Tuesday, May 28, 2013

1944 Aslito airfield photo does not show Earhart’s plane

From CDR William H. Balden, USNR collection

BY ALEXIE VILLEGAS ZOTOMAYOR
Associate Editor / Reporter 
Marianas Variety 
www.mvariety.net
A photograph of Aslito airfield taken right after the invasion of Saipan reveals that Amelia Earhart’s plane was not in the hangar as some people claimed.
In an email to Variety, inventor and Amelia Earhart researcher and aficionado David F. Pawlowski said, “I have to be very honest with you and say up front that further research on the image in question revealed that it likely does NOT show Amelia Earhart’s Electra. The image likely shows just more Japanese fighter aircraft that were known to be captured at the airfield when it was overrun after being found largely deserted the morning of June 18, 1944.”

The photo Pawlowski was referring to is one of the photographs in the collection of CDR William H. Balden, USNR, who documented his World War II service.

Pawlowski told Variety that one of the Japanese Zero’s found in Aslito airfield is now in the U.S. Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Pawlowski described for Variety that the photo “shows a Marine guard on an outer perimeter to one of the central hangars. If you blow up the photo you can see in the background a pair of U.S. Navy Shore Patrol equipped with their regulation Sam Brown belts standing in front of a tarped aircraft. Another shot I found suggests the aircraft seen in the background in the hangar are Japanese Zeros.”

Pawlowski also said the photo shows a Japanese aircraft captured on Aslito airfield.

“The photo was taken in the central region of the original airfield prior to its radical reconstruction by U.S. Navy Seabees. The photo was taken by a U.S. Naval Aviator flying off of the USS Enterprise, Lt. William Balden.   He and his fellow aviators, as well as a P-47 fighter group from the US Army Air Corps were rapidly put on the island during the drive by the USMC and Army on central and northern Saipan and were also tasked to bomb neighboring Tinian in the days before, during and after the invasion on that island,” said Pawlowski.

He also said that the same group of fliers participated in the confrontation between the Imperial Japanese Navy and the U.S. Navy known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.”

Pawlowski also told Variety that several official Naval photos exist of Admiral Nimitz as well as the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral King visiting Aslito airfield on Saipan to speak to USMC General Holland Smith and the ranking general of the U.S. Army in July of 1944.

Pawlowski said at least one enlisted man has claimed in public to have seen what he believed was the highest ranking Navy leadership at the alleged hangar site believed to be containing Earhart’s plane.

He also said there were other photographs showing Nimitz briefing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt just a few weeks later at Pearl Harbor in the company of Admiral Leahy and General Douglas MacArthur known to be debating the future course of the war — either to invade the Philippines first, invade Taiwan or invade Iwo Jima and begin forward basing of an air bombing and invasion fleet.

To verify whether the stories of Earhart’s plane being hidden in a hangar in Aslito were true, Pawlowski said the answers may be found in the archives.

“If the anecdotes and hearsay claims are true regarding Earhart’s presence on Saipan as late as April or May of 1944, it is quite plausible that officers and enlisted types may have taken pictures of Earhart’s plane with their personal cameras before the area was secured and the decision on high was made to destroy it.”

Citing what he called the conspiracy theory lore of Earhart on Saipan, Pawlowski said the Roosevelt administration and the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence dropped a blanket of secrecy on the matter.

“Any photos taken by Naval, Marine or Army combat photographers were confiscated and forwarded to the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence for collection (and most likely destruction),” said Pawlowski.

He also said Admiral Nimitz returned to Pearl Harbor and met personally with Admiral Leahy — personal chief of staff to President Roosevelt and unofficial vice president —President Roosevelt and General MacArthur in August of 1944 at Pearl Harbor.

“The only photos that likely show anything of interest are now in private hands but likely hidden from view much like historic accounts now coming forward from Chammorans [Chamorros] on Saipan or Guam or from aging U.S. military veterans or possibly even former residents and their families living in Japan,” said Pawlowski.

Pawlowski said, given the untimely death of President Roosevelt in 1945, and the attributed comments made by Harry Truman in April 1945 that he was kept in the dark on virtually everything — e.g., The Manhattan atomic bomb project — that was being run by the president and his military staff that effectively ran the country with little oversight from a prying Congress.  

“It is plausible that anything related to Earhart was looked upon as a distraction given the pressing need to win the war in the Pacific. If the famed U.S. Navy cryptographers had ever intercepted a Japanese diplomatic or military message and determined that Earhart was present or had died on Saipan then they likely would have made any search for information a very low priority for action after the war's conclusion,” he said.

He also said that it is known in the open literature that Jackie Cochran, the flier friend of Earhart and wife of Floyd Odlum — American millionaire who helped run Howard Hughes’ business holdings — was tasked by the U.S. Army Generals to immediately enter Japan in uniform just days after the surrender.

“It is also known that she is claimed to have gone through the Japanese military intelligence files looking for unspecified records. She wrote later in her autobiography that she found only press clippings regarding Earhart. If some of the wild rumors are true and the U.S. military intelligence actually located a movie of Amelia ‘confessing’ to being a spy, then it long ago disappeared into the dust bin of history to protect the powerful politicians and military leaders from accusations that they failed Earhart and Noonan,” said Pawlowski.

He also said, “We will likely never know what happened to Earhart and Noonan, but like so many Chammoros, Japanese and Americans who died in the tragedy that was WWII, all their cherished memories will be kept alive lest we forget the past and doom our selves to repeating it.”

For those interested to see a copy of the photo, go to the archives of the National Museum of Naval Aviation http://collections.naval.aviation.museum/emuwebdoncoms/pages/collections/ResultsList.php

Amelia Earhart is seen inspecting fuel containers in this file photo. Contributed photo

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