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15 September 2018


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How people can be a blessing to each other, generations on. Love this!

As background to this article, readers can refer to Fred's book 'The School That Fell From The Sky' (ISBN 1-58909-1167) and Stuart Inder's preface, which I reproduce here:

"It's now more than forty years since I met Fred Hargesheimer, but I recall that my first reaction was that he was not only a very good story but also 'a helluva good bloke'.

"The smiling, cheerful Fred had just arrived in Papua New Guinea from his home in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, to search out and thank the people of a small village deep in the jungle of rugged New Britain for having saved his life in wartime 1943.

"I was then the editor of the Sydney-based Pacific Islands Monthly, and New Guinea was a part of my beat, so naturally I was keen to report the story of this American airman whose P-38 had been shot down, and who had managed, though injured, to bail out over that Japanese-occupied island.

"Alone, and not sure just where he was, he had survived for a month on bamboo shoots, snails, and a couple of chocolate bars before being seen by people from Nantabu village, who hid him from searching Japanese patrols and nursed him back to health.

"By this time, back at the squadron, Fred had long been given up for dead. The villagers succoured him for five months, eventually connecting him up with a small party of Australian military Coastwatchers who had been landed on New Britain to report enemy movements.

"Fred himself became an active Coastwatcher before being taken out by submarine another three months later.

"So he had come back to thank the villagers. But as good a story as it was then, it got even better after Fred went back to Minnesota, for he was determined to do something substantial for them.

"We followed him up, and in occasional reports in our pages over many years Fred became admired, as he is still admired on my side of the Pacific, as the American who wouldn't forget, who decided to build a school for the people in that remote area of New Britain, who established a foundation and raised the funds for the school, the man who built it and got it staffed.

"In those early years he worked on it with his own hands, with the help of his warm and supportive wife Dorothy and one of their sons, Dick. They built it at Ewasse, not far from Nantabu but more accessible for the region, and named it the Airmen's Memorial School.

"Fred and Dorothy lived among the villagers for some years, two well-balanced people doing a job on the other side of the world because they decided it needed doing.

"I know of no greater story of dedication in the Pacific, dedication done so cheerfully, than the story of Fred Hargesheimer and his family.

"Fred tells his story in these pages. It's a great read, and even all these years later I choked up at the detailed account of his wartime experiences on New Britain, although I thought I knew them.

"Fred's recollections about what the people did for him are so vivid and honest that he makes it easier for us to see why, as he says, he 'had to go back'. But Fred of course not only went back, he has kept on going back, and he rather too modestly avoids telling us the details of the difficulties he has faced and overcome over the years in developing a very successful school and its many parts.

"Many of the problems of course were thrown up by the sheer distance and communication problems between New Britain and the United States.

"But Fred is there for the long haul. His more than forty years of work and dedication are a triumph of faith, perseverance, and humanity."

Stuart Inder, Sydney, Australia . May 2002

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