The world is a-twit yet again over “proof” that Amelia Earhart survived her crash at sea on July 2, 1937, and then to be picked up by the Japanese and taken to the Marshall Islands, at that time a Japanese mandate. Logically, the next step would have been to take her to Saipan, the capital of the Japanese mandated islands in the Pacific.
The legend has been with us since the early 1960s. CBS radio journalist Fred Goerner lit the airwaves on fire with his 5 year investigation which culminated in his book The Search for Amelia Earhart (1966). It is the godfather of all search for Amelia Earhart books. It started the genre. None have come close to its sales. Goerner had the tacit backing of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. CBS backed him on more than one expedition to Saipan. The Navy accommodated him.
It escalated from there with many other books– Joe Gervais’ bizarre Amelia Earhart Lives which lasted 7 weeks before it was pulled by McGraw-Hill under threat of lawsuit by the woman named in there as the living, breathing Earhart. In this case breathing fire at Gervais for claiming it. Irene Bolam wasn’t too happy that she was declared to be Earhart hiding out.
An angry Irene Bolam ravages Gervais’ book at a press conference.
Many to this day do not believe that Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan just crashed and sank. Her psychic friend and the head of the WACs, Jacqueline Cochran, believed she drifted for a couple of days and then died at sea. Earhart’s husband, GP Putnam, thought it worth pursuing at the time, but nothing came of it.
Goerner didn’t follow such intuitions, but he had picked up stories that a white female pilot had been seen before the war in the Marshall Islands. This island group is about 800 miles off course from Earhart’s intended destination of Howland Island. He followed up on these rumors and came upon a native (Elieu) who knew of a Japanese merchant named Agima who had told him at the time that an American female pilot had come down near Jaluit before the war. Goerner also came across some US Naval intelligence men who had worked that angle at the liberation of Kwajalein in 1944, also in the Marshall Islands. Liberating soldiers had heard the stories of a white woman pilot and immediately thought of Earhart.
Goerner followed the stories to Saipan. Actually, it had begun at Saipan. It had started in 1959 when a native of Saipan, now a dental assistant in San Mateo, got news coverage for telling her story about seeing the execution of a white man and woman pilot at Saipan some years before the war. They were landed at the beach and then led into the forest of palms and she heard the gunfire.
That memory sounds like it recalls the execution of two US pilots, an event that could have happened during the war, not years before. More information over the decades has revealed much to dissolve the theory that Earhart and Noonan were executed on Saipan. The Japanese governor had no such authority, and Japan was keenly aware that we were looking for Earhart. They had offered to help. Emperor Hirohito’s brother even got involved and wanted to meet Earhart. In short, the Japanese were not ignorant of Amelia Earhart, and no island governor would have had the authority to execute Earhart at all.
Research also showed how Goerner had guessed a bit. Earhart’s Electra could never have reached the Marshall Islands. He came to accept this and in the 1970s basically opted to believe a variation of Joe Gervais theory that Earhart had ditched on Winslow Reef in the Phoenix group and was there picked up by the Japanese and taken to Jaluit or some such island in the Marshall group before being taken to Saipan.
In essence, the theory of Earhart in Saipan remained intact. It was altered only a little as to how she had come to the Marshall Islands. All theories allowed for Earhart to be taken to Saipan.
Nevertheless, Amelia Earhart’s disappearance remains devastating to all theories. None can account for it in light of later discoveries. The Japanese would not have executed Amelia. Indeed, they probably would have brought her to Tokyo, were Hirohito’s brother was eager to meet her.
So what it comes down to is that Earhart’s disappearance washes the logic out of all theories that place her in the Marshall Islands (by however means she got there) and then on Saipan.
The only truly new thing the discovery of that picture in the National Archives could possibly bring to us is proof that Earhart was in the Marshall Islands, as the legends had always said since WWII. This indeed would open up a can of worms. But the History Channel documentary on the discovery brings us nothing else that is truly new in the theorizing. Proof she was indeed there is dynamite, but it is dynamite that doesn’t make sense given the fact that Earhart vanished. It is impossible the Japanese would have killed her. It is inconceivable that Hirohito’s brother would have kept her and killed Noonan.
Yet Goerner tells us that Nimitz believed the truth behind the Earhart story was fantastic. . .but he couldn’t tell the CBS journalist.
Let’s consider the newly found “proof” to see if Goerner was right in following the Marshall Islands lead to Saipan, and to see if Admiral Nimitz really had grounds (more than scuttlebutt) to believe Earhart’s fate was truly incredible.
Office of Naval Intelligence photo dated to 1940. It shows Japanese freighters in the harbor, locals on the dock, and what is said to be a white woman sitting down and a white man standing amongst them by the sign.
The photo marked Jaluit Harbor was actually found in the photos for 1940, not 1937 when Earhart vanished. She is supposedly the female figure sitting on the dock with her back to the camera, and Noonan is standing with one hand on the sign post. Noonan has been identified with the figure because they have the same hairline. Well, let’s don’t dwell on that. The seated Amelia figure presents a problem. “She” is said to have hair too long for a man of that period. True, but not true necessarily of natives. “She” is also dressed in the same island attire and color contrast as more than one of the men on the dock around her. This includes the light shirt with elbow length sleeves and no collar. Curious.
The ship in the background most definitely is not carrying an Electra off its stern. Whatever that object is it doesn’t have a prominent engine, left wing, and seems to be attached to the barge behind the freighter.
On the whole the picture leaves one wanting. It neither proves nor disproves the theories that Earhart was in the Marshall Islands before the war. It may be true. Nimitz may have been right. These stories were intact when American marines liberated the islands. But the picture doesn’t prove anything. This means we go nowhere. The theories are recycled and, sadly, what’s new is that they are made to sound new. They aren’t.
Ironically, EVERY person who has asserted that Earhart survived her crash at sea starts with Josephine Akiyama’s story in 1959. Yet NONE of them believe it. It is too crisp, too quick, too unexplained an ending. They rather rewrite it all. They prolong Earhart’s life in a prison cell, in a compound, or even leaving Saipan and becoming Tokyo Rose. Yet Akiyama’s story is what brought them all to Saipan to discover (and then promote) the contradictory stories of a white woman pilot living on the island, one who now lived there for a time and then vanished or died.
There is, in fact, only the most fleeting wisps of legend that speak of a “white woman pilot” in the Marshall Islands before the war. They stem from a Japanese merchant named Agima who said that Japanese Navy sailors had said a pilot went down near Jaluit. Nimitz may have believed it and may have believed the evidence was still there for Goerner to discover.
Yet it is just as possible that the Japanese sailors had said they were looking in that area for a woman pilot who was believed to have gone down. Remember, they had been informed and Japan said they would search. From there perhaps the story escalated to this white woman pilot actually being on the island; rather just like Akiyama’s terse story has been stretched to include volumes of theory about Earhart’s stay on Saipan.
So far, there is no proof. And, sadly, the photo is no proof either.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.