Highlights From the Forum
May 3 through 9, 1999
I'm gonna do this before someone else does. I'm going to outline a (gasp!) conspiracy to explain the missing Buttonwood logs. Let me be the first to say this is pure fantasy but it's useful to lay these things out to be considered, debated and almost always disproved. In the process, we're bound to learn something. With those caveats and rationales in mind - here we go.
It's March of 1946 and the Coast Guard is busily dismantling the Loran station on Gardner. (FACT) Chief Carpenter's Mate Floyd Kilts hears a wild story about bones and Amelia Earhart from an island resident (FACT) and (SPECULATION FROM HERE ON) tells his commanding officer who makes some further inquiries. Lo and behold, the CO is ultimately shown an old airplane wreck back in the bush which he suspects just might be Earhart's. He doesn't say anything about it to the enlisted men, of course, but he does report it to his superiors when he gets back to port and word goes all the way up to Coast Guard HQ in Groton, CT.
This creates something of a dilemma for the Coast Guard. Nine years ago they told everybody that she crashed at sea and the great Coast Guard/Navy search that failed to find her never really had a chance anyway. All those radio messages were either hoaxes or misunderstandings. Nobody screwed up - except Earhart.
Now it turns out that the damned airplane may be on one of the islands that was suspected in 1937. If Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan died marooned on a desert island it could be very embarrassing for the Coast Guard. Better check it out.
In January 1947 the Buttonwood is scheduled to be down that way anyway, so they put a young officer from Groton (somebody's aide) aboard with specific instructions to check out this airplane wreck on Gardner. As a cover story, word is spread that this guy is being disciplined for some indiscretion. He doesn't really get left a Gardner (Skellie is simply misremembering that part) but he does go ashore and is taken to the wreck (as described by Tapania) where he confirms that - son of a gun - it is NR16020. He takes a picture of the wreck but he's not much of a photographer and it's not a very good picture. He leaves Buttonwood when the ship gets to Pago Pago and flies home to Groton with the bad news.
Now what? The natives claim that the bones were dumped in the ocean, so there are no human remains to worry about. (Nobody knows about the bones that were sent to Fiji.) In the past ten years, interest in Earhart has faded. There were a few wartime rumors about her being captured by the Japanese after that Hollywood film came out, but otherwise nobody is worrying about Amelia Earhart. Dead issue. Why dig it up? It wouldn't change anything except to bring discredit to the Coast Guard. Let's just forget it.
The only written record is the log of the Buttonwood for that period. The captain was probably in on the deal and the log will at least make some reference to secret orders. That log will have to get misplaced.
Like I said, the above is fantasy - or you might call it a reasonable hypothesis constructed to explain the known facts.
Love to mother,
> Also, Tom Van Hare
says that the logs before October 1947 are missing.
All prior to October 1947. We've got copies from that point forward. Also, we ran copies for the other two ships that were mentioned. Finally, we're hot on the trail of a VERY extensive survey done prior to the installation of the LORAN.
> Are Coast Guard
ships' logs all in one volume or are they in
Archives actually keeps things in boxes and we've searched the entire box, as well as the ones before and after it. It simply isn't there. The on staff archivists are also in agreement that that specific box is where the earlier logs should have been.
Thomas Van Hare
Because ALL the logs prior to October 1947 are missing, and under the maxim "Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by mere negligence." I would say that chances are the logs are missing due to a screw up rather than a cover up.
Good news! We believe we have identified Ruby. Bad news! It appears she is probably now deceased. The staff at Malvern Girls' College is really getting into this. I have invited them to join the forum. Attached is Mrs. Hardy's letter.
Dear Mr Watson
Great news, I hope!! We have found Ruby.
Ruby appears on our staff listing for the period from 1918 - 1945. Her full name was Ruby Helena Margetts, the only address we have for her is: St.Mary's, West Malvern. Her date of birth: July 3rd, 1885. She was employed here first in 1918 as a music mistress, teaching piano. We believe that she also taught at the same time at Abbotshill and The Priory (possibly other small schools in the area), but from Autumn term 1939 she was resident and employed here at a salary of 200 pounds per year. (While teaching piano, prior to this, she charged 2 pounds 12s 6d per pupil!!) possibly a year?
She was resident at Hatley St. George, which was the primary school area of Malvern Girls' College, which is why she went to Horsington, since that is where they were all evacuated to. Her salary eventually rose to 352 pounds in 1945. After this we have no further records. Her qualifications included 2 R.A.M and A.R.C.M. and she went to London College.
It would seem from her date of birth that Ruby is now dead, however we may be able to find out more by tracing the house that she lived in in West Malvern, and then if possible find where she is buried and follow further leads from this. Mrs Pam Hurle & Miss Bailey here in college have become fascinated by the project and so have rushed away to delve deeper into local records. I hope that we have further news shortly.
I hope that all this news is of some use to you. Do let me know if you wish us to pursue this search any further, we are all becoming enthralled here.
Way to go Jon! Yes, I'd say it's a safe bet that Ruby has passed on. I'm frankly quite surprised that she was 27 years Gerald's senior. From the tone of her letter I would have thought she was his contemporary.
I do hope that the folks from the college join the forum. In any event, please pass along my sincere thanks for their help.
I talked to our original informant, Dan Skellie, again last night. There is another aspect to the story that he reminded me of and which I had forgotten about.
According to Skellie, after the Buttonwood dropped off the unattached officer at Gardner, the ship proceeded southward to Apia, which was then British Samoa (now Western Samoa) and then to Pago Pago, American Samoa where the captain - much to the crew's astonishment - flew to Fiji for a "vacation." Skellie thinks he was gone about a week. This was VERY unusual, especially because Fiji was considered by the American sailors to be "a stinking hole, hot and dry, where the people all smelled of fish" whereas Pago Pago was considered to be a highly desirable liberty port. (These days it's pretty much the reverse of that.)
The crew, of course, was delighted to have the old man gone, especially since he was something of a disciplinarian much given to assigning extra duty for minor infractions. Skellie doesn't know whether the captain's flight to Fiji was via military or civilian aircraft, but there was an American military airbase at Pago Pago at that time. (I wonder if civilian air service from Pago to Fiji was even available then. We should be able to find out.)
Skellie remembers that the captain's name was Lieutenant Commander J. L. Jenkins. He also gave me the names and phone numbers of three of his shipmates with whom he has stayed in touch. I talked to two of them with the following results:
Frederick Avery really doesn't remember much about the cruise. He has a "shellback certificate" dated January 9, 1947 just like Skellie but he only remembers calling at Howland, Baker, Canton and Apia. He does remember something about there being someone aboard who wasn't a member of the crew. Avery doesn't dispute anything Skellie has said. He just doesn't remember as much.
William Catron similarly has few memories of that cruise. All the islands were the same to him. He remembers that at one island they just waited on the seashore with a lot of birds while the officers did something. (This sounds like Skellie's description of Howland.) He says he never did know the purpose of that whole trip and it seemed to him like just busywork. He does remember that the captain went "to the Fijis."
I have another Buttonwooder to talk to this evening. Ed Ziegler reportedly has very clear memories of that cruise. We'll see.
So....how might this flight to Fiji fit into our fantasy? Try this:
While photographing the airplane wreck on Gardner with the unattached officer, the captain hears credible local stories about how bones were sent to Fiji. Maybe he even sees Gallagher's correspondence file. In any event, he decides that this needs checking out. After leaving Gardner the ship goes to the closest British possession, Apia, and Jenkins makes inquiries and perhaps the local British authorities contact the WPHC in Suva. I've checked the Service Histories and by 1947 all the players in the bone drama of 1940/41 are either dead or gone (except I'm not sure about Henry Vaskess, the Secretary. The last record we have of him he is Assistant High Commissioner in 1942.). Whatever Jenkins does or doesn't find out in Apia, he flies to Fiji to run this thing down.
There is no entry about any of this in the WPHC file about the bones, so apparently Jenkins' inquiries never got that far. Maybe Dr. Hoodless was still around (do we have that information?) or maybe somebody else remembered that the bones had ultimately been dismissed as being male and not associated with the Earhart flight. In any event there is nothing to worry about. Jenkins returns to his ship and the matter is closed. Lots of questions remain. Was an officer really left on Gardner? Or did he go to Fiji with Jenkins? And let's remember that ALL of this, at this point, is based upon anecdote. We do not yet have any real evidence that Buttonwood went to Gardner at all.
Let's see what Ed Ziegler has to say.
Love to mother,
Yeah, let's PLEASE remember that the whole Buttonwood fantasy is just that -- a "just so" story based on a plausible interpretation of anecdotal and negative evidence. Worth pursuing, certainly, but let's not get too attached to it.
I tried to call Ed Ziegler last night. No answer. I'll try again today.
At this point we have no real evidence that Buttonwood ever called at Gardner. So far, only Skellie has made that allegation. He and Avery have "shellback certificates" dated Jan. 9, 1947 and both are quite sure about what ship they served on (duh), so we can be reasonably that Buttonwood crossed the equator on 1/9/47. Skellie and Catron both recall that there was some non-crewmember aboard, so that part of the story is supported by two anecdotal recollections. Skellie and Catron also agree that the captain went "to the Fijis" from Pago Pago.
At this point, that's all we have. Whenever the conspiracy urge strikes, chant this mantra:
ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE IS NOT PROOF OF A COVER UP
(in response to some discussion over whether the crossing-the-line ceremony aboard Colorado happened late)
The Colorado crossed the equator 7 July, sometime between 1435 and 1645. At that time the planes were searching for Winslow Reef and Reef and Sand Bank. Friedell's report states that the planes were recovered that afternoon "in a position south of the Equator in Longitude 174 degrees 30 minutes West. The Gardner search was conducted 9 July. So if the ceremony was held on the 9th it had been delayed by two days. Friedell does explicitly say on page 12 of the Colorado report that they were delayed: "The fact of crossing the equator was not neglected by Neptunus Rex and his court, although they postponed their visit in order not to interfere with the operations in connection with the search."
One other previous discussion item - the Itasca smoke fiasco. Near the end of the search, the commander of the Itasca sent a message to the Lexington stating "Itasca had laid heavy smoke screen for TWO HOURS which had not disintegrated and clearly visible from south and east for 40 miles or more at altitude one thousand."
The more I look at that report the more real it becomes. I keep wanting them to make a few more circles of Gardner.
Thanks for digging that out. Thompson (captain of Itasca) sent that message on 7/16/37. It really is quite amazing for the assumptions and apparent fictions that it contains. The complete text is as follows. I have edited it into sentences, inserted punctuation, and added small words in () for readability. Message is in all caps. My comments are in lower case.
The message in in response to this request from the captain of the Lexington who has just taken over command of the search:
ASSUMING THAT EARHART PLANE OR RUBBER BOAT STILL AFLOAT, PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR ESTIMATE, AS OF NOON TODAY, MOST PROBABLE POSITION FIRST OF PLANE (and) SECONDLY, OF RUBBER BOAT.
To which Thompson replies:
ON ASSUMPTIONS GIVEN
(below), ESTIMATE MOST PROBABLY AREA (of) ORIGIN LATITUDE 2 NORTH, LONGITUDE
179.30 EAST; THENCE LATITUDE 5 NORTH, LONGITUDE 178.15 EAST; THENCE LATITUDE
5 NORTH, LONGITUDE 175.45 EAST; THENCE LATITUDE 2 NORTH LONGITUDE 177.5
EAST; THEN TO ORIGIN.
According to Itasca's deck log, she started putting down smoke at 06:14 local time. Thompson here claims that she continued laying smoke for 2 hours, or until 08:14. As Bob Brandenburg has pointed out, it is highly unlikely that the ship could have made smoke for more than about 30 minutes without causing damage to the ship's boiler. Earhart did not arrive in what she believed to be the vicinity of Howland until 07:42 and the last transmission Itasca heard was at 08:43 (a half hour after Thompson says the smoke stopped). Itasca never told Earhart that the ship would be making smoke and it appears very likely that there was no smoke for Earhart to see at the time she may have been close enough to see it.
DOUBTFUL IF (smoke) VISIBLE OVER 20 MILES FROM NORTH AND WEST, SIGNAL STRENGTH AND LINE OF POSITION WOULD INDICATE EARHART RECKONING CORRECT AS FOR DISTANCE THOUGH SHE PROBABLY CARRIED LINE OF POSITION EAST BEFORE CIRCLING AND AFTERWARD PROBABLY FLEW NORTH AND SOUTH ON THIS LINE.
Thompson can't seem to make up his mind whether the clouds he says were to the northwest were 50 or 20 miles away. He provides no explanation for why he thinks that she "carried line of position east before circling." The very notion that Earhart ever said she was "circling" seems, from the appearance of the original radio log, to have been an after-the-fact assumption.
HER REPORTS INDICATE HIGH FLIGHT WITH OVERCAST AND CLOUDY WEATHER AND EVIDENTLY FLYING IN CLURDS [sic] UNTIL THE LAST FEW MINUTES OF FLIGHT.
This allegation is absolutely unsupported by the Itasca's original radio logs. Earhart never said any such thing.
SIGNAL STRENGTH INDICATES THE MAXIMUM DISTANCE 250 (miles). ESTIMATED PLANE DOWN WITHIN 250 MILES OF HOWLAND BETWEEN 337 (degrees) AND 45 (degrees) TRUE AND NOT NEARER THAN 30 MILES. AT LATTER DISTANCE COULD NOT HAVE FAILED TO SEE SMOKE SCREEN IF SHE PASSED SOUTH.
There appears to be no legitimate basis for such an estimate.
OUR EXPERIENCES (are that) SEA AND WIND DRIFT (of) THIS VESSEL (are) MAXIMUM 1 MILE (per hour?) (in the direction of) 270 (degrees) AND DOUBT IF PLANE OR LIFEBOAT WOULD EXCEED (this rate of drift). ON THESE ASSUMPTIONS MOST PROBABLE AREA AS OF 1200 TODAY (is) AS INDICATED ABOVE.
(The fact that Noonan was an) EXCELLENT NAVIGATOR AND EXPERIENCED, JUSTIFY ASSUMPTION (that the) PLANE (came) DOWN ON LINE OF POSITION OR THAT (the) LINE (of Position was) ADVANCED EASTWARD ONE HOUR ON LINE OF FLIGHT WHICH ASSUME WAS APPROXIMATELY 78 TRUE FROM LAE.
If Noonan was such a good navigator, why would he overshoot Howland by a full hour?
Love to mother,
I finally interviewed Buttonwood crewmember Ed Ziegler last night and, not surprisingly, his recollections are somewhat different from everybody else's.
For one thing, Ziegler is quite sure that all of this happened in 1946, not 1947 (despite the fact that he acknowledges that he crossed the Equator for the first time with his shipmates Skellie and Avery, both of whose "shellback certificates" are dated Jan. 9,1947). Ziegler's conviction is based upon his memory that this cruise came before the ship's participation in Operation Crossroads (the Bikini atomic bomb tests) which happened in 1946.
Anyway, he at least has something that passes for documentation of where they went. During each cruise the yeoman would print out the Sailing Directions for each island the ship visited and pass them out to the crew. Ziegler still has his for this cruise and he is photocopying them for me. Gardner is one of the islands.
He remembers no unattached officer being left at Gardner or even being along on the cruise. In his recollection they spent a couple of days at Gardner doing the same thing they did at the other islands they visited - not much.
He remembers that Gardner had "lots of palm trees, brush, and lots and lots of sharks" (yup, sounds about right). There was "an old Navy warehouse" there, but no current installation. There were a couple of jeeps that they got running and drove around the island, and a flat-bottomed boat that they used from a dock that had been built out into the lagoon (there was such a boat and dock at the Loran station as well as at least one vehicle). He says they found a diving helmet in the "warehouse" and took turns using it in the lagoon.
There were natives on the island, some of whom spoke English, and who sang God Bless America for the visitors. At first he said they sang "God Save The King" and then corrected himself. I suspect that they actually sang "America" ( you know, My country, 'tis of thee...) which would be a tune they already knew. Ziegler remembers nothing about any airplane wreckage at Gardner.
According to Ziegler, after Buttonwood left Gardner they got a radio message to return to the island because rising water was threatening to inundate the whole place, but when they got there it turned out to be nothing more than an unusually high tide which had already subsided. (This sounds really strange.)
Ziegler doesn't remember the captain's name and has no recollection of him going to Fiji, but he is sure that they went to Pago Pago because he had to go into the hospital there for a leg infection. He also remembers sneaking out to party with the local women.
Bottom line: I sure wish we had those logs. It does look like Buttonwood went to Gardner early in 1947 and some hard-to-explain things may have happened. At this point Buttonwood is still our best theoretical source for the "white men in a government ship" who allegedly photographed the airplane parts. More anecdotes from more veterans may help, but may also serve to merely confuse the issue more. This is the hardest kind of research there is. The best we can hope for is that the inevitably conflicting stories may lead us to real evidence of what actually happened.
Love to mother,
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