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Fred Hargesheimer’s legacy lives on in the Nakanai region

Richard Hargesheimer and his wife Christy surrounded by students and teachers of Nantabu, where new teachers’ housing will be built


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

Hargesheimer_FredFred 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 a teacher, died here Thursday. He was 94.

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.”


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Rashmii Bell

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

Peter Salmon

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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