Happy Birthday Amelia Earhart, wherever you may be

Amelia Earhart continues to capture our attention and imagination, 75 years after her death.

SAN JOSE, California, July 24, 2012 - Amelia Earhart is a prime example of someone who made history on purpose. She made history because it helped gain her fame and publicity which provided her with the resources to keep doing what she loved, which was flying through the wild blue sky in an airplane. When she was able to continue flying, she could continue to make history.

Ironically, not only did she manage to make history all the way up to her mysterious disappearance, but also her story and the memory of Amelia continue to make history, even today.

On March 20th of this year, at a special event in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the United States Department of State office building, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, announced that the State Department would support a private group’s efforts to discover whether Amelia Earhart landed on or near a remote island in the South Pacific not far from where her plane supposedly crashed into the ocean 75 years ago.

At the event, Secretary Clinton and the U.S. Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood publicly offered support and encouragement to the privately funded organization intent on finding the missing Lockheed Electra that disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937. The private organization, known as The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), intended to find evidence of the plane Amelia Earhart flew in her famous attempt to become the first woman to fly an airplane around the world. 

TIGHAR has already spent years searching Nikumaroro Island for any artifacts or evidence of people or plane parts that could prove their theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, did not crash into the Pacific, but instead landed on or near this island just to the south of their refueling destination of Howland Island. The theory at TIGHAR is that Earhart and Noonan may have managed to survive for some time after the Coast Guard station at Howland lost radio contact with the pair.

Such a theory, however, flies in the face of what most historians have believed since the 1940’s – that the specially outfitted Lockheed Electra ran out of gas and either crashed, or landed on the surface, and then sunk into the merciless waters of the Pacific. It is indeed a tragic story, and possibly contains the elements of an epic novel. Certainly, Hollywood picked up on it, and their latest rendition was the 2009 version of Amelia starring Hillary Swank and Richard Gere.

Amelia’s story has long qualified as America’s favorite missing person’s story. In reality, many enterprising writers have made a few bucks by writing a tale or two speculating on what happened to Amelia Earhart. It is definitely is one of the most endearing unsolved mysteries and the subject of extensive and repeated speculation and debate.          

Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. She appeared at the turn of the century, at a time when the United States was going through great changes: cultural, moral, political, social, and technological. Perhaps the scientific developments and the technological innovations enhanced many of those powerful changes. Certainly the invention of the airplane shaped the rapid flow and eventual outcome of Amelia’s life. 

Growing up in the Midwest in the early 1900s may seem to some as a boring endeavor akin to watching corn grow. But Amelia was an adventurous lass, and her childhood story is entwined with her younger sister’s and colored by tales of cooperative exploration of their environment. Much like experiences of many active children in such a time, the Earhart girls engaged in climbing trees, collecting zoological specimens like katydids, toads, and worms, and hunting rats with rifles (definitely another day and age). Also, as if to foreshadow her future endeavors, young Amelia managed to “fly” in a wooden crate off of a home-made ramp connected to the roof of her grandparent’s tool shed.        

From that primitive initiation into “flying,” to the moments when she first began taking flying lessons near Long Beach, California, to the time she earned initial fame as the first woman passenger to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane, she seemed destined to become one of America’s most famous female flyers. But more than this, in an age when women were witnessing the fruition of Women’s Suffrage and testing the waters with newly obtained political power, Amelia Earhart seemed an embodiment of the image of such a newly empowered and emboldened woman. 

Amelia Earhart certainly generated a positive impact on American women in her day and for many years after. Even Hillary Clinton’s mother was an Amelia fan. Clinton pointed out that Earhart served as an inspiration for Americans during the difficult times of the Great Depression. Amelia tales apparently inspired a young Hillary to envision becoming an astronaut when she grew up. Her admiration of Earhart may explain why she took such a high profile position in finding the lost Electra and backing the attempt to solve the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart on that fateful day in July, 75 years ago.

TIGHAR has been trying to solve that mystery since 1988. The organization seems obsessed with trying to prove a theory that first originated with the U.S. Navy as one of their first possible scenarios of what may have happened to the daring aviatrix and her navigator. TIGHAR started investigating most of the existing documents surrounding the disappearance of Earhart and discovered documentation that the pair actually had more fuel than originally imagined.

The theory that TIGHAR operates upon is that the doomed duo landed on or near an island close to their original destination of Howland Island. Historical documents and reasoned speculation led the organization to suspect the most likely place where Earhart and Noonan may have spent their last days was Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro). They have scoured the island year after year (as long as contributions and sponsor money permit) and have discovered numerous artifacts that could have belonged to Earhart or Noonen and airplane parts that could have been part of the Electra.

Currently in their 24th year of detective work, the non-profit organization was able to garner the blessings of Clinton and started this year’s expedition on July 3rd with the mission to locate physical or even photographic evidence of the special Lockheed Electra, which theoretically lodged on a reef in the waters off Nikumaroro. Unfortunately, the group wrapped up their research this past weekend, and according to their Website, they had little success after five days of underwater research, and have departed the South Pacific without any startling announcement of finding the famous lost plane.

Hillary’s hopes for closure will not be fulfilled, not at least for now. Amelia’s final resting place will still remain a mystery for a while longer. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton made a good point when she honored Earhart at the event in March: “She gave people hope and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder…and like that earlier generation, we could use some of Amelia’s spirit.”

So true. In these difficult times, Americans do need to remember to be courageous, and  to challenge limitations, and to be bold enough to risk all for what is truly loved. On her birthday, it may be appropriate to thank Amelia for reminding us, through the example of her remarkable life, the value of living in the land of the free.

For those who are interested, TIGHAR’s Website is:    http://tighar.org/



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Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison
Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Now semi-retired, he is an adjunct faculty member  at West Valley College in California.  He also currently writes a column on history and one on American freedom for the Communities at the Washington Times.


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