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Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana were Solomon Islands natives of Melanesian descent who discovered John F. Kennedy and the rest of PT-109's crew following the boat's collision with the Japanese destroyer Amagiri near Plum Pudding Island on August 2, 1943.

During World War II, Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana were tasked with patrolling the waters of the Solomon Sea near Gizo with Australian coastwatcher Lt. Arthur Reginald Evans. On August 2, both were ordered by Evans to search with their dugout canoes for possible PT-109 survivors. Kennedy and his men survived on coconuts for six days before they were found by the two islanders. Unfortunately, the canoes couldn't accommodate all of the PT-109 crewmen safely; and perhaps more importantly, the islanders had a hard time communicating with the English-speaking crew. In absence of writing utensils, Gasa suggested that Kennedy should inscribe a message on the husk of a coconut plucked from a nearby tree. This message was then delivered by rowing 35 miles to the nearest allied base, and a successful American rescue operation ensued.[1] [3]

Kennedy later invited Gasa to attend his presidential inauguration, but the pair was duped en route in Honiara, the capital, by colonial officials who sent other Solomons' representatives.[2] Another version of the story is that they were turned back by officials at the airport. [3] As far as is known, no one has since offered them a visit to the president or the United States.

Lt. Arthur Reginald Evans, Gasa and Kumana would have looked similar to this photo of Captain Martin Clemens, Australian Coastwatcher on Guadalcanal, rendered services to Allied forces during the battle for the island. The natives were members of the Solomon Islands police force.

Contents

Recognition

Another scout, Alesasa Bisili, wrote of his experience during the 1942 Japanese landing at Munda in "Scouting in Western Solomons". He expressed sadness and anger over the unjust lack of recognition and award given to Solomon Islanders for their services during the war.

However, Biuku Gasa lived in a house paid for by the Kennedy family ($5k), National Geographic ($5k) and the balance ($15k) by Brian and Sue Mitchell, in recognition of his help. [4] The reference that the Kennedy family paid for the entire house in the BBC is incorrect. The house was designed by Brian Mitchell in co-operation with a Brisbane-based Australian architect. Melody Miller (Senator Edward Kennedy's Press Secretary) was responsible for pulling all the parties together after being approached by Brian and Sue Mitchell. The Kennedys also constructed a house for Kumana. It fell down in the 2007 tsunami, but Kumana survived the storm.[5]

In 2003, a swim was organized to raise money for Gasa's community.

Biuku died on 23 November 2005.

Life

Gasa was born July 27, 1923, in Madou, Solomon Islands. He went to a missionary school, but did not speak English well. Biuku Gasa lived in Vavudu Village, Kauvi Is.[6] After the war Gasa and his wife Nelma had six children. They lived off coconuts and crops. They also caught fish in Vonavona lagoon. Gasa was the local patriarch as most of the residents are descendants of the "old man" as he was known, and he rarely left the island. Gasa was still alive in August 2005 when the Pacific edition of Time magazine wrote that he was sick in the hospital. His children built a canoe just like the old man had made, to send to the United States "so they would not forget".

Eroni Kumana said he was 78 in 2003, and would have been 18 in 1943. He also was schooled by missionaries. He still lives in Konqu Village, Ranongga Island. He is seen in National Geographic photographs with a hat and a T-shirt that said "I saved JFK". Kumana created a shrine with an obelisk to JFK, and appointed him honorary chief.

Gasa and Kumana were interviewed by National Geographic in 2002, and can be seen on the DVD of the television special. They were presented a bust by Max Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy. The National Geographic had come there as part of an expedition by the Titanic wreck hunter Robert Ballard, who did find the wreck of the PT-109. The special was called The Search for Kennedy's PT 109.

Notes

  1. ^ American Warriors:Five Presidents in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Burd Street Press, ISBN 1-57249-260-0, 2003
  2. ^ From TIME pacific Magazine, issue dated August 15, 2005 / No. 32 Monday, Aug. 08, 2005 A Friend in Deed
  3. ^ The Islanders who saved Kennedy - National Geographic
  4. ^ BBC news 30 July, 2003
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2] PT-109 swim results

External links

"Alesasa Bisili's narrative 'Scouting in Western Solomons', describes his experiences as a scout during the Japanese landing at Munda in 1942. Like Zoleveke, he too expresses sadness and anger over the unjust lack of recognition and award given to Solomon Islanders for their services during the war... The contributions are by Biku Gasa, Aron Kumana, (the two Solomon Islanders principally responsible for Kennedy's rescue), John Kari and Andrew Langabaea"

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