Joseph Gervais was born on May 19, 1924 in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts. He joined the United States Army Air Corps at Fort Davis, Massachusetts on November 10, 1942 and took basic training in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Gervais went to Truax Field, Wisconsin, after basic training where he took the Airborne Radio Operator course, and upon completion of this course, Gervais was selected for pilot training. He was sent to Douglas, Arizona where he graduated on April 10, 1944. He then received combat crew training in a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers as an aircraft commander.
Having successfully finished all of his training, Gervais was assigned to the 484th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, based in Italy. While serving with the 484th Bomb Group, Gervais completed twenty-six combat missions that took him over Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Northern Italy. After completing his combat tour, he was assigned to the Air Depot Group as a test pilot until VE Day.
From 1951 to 1959, Gervais served at Griffiss Air Force Base as a Boeing B-29 aircraft commander. Some of his missions included flying radar evaluation and electronic countermeasures flights. In 1959, Gervais received an overseas assignment as a Lockheed C-130 Aircraft Commander where he flew airlift missions for SEATO in Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. In 1962, Gervais was assigned to Nellis Air Force Base as Assistant Director of Administration, Base Postal Officer, and Top Secret Control Officer until his retirement in 1963.
While stationed in Okinawa, Major Gervais first became interested in the Amelia Earhart mystery. He received orders to fly four Lockheed C-130s to Australia in order to transport members of the Rockefeller family to New Guinea to investigate the disappearance of their son. While in New Guinea, Gervais visited Lae Island, the place where Amelia Earhart was last seen alive. He talked to several people who were present when she and navigator Fred Noonan took off for Howland Island in 1937.
In 1960, Major Gervais started Operation Earhart along with fellow Air Force officers Major Bob Dinger and Colonel Paul Briand, Jr. Dinger and Gervais were squadron mates and Briand was an Air Force Academy professor whose thesis and eventual book, Daughter of the Sky, helped get the group started.
Eventually, Air Force superiors ordered the group to stop all investigations into the Earhart disappearance. Briand obeyed but Gervais refused, resulting in his retirement from the Air Force.
Gervais continued his research into the Earhart disappearance, gaining the help of Joe Klass, a former military pilot. Their quest for answers began with a search for the remains of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra, believed to have crashed in the Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. No aircraft wreckage was found, but their research led them to Saipan where native residents claimed to have seen Earhart and Noonan alive as Japanese prisoners.
Eventually their search led them to a woman living in the United States who resembled Earhart, not just in appearance, but in her speech and other mannerisms as well. Gervais believed this woman, Irene Bolam, was indeed Amelia Earhart. They believe that Earhart and Noonan, while “spying” for the United States, were forced down and captured by the Japanese. After the war, they believed she returned home under the assumed name Irene Craigmile and later married Guy Bolam.
Joe Klass, using Gervais’ research, wrote a book titled Amelia Earhart Lives. Bolam sued Klass, Gervais, and the publisher, McGraw-Hill, with the result that McGraw-Hill agreed to withdraw the book.
Gervais’ theory as to what happened to Amelia Earhart is a well-researched one. Gervais and his colleagues were seasoned Air Force pilots, and thus, understood the problems in flying long distances over water as well as the technical aspects of flying aircraft. Their experience and some of the documents and leads uncovered in their research led them to believe that Amelia Earhart did indeed survive.