Curtis LeMay’s Counterlives with Amelia Earhart

Ines Vuckovic (c) 2016

In the Kozak biography there is an extraordinary photograph of LeMay in 1935, standing with Amelia Earhart beneath the wing of a passenger plane at Wheeler field outside Honolulu. LeMay looks uncharacteristically trim and dapper, the end of his necktie tucked carefully between his shirt buttons. Earhart is leggy and glamorous in flight suit and leather jacket. Neither of them looks to camera or seems aware of the other one. Kozak says nothing of this meeting and LeMay is silent about it in his memoirs. We only know that in 1935 the newly married Lieutenant LeMay was teaching navigation with the Sixth Pursuit Group at Wheeler Field, and that Earhart was there preparing for the Honolulu-to-Oakland flight that would enlarge her early fame. Aviation in the 1930s was a small world.

As it documents the brief coming together of two rare lives, the photograph stands at the confluence of counterfactuals, lives they might have lived and didn’t. In one of these, Amelia flies off to her destiny and Curtis, his love for her unspoken and unrequited, silently secretly pines. He becomes in later life a true believer, a curator of every myth, legend, and theory of Amelia’s survival. In another, rather than crashing, as it is generally supposed, into the Pacific near Howland Island in 1937, Amelia makes an emergency landing on Japanese-occupied Saipan. There she is taken prisoner and brought secretly to the capital where, through brainwashing and Stockholm syndrome, she comes to make anti-American propaganda broadcasts as Tokyo Rose. Amelia perishes in flames on March 9 1945, when Curtis’s B29s immolate the city. In a third, Curtis leaves his wife, the sane and sensible Helen, to run off with the beautiful fly-girl. Amelia marries Curtis when the divorce comes through, settles down with him and teaches him peace.


Benjamin Goluboff teaches English at Lake Forest College. Aside from a modest list of scholarly publications, he has placed imaginative work — poetry, fiction, and essays — in numerous small-press journals, most recently Four Ties Literary Review, Kentucky Review, and War Literature and the Arts. He has work forthcoming this spring from Chicago publications, Literary Orphans, and Bird’s Thumb. Some of his work can be read at www.lakeforest.edu/academics/faculty/goluboff/