard Black, who ostensibly was a Department of Interior employee. The Coast Guard felt it had been used as a front and could not be blamed for anything when it have been given so little information.
The overtones of “intelligence” become quite audible, but I’m ahead of the story.
Early in 1961, I felt we had more than enough to warrant another trip to Saipan. In addition to further questioning of the natives and raising more of the wreckage from Tanapag Harbor to establish its identity, I wanted to follow through on information given to us by Thomas E. Devine of West Haven, Connecticut. Devine had been a member of an Army postal unit on Saipan in 1945, and claimed that a native woman had shown him the grave of “two white people, a man and a woman, who had come before the war.” Devine said he had not connected the incident with Earhart and Noonan until he read of our investigation. For evidence, he produced pictures of the native woman and an area near a tiny graveyard where the woman had lived. He also provided a fairly detailed description of the unmarked grave’s location outside a small cemetery.
Navy permission to go to Saipan was really tough to come by this time. The first application was filed in April 1961, and for several months, there was no answer.
In June, Jules Dundes, CBS Vice President in San Francisco, called Admiral [Daniel F. Jr.] Smith’s office in Washington, and finally got Captain [R.W.] Alexander, then the Navy’s Deputy Chief of Information, on the phone. Alexander flatly stated that permission to return to Saipan was denied.
Not liking the tenor of that conversation, Dundes called CBS Vice President Ted Koop, in Washington, who promptly went to work with Arthur Sylvester, Assistant Secretary of Defense. Early in September, I departed for the now familiar Marianas – with the necessary clearance.
I went back with a bit more information about our friend, NTTU, too. Control of Saipan had been transferred from Department of Interior to the Navy by Presidential order in 1952. Shortly thereafter a contract amounting to nearly $30,000,000 was let to an amalgamation of three companies, Brown-Pacific-Maxon, for the construction of certain facilities on the north and east side of the island, the concrete foundations of which went down ten to twenty-five feet.
At Guam, I told Admiral Wendt what I thought might be going on. Then, at Saipan, I met once again with my old friend Commander Bridwell, who quickly reiterated that I was to stay away from the north end and the east side of the island.
“Look, Paul,” I replied. “I’m not after NTTU. Quit muddying the water for me on the Earhart story. Let us get the final answer and you’ll have me off your back.”
“It’s not my business if you’re training Nationalist Chinese or operating ballistic missile sites; that’s a security matter.”
“We’re glad you feel that way,” returned Paul, but if you do come up with the final answer to Earhart, a dozen newsmen will be knocking on our door.”
“Don’t you believe it, I retorted. “No one is going to send a photographer six thousand miles to duplicate something we already have. Just cooperate with me.”
Bridwell finally did cooperate – the day before I left Saipan for the second time, and only after I had received an invitation to enter the super-secret NTTU area. Bridwell believes strongly that Amelia and Fred were brought to Saipan in 1937 and their lives ended six months to a year later, but at that time, he was obliged to block the investigation in any way he could. He and the rest of the Naval Administration Unit were fronting for the Central Intelligence Agency.
I know now that word was passed to natives working for the Navy or NTTU that it would be best to reply in the negative to questions asked about any Americans being on the island before the war. Bridwell even attempted to get witnesses to change their testimony. In one case, he was successful. Brother Gregorio, now with the Church at Yap, had been on Saipan in 1937. Father Sylvan had seen him during the year I had been gone. Brother Gregorio said that he had heard from several people that a white man and woman, reportedly flyers, had been brought to Saipan. He had not seen them himself because the Japanese had restricted him to the church, but he gave the names of the two men who had told him. Commander Bridwell got to them first. The pair had jobs with the Navy and refused to talk. I hold no grudge. The Navy did what it felt necessary to protect the CIA.
During the ’61 stay, Magofna and Taitano took me back down to the wreckage off the old seaplane ramps, and an afternoon of diving produced conclusive evidence that the “two-motor” plane was Japanese. A corroded plate from a radio-direction finder unmistakenly bore Japanese markings.
Father Sylvan and I then went to work on Thomas Devine’s information. The small graveyard was easy to locate. One of Devine’s photos showed a cross in the graveyard; another pictured an angel with upraised arms surrounded by crosses and tombstones. The only change was the jungle. It had grown up forty or more feet over the cemetery. Devine had also sent a picture of the woman who had shown him the grave site. Father Sylvan showed the print to a native who works for the mission, and the old man brightened.
“Okinawa woman,” he said. “Sent back Okinawa after war.”
Father Sylvan acknowledged that many Okinawans and Koreans had been brought to Saipan by the Japanese before the war to build airfields and harbor installations. All who hadn’t married Chamorros or Carolinians were repatriated.
Devine had indicated that the grave site was outside the cemetery. Another of his photographs, taken from a narrow dirt road with the island’s mountain range in the background, was supposed to have the most significance. “The grave,” Devine had written, “is located thirty to forty feet to the left of this road.” (End of Part II.)
Since I presented Fred Goerner’s preview of his classic bestseller, The Search for Amelia Earhart in my post of June 3, I thought it would be appropriate to follow that with the single most damaging piece ever written about this great book, the Sept. 16, 1966 “review” published by Time magazine, which lacked the decency to identify its writer.
Four times in this despicable hit piece, Time’s anonymous scribbler referred to Howland Island as “Rowland” Island, a clear tell that reveals the shallow nature of the reviewer’s knowledge of even the basic facts of the Earhart disappearance. Why bother with fact checking when you have a bestselling author to skewer, facts be damned. I didn’t bother to fix the spelling in the original.
Contrary to Time’s mendacious critique, The Search for Amelia Earhart was the most important Earhart disappearance book ever written, but it presented only about 5 percent of what’s been learned of the fliers’ fates since 1966. A mountain of evidence, with even more yet to be found and revealed, tells us of the tragic Saipan ends of Amelia and Fred, and the title of Time’s review, “Sinister Conspiracy?” is accurate only if describing the vile motives of Time’s board of directors.
Was Amelia Earhart really lost at sea during her round-the-world flight 29 years ago—or was she a spy who died a captive of the Japanese?
Fred Goerner, a San Francisco radio newscaster, pursued the question for six years, and has caught up with what he is convinced is the answer. Obviously, if Earhart simply died in a plane accident, there would be no need for a book. By stitching surmise to fact, Goerner makes a book that barely hangs together. His tantalizing if familiar theory is that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were on an unofficial spy mission for the U.S. when they crashed and fell into Japanese hands.
No Luck. As far as the public knows, Earhart and Noonan left Lae, New Guinea, on July 1, 1937, on the most dangerous leg of their trip—a 2,550-mile leap to tiny (one square mile) Rowland Island, where no plane had ever landed before. Early on July 2, the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, standing by at Rowland, received a series of messages from Pilot Earhart reporting that she was unsure of her position and that she was running low on gas. Her last message, delivered in a broken and choked voice, was a plea for a fix on her position. Too late. Itasca failed to get a fix, and so, subsequently, did an armada of U.S. fleet searchers.
Goerner has succeeded, he says, where the U.S. Navy failed. Financed by CBS, the Scripps newspaper chain, the San Mateo (Calif.) Times and the Associated Press, he made four trips to the islands of the western Pacific to gather evidence of evildoing. In 1960, he returned from the Pacific with a bagful of airplane parts dredged out of Saipan harbor. These, he believed, were the remains of Earhart’s twin-engined Lockheed Electra.
No such luck; the collection turned out to be parts from a Japanese plane. In 1964, Goerner got a flash of headlines by producing seven pounds of human bones and 37 teeth. The flyers? Nope, declared a Berkeley anthropologist—they belonged to some late Micronesians.
Detour. At length, after scores of interviews with witnesses who claimed that they knew something, and with various officials who denied that they knew anything, Goerner fashioned his plot. When Earhart left Lae, he writes, she did not fly directly toward Rowland Island. Instead, acting on the request of a highly placed U.S. official (Goerner hints that it must have been F.D.R.), she headed north toward Truk in the central Carolines to reconnoiter Japanese airfields and fleet-servicing facilities in the area. To make this detour possible without arousing suspicion—after all, the whole world knew the flyers’ itinerary—Earhart had had her Electra secretly outfitted with special engines capable of cruising at 200 m.p.h.; as far as anybody else knew, Goerner writes, the plane could do only 150-165 m.p.h.
After sizing up Truk, Earhart headed for Rowland. Goerner guesses that she soon got hopelessly lost in a tropical storm and turned the Electra north and west, away from her destination. By calculating the Electra’s speed and fuel consumption, Goerner figures that the plane must have crash-landed near the beach of Mili atoll in the southeastern Marshall Islands. It was from that place, he says, that Earhart cranked out SOS messages on the plane’s emergency radio. This, Goerner believes, accounts for the fact that a number of radio operators reported picking up messages from the downed plane at about this time.
Goerner estimates that twelve days later a Japanese fishing boat reached the couple. They were taken aboard and later transferred either to the Japanese seaplane tender Kamoi or to the survey ship Koshu, which was known to be in the region. From his talks with natives, Goerner concludes that the flyers were taken first to Jaluit, then Kwajalein, and finally to Saipan, Japan’s military headquarters in the Pacific; a number of Saipanese say that they saw a man and a woman who resembled Noonan and Earhart. Goerner quotes native sources as saying that Earhart probably died of dysentery and that Noonan was beheaded, but he does not document the fact. Nevertheless he writes: “The kind of questioning and hardships they endured can be imagined. Death may have been a release they both desired.”
No Secret. If Goerner’s story is correct, why is it that neither the U.S. nor the Japanese government will confirm it? That is what he wants to know. There is a sinister conspiracy in Washington, Goerner hints, aimed at keeping things hushed up, even so many years after the event. And the Japanese won’t talk, he adds, because they fear that an admission of complicity would damage their hopes of recovering some of the Pacific islands that became part of a U.N. trust territory after the war. That farfetched notion will be news to the Japanese.
Along the way, Goerner does infect the reader with some nagging points. He has found two U.S. Marines who claim that they exhumed the flyers’ bodies in Saipan in 1944, and says that the remains were either secretly reinterred or are today in the possession of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. And he quotes no less a personage than Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, who told Goerner in March 1965: “I want to tell you Earhart and her navigator did go down in the Marshalls and were picked up by the Japanese.” Alas, Nimitz told him no more than that; he died last February.
Readers who take Goerner’s word for everything will have to take it on faith. For example, those special engines that play such an important part in Goerner’s closely cut puzzler were no secret at all. On the day after Earhart’s plane went down, the New York Times reported that the Electra was equipped with two of the latest Wasp engines, capable of cruising speeds well over 200 m.p.h. (End of Time‘s review.)
I will leave it to discerning readers of this blog to dissect the above litany of errors, lies and propaganda excreted by the pre-eminent news magazine of the day to a legion of readers, some of whom may have actually believed that Time was trying to help its subscribers understand the truth in the Earhart disappearance. Of course this was the furthest thing from the minds of Time’s editors, whose only goal was to discredit everything Goerner had found that so clearly revealed the truth about Amelia and Fred’s Marshall Islands landing and subsequent deaths on Saipan.
“With its dismissive hit piece,” I write in Truth at Last, “Time set the tone for generations of media deceit and hostility to the truth that continues today, manifesting itself in ways blatant and subtle throughout every segment of our news and entertainment industries. Wherever discussion about the loss of America’s First Lady of Flight can be found in America—in newspapers, magazines, biographies, television news, movies, and anywhere else—the insidious influence of the establishment’s aversion to Saipan will invariably accompany it.
“Whether its perpetrators are conscious of this inherent bias or not, this pervasive policy of media malfeasance has two objectives. The first is the perpetuation of the lie that the Earhart ‘mystery’ is the Gordian knot of historical riddles, entirely beyond resolution in our lifetimes; the second is to ensure the idea that Earhart and Noonan died on Saipan is considered the most ridiculous of all possibilities, believed only by fringe nuts and conspiracy theorists.”
Occasionally it behooves us, as students and enthusiasts of the Earhart saga, to return to the very roots of the matter, and to examine some of the original accounts that sparked the seminal investigations that paved the way for seven decades of research that now so emphatically reveals Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Mili Atoll landing and subsequent deaths on Saipan.
Today we offer the first-person account of Josephine Blanco Akiyama, as presented by Josephine herself in Family Weekly, the San Mateo Times Sunday magazine, on July 3, 1960. In all fairness, we should note that Josephine was not the first Pacific islander to share her knowledge of the post-July 2, 1937 survival of the American fliers with outsiders.
In my Feb. 16, 2015 post, “Marshall Islands ‘fishing boat pickup’ update,” we saw the March 1944 story from AP correspondent Eugene Burns, “Clue Obtained To Mystery of Amelia Earhart,” that appeared in the Benton Harbor (Mich.) News Palladium and a few other newspapers across the country.
In his story, Burns reported the account of Marshall Islander Elieu Jibambam as told to Navy Lieutenant Eugene Bogan in early 1944. “A Jap trader named Ajima three and a half years ago on Rita island told me than an American woman pilot came down between Jaluit and Ailinglapalap atolls,” Elieu reportedly told Bogan. “She was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat and the trader Ajima heard that she was taken to Japan.”
Elieu told other American military men the same story, but Burns’ report caused nary a ripple in the United States, largely because it was ignored by most papers and buried in others. The nation was focused on far more pressing wartime business in early 1944, and the Earhart story had no legs. But by 1960, the world had changed immensely, and when Linwood Day of the San Mateo Times was alerted to Josephine Blanco Akiyama’s childhood story as revealed by Paul Briand Jr., in his 1960 book Daughter of the Sky, the real modern search for Amelia Earhart began.
Without further background already available in several other posts on this blog, the following story, bylined “Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama” appeared in Family Weekly, the July 3, 1960 Sunday magazine of the San Mateo Times, and begins with the following introduction:
On July 1 [sic], 1937, Amelia Earhart, at 39, America’s most famous aviatrix, disappeared without trace while on the last lap of a round-the-world flight.
Accompanied by her navigator, Capt. Fred J. Noonan, she had set out from the East Indies toward Howland Island in the West Pacific. It has been variously speculated that they perished at sea, were made prisoners of the Japanese, were cast away on an undiscovered island, even that they are still living in Japan under assumed names!
Now an eyewitness claims that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were shot by the Japanese as spies in her native Saipan. Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama, who was 11 years old when she witnessed Miss Earhart’s crash landing on the beach of her homeland, taught school and worked as a dental assistant for the U.S. Navy in Saipan before she came to the United States three years ago. She now lives in San Mateo, Calif., with her husband and eight-year-old son.
Josephine’s San Mateo Times account:
I SAW AMELIA EARHART crash on Saipan in the summer of 1937. I know that Miss Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were executed as spies by the Japanese a few days later.
I was 11 years old then and probably the only civilian witness because they crashed in a restricted zone of the island. But I had a special pass to let me bicycle through this area because my brother-in-law worked as a mechanic for the Japanese Navy, and I was permitted to bring him his lunch every noon.
That day the sky was not particularly clear. There were clouds hanging over the beaches.
About three or four minutes after I entered the restricted zone, I heard a plane. I looked up and saw a twin-engine plane cut through the clouds. The motors seemed to be functioning all right, but I was too young to know much about that.
The plane circled briefly, disappeared, same back into view, and dived toward the beach. It seemed to level off at the last moment.
I was not close enough to see how badly it was damaged. Nor did I dare go closer. I had been raised to curb my curiosity about anything military. And everything that happened in a restricted zone was military.
But my curiosity was too great to overcome, so I waited around to see what would happen. After a few minutes I saw soldiers rush to the scene. They surrounded the plane and, a little later, escorted two people past me: a fairly tall slim woman with a short haircut and dressed in man’s clothing; and a tall man who was wearing dark trousers and a light shirt with short sleeves.
I could tell that both were terribly exhausted. But they didn’t appear to be hurt. Nor were their clothes torn.
When I saw my bother-in-law a few minutes later, I tried to tell him what had happened. There were so many people around that I didn’t dare speak up. But I did tell my parents as soon as I got home.
I can still hear their reaction. “Don’t tell anyone, Josephine, or we’ll all be in serious trouble,” my father pleaded.
“We might get shot,” my mother cried out. “Forget what you saw!”
They were scared. All of us on Saipan were scared, for we had come under Japanese control when the island became its mandate shortly after World War I and was turned into an important naval base. Before, it had belonged to Germany and before that to Spain.
I was born there and, like most natives, was taught early to respect, obey, and fear the Japanese. At least the military. Socially, we got along quite well with them, and there were many intermarriages. My own family was so prominent that whenever a Japanese dignitary came to Saipan, he would be taken to our house for a native meal.
WHILE WE HAD a lot of Japanese civilian friends, we knew only a few of the military. I asked one of them repeatedly what happened to the man and woman who were captured. At first he kept evading the issue, but finally he told me they both had been shot as spies.
Again my parents warned me never to mention what I had seen or heard, or all of us would surely be killed. This time I put it out of my mind till after World War II.
When the Americans captured Saipan, a Navy dental clinic was established on the island. I was trained and then hired as a dental assistant. I worked with a Navy lieutenant, Dr. Kasimir Sheft. It was to him that I mentioned one day the Americans who had been captured and killed in 1937.
His curiosity about them was immense. He asked me to describe the people, the plane, and the time it happened. He was very excited about what I told him.
A few days later he showed me a picture of a man and woman whom I identified as the same two who had crashed on the beach when I was 11.
“That’s Amelia Earhart!” he exclaimed, pointing at the lady.
“Who was Amelia Earhart?” I asked.
It was only then, after he explained, that I realized I had been an eyewitness to a momentous and fateful event in aviation history.
(End of July 3, 1960 Family Weekly story.)
On one of the copies of the story I have, Fred Goerner scribbled, “Who was ghost writer?” directly under Josephine’s name in the byline. It was a natural question, as the story was clearly edited, if not completely written, by a professional. Since Linwood Day penned all the Earhart stories presented in the San Mateo Times that summer (see “Linwood Day: Forgotten hero of the Earhart saga“), it’s likely that Day also worked with Josephine on this one.
Goerner wrote other interesting comments as well, numbering them from one to 13 across the top of the page. Number one for the KCBS radio newsman who was soon to become a national celebrity, was “Lady Pilot and Her Navigator — Who told her?”
Other comments included “Originally said man was injured,” “Told Briand she heard shots,” a “few days later” and “a few weeks later,” and other discrepancies Goerner found in the Family Weekly story as compared with Josephine’s account to Dr. Casimir Sheft and related to Paul Briand Jr. in his 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky, and later as seen in Linwood Day’s San Mateo Times stories of May through July 1960.
When we consider the many and varying witness accounts given to investigators over the years, we can also be fairly certain that, contrary to Josephine’s original story that the fliers were shot by the Japanese soon after their arrival on Saipan, Amelia and Fred did survive for a still-undermined time before meeting their ends.
Whether the plane that “belly landed” in Tanapag Harbor, as Josephine described it to Sheft, who was later indirectly quoted by Briand in his book, was a Japanese seaplane or land-based aircraft is still not known, and remains one of the more nagging of many unresolved questions in the Earhart-arrival-on-Saipan scenario.
But these are the natural problems that arise when a 34-year-old woman is relating an incident she witnessed as a youth of 11. Josephine Blanco Akiyama will always be remembered as the first and best known of the Saipan witnesses, whose account as initially reported by Briand spurred Goerner’s four highly publicized investigative trips to Saipan, and without which Goerner’s blockbuster The Search for Amelia Earhart would never have been written.
In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it was Josephine’s story that made it possible for a few intrepid truth seekers to break through the decades-old establishment truth embargo and set out upon the real modern search for Amelia Earhart. It is no small distinction.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart knows about Fred Goerner and his 1966 classic The Search for Amelia Earhart. Goerner’s book remains the only bestseller ever penned about the Earhart case, and it opened the doors for other researchers, including this one, to continue the quest to establish the truth about what has evolved into one of the greatest travesties and cover-ups in modern American history.
But the popular San Francisco radio newsman would have never known about Amelia Earhart had it not been for the fine work of San Mateo Times reporter Linwood McGuire Day, whose groundbreaking stories set the stage for everything that was to come in the real modern-day search for Amelia Earhart. On May 27, 1960, a full-page headline adorned the top of page 1 of The Times, exclaiming, “San Matean Says Japanese Executed Amelia Earhart.” The first of many of Day’s reports, titled “Woman’s Story: Aviatrix Died Before Saipan Firing Squad,” began:
A San Mateo woman who may have been one of the last to see Amelia Earhart alive, says that the famed aviatrix was executed by a Japanese firing squad even while the U.S. Navy was spending $4,000,000 in a futile search for the missing flier and her navigator, Frederick Noonan.
Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama of 15 South Idaho Street, has identified pictures of Amelia as the “American lady pilot” she saw taken into custody on the fortress island of Saipan in July 1937. The woman flier was accompanied by a man, she said, an American also dressed in aviator’s garb.
Little more than a month later, the front page of the July 1, 1960 Times, with its 100-point headline, “AMELIA EARHART MYSTERY IS SOLVED” rocked the nation. As true today as it was 54 years ago, the page is framed and mounted on my study wall, and it never fails to inspire. Even in 1960, though hundreds of newspapers ran Day’s story, and United Press International, then one of the preeminent news wires in the world, picked it up immediately, no trace of it can be found in the major papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times. Apparently, the word came down quickly from the nation’s power centers that the truth in the Earhart story was off limits, and it’s remained so to this day.
I always wondered about Linwood Day, the forgotten scribe who produced so many great stories in May, June and July of 1960, stories that rattled cages across the country and reverberated all the way to the halls of Congress. Quite serendipitously, I recently came across Linwood Day and his daughter Beverly’s names in a state of Maine genealogy chat room discussion. A few more steps and a kind cousin provided Beverly’s email address, as well as her snail mail. Soon we were talking on the phone, and she was happy to share her memories of her father’s days on the Earhart story, and how much it meant to him.
A byline in a family newspaper
“Goerner contacted him because he saw the newspaper story that came out that my dad wrote,” Beverly told me from her home in Waterville, Maine. “He told me a lot about his conversation with her [Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose account was first reported by Paul Briand Jr. in his little-known 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky]. What sticks with me is that my father was absolutely certain that she was correct about the fact that Earhart and Noonan died on Saipan, and that it was the Japanese that had taken them there and that Josephine was a young girl at the time but she saw them being pushed through the jungle. And they went to this military barracks kind of thing where they imprisoned them.”
But while Day’s stories transfixed the nation and launched Goerner on his life’s mission, the public never heard the rest of the story, the story behind the story, so to speak, and it wasn’t a happy one. Goerner got all the glory and wrote the famous book. Linwood Day got a byline in a family newspaper, and that was it, except perhaps his own satisfaction in a job well done.
For Goerner, it was always about himself, about fame and celebrity, narcissism and greed. Sure, he was a great radio newsman and is still the most important Earhart researcher ever, but Fred Goerner wasn’t a nice guy, not by any stretch. Many anecdotes I’ve heard in recent years attest to this unhappy fact, and I don’t enjoy reporting it. Moreover, I’ve kept the most disturbing things I’ve learned about Goerner off the pages of this blog, and will continue to do so.
From the first time Goerner saw Day’s story, he determined to make it his own. One fact I was unaware of until talking to Beverly was that beginning with the July 1, 1960 shocker, the Earhart stories her father produced were written with information Goerner provided over the phone. Day was never sent to Saipan to cover Goerner’s investigations in the summer of 1960, the first of his four visits to the island prior to the publication of Search.
“My dad was really upset,” Beverly recalled. “The deal was Goerner got his station [KCBS] to send him to Saipan, while my dad tried to get the newspaper to send him along and they refused. … He was heartbroken about not being able to go to Saipan when KCBS sent Goerner. … My dad was the real writer. It was ridiculous, because Goerner came in on it after my dad had started this whole thing. It was like he all of a sudden took over and took all the credit. My dad was going to write a book about it and Goerner said, “No, no. We can work on this book together.
And then he wrote the book and never gave my dad credit for anything. … My father was livid. He called Goerner and they argued on the phone, and I remember that because I remember my father slamming the phone down and pacing back and forth in his den. His face was just blood red. I had never seen my dad so angry, and you can imagine how he felt because he had to convince the Times to run the Earhart story. At first they were very nervous about doing this because ‘How do you know this is true’ and ‘Are we going to be liable?’ blah, blah, blah. But my dad was such a good reporter. Not only did he know how to write, he knew how to tell a story, how to pull it all together.
“He gave Goerner all this information” she continued, “what questions to ask, he told him who talk to [on Saipan], he told him everything. He totally screwed my dad; it did not end well.” A check of The Search for Amelia Earhart reveals just one single mention of Linwood Day. On page 2, Goerner wrote about how he initially became involved with the Earhart story: “Intrigued, I called Lin Day, the Times newsman who had written the story.” And that was it for the man Goerner promised co-authorship of the book that was to become the definitive Earhart work and turn Goerner a national celebrity.
“He [Day] was very charismatic … a great intellectual and he had a way of getting people to talk to him,” Beverly said. “He was very professorial and had an innate grasp on history. He was always interested in the way things happened. I mean he did a lot of firsts. He was the first reporter on an atomic submarine … and then wrote about what it was like.” Indeed, an archive search of the San Mateo Times revealed an October 1964 story headlined “Staff Travels Around Globe” with the statement, “Linwood Day spent two days beneath the ocean in an atomic submarine.”
Another story in the same October 1964 issue, titled “Times News Staff Builds Top Record in its Coverage,” tells us that “Lin Day has served seven years with the staff and gained his experience in Philadelphia and Maine journalism. He was formerly on the staff of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, and San Jose (California) Mercury,” as well as the Maine Sunday Telegram. Most importantly, “Day’s coverage of the Search for Amelia Earhart brought The Times worldwide attention.”
“Discourses” with presidents and kings
Linwood Day spent most of his days in San Mateo at the Times, where he was eventually promoted to editor, recalled Beverly. “He first edited The Post, a ‘weekly grocery rag’ put out by the San Mateo Times, and he did something unexpected,” she said. “He applied the tenacious spirit and dedication to detail that had made him a great reporter to molding The Post into something people actually wanted to read. And read they did. The Post’s circulation increased fourfold. And Lin Day? He was swiftly moved over to a new position — editor of the San Mateo Times. Besides his editing duties, my Dad also served as the Times Food Editor — — which I remember all too well as he would get tons of free coupons for ‘a hand-packed quart’ of Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors Ice Cream. Ah, to be a kid again.”
Beverly also worked as a journalist before branching off into a multifaceted writing and high-tech marketing career that included positions with Cray Supercomputers, Lockheed Martin and the advertising agency VIA in Portland, Maine. She laughs when talking about her last position with the famed Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, Maine saying “I could probably tell you more than you ever wanted to know about 3,000 strains of inbred mice.”
An animal lover, she’s also owned Arabian horses for many years and has been breeding Maine Coon Cats since 1993, with an eye toward earning a Grand Championship for her 9-month-old Maine Coon cat, Honeycoon Sir Braeburn during the next show season. “Like my Dad, I love a challenge and have a very competitive spirit,” she said.
When asked what she most remembers about her Dad, she answers, “His growl! Friends of Dad used to joke that when he was on a story he was like a bulldog, he just wouldn’t let go. He developed the habit that whenever he finished a story he would let out this great terrier growl. The only time I don’t recall the growl was when he was on the Amelia Earhart story.” Why no growl? “To my Dad the Amelia Earhart story wasn’t finished yet, Beverly recalled. “There was more, much more to be written.”
Beverly spoke fondly of a childhood spent mainly with her father, who took the family to California when she was 4 but was divorced her mother four years later. “It was just my dad and me from the age of 8 till I was 13 or 14 when he married for the second time,” she said. “So from that age, I was the one he talked to and I was mature for my age because I had to be. He would take me with him on stories. I would accompany him all over the place. If there was a fire engine passing, he would jump in the car and I would jump in the car and off we’d go.” Linwood Day, without doubt, often caught up with the fire engine or whatever else he was chasing for a story during his heyday at the San Mateo Times.
Below is a list of just a few of the many memories – “random facts” – about her father that Beverly created on short notice:
- He was heavily involved in political writing and mentions that he “walked the floor of Philadelphia’s Convention Hall with Jim Farley, stood by as Harry Truman ‘gave ’em hell,’ sat on the floor in dim hotel rooms with Henry Wallace Progressives, and accompanied the Goldwater crusaders in their epic San Francisco takeover.”
- He interviewed, “or discoursed with” (his words) President Richard Nixon, President John F. Kennedy, Estes Kefauver, Harold Stassen, Joe Martin, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Edward VIII of England and Robert Frost.
- He wrote a speech for Nixon when he was running for Governor of California.
- He received a brief note from Ronald Reagan when he was Gov. of Calif. thanking him for his book [The Constitutional Conservative: The Poetry of a Cause, 1972] and saying, “I enjoyed reading it and found much food for thought.”
“My father could talk anyone into just about anything,” Beverly wrote, “and somewhere I have a picture of him getting the head of a museum in San Francisco along with the Egyptian liaison – well – he got them to let him try on King Tut’s ring – when the King Tut Exhibit came to California.”
Linwood McGuire Day was born in 1917 and attended the University of Maine in Orono, majored in history and journalism and graduated about 1941. He retired at age 68 and spent the remaining years of his life in Davis, California, where he died in 2003 at age 85. I like to think that Amelia was among the first to welcome him at the Pearly Gates, and that she thanked him profusely for all he did to tell the world the truth about her sad end on Saipan.