Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana
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Biuku Gasa (27 July 1923 – 23 November 2005) and Eroni Kumana (c. 1918 – 2 August 2014) were Solomon Islanders of 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
During World War II, Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana were tasked with patrolling the waters of the Solomon Sea near Gizo by Australian coastwatcher Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans, who manned a secret observation post at the top of Kolombangara island's Mount Veve volcano, and had five two-man teams of islanders working for him. Evans had spotted an explosion on 1 August, and later that morning 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. Abandoning their sinking ship, Kennedy and his men swam first to the very tiny Plum Pudding island – which was later named after him.
They later abandoned Plum Pudding Island and swam to tiny Olasana Island in search of food and water. On Olasana, Kennedy found coconuts and fresh water which were of some small help to his men. On Olsana Island, Kennedy was discovered 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: “NAURO ISL… COMMANDER… NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT… HE CAN PILOT… 11 ALIVE… NEED SMALL BOAT… KENNEDY.” This knife-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 on August 7th.
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. Another version of the story is that they were turned back by British officials at the airport. The story from Biuku's descendants is that the British officials did not want to send Biuku and Eroni because they were simple village men and not well dressed (by the British authorities' standards). This was a sad outcome for the two heroes, who had willingly helped U.S. forces with disregard to their own safety or wellbeing, and who had known full well what the retributions would have been if they had been discovered by the Japanese. The legend of these two men survives to this day among their descendants in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands.
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. (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.
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 F. Kennedy. The National Geographic had gone there as part of an expedition by Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the wreck of the Titanic, who did find the remains 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.
Biuku Gasa was born 27 July 1923, in Madou, Solomon Islands, and lived in Vavudu Village, Kauvi Island, in the Western Solomons. He went to a Seventh-day Adventist missionary school, 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, he lived in Konqu Village, Ranongga Island. He was 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. Kumana died on 2 August 2014, 71 years to the day after the search mission began. He was 96.
-  "Eroni Kumana, Who Saved Kennedy and His Shipwrecked Crew, Dies at 96"
- Brown, Rob (6 August 2014). "One of two Solomon Islanders who saved the life of John F Kennedy during the war in the Pacific died on Saturday at the age of 93". BBC.
One of two Solomon Islanders who saved the life of John F Kennedy during the war in the Pacific died on Saturday at the age of 93.
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- "Eroni Kumana Gets His Flag" Associated Press, 2 September 2007