Row over man who saved JFK

Last updated 15:20 21/08/2012
Eroni Kumana
US Navy
I SAVED JFK: Eroni Kumana couldn't believe the person he had saved would become the future US president.

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A 92-year-old Solomon Islander who saved a young John F Kennedy during World War Two has made a rare public appearance wearing a bright coloured tee-shirt reading "I saved JFK".

But Eroni Kumana's son has gone public grumbling that the United States should have paid for his appearance at ceremonies in Honiara to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal.

On August 2, 1943, the 24 metre long wooden high-speed patrol boat PT109, commanded by then Captain Kennedy was rammed and sunk by the Japanese destroyer Amagari, killing one of the 12 aboard.

As a young man Mr Kumana came across a shipwrecked crew far behind Japanese lines and paddled 60 kilometres to get help, carrying a message carved into a coconut by Kennedy.

The crew had made it to Plum Pudding Island and had lived off coconuts until local Solomon scouts Biuku Gasa, who died in 2005, and Mr Kumana found them.

Kennedy carved a message onto coconut husk: "nauro isl native knows posit he can pilot 11 alive need small boat".

The two men took it to an Australian, Reg Evans, a coastwatcher behind enemy lines and he organised a rescue. The coconut husk was later returned to Kennedy and sat on his White House desk and is now in the Kennedy Museum in Boston.

In 1961, Mr Kumana and Mr Gasa were invited to President Kennedy's inauguration. British officials in then colonial Honiara decided that the two were too unsophisticated and British officials went instead.

In 2002 Mr Gasa received US$15,000 and a bronze JKF bust from a group of private Americans, but the US never formally honoured either men.

Mr Kumana had to wait until a tsunami wrecked his home in 2007 and the US Navy sent in a ship to help with relief work.

For changing world history, the US Navy gave him an American flag and enough money to put a new roof on his house.

Last week he attended the Guadalcanal commemorations but his son John Koloni (CORRECT) told the Solomon Star that the US had not helped them get down the archipelago to the capital.

"We expect the US Consular or the government to assist with his travelling expenses to Honiara, but that was not the case," John Koloni said.

His father's contribution had been ignored.

"While I do appreciate the assistance with a colonial house built in the past by the Americans which was now destroyed by the 2007 tsunami, I believe my father deserves more than this," Mr Koloni said.

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Today the US Consul in Honiara said the private groups, Solomon Scouts (SS) and Coast watchers Trust (CWT) had Mr Kumana's trip.

Solomon Airlines had donated the airfare and paid for petrol for his outboard motor canoe to travel to an airstrip.

They picked him up and gave him Sol$200 (NZ$34) a day for food and expenses.

The Consul said Mr Kumana's presence was honoured at both the US Memorial remembrance ceremonies and at the SS and CWT ceremony,

Mr Kumana assisted in opening the honour board and was acknowledged by all the many high ranking visitors to the event.

Mr Kumana was overjoyed to attend the celebrations.

"Kennedy is my president and I treasure US and JF Kennedy. To be part of this event makes me feel proud and glad to meet US marines again," Mr Kumana said.

"I told my children, no one will ever stop me from going over to Honiara to be part of this 70th Anniversary. I want to see the Americans," Kumana said.

Mr Kumana said Kennedy and America become his treasure and joy since then.

"I could not believe saving the future president of USA," Mr Kumana said.

- Fairfax Media

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