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USN PT Boat Crew Member John O'Leefe
National Museum of the Pacific War - Interview with John O'Keefe / Tape Number 1663

"To this day, one of my favorite stories is this.  I found a photograph of Amelia Earhart with a Japanese officer during the war.  I was on an island [in the St. Matthias Group near Emirau] there before anyone else got to it.  I went in to get a canoe.  I had six cents.  That was all the money I had.  I shined it up on the sand on the beach and swam in and gave this native six cents for his canoe. I was real happy.  In the process, I discovered this picture of Amelia Earhart with a Japanese officer and a missionary.  This created more trouble than I bargained for. [Read complete interview]

In the process of bartering for this canoe, I looked up in his hut.  It was a native grass hut made out of bamboo and Neepa grass.  There were some snapshots on a post, on a center post in his hut.  I looked at it and asked him if I could go up there to look at it.  He couldn’t speak English, and in pidgin English I told him there was something I wanted to look at.  I went up and it was Amelia Earhart with a native boy and a Japanese officer, and the missionary.  They were standing in front of a building.  Later on in talking to the native, it turned out the native was the missionary’s number one boy.  He was the native in the picture.  He had this picture.  We had been told before we went on this invasion, this island of Emirau, that if we found any sign of Amelia Earhart to immediately let them know—break radio silence and tell them.

I went back to the boat, left the picture in the hut.  When I got back, I finally told Mr. Josey, our skipper.  I said, “You know what I found in there?”  He wouldn’t believe me and told me to take him in.  So, I loaded him in the canoe and took him ashore.  He verified that it was Amelia Earhardt.  We left the picture again and went back to our boat.  He contacted Naval Intelligence... he broke radio silence and contacted Intelligence.  The irony is that three days later a PBY “Black Cat” landed in the bat and taxied over and threw an anchor out.  A guy got in a little boat called a Rearming Boat.  They came over and wanted to know where Josey and the engineer (me) were.  We were really surprised.  We were virtually on the equator, and he was in Navy dress blues.  What in the world are you doing in a wood uniform on the equator?

He said he was from Naval Intelligence; never told us his name.  He went in, looked at the picture and asked the native in very good pidgin English if he had a copy or negative.  Where is this person?  He said Amelia came there with this Japanese officer and left with him.  The missionary had been transferred away and he (the native) heard he had died.  The native was the only one left.  That was the only one left who was in the picture.  The intelligence officer took the picture, put it in an envelope, and stuck it in his pocket.  The native objected, and the officer grabbed him by the throat, put his hand on his pistol, and appeared ready to shoot him.  The officer took the picture and left.

After that we tried and tried to find out something about what happened.  We were coming in off patrol one day and got a radio message to report to the office when we got in.  This happened a couple of times.  The second time, when Josey returned to the boat, he was ashen and acting nervous.  He said, “Let’s go up to the bow of the boat.”  When we got there, he said, “Read this.”  It was a dispatch, which read—I forget the exact wording of it now but it was something like this, “In regards to your inquiry, cease and desist; continue on with your contributions to winning the war.”  And it was signed by Chester Nimitz, Commander South Pacific.

Facts: Prewar, Emirau Island had a mission and plantation with Europeans. Also, several nearby islands had European settlements. During 1940, 500 men, women & children were placed ashore there after their ship RMS Rangitane was sunk. Most likely, this story originates with one of these historical events, not Amelia Earhart."

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