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US recognition for Solomons war hero who saved John F Kennedy comes after 64 years

US recognition for Solomons war hero who saved John F Kennedy comes after 64 years

Sixty-four years after Aaron Kumana helped rescue young U.S. naval officer John F. Kennedy from Japanese capture in 1943, the U.S. Navy officially recognized its debt to the Solomon Islander.
Kumana, from the western Solomons island of Rannonga, and fellow "scout" Biuku Gasa found the crew of torpedo boat PT-109 _ including its skipper, Lt. Kennedy, the future U.S. president _ after their vessel was cut in two by a Japanese destroyer.
Two crew were killed in the collision in the Blackett Strait in August 1943 off Gizo, the main town of western Solomon Islands.
An injured Kennedy and the ship's other survivors clung to the wreckage and swam to a nearby island, where Kumana and Gasa found them.
The pair rowed 56 kilometers (35 miles) through enemy-held waters to summon a rescue boat.
The exploit earned Kennedy the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
Gasa was recognized by private benefactors in 2002 with a US$15,000 gift and a bronze bust of JFK, local businessman Danny Kennedy said Wednesday.
But Kumana was thought to be dead, received nothing at the time, and remained a forgotten hero _ until last week.
Islanders contacted the captain of the USS Peleliu _ a navy ship in the Solomons on a humanitarian and diplomatic mission _ to tell the Americans about 85-year-old Kumana, who is nearly deaf and living in Gizo, Kennedy said.
He was invited onboard and the Peleliu's commanding officer, Capt. Ed Rhoades, presented Kumana with a series of gifts, including an American flag.
"The family was absolutely ecstatic and Aaron was running on adrenaline the whole time," Danny Kennedy said. "It was probably the happiest day of his life."
Kumana slept on the ship overnight, meeting many of the crew.
U.S. Navy Secretary Donald Winter, who visited the amphibious assault ship last week in Gizo, said he was honored to meet Kumana.
"This is an individual who has had a very significant role in the history of our nation and the world," Winter said. "It was an honor to meet the man who rescued the future 35th American President."
The house of the World War II scout _ who helped alert allied forces to Japanese ship and troop movements _ was destroyed in the magnitude-8.1 earthquake on April 2. The resulting tsunami killed more than 50 people.
The Peleliu's crew responded to Kumana's plight by collecting US$1,500 _ enough for a new roof for his newly relocated house.
Kumana recalled that Kennedy promised he would come back to Solomon Islands after the war and meet his rescuers again. But Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
"I mourned for a whole week upon hearing of my friend's death," Kumana said. "I can now be at peace since through my friend's legacy, people have come to know me, my people and my country, the Solomon Islands."
Solomon Islands is the fourth of five stops in Peleliu's five-month "Pacific Partnership" medical mission.
It earlier visited the Philippines, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea, and next will head to the Marshall Islands. Peleliu is scheduled to return to San Diego, California next month.
Military and civilian medical teams from the Peleliu treated patients in Gizo while Seabees, the U.S. navy's construction force, rebuilt medical facilities damaged during the quake and tsunami.