A GOOD MAN DIED THIS CHRISTMAS
Fred Hargesheimer, a World War II Army pilot whose rescue by Pacific islanders led to a life of giving back as a builder of schools and teacher of children, died during the holidays. He was 94.
On June 5, 1943 Hargesheimer, a P-38 pilot with the 8th 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 found by local hunters.
They took him to their coastal village and for seven months hid him from Japanese patrols, fed him and nursed him back to health from two illnesses. In February 1944 with the help of Australian commandos working behind enemy lines, he was picked up by a U.S. submarine off a New Britain beach.
After returning to the U.S. following the war, Hargesheimer got married and began a sales career with Sperry Rand, his career-long employer, but he said he couldnít forget the Nakarai people, whom he considered his saviors.
The more he thought about it the more he realized what a debt he had to repay. After revisiting the village of EaEa in 1960, he came home and raised $15,000 over three years, most of it $5 and $10 gifts. He then returned to EaEa with his 17 year old son Richard (1963) to contract for the building of the villagers' first school.
In the decades that followed, Hargesheimer's U.S. fundraising and his own determination built a clinic, another school, and libraries in EaEa, renamed Nantabu, and surrounding villages.
In 1970, Nargesheimer and his late wife, Dorothy, moved to New Britain, an out-island of the nation of Papau New Guinea, and taught the village children for four years. The Nantabu school's experimental plot of palm oil helped create a local economy, a large plantation, and jobs for impoverished villages.
On his last visit, in 2006, Hargesheimer was helicoptered into the jungle and carried in a chair by Nakanai men to view the newly found wreckage of his World War II plane. He was proclaimed "Suara Auru,"
"Chief Warrior" of the Nakanai.
"The people were very happy. They'll always remember what Mr. Fred Hargesheimer has done for our people," said Ismael Saua, 69, a former teacher at the Nantabu school.
"These people were responsible for saving my life," Hargesheimer told the Associated Press in a 2008 interview. "How could I ever reply them."
Fame and fortune pale in comparison to Fred's wonderfully spent 94 years on our planet. Isn't this the Christmas spirit we aspire to obtain.
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