Today: Fred Hargesheimer, a World War ll pilot whose life was saved by Pacific Islanders who he later repaid many times over for their profound kindness.
On June 5, 1943 Fred, a U.S. P-38 combat pilot was shot out of the sky by the Japanese over the Japanese occupied island of New Britain.
Just before his plane crashed, he parachuted and landed in a thick jungle. He survived the crash but he knew the heavily armed Japanese patrols were looking for him.
For the next 31 days, Fred struggled to live in the jungle but he grew weak and was dying from dehydration, hunger and malaria, when a group of Pacific Islanders found him and carried him to their village.
For six months, they fed and nursed him, while hiding him from the Japanese troops. Australian commandos behind enemy lines later found him with these Pacific Islanders and told the U.S. military. They rescued Fred in a submarine just beyond the beach.
After the war, Fred went home to Minnesota, got married, had three children and spent his career as a salesman for what became the computer firm, Sperry Rand. But he never forgot those New Britain islanders, known as the Nakanai people, who rescued him.
In 1960, 44 year old Fred returned to express his deep gratitude and to get to know the Nakanai people again. The grinding poverty he saw so moved him, that when he returned home, he raised $15,000 over the next three years, often $1, $5 or $10 at a time.
Fred then returned with his 17 year old son Richard and used the money to build the village’s first school. As the years passed, Fred continued to fund raise and built a clinic, a second school and a library.
In 1970, with their children grown, 54 year old Fred and his wife Dorothy moved to New Britain to the Nakanai community and for the next four years, served as teachers.
Aside from teaching, Fred knew the Nakanai needed jobs and set up businesses to employ them. One venture, an oil palm plantation, became a success and is today a crucial source of jobs for the impoverished villagers.
Fred repeatedly returned over the years and in 2000, the Nakanai crowned him with the honor of “Chief Warrior,” a position held by men of high stature in their community. It was also their way of helping him celebrate his 84th birthday.
The ceremony was attended by people from villages far and wide and included speeches, songs and tribal dances and Fred was presented with a headdress, arm bands and bracelets, followed by a ceremonial spear and shield.
During Fred’s 2006 visit, the villagers had a special surprise for the 90 year old. They took him to the newly found wreckage of his P-38 aircraft, setting where it had been for 63 years.
In 2008, when the Associated Press asked Fred why he had done so much to help the Nakanai, he replied, “These people were responsible for saving my life. How could I ever repay it?”
But on December 23, 2010, two days before Christmas, Fred died after a brief illness in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was 94. He is survived by his sons Richard and Eric and daughter Carol, and by a sister and by eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
He is also survived by the grateful villagers whose lives he so deeply touched. “The people were very happy (with Fred). They’ll always remember what Mr. Fred Hargesheimer has done for our people,” 69 year old Ismael Saua, a former teacher at the Nantabu school said to the Associated Press.
The feeling was mutual for they had captured Fred’s heart and for 50 years, he joyfully reached out to help them.
Success Tip of the Week:
Do you have a debt to a parent, a teacher or a mentor you would like to lovingly repay? Why not make this the week you express your gratitude, even if it is as simple as writing a thank you note or placing a phone call, both powerful acts.
The quotes were taken from “Fred Hargesheimer, 1916 – 2010: Rescued pilot aided islanders,” written by the Associated Press and published in the Los Angeles Times, (and The New York Times and elsewhere). http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/world/24harg.html
In the next KazanToday:
Born in a post war relocation camp, a son of Holocaust survivors used his personal struggle to help him become a business success.