Here’s one of those stories that not many people know about, but it’s one of those things that probably changed the course of history!
And it involves the life of one of the United States’ most celebrated presidents – John F Kennedy.
It’s actually a pretty interesting tale of how he managed to cheat death in World War 2 during the Battle of the Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
Here is a pic of a youthful Mr Kennedy in his mid twenties.
Anyway, the story goes like this.
An almost unknown John F Kennedy Accomplishment!
Kennedy was captain of a patrol boat named PT-109 when it was rammed by a Japanese destroyer called the Amangiri and caused the boat to sink on the night of 1 August 1943.
He then had to swim to this island you can see below, with 11 crew members. Kennedy saved the life of one of his injured crew members by towing him using a life vest strap clenched in his teeth.
At the time, it was known as Plum Pudding Island. However, after this event, it was named after John John and has forever since been known as Kennedy Island.
Which you can easily reach these days if you stay at Fat Boys Resort.
What happened is that Kennedy had to then try and communicate with his base. However, this was the 1940s and there was no such thing as mobile coverage.
Plus on Kennedy Island, there was no food and water – so everyone had to swim again to another island called Olasuna Island – where it was pretty much the same story.
So what he did was carve out this message in a coconut which said the following: ‘These 2 natives know where we 11 are’.
Here’s a replica of that coconut below.
Actually, that was the English interpretation. The real message was in pidgin English and said more or less the same thing – ‘nauro isl commander… native knows pos’it… he can pilot… 11 alive need small boat…Kennedy..’
The two ‘natives’ – Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana took the coconut and paddled for miles and miles through Japanese controlled waters to and finally made the U.S. base in Rendova – at much risk to their own lives. This eventually lead to a rescue mission, and John F Kennedy and his mates lived to fight another day.
So the locals didn’t just save the lives of Kennedy and his men. It’s estimated they saved 800 lives in total, including airmen, naval personnel, and civilians.
As an ending to this story, John Kennedy did manage to get his hands on the coconut he inscribed. And it actually made it to the White House!
He used it as a paperweight in the Oval Office, so this became the most famous coconut in history.
If you’re in the United States, you can view the coconut these days in the John F Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.
What’s a bit sad about this story is that Kennedy invited the ‘two natives’ – Biuku and Eroni to his presidential inauguration but were denied by a stiff upper lip British colonial officer because ‘they couldn’t speak English well enough’. Oh well.
So think about this – if this PT-109 event hadn’t happened, it would have been like a butterfly effect moment and John’s life may have taken another course.
So he may not have had become President of the United States, and hence, launched a crazy ambition to send a man to the moon, or even have that affair with Marilyn Monroe! 🙂
But these days, you can have an ice cold beer on the island to pay tribute to this historical event and say cheers to John F Kennedy and PT-109!
That’s a Solbrew for me!
I’ve also been to the PT-109 bar in Gizo which is a good introduction to how the locals like to party. You’ll see references to PT-109 and Kennedy all over the Solomon Islands.
See more at the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau.