A friend in need is a friend indeed…
John F Kennedy would attest to that. Sadly, Eroni Kumana, one of the men credited with saving his life during the Second World War, has died. Mr Kumana, from the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, passed away at his home aged 93, 71 years after coming to the rescue of the man who would become the president of the United States.
How did they end up crossing paths?
In August 1943 Mr Kumana and Biuku Gasa were patrolling the waters of the Solomon Islands when they encountered a group of sailors - which included Lieutenant John F Kennedy in its number - who had swum to Olasana Island after their boat collided with a Japanese destroyer. The crew had survived on coconuts and fresh water for six days before they were found.
How did Mr Kumana and Mr Gasa help?
Determined to get a message to the Allied Forces, Kennedy carved a message in the husk of a coconut. The two Solomon Islanders risked their lives by rowing through the Japanese-patrolled waters to deliver the message to the nearest Allied base. Kennedy and his men were then rescued and the young Lieutenant was hailed a hero for his efforts in saving the lives of his crew. He was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart, and his actions in the war are believed to have played a critical role in his success in the 1960 presidential election.
Did Kennedy give his saviours a second thought after that?
Mr Kumana’s grandson Rellysdom Malakana has said that the two men were invited to Kennedy’s inauguration, but were “not allowed” to go. “My grandfather told me it was because they didn’t speak English, they were told to stay away and another person replaced them,” he explained. The President used the coconut as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office and, although Mr Kumana and Mr Gasa – who died in 2005 – never met him again, in 2002 Max Kennedy, son of Robert Kennedy and nephew of President Kennedy travelled to the Solomon Islands to visit the them.
How will Mr Kumana be remembered?
A large funeral is expected, though Mr Malakana said of his grandfather: “He did not feel like he was someone special. But people from overseas, people from America, they are the ones who told my grandfather that he was a special man - that he was the hero who rescued John F Kennedy.”