Solomons' scout who helped rescue Kennedy dies
The last of a duo of Solomon Scouts who were responsible for the rescue of John F. Kennedy during World War Two dies.
The second of the two Solomon Islanders who helped save Lieutenant John Kennedy during World War Two has died.
Eroni Kumana, who was 93, died at his home in Western Province on Saturday.
On the 1st of August in 1943, he and Biuku Gasa, who died nine years ago, found the future US president, who with his crew, had been stranded on an island after their boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer near Gizo.
The 72nd anniversary of the US marines landing on Guadalcanal is being marked this Thursday and the scouts are also being acknowledged at the Pride of Our Nation monument near Honiara.
John Innes, who has long had an interest in Solomon Islands' WW2 history told Don Wiseman more about the scouts and the events surrounding the Kennedy rescue.
JOHN INNES: When he was hit by the Japanese destroyer, bearing in mind, sometimes people say "how on earth could a very fast PT boat that could do 40, 50 miles an hour get hit by a destroyer?" when in fact they cruised very slowly at night just on one engine and low power, just quietly moving along. If they were at full power they'd be giving away their position through the wake etcetera etcetera. So it was rammed by the Amagiri and they swam to a small island which believe it or not, has developed the name Kennedy Island, and spent some time there but it was a tiny island, didn't even have a palm tree on it. Then John F Kennedy, and another went looking for other islands and there was one you could half wade, half swim to, and that was a much bigger island and that's where they came upon locals, including Eroni, who reported to a coastwatcher their situation, and it was the coastwatcher who organised their evacuation.
DON WISEMAN: Eroni was a scout, so they were to a certain extent, I guess, looking out for people stranded in this way.
JI: Immediately the boat was struck, the Australian coastwatcher saw the flash, and they were alerted, and a requested came from headquarters about the Kennedy boat, then they sort of put that together and Eroni and Biuku, they were just working with the coastwatchers, and you've got to remember for every ex-pat coastwatcher there was a hundred locals looking after the coastwatchers and doing the work for them. And these two met up with Kennedy on that island, and a message given that Kennedy wrote on a coconut shell.
DW: It was Eroni Kumana who suggested that, the idea of scratching on the coconut because it would be easily disguised.
JI: Yeah, Kennedy was very impressed by that, because he didn't know quite how he was going to get a message across. He made a comment, "that's pretty good, well done" and did observe that it was Eroni's idea.
DW: He never forgot, he invited him to the inauguration but overzealous British officials wouldn't let them leave the country.
JI: Yeah I keep trying to get to the basis of that story as to why and why not but yeah Kennedy would have loved to have seen him but he didn't make it for whatever the reason was, it was a bit confused. But yes British thoroughness missed the point and they never made it to meet Kennedy.
DW: Kennedy Island has become something of a tourist mecca even though as you say it didn't even have a coconut tree on it.
JI: In fact that's one of the reasons they didn't stay there, they didn't have water and also from the nearby Japanese base you can actually, with a pair of binoculars, examine it and see who's there, so they were hiding up in a very small depression in the middle of this very small island. But yeah right now if you take people there they pick up a seashell from Kennedy Island, it is a bit of a tourist thing. And interestingly it's owned now by the Kennedy family, but another one, the people who own the hotels in Gizo.
DW: Alright, there's no structure on the island though?
JI: None whatsoever, you visit and all you leave there is footprints and nothing there.
DW: Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa, they became well known in the Solomon Islands or was this just another one of the events that occurred during that turbulent time?
JI: At the actual time when it happened, Kennedy was not famous, it's only when he became President it became more widely known that these were the guys who helped the President of the United States. So really they became more famous, or identities if you like, as a result of Kennedy making the Presidency. When you think of the coast watchers saved I think 321 lives, people that had been shot down or whatever, the other locals that rescued other people didn't get things like the accolades or fame that these two did because of Kennedy becoming president. When it did happen, the message got out that Kennedy was missing and the important issue that was worrying people was a New Zealand coastwatcher called Donald Kennedy, and they thought it might have been him, the important Kennedy. As it turned out it was the unimportant one that became the President of the United States.
DW: What happened to Donald?
JI: He survived the war, he coastwatched his style. He had a no-go area so instead of all the other coast watchers just tiptoeing around, if the Japanese intruded in his territory he would have them all killed, he had his own private war there. But he survived the war and saw his time back out in New Zealand.
DW: There has been increasing focus in recent years on the Solomon Scouts and the role that they played and they are part of the memorial that's incorporated into the main memorial marking the seaborne invasion by the Americans on the 7th August 1942.
JI: Yes, it should have been recognised before now, but the fact is without local support, the coastwatching organisation couldn't have survived. And in the beginning it was a remarkably small number of ex-pat coastwatchers, very brave people, we're talking less than 20 people, that were running this operation that had such a dramatic effect. Admiral Bill Halsey said that the coast watchers saved the Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific so importance of what they did was tremendous but for every ex-pat coast watcher there would have been at least 100 locals looking after them, feeding them, gathering the information, spying on the Japanese, warning them about Japanese patrols. In fact on of the famous coast watchers Sir John Keenan,[said] it is on the side of the memorial "without their help, we couldn't have lasted ten minutes".
And when you consider that no local gave away the coastwatching situation to the Japanese. The Japanese knew the coastwatchers were there, they could hear the radio broadcast too, so they were frantically looking for them and you'd think that somebody, even a child in the village, would have given them away but no, not one coastwatcher was betrayed if you like by a local and just the operation could not have happened without local support, and of course the locals are very proud of what they did. In this memorial we've got the family names of all the people that served, that gave assistance and if you like it's the Solomon Islands equivalent to Gallipoli. This is their war, their time and a very important time for the Solomon Islands and they're showing a lot of pride in that memorial.
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