Sunday, April 3, 2016

Love to Mother, Part II

If you didn't catch it, Part I

"What seemed so distinguished became plainly vanquished, when I went to find life on my own."
-Bonnie Prince Billy

The Young and Adventurous.
She was everything we know of her, nonetheless she was more.

In her beginning, she became her grandmother's namesake. And in life, became the allegorical inspiration for an immeasurable number of people.

The three autobiographies she left us were written in an uncomplicated manner. They were straightforward. Effortless. Candid and plainspoken. When it came to her personal feats, her presentation was spotty. Not vague or guarded, but simply not focused on the accomplishments that handed her worldwide notoriety. Some historians even describe her published works as written somewhat aloof, not very forthcoming in specific detail.

But, her considerations were on other things, too. Other than her path in life which made her most famous, she's probably best known in the present day as being an early proponent for gender equality. And she was succinct and sensible in how she presented these views. Most importantly, she was rational. Although her writing was forthright and more explicit on this subject, it still only dredged the shoal of the massive basin that was her life's innermost feelings.

And in this deep is where one will truly and assuredly find Amelia Earhart.

Her memoirs cast thoughts to pre-aviation life. She and her sister spent most summers with their grandparents, although their family moved around often during the fall and winter months of her teenage years. She spent high school between six different cities, still finishing in four years. Her father worked various jobs, eventually becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol.

When her dear grandmother passed, the moderate wealth she had was left to her mother, keeping legalese in place to prevent her alcoholic father from having access to it. Her mother would later use some of the inheritance to partially fund her first flight lessons.

She penned her sentences carefully. They were deliberate and precise. And despite living many of her later years in New York and California, she never lost her heavy Midwestern accent.

And it's not hard to hear it come out of the pages.

Born in 1897 in Kansas, she was the namesake of her maternal grandmother.

Her middle name, Mary, was taken from her paternal grandmother.

Her younger sister couldn't pronounce her name as a child, so instead used the nickname Millie, which would stay with her forever.

At twenty, she visited her sister in Toronto during the first World War where she saw four soldiers walking arm-in-arm down the city street, all with legs blown off. Changed, she enlisted as a nurse at Spadina Military Hospital for the remaining war days.

During her time in Toronto, she had inherited a chronic sinusitis which would later inhibit her ability to stay at higher altitudes for prolonged periods of time. The pain in her head was near unsupportable. As antibiotics were not yet available, she underwent multiple surgeries over the course of several years. She ultimately had a piece of bone removed from her sinus cavity to provide relief.

Her nursing experience eventually brought her to New York City to study medicine at Columbia. During this time, her beloved mother's marriage was continuing to fall apart due to her father's vice. Further worsening matters, most of the inheritance her grandmother left was lost in a bad investment made in gypsum mines.

Disheartened, she departed Columbia after a short while and would subsequently spend several years caring for her mother and working assorted jobs to save for flight time and ultimately, her first plane. She worked as a photographer, drove trucks and was also a short-hand stenographer for the local phone company. 

Early in her flying years, she observed that all women aviators, as few as there were, had short hair and wore weighty and worn-out leather coats. At the time, she had neither. Her first assignment was quickly met after she found a used coat that still looked somewhat new. Although perfectly functional, the heavy hide, shimmering with inexperience, made her look like a pilot who had never been in the air. Disenchanted, she would sneak it into her room at night and wore it to bed, helping to expedite its creasing and cracking as she dreamt of the world "up there".

She would secretly shorten her hair in the evening hours, cutting off small pieces at a time, attempting to fool her mother. And it wasn't long before the elder Earhart recognized the change. But her mother always felt it was important to let her daughters go down the paths in life that their hearts told them to. Although she was concerned for Amelia's safety, she knew her daughter's love of flying was too great for her to overcome had she even tried. So, she encouraged her. Nor did she keep her from trimming her hair.

The still-young and fledgling flier, who would forever be known with the short and tousled hair began flying in 1921, and soon after, broke speed and altitude records before becoming the sixteenth woman to receive a pilot's license in 1923

Still in her mid-twenties, Amelia used flying as a solitary escape from a world she seemed to not quite yet understand. Her sporadic adventuring continued over the years, and when her mother's marriage finally ended, she tried to provide her creator with an escape of her own. Although apprehensive at the beginning, her mother would find much joy in the air with her still-obscure and unknown daughter. And long after Amelia was gone, her mother would reflect on the peace and beauty of observing the backside of her child's head as she was navigated through the sky; wind blowing at 8,000 feet and the piston engine rattling their craft. Although the younger Earhart did not yet know her path in life, her senior knew she would find it.

Their explorations continued on terra firma. It was still an age where automobiles broke down with relative frequency and got stuck in poor roadways. But, Amelia could fix near anything that went wrong with her Kissel Speedster, which she had nicknamed the "Yellow Peril". So, on a near whim, she picked up her mother and they drove cross country, an almost unheard of venture.

The two stopped in all the national parks to hike and take photographs. After seeing the Pacific northwest, they traveled to Calgary and Banff, taking in the Canadian wilderness and Lake Louise before returning to the east coast. She would later reflect on this as being one of her most memorable experiences, because of the effect it had on "Mother".

She moved to Boston earning employment as a social worker at a settlement house in the later 1920's. She was six years into aviation at this point and near 30 years-old, still not very sure what she wanted to do with herself.

Deep sea diving off Rhode Island. Summer 1929.

The Atlantic. Plus Two.
The first of her published memoirs is primarily limited to her original flight over the Atlantic in 1928. At the time, there were several groups vying to put the first woman over the ocean. A British woman named Amy Phipps Guest, a relatively wealthy woman with family business ties to Andrew Carnegie, wanted to be the first. But soon after developing her plan further, she realized the danger was too great and instead, decided to finance another team to make the attempt. As long as the woman chosen was right.

Amelia was a fairly well-known pilot in the northeast but wasn't famous. She was still in Boston doing social work at the Denison House when she received a call asking if she would be interested in coming to New York to talk about the possibility of simply being a passenger on a flight going "over".

This was only one year after many men competed for the Orteig Prize, which required the first successful non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris or vice-versa. Completing it solo was not a requirement. Many people died making attempts in the years leading up to 1927. Surprisingly, most perished trying to lift their heavy aircraft off with so much fuel. Others who managed to actually lift off, were lost in weather. Which, is understandable, considering how primitive weather forecasting was at that time. Predicting weather patterns was essentially compiling eyewitness reports from ships and other various locales which were cabled back to the States, then charted on a map. By the time this was completed, the information was already twelve hours old. Pilots couldn't comfortably rely on it, and they routinely found themselves in trouble. Over the ocean their options became very limited, very fast.

Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize after pulling an all-nighter the day before he even departed. When he landed in Paris, he hadn't slept in 55 hours. He was so tired on his flight, he sometimes flew only ten feet above the water to keep the sunlight in his eyes. Lindbergh would go on to have his own well-known family troubles, just a few years later. Further, even more-so, a few decades after his death in the early 2000's, when it was revealed he had three secret families in Europe on top of the one he had at home.

Amelia kept a mindset of mediocrity while being interviewed, knowing if she were "too much a complainer", they'd pass on her. On the contrary, if she were too well liked, they'd reject her for not wanting to likely drown a nice woman.

Her act of ordinariness paid off, and she accepted the offer to likely vanish into the cold and deep Atlantic. At that point, no matter the outcome, she knew her life was dedicated to aviation. 

A year after Lindbergh's triumph, Amelia was in a different position. She admitted, time and again, that she didn't have much to do with her first hop over. She would merely record a log of the flight, which was commanded by two men, Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon.

Stultz was a well-known pilot and also a well-known alcoholic. The final two weeks leading up to the flight were spent painfully waiting for a perfect weather window at Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland. Amelia knew Stultz to be punishing himself quite regularly during those agonizing days, as he was commonly drunk. But, if she contested his pre-flight behavior, she likely would have been out. Stultz, at one point, had been the top choice to fly socialite Mabel Boll over the Atlantic, as it was her rich fantasy to hold the title of being "first". Coincidentally, the celebrity was there and ready to takeoff with her own team, so there was always the fear of Stultz jumping over and leaving with her instead.

They had so many false starts in the previous days, so there was little fanfare when they actually managed to find a hole in the weather. The plane was overloaded with fuel, which required more than one attempt to manage a takeoff. When they finally lifted, she noticed Stultz had smuggled a bottle of liquor onto the plane. She struggled with the notion of dumping it into the ocean below, through a small hatch. However, the thought of his anger at 14,000 feet in a tiny cabin that was occupied by nothing but 700 gallons of gasoline kept her from saying anything. He never went for the bottle and honorably kept to the mission. She did end up dumping it, but not until they got over the Irish Sea.

Near the end, still over water and with no land in sight, they flew over a large vessel. At that time, it was common for both homeowners and shipmen to keep buckets of paint at the ready, so they could quickly spatter bearings on roofs or decks to over-passing airplanes. Stultz circled low to the craft, hoping to get them to do so. But the three fliers got no useful response from the deckmen who had stopped to stare at the foreign object in the sky.

They didn't know how much further they had to go to find land, and fuel was running low. Amelia quickly jotted a note, describing their directional needs, and placed it in a small bag weighted with two oranges. She attempted to drop it onto the ship, but as she later described, missed it very miserably.

Their plane was outfitted with pontoons instead of landing gear. So, they could conceivably set down and survive on water, as long as the conditions were suitable. They discussed the option of landing next to the ship; failing the mission but ensuring their safety. They decided to fly on, and it wasn't long before they found the coast of Wales.

Shockingly, her parents didn't know she was involved in an attempt until they took off and the national newspapers ran with it. She was just shy of 31 at this point. She had written a note to her father, to be delivered in the event they failed. She wrote that she wished she had won, but it was worth the risk. She also noted that, in death, she had no faith she'd see him again, but hoped she might. The note was about four sentences.

Conversely, the letter for Mother was much longer.

The success of the event made her a name in the still-blossoming aviation world, and generally, a name all over the world. It would provide better opportunities, but it didn't bring ease to any of the challenges she still had in front of her. And it wouldn't be long before she faced those.

She returned to social work for a short while. Wilmer Stultz, the pilot who heroically carried her over the Atlantic, died a year later in an aviation crash at twenty-nine years old. He was intoxicated.

These sordid details she left out of her writings. As I wrote, her focus was either on the progress of aviation or the progress of educating a 1930's world on gender equality. She always wrote that a woman shouldn't have a job that a man is better at, but if the woman is more capable in that particular instance, why can't she have an opportunity to prove it?

Moments before leaving on the first flight over the Atlantic.

In between Gordon and Stultz. In Boston after they arrived back in the United States.

With actress June Travis. Despite the press that followed her, there aren't a whole lot of photographs of her wearing flight goggles. She normally put them on as soon as she lifted, then whipped them off on landing.

When she was heavily involved with cross country speaking tours, she normally traveled by herself in her plane. During most of these flights, she normally wore a dress or skirt with a heavy leather coat to keep warm.

In 1929, she competed in the first Women's Air Derby, which was a race from California to Cleveland. Twenty women started. Most of them had setbacks and difficulties. One dealt with a mid-air fire caused by a cigarette that had been thrown into her plane before takeoff. One crashed into a vehicle that had come onto the runway. Another got Typhoid Fever. Ruth Nichols crashed altogether, and another pilot even found her wing guide wires sabotaged with acid (something that would happen to Amelia later in life). On top of all these, another aviatrix crashed and was killed. They continued the race in her honor, and Amelia finished third in what would end up becoming known as the Powder Puff Derby.

It was also in late 1929, the still-limited number of women involved in avionics decided to form their own group to help promote women in aviation. At their meeting, all these wild women struggled to come up with a name for the group, to which Amelia suggested the name be based on the number of charter (or initial) members. The attendance climbed as the night went on, and they settled on the Ninety-Nines. She was elected the first president of the famous group which still operates today.

Along with Ruth Nichols and Louise Thaden. All three widely acclaimed and credited with promoting women in aviation.

It was thought Ruth would be the first woman to solo over the Atlantic. She would go on to set many of her own records. At age 57, the U.S. Air Force permitted her to pilot some of their new technology, where she became the first woman to fly over 1,000 mph. Two years later, in 1960, she died of an accidental overdose on barbiturates after battling severe depression.

Louise Thaden won the first Women's Air Derby in 1929. In 1936, she won the overall in the cross country Bendix Trophy Race in the first year that women were allowed to compete against men. She flew a single engine biplane, where most men were using twin engine aircraft specifically built for racing.

The Atlantic.
In 1932, exactly five years after Lindbergh made his solo hop, she decided to go for it on her own. No one had soloed it since Lindbergh. She consulted with many of her mentors in aviation- pilots who had already done long endurance flights themselves. She wrote that if any of them had said they didn't feel she was capable, she would have put the thought to bed and moved on from it.

She made great efforts to keep the press from knowing her plans. There was so much risk in an attempt, and she felt the chances were still pretty high that she would either not make the attempt or ultimately die trying. She knew it was possible for a woman to go it alone, because a man had already done so. And as she said, "Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."

Her plane was outfitted with extra fuel tanks. To save weight, she would leave behind clothes, extra food and even her life raft. She would not use pontoons, so a water landing would not be a possibility. As she knew, all she would ever need was her fearlessness.

So with a can of tomato juice, twenty dollars and her timeworn flight suit, she took off from Newfoundland, just a couple hours before dark. The moon came up and provided some light for a short period of time. It was cloudy. About four hours into the journey, her altimeter malfunctioned and broke. In all the years she flew, this had never happened. Not knowing how high above water she was, her options were to either keep going or turn back and attempt to get on the ground. Her thoughts were that even if she did find her origin, her shot at landing on the strip with no altimeter, in the dark, would likely roll her up into a fireball. Cool and collected, she kept eastward.

Soon after, she noticed a weld failed and burnt through her fuel manifold on the outside of the Lockheed Vega. For the duration of the flight, she watched this hole grow larger as a steady flame shot out of it.

In the middle of night, she ran into what she modestly claimed was one of the worst storms she had ever experienced. The rain and wind, being relentless, caused her to enter a tailspin. And despite the term, the plane is actually spinning and falling nose down. She managed to get out of it and climbed above the clouds, searching for more-favorable weather. Once up there, she started accumulating ice on her wings and window, causing her to lose control of the craft again.

So, she flew low to the ocean in the warmer air. She was still flying "blind" at this point, merely staring out a black window, squinting eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of moonlight hitting a breaking wave. Without the altimeter, she didn't know her height above water but figured it to be between 50 and 150 feet. 

With the leaking manifold, she worried about making it to the European coast with enough fuel. She turned on the reserve tanks. The gauge on the reserve broke and leaked gasoline through the cabin for the rest of the flight.

She flew into sunrise. The burning manifold didn't seem as threatening, as the bright sunlight helped in hiding the flame. She described the last couple hours of an ocean flight as being the most difficult, as the fog and haze makes you see a mirage of land just ahead, but it's still hundreds of miles of open water.

The only equipment she had was a compass, an air speed indicator, and a watch. There was no way to determine how far off course the winds would have pushed her over the duration of the flight. When she finally found land, she had no idea if she was over England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales or France. She ultimately landed in a pasture in Ireland. She emerged from the ship covered in oil and gasoline, then made quick shout to the farmer who approached her to extinguish his cigarette. He asked where she came from, and she said "America".

Her life was never the same. She would stay abroad for a few weeks to briefly tour Europe. She met kings and queens and then went on to receive almost every award imaginable. The commendation followed the world-famous aviatrix upon her return to the United States. Parades and front-page headlines would become commonplace, and it became a struggle for her just to decline the many ceremonies that she could not attend.

Despite the swath of fame, she always kept her young, vernal and matter-of-fact spirit. The great aviatrix, who was no longer obscure and ordinary, was still a plainspoken girl from Kansas at heart.

Just before taking off from Newfoundland.

Ireland. Probably one of the most famous photos of her. At this time, most people had never seen a plane.
Not to mention a woman pilot.

After the Atlantic, she used the Vega to become the first woman to fly coast to coast from Los Angeles to Newark. It took her 19 hours, 5 minutes. She would beat her own record the following year by two hours.

She replaced this plane with a similar model, which she would subsequently use to do the Pacific and Mexican flights.

Endeavors Until the End.
After her Atlantic chapter closed, she spent much of the time in her remaining years giving lectures and speeches. Like her writing, she was always apprehensive of speaking about herself or her accomplishments. People would ask, and she would subsequently divert to commend Lockheed or Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer. Other times, the compliments went to other pilots who helped in her preparations. She would speak about all aviators, both male and female. Their accomplishments and the boundaries they pushed were of great interest to her, and she spoke of them proudly.

Most of the money she made in her lifetime was through speaking engagements, but she did delve into other areas. She was an integral part of the Transcontinental Air Transport, as well as the New York, Philadelphia and Washington Airline. She wanted to make air travel accessible to many more people than it was in the 1930's. Many people who saw her speak would ask in wonderment, "What is it like up there?"

Her husband, George Putnam, the well-known publisher whom she had met when interviewing for the first Atlantic flight, had proposed to her six times before she reluctantly agreed. She wrote a well-publicized note that she gave him on the morning of their wedding. She stated that she didn't expect him to be faithful to her, and he shouldn't expect the same in return. She asked that if she wasn't happy after one year, he would have to promise to let her go. She felt getting married at that time was foolish and stated, "I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage."

Putnam would end up being pretty calculating in how Amelia marketed herself, for better or worse. He even went as far as to recommend she kept her lips closed as much as possible to hide the gap between her front teeth.

This was taken during the world flight, only a few days before her last flight. Most of the film that she shot was mailed back home during her stops, so an abundance of the photographs she took were saved.

Later in life, Putnam wrote she was regretful for accepting $1,500 to endorse that Stultz and Gordon carried Lucky Strike cigarettes on the plane with them during the first Atlantic jaunt. She was reluctant to do the endorsement, but was looking for a way to donate some significant funds to Commander Byrd's arctic expedition. Byrd was integral in getting her on the initial Atlantic flight, and she wanted to repay him. She signed the $1,500 over to him. This controversial endorsement would cause her negotiations with McCall's magazine to fall through, but would inevitably lead her to be an editor for Cosmopolitan.

Putnam would recall a time when they had friends visiting at their home. They got on the topic of smoking cigarettes, to which she was questioned why she had never smoked. Saying nothing, she took three cigarettes from her friend, lit them, and sucked them all down in no more than three drags. Extinguishing the butts, she exclaimed, "There! I smoked. And I probably never will again."

Further, at another time, she was in her home and family friends visited with their young son. She had accumulated many medals and awards from her various achievements and also had some medals that only military servicemen received. The Senate actually passed a bill to allow her to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross as a civilian. The boy asked to see her medals, and she tried brushing it off, saying they "weren't much important". He insisted, so she brought a locked bag down from upstairs to show him. Her husband remembered that as being the only time she brought them out.

In 1934, a fire destroyed a large portion of their home in Rye, NY. She was away at the time, and her husband phoned her. She asked about the damage, and he confirmed it was severe. She asked about a Rockwell painting. "Gone", he replied. He was devastated that a lot of her personal writings from her younger years were lost. She said not to worry and that she would try to remember all the stories and poems and rewrite them later. She never did. Many years later, he wrote that she must have assumed the locked bag and her medals were also lost, but she never had asked about them.

1935 California after being the first person, male or female, to solo the Pacific.

In 1935, she became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the mainland. She remarked this flight as being much less difficult than her previous challenges and even tuned her radio to the New York Metropolitan Opera for the last two hours.

A few months later, she flew non-stop from Los Angeles to Mexico City, then finished non-stop to Newark.

Although her most rewarding experience in 1935 came when she joined Purdue University as a visiting faculty member. She enjoyed the time with the students so much that she ended up moving into a dormitory for some of the school year. Purdue would be integral in helping to fund the purchase of her Lockheed Electra, the famous plane she would ultimately be tied to in history. Her time at Purdue was limited, as she was gone two years later.

Teaching aviation at Purdue.

Friends and family asked her to take some time to relax and reflect on what she had done so far. She made the comment that she would do those things later. "When I am old."

In her later years, she and her husband were in Brooklyn and had driven up to an intersection where they watched an elderly homeless man struggle to cross the street. She painfully observed him, then proceeded through the intersection. She drove a couple blocks before turning around, commenting that she was going to give him money. The man was lost in the crowd. Sadly, she turned to her husband and remarked, "It is hard to be old. So hard. I'm afraid I'll hate it. Hate to grow old...I think probably that I'll not be old."

The world flight was something the public more or less knew she would come to do, but she initially pushed it off, giving people the impression it wasn't on her mind. But it always was.

After traversing nearly the entire globe as close to the equator as possible, she took off from Lae, New Guinea on July 2nd 1937 en route to Howland Island, which is about halfway to Hawaii. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were lost. Putnam had her declared dead in January 1939 and re-married four months later. He would later write that she was rich in life and adventure, but financially, any wealth she left behind was worth far less than the plane she disappeared in. Her mother would spend the rest of her long life devastated over the loss, always dreaming of one more earthly exploit with her fellow adventurer; the daughter who was anything but ordinary.

Poetry, Writing and Her Hope for a Year.
At a younger age, Amelia wrote with great frequency. She emotionally described her feelings on adventure, life, and most famously, courage. Many years after she was gone, her husband recollected that at one point, she had begun work on a fictional short story, loosely based on her life experiences. Being a publisher himself, he noted that he enjoyed the content, but structurally, the story wasn't very good. Going through the belongings she would eventually leave behind, he found the manuscript missing and later stated she likely destroyed it privately.

As a child, she would write poems with words beyond her time, but also playfully make up her own vocabulary as she went along. Her poetry progressed with maturity into her adult years. It could be described as filling a jar with the combined feelings of melancholy, pain, bravery and unrequited love, shaking it up, then letting it spill out on an empty notebook.

She was known for her privacy and great reluctance to share any of her personal life with the public, so her wishes were to keep her private writings just that. Given the occupation of her husband, had she wanted any of her poetry published, she likely would have done so. Most feel she would have been more likely to publish her personal writings had she not been surrounded with fame. She surely would have wanted her poetry to stand on its own merit, and given her status, that would have been difficult.

It was later revealed she had submitted four poems to Poetry magazine in her younger years under a male pseudonym. Her entries describe heartbreak and love, the passing of time, and a romantic perception of death. The effects of aging and her fear of declining years is also apparent. This angst can be seen in many of her personal and public documents, as she had often listed her birth year as 1898, despite being born a year earlier. This incorrect year would eventually be used on some of the memorials and statues placed around the world.

In one of her poems, she describes Death as a bird of prey that mercifully ends the lovelorn suffering of the living. In her notes accompanying this piece, she describes, "The vulture is kind. Life is merciless."

But not all of her poems were dark. "Snatch molten moments from the fire of Life, holding them until the brief glow fades and they are hardened to their everlasting shape." This carpe diem attitude would singly define the individual who was Amelia Earhart.

Putnam had written that it was her desire to have one year to herself. One year where she would step away from aviation, teaching and all of the speaking tours. A year to simply and solely lay outside and write. To write stories. To write poems. To reflect. And to remember. He concluded in saying it brought him sadness knowing she never got her year, "for that is what she really wanted."

When Putnam passed in early 1950, he left an enormous wealth of her letters, documents, telegrams, photos and more to Purdue University to be a part of their massive Earhart Collection. It was somewhere around fifteen cubic feet of files and artifacts. However, a lot of her personal writings were kept in his estate to keep to her wishes of not sharing her personal life.

These writings, including her surviving poetry, would eventually end up in the hands of his granddaughter who donated the additional materials to Purdue in 2002, completing the collection.

Lost and Found. Though still Lost.
It's become so ingrained in our culture that Amelia and Fred got lost, missed Howland Island, then subsequently crashed and sank in the Pacific Ocean after running out of fuel. The Lockheed Electra, the bimotor "Flying Laboratory" which had so-far carried them 22,000 miles on the world flight, being their aluminum grave under two miles of deep water. This didn't happen.

Since 1989, we've also been told they may have crash landed on an island south of Howland, then died as castaways. This also didn't happen.

It's widely documented, but of course not widely reported, that they landed in the Marshall Islands on Milli Atoll. An atoll is essentially a coral reef that, over a long period of time, forms around a volcano which eventually submerges into the ocean. What's left is the wide ring of coral and a lagoon in the middle. There are thousands of atolls in the Pacific, and their islands are inhabited by many.

From there, they were detained by the Japanese, who at the time, were beginning to militarize the islands in preparation for the next World War.

And we knew they landed there. How? The Japanese were always better at radio technology than us, but at the time, we knew how to break the encryption of their radio communications. From intercepted messages, we knew they were detained, but telling the Japanese we knew would also confirm we knew how to break their encryption. So, we waited for the Japanese to come forward and tell us they were detained, but they never did. At that point, Noonan and Earhart became expendable.

The Japanese didn't want the Americans near the islands, and we stayed away. Remember, this is the pre-satellite age and regular air travel over these mandated islands was nil, so we really had very little idea what was actually going on over there with regard to their military operations.

The Electra and the two fliers were eventually moved to Jaluit, which is an Atoll just west of Milli. They were witnessed on two additional islands, before ultimately making their way to the military headquarters on the island of Saipan where they met their end, some time likely within the next year or two. Most research points to the end of 1937 or some time in 1938.

Most researchers have come to the conclusion that Noonan was executed by beheading. Amelia either died of dysentery or had dysentery and was subsequently executed. That she had dysentery was very well documented, but the exact cause of her death is not as clear.

It was often spoken that Noonan drank frequently, and there were reports of Amelia having to "pour Noonan" into the Electra before taking off from Lae on the final flight.

After crossing through Africa and India, the city of Lae was one of the more civilized and sophisticated stops they had in a long while. Because of this, there were fears Noonan would "go all out in Lae", but those with him over the final few days would later claim he never picked up a drink when they went out to dinner.

Amelia had delayed the takeoff from Lae for a day. She sent a telegram to her husband explaining the delay by writing "personnel unfitness". Many speculate this meant that Noonan was incapacitated. Others feel she may have also meant "personal unfitness", which could possibly mean that she, herself, was exhausted or under the weather. 

Noonan had distinguishable features, himself. He was ruddy, square-jawed, tall and very thin. He had a hairline and look that most thirty and forty-somethings, today, would envy.

His features would be spoken of by the natives who later saw him. Imprisoned in Garapan Prison on Saipan, his execution may have been expedited by Earhart's death of dysentery. Other accounts say he was executed after he threw a bowl of soup at a Japanese guard. Either way, 
his legacy is largely overshadowed by who he disappeared with, and he shouldn't be forgotten.

He was the best navigator in the world in his time. His goal was to start a navigational school, which would have been heavily promoted through his involvement in the world flight. He was married a few months before he and Amelia left the public eye. He left no surviving family.

So what's the evidence? First, there's the eyewitnesses on the islands. The true boots-on-the-ground Earhart researchers first published their findings nearly fifty years ago, after interviewing dozens and dozens local Marshallese and Saipanese people who distinctly remember seeing the two white American fliers. And it wasn't just eyewitnesses who saw them, but individuals who also interacted with them.

Look back to the world in the late 1930's. This was not the world as it is today. It was very uncommon for any of these people to have ever seen a plane. Not to mention two white Americans, one of whom is a woman with extremely distinguishable hair and clothing. And, as it would turn out, almost everyone of these witnesses commented how one flier was a woman with short hair like a man and wore pants like a man. The other flier was a man, who was very thin and tall, much taller than anyone they had ever seen before in their part of the world. Noonan stood at just over six feet.

From island to island, eyewitnesses corroborated these specific details, including the common knowledge of Noonan's leg injury, as well as a bandage wrapped around his head. Injuries sustained in the forced landing on Milli.

One specific eyewitness was a sixteen year old medic in the Japanese Navy, who was summoned aboard a cargo ship to treat Noonan. He changed his head wrappings, but claimed the wound in his leg was too deep to stitch, so he left it open in order for it to drain. He saw a white woman sitting in a deck chair next to Noonan. She had short hair and a fair complexion. The medic did not speak English, but his fellow servicemen made remarks that the Americans were pilots and had come down on Milli Atoll. Talking in a surprised and curious manner, they discussed that the woman, who they referred to as "Meel-yah", was the one who actually flew the plane, something they could not fathom in their part of the world.

He would go on to say that he distinctly remembered treating Noonan and staring into his blue eyes, an eye color he had never seen before. It wouldn't be until 1993 when American researchers could say with determination that Noonan's eyes actually were blue.

The former Japanese Navy medic, Bilimon Amaron, would come to be known as one of the most honest and upstanding men in the Marshall Islands. His reputation was sincere and pristine, and he would go on to be interviewed and recorded, many times over, until his death in 1997.

Robert Reimers, a business tycoon in the Marshall Islands, began his career before World War II, selling and shipping construction materials throughout the islands. He would later go on to own hotels, shopping centers, hardware stores and docks throughout the Marshalls. He was interviewed one year before his death in 1998 and would be another voice in the ever-growing line of testimonials, claiming that the Milli Atoll landing of Earhart in 1937 was common knowledge among his people.

Keep in mind, the Japanese Military was absolutely brutal to their prisoners during the war. Over 40% of Americans who would go to a prisoner camp would be killed. Those held would routinely be woken in the middle of the night, be made to dig their own grave, then shot. This brutality was passed on to their own civilians. And this fear carried on long after the war ended. Even in the 1960's, common Japanese and Marshallese people were still worried of execution or imprisonment for reporting something they had seen decades prior. Nearly all of the eyewitnesses gave their interviews in the presence of a priest, to help alleviate their fears.

Most witnesses would go on and be able to identify both Earhart and Noonan from photo lineups of random people. The Marshallese even issued stamps on the fifty year anniversary of their landing at Milli Atoll.

The airfield at Lae ended with a 200 foot cliff. The Electra was pulled back as far as possible, partway into a field of overgrowth and trees. Witnesses claim Amelia held the brakes and throttled both engines at 100% before letting it go. The Electra was so heavy with fuel, it dipped nearly 200 feet off the cliff-side runway. Its propellers skimmed the top of the water, before finally finding lift.

It would be nearly 17 miles out to sea, before it had regained the 200 feet in altitude.

Once down, the Electra was hoisted onto straps on the rear of a Japanese fishing boat, The Koshu. It went from Milli, to Jaluit, to Kwajalein, to Truk, and finally Saipan.

More-so, in June 1944, the United States invaded Saipan in what was the lesser-known "D-Day of the Pacific". Over 3,400 Americans were killed and over 30,000 Japanese. The troops fortunate to live through it, went home to America to try and resume their lives in normalcy.

Later in life, dozens and dozens of marines came forward to discuss their findings of evidence of Earhart, Noonan and even the Electra on Saipan, all those years ago. Tangible evidence, like her briefcase with maps and permits, a diary, various journal entries and even photographs. Most of this was turned into commanding officers. Several testified seeing the Electra in a guarded hangar after Saipan was captured, only to see it subsequently torched by the U.S. Navy and buried. 

And it wasn't just lower-ranking marines and natives from five different islands who corroborated all of this. Several high-ranking officials also made statements. Fleet Admiral Nimitz, who represented the United States in signing Japan's Instrument of Surrender and is the last five-star Admiral we've had, even stated that Earhart and Noonan went down in the Marshalls, before being picked up by the Japanese.

General Graves Erskine, who was the officer in charge of the American Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima and Battle of Saipan, stated in 1966 that it was established Earhart was on Saipan, and "you'll have to dig the rest out for yourselves."

Also, General Vandergrift, who commanded the 1st Marine Division in WWII, wrote a letter in 1971 stating that it was substantiated Miss Earhart met her death on Saipan.

Why gather up any evidence and hide it away? Amelia was gone for seven years in 1944. Seven long, grueling and violent years during which the greatest war to hit this world took place. The allies were winning. Germany would surrender ten months later, and Japan soon after. The United States knew they would have to reform relations with Japan and sell the general public on bringing the Japanese on as close allies. Amelia Earhart was a beloved American hero. At that moment in history, revealing the truth of her captivity and death at the hands of the Japanese would only pour salt in a wound that had not even begun to heal.

Amelia's mother would pen a 1944 letter to Neta Snook, the famous pilot who had given Earhart her flight lessons decades earlier.

It's a powerful letter. She describes utter heartbreak and feelings that she had hoped the Japanese were more civilized than she came to realize. She knew.

Sure, there are details that even top researchers don't have answers to. Such as, how and why did they end up at Milli Atoll in the first place?

As some speculate, they flew to the Marshalls intentionally to visually inspect those islands. You know, to take a peek and see what the Japanese were up to at the request of higher-ranking officials. Using the world flight as an excuse to get close to those mandated islands wouldn't be too terrible of an idea. Although, the revelation of Amelia being asked to do reconnaissance for the United States wouldn't go over well with the public, which would be a reason for keeping her true fate sealed. 

Or, did they legitimately get lost and turn west toward Marshalls as she said they would if they couldn't find Howland? The map they used to base their navigation had Howland plotted five miles off its actual location. Noonan was the best navigator in the world at the time, already having charted most of the Pacific routes for Pan America. But as great as he was, Noonan was still limited to celestial navigation at night. Making it to Howland would still require the final few flight hours to be in daylight, so any variance they made after the stars faded away would be critically detrimental. Howland Island is only two miles long and a half mile wide. After a 2,500 mile flight, to find this speck would be incredibly difficult. Especially since their map wasn't exact.

Holding the famous Bendix radio directional finder loop that sat on top of the Electra. Her radio behavior on the final flight would go on to be highly scrutinized.

This original photo was taken by her personal photographer, Albert Bresnik. He then developed a single original and included a note on the back. Most of his originals were donated to museums or universities as his health wound down in the late 1980's. I came into possession of this one after it was found behind a non-Earhart related print. There is a more-famous photo of her staring through the loop, which was taken just before or after this.

This photo hasn't been seen by very many people, until this blog post, where it will certainly be seen by dozens and dozens more.

Nearly eight decades have passed since. I waded into all of this a while back, initially learning what I could by casually reading articles that were at the top layer of the onion. You know, the Earhart-related news what was widely available and published by the majors.

Progressing to books, I dove in. I consumed as many as I could. I've spent time corresponding with the authors who are still around, as well as having the privilege of communicating with many other researchers, most of whom have a heavy multitude of years behind them. Many more than me. The amount of information out there is staggering, and it's well beyond the purpose of this post.

And while there are still questions, that's the long and the short of what happened. I'd bet my life on it.

Sadly, many people have made a living by writing books and promoting expeditions in the process of trying to push their own theories, hypotheses, conjectures...whatever you want to call them. But even more-so, many have ruined their lives trying to break down walls and show the world what actually happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

The only way to prove the Electra is not at the bottom of the ocean is to prove it was somewhere else. Definitively showing they were alive on those islands via a "smoking gun" will happen. And it won't be long before it does.

Vanity Fair, photographed by the great Edward Steichen.

The hammered silver and elephant hoof bracelet is seen in most photographs. She wore it on nearly every one of her flights. Her good luck charm, she left it behind for her mother to hold during the world flight. It's currently in the Ninety Nines Museum of Women's Pilots in Oklahoma.

Showing French actress Claudette Colbert her bracelet. After crossing the Atlantic solo.

This photo from the Purdue Collection.

Perpetual Cogitation.
Someone like Amelia Earhart would normally be too well-known for someone like me to call a hero. I commonly gravitate toward the less popular and more obscure. I'm attracted to the unusual and the uncommon. As Ryanne once suggested, perhaps she is a muse. Someone to mull over. To reflect on. As it may be, she is not the obscure and unusual choice, but she is the right choice.

People get lost. People disappear. And people die all the time. Does the enduring mystery help propel her notoriety? Of course. But does it dilute what she stood for and what she accomplished? Absolutely not.

Yes, she was immensely popular. But she was immensely popular, because of what she stood for and what she accomplished. And it wasn't easy.

She lived in a mid-depression United States where it was safe to stay the common ground and keep your mouth shut, especially if you were a woman. She used her immense fame as a platform to spread her message in the short time she had. She wasn't a fanatic or extremist. Instead, her word was intelligent and well-thought. She gave millions of women the assurance they could do the things they once thought they couldn't. Or, were once told they shouldn't.

Nor were her flight attempts without great fatal risk. Aviation was making vast progress in the 1920's and 30's, but it was still new technology. Imagine the mindset of jumping in a plane where your single engine is responsible for calculating thousands of explosions per minute and one misfire puts you in the drink. Fly too high, and you'll gather ice. Fly too low, and you'll hit an iceberg. Into the cold and black. No boats. No radio. Nothing but you and your final thoughts before fading off into darkness.

She conquered the oceans and an archaic cultural mindset. Alone.

Then, after all the accolades that she found uninteresting, she went home and gardened. Or, sat in front of her fireplace, which she called the "liver toaster", studying maps and planning the next great adventure.

Why care so much? I don't know. What I do know is that had she simply grown old like her sister and mother then passed on, this post would still exist. However, it being in shorter form.

While I'm more interested in her life before the world flight, I felt compelled to figure out the rest of it on my own. And while I feel I made the right decision to go down that path, like all things, I still don't know what lies at the end. So far it's brought forth a jumbled abundance of sentiments. First was intrigue. And then, clouded confusion. Following me into the murk was an eagerness to learn more. Insight was a torch that revealed clarity, but also uncovered disheartenment.

And maybe that dispirited feeling comes from the affirmation of the struggles we all face in life; the knowledge and awareness of the sadness and despair that is delivered to us all, no matter how exceptional one may be. We all choose to walk specific paths in life and hold hope of what's to come at the end, despite knowing we'll encounter challenges and outcomes that are undesirable.

Undoubtedly, Amelia's poetry and private writings committed to her some of life's greatest joys. To be a great writer was a dream to her. And while she didn't believe she could be known as both a great aviator and a great poet, it was still her dream to have. For what is life, any other way?

But her path in life, once lighted so bright with bravery and cordiality, ended with darkness and heartbreak. At her finish, very akin to the words she once wrote, Death was a bird of prey and Life was merciless.

In my own writing, I reminisce about the adventures and experiences I've had in life. I write about these moments in a wax poetic sort of way. Not necessarily romanticizing, but trying to express the experience in the way it overcame me in that present moment. Confessing exploits in the truest manner possible, per se.

Reading how she chronicled her own her published memoirs, you don't really come away with that feeling, and to me, that always stuck out. In fact, it struck me. It inflicted a blow. And it left my right hand regrettably sensing the dwindling number of remaining pages. I'd read these words about her incredible moments, and I'd be dying for something more to bite into, even if only a few more paragraphs of her Midwestern accent. I'd come away without it.

She just didn't care to openly reflect on those things. At that point in her life, anyway.

I suppose when you're young and life is traveling a million miles an hour, you'd feel as though you'll always have time to do those things in the twilight of your life. To Amelia Earhart, there was always "later".

Whether or not she really believed it.

Maybe she truly felt she would never grow to be old, as she said all those years ago in Brooklyn; having already accepted a somber and early end. And wistfully, brushing aside the wishes and hopeful dreams of solely writing for that one year.

Though, perhaps she dreamt of finishing the world flight, finally being able to lay in the grass under a tree and watch another tousled hair girl do something revolutionary, "up there". Then, look down at an empty notebook and be overcome with thoughts of fictional adventure and memories of courageous accomplishment; eager to shake that jar of melancholy and fearlessness, then see what spills through her slate-tipped pencil.

Through writing, your best reflection and composition can come when you're aware nobody will ever read it. Although sad, this lonely way of autography can also bring great internal happiness and joy. It is authentically gratifying to search deep into the basin that is your life's innermost feelings. To go well beyond the shoals. And from the cold and dark, bring to the surface your hopes and dreams and wishes and feelings of despair; the raw silt of emotions that are scraped from the bedrock that lines the bottom of your soul. Without pause, thrust it all through your heart and onto the paper before you. Read it to yourself. Then read it again, and imagine how it may affect those around you; both loved ones and strangers alike. And finally, when you're solemnly at ease with each of your chosen words and content with the completed work, throw it in the fire.

But, to instead present your finished arrangement to the world is delivering yourself to the inferno. Doing so requires a height of courage that Amelia knew when she stepped in front of thousands of people who only believed, "I can't." Her reply, simply being, "You can." The same level of courage she knew when she confronted the world's monumental mountains and seemingly-endless oceans; she was Mother Earth's once-great challenger. And though she had not yet realized that courage in professing her poetry, she would have.

Whether she was able to wax poetic through writing and reflection during the months in which the world thought she was gone is another question that'll likely never be answered. I find myself adrift and lost in thought. In a dull state of reverie, my only escape is by having hope that she found peace in being able to do so. I have doubt, but I also have hope. For I'll never know otherwise.

All her life, the credit and compliments that so often poured on her were inevitably pushed onto somebody or something else. She taught the world so much through the way she lived. To love your family and friends. To treat people equally. To adventure. To wear what you want to wear. To be who you want to be. To be courageous. And ultimately, to follow your heart.

And as Ryanne added her name to the short list, I knew to follow my own heart. I'll continue to mull over an early 20th century aviatrix, but Amelia Jane Palermo will grow to be my true and natural, everyday hero.

As for Amelia Earhart...In her final moments, I long she was able to foretell and understand the influence and inspiration that would forever come from the way she lived.

And at her end, I imagine the great aviatrix going silent. What seemed so distinguished became plainly vanquished; the young and vernal spirit, finally encountering a level of peace and freedom at a height that not even she had ever experienced.

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