Amelia Earhart: Aviation mystery

December 30, 2017
AmelieEarhart-70th Anniversary of Last Flight

Commemorative cover issued for the 70th anniversary of her last flight.

Amelia Earhart the greatest female aviator of all time and a female icon disappeared on July 2, 1937 without a trace. She and navigator Fred Noonan were flying from New Guinea to Howland Island in the Pacific on the final leg a their attempt to circumnavigate the globe. At the time she was world famous and a celebrity idol.

Born July 24, 1897, Amelia had a thirst for flying. Between 1930 and 1935 she set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records.

Amelia became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20, 1932. She also was first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California on June 11, 1935. These were just two of the significant aviation records she set during her career.

One of her goals was to circumnavigate the globe as a solo pilot. She would still need a navigator. All her planning aimed toward that achievement.

In 1937 she began final preparations. At the time she was at the height of her fame. Amelia was a feminist icon inspiring thousands of female aviators. Her charismatic appeal stemmed from her independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, her courage and goal oriented career.


Standing under her Electra in March 1937. Photo: Underwood & Underwood, Public Domain

Amelia did marry publisher George Putnam but they never had children. He was referred to as “Mr. Earhart” and supported her in her career. She retains lasting fame even today some 80 years later.

So what happened and how did she disappear? No one really knows the full answer but there are many theories that have developed over the years.

The most prevalent theories are, Crash & Sink, Gardner Island (Nikumaroro now), and Japanese capture. The first crash and sink is one most historians accept with death resulting on impact or shortly after. The Gardner Island theory says they ditched their plane in the waters off the island and survived only to eventually perish when rescue did not come. Some believe the Japanese military captured them and executed them. There is no firm proof of the last.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) strongly believes in the Gardner Island scenario and has so far sent ten expeditions to investigate. Their extensive research has produced archaeological and anecdotal evidence supporting this theory over the others. It’s possible that some day we will discover the truth about the fate of Earhart and Noonan we’ll just have to wait and see.


The Missing of the Great War

April 10, 2017
Menin Gate Memorial-Names

Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium showing interior wall with names of missing.

As I watched the 100th anniversary ceremonies at the Vimy Memorial in France and listened to news reports I noticed there was some confusion when discussing “missing” soldiers. I hope to clarify that in this article, another in my series on the Great War 1914-1918.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is charged with ensuring that the final resting places of the dead from both World Wars are preserved forever. After the November 11, 1918 Armistice the Commission’s work began. They began by recording the details of the dead from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and other countries of the British Commonwealth. Some 587,000 graves were identified and a further 559,000 casualties registered as having no known grave. Once land had been acquired they began constructing cemeteries. They consolidated smaller cemeteries into the larger ones and located as many battlefield burials as they could and interred them in the larger cemeteries.

The principles of the Commission mandated an identical headstone for every soldier regardless of rank, religion or race. Basic information where known was inscribed. Christian soldiers stones have a cross and Jewish soldiers have the Star of David. All cemeteries are well maintained. The Commission replaces about 20,000 stones every year due to weathering or damage or information correction. They also did not allow the reparation of any of the dead they were all to be buried where they died.

These cemeteries contain two types of burials, those containing identified soldiers and those graves containing remains of unidentified soldiers. The latter are the “Unknowns”. Finally all those killed, but where remains have never been located are the “Missing”. As can be seen from the previous paragraph this is a staggering number. In the war years of 1914 to 1918 soldiers were blown to bits in battle, sank into the deep mud and just disappeared. Over the years as bodies are found through various activities on the battlefields identification is attempted. If a name can be associated with the remains they are buried with that on the headstone, otherwise they are buried as unknown. They are removed from the missing list.

The War Graves Cemeteries commemorate the dead whose remains were located. The Commission also wanted to commemorated the “missing” in some permanent way so they decided to engrave the names on memorials. The Vimy Memorial walls contain the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France during World War I, but who do not have a known resting place. It should be noted there are no cemeteries at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, but there are a short distance away.

For those who died in Belgium (or Flanders) the Menin Gate Memorial was constructed in Ypres, Belgium. This memorial contains the names of over 54,000 soldiers from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who do not have a known resting place, the “missing”. Those Canadians who went missing presumed killed at Passchendaele for example are included at this memorial.

In my case I had a great-uncle, Herbert T. Waite, who was killed at Vimy but never found. His name is engraved into the Vimy Memorial Wall. I located him by searching the Commission’s database for all the surnames in my family I was researching. For common surnames you may need additional information to narrow the search results to the correct individual. You can also search for cemeteries. The search is free and easy to use.

So next time you hear about the “Missing” remember they have no known resting place, but their names are etched into the walls of Menin Gate and the Vimy Memorial and others so we can remember them always.

Should you wish to located the grave of a relative killed in the Great War or the Second World War here is the link to search. The results will tell you the exact location if it is a burial. If the person is one of the “missing” is will have under Burial “N/A” but will tell you where the name is engraved.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

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