Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana

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Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana were indigenous people of Solomon Islands, of native Melanesian descent, who found John F. Kennedy and his surviving PT-109 crew following the boat's collision with the Japanese destroyer Amagiri near Plum Pudding Island on 1 August 1943. They were from the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.

PT-109 search and rescue[edit]

During World War II, Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana were tasked with patrolling the waters of the Solomon Sea near Gizo with Australian coastwatcher Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans, who manned a secret observation post at the top of Kolombangara island's Mount Veve volcano. Evans had spotted an explosion on 1 August, and later decoded news that the explosion he had witnessed was probably from the lost PT-109. On 2 August Gasa and Kumana were dispatched by Evans to search in their dugout canoe for possible PT-109 survivors. Kennedy and his men swam to tiny Olasana Island and survived on its coconuts and fresh water for six days before they were found by the two islander men. The canoe couldn't accommodate all of the PT-109 crewmen safely, and the islanders and English-speaking crew had difficulty communicating with each other. In absence of writing utensils, Biuku Gasa suggested that Kennedy should inscribe a message on the husk of a coconut he had plucked from a nearby palm tree. This carved message, after rowing their dugout canoe at great risk through 35 nmi (65 km) of hostile waters patrolled by the Japanese, was then delivered to the nearest Allied base at Rendova. They enabled the ensuing return to Olasana and the successful American rescue operation.[1]

Later years[edit]

Kennedy later invited Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana to attend his presidential inauguration in 1961, but the pair was duped en route in Honiara, the Solomon Islands capital, by British colonial officials who sent other representatives instead.[2] Another version of the story is that they were turned back by British officials at the airport.[3] As far as is known, no one has since offered them a visit to the United States nor with any American president.

Captain Martin Clemens, Australian Coastwatcher on Guadalcanal, rendered services to Allied forces during the battle for the island (August 1942-February 1943). These natives were all members of the Solomon Islands police force. Lt. Arthur Reginald Evans and his scouts would have appeared in similar uniform

Recognition[edit]

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 or award given to Solomon Islanders for their services during the war.

However, in recognition of his help, 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.[4] The BBC reference that the Kennedy family paid for the entire house 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 Eroni Kumana. It fell down in the 2007 tsunami, but Kumana survived the storm.[5]

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, a 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.

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

Lives[edit]

Biuku Gasa was born 27 July 1923, in Madou, Solomon Islands, and lived in Vavudu Village, Kauvi Island, in the Western Solomons.[6] He went to a Seventh-day Adventist missionary school,[7] but did not speak English well. 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 dugout canoe just like the ones the old man had made in his youth, to send to the United States "so they would not forget". Biuku Gasa died on 23 November 2005, the day after the 42nd anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.

Eroni Kumana said he was 78 in 2003, and would have been 18 in 1943. Also schooled by Adventist missionaries,[7] he still lives in Konqu Village, Ranongga Island. He is seen in National Geographic photographs with a hat and a T-shirt that read "I rescued JFK". Kumana created a shrine with an obelisk to JFK, and appointed him honorary chief. [8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ American Warriors: Five Presidents in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Burd Street Press. 2003. ISBN 1-57249-260-0. 
  2. ^ Dusevic, Tom (8 August 2005). "A Friend in Deed". TIME Magazine. 
  3. ^ Chamberlain, Ted (20 November 2002). "JFK's Island Rescuers Honored at Emotional Reunion". National Geographic. p. 2. 
  4. ^ "JFK's epic Solomons swim". BBC News. 30 July 2003. 
  5. ^ "shake shake swim for gizo". oceanswims. Archived from the original on 11 August 2007. 
  6. ^ "The 2003 Results". PT109 Commemorative Swim Marathon. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. 
  7. ^ a b Hadley, Mary Ann (17 April 1997). "Keene's Legend in the South Pacific". The Herbert M. and Ivanette Woodall Hopps Museum and Welcome Center. Archived from the original on 8 May 2005. 
  8. ^ "The Search for Kennedy's PT-109". 

External links[edit]