KIMBE – Seventy-five years after he was shot down and rescued, and eight years after his death, the Airmen’s Memorial Foundation established by Fred Hargesheimer is still honouring his legacy.
The latest act of benevolence came this week with a ground-breaking ceremony at Nantabu Village in West New Britain, the village where Fred Hargesheimer was sheltered and nursed back to health.
The foundation’s newest development is to build teachers’ housing at the village school, a project that will cost K100,000.
The ceremony was attended by Fred’s son, Richard Hargesheimer, who travelled from Lincoln, Nebraska to administer his late father’s legacy.
“It is a great honour to return once again to West New Britain to serve the people that saved my father’s life,” Richard Hargesheimer said.
“75 years ago Fred Hargesheimer was shot down as the allied forces pursued world peace during the Second World War.
“War is never good, but good things do come from it, especially when it is in the pursuit of peace and freedom,” he said.
“My father wanted to repay the people, the Nakanai people who saved his life.
“He wanted to honour their kindness with kindness, and what better way to give than the gift of education.”
So far the Airman’s Foundation has built classrooms and teachers’ accommodation in the villages of Ewasse and Noau.
“My father visited these schools and was always warmly welcomed,” Richard Hargesheimer said, “and I am sure he is with us now as once again we celebrate the special relationship between him and the Nakanai people.
“We have now come full circle, we are in Nantabu to perform a ground-breaking ceremony that will see the construction of teachers’ accommodation.”
Richard Hargesheimer also acknowledged the work of Hargy Oil Palms in administering and managing the work of the Airmen’s Memorial Foundation.
“Without Hargy Oil Palms there would not be two schools, there wouldn’t be anything,” he said.
“The management of Hargy Oil Palms and their enthusiasm for what we were doing has been absolutely instrumental.
“The last two General Managers in particular – Graham King and Dave Mather – have simply been outstanding. Graham’s interest in education is almost unparalleled and David Mather was extraordinarily supportive – those were the two who I have been most closely connected to.
“They have been absolutely instrumental in seeing that those funds have been put to good use in terms of the school infrastructure, in a tropical area, with books and all other kinds of things, well after Fred’s passing.”
Extract from the New York Times, 23 December 2010
His death was confirmed by his son Richard.
On June 5, 1943, Mr Hargesheimer, a P-38 pilot with the Eighth Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, was shot down by a Japanese fighter while on a mission over the Japanese-held island of New Britain in the southwest Pacific.
He parachuted into the jungle, where he barely survived for 31 days until local hunters found him.
They took him to their coastal village, and for seven months hid him from Japanese patrols, fed him and nursed him back to health.
In February 1944, with the help of Australian commandos working behind Japanese lines, he was picked up by an American submarine off a New Britain beach.
After returning to the United States following the war, Mr Hargesheimer married and began a sales career with a Minnesota forerunner of the computer maker Sperry Rand, his lifelong employer. But he said he could not forget the Nakanai people, whom he considered his saviours.
In 2004, Fred Hargesheimer visited students at a school he helped build in Papua New Guinea.
The more he thought about it, he later said, “the more I realised what a debt I had to try to repay.”