US envoy to Solomon Islands honors father’s life

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US envoy to Solomon Islands honors father’s life

Caroline Kennedy, the new US ambassador to Australia, met with the children of two men who saved the life of her father, John F Kennedy, during the second world war, a visit to the Solomon Islands by senior US diplomats.

Caroline Kennedy was in Honiara to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the battle of Guadalcanal, a brutal seven-month land, sea and air fight between allied and Japanese forces that marked a turning point in the war.

During the battle, John F Kennedy, who went on to become the US president, narrowly escaped death when a Japanese destroyer ran over his patrol boat PT 109.

Kennedy and his shipwrecked crew made their way to a Japanese-controlled island where they were found by two Solomon Islanders, Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa, who were working with the Coastwatchers allied military operatives behind enemy lines.

At great risk, Kumana and Gasa took a coconut, on which Kennedy had written an account of the crew's plight, back to the Australia coast watcher they were working with. The crew of the patrol boat were rescued and were able to be rescued.

Caroline Kennedy met John Koloni, the son of Kumana, and Nelma Ane, daughter of Gasa, at a ceremony on Sunday in Guadalcanal, and presented them with a replica of a coconut husk on which her father had written a distress message. The original is in the Kennedy Museum in Boston.

I am honoured and proud of my dad, and I am happy to receive on behalf of him. Koloni reported that he wish he was here to receive this medal.

Kumana and Gasa have been largely written out of the history of the event. Kennedy invited the men to his inauguration in January 1961, but officials from the British Solomon Islands Protectorate prevented them from going. Two white officials attended instead.

The US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, who warned Pacific Island nations of a new struggle against violent power-hungry regimes, attended the commemorative events in Solomon Islands.

Sherman said that some around the world had forgotten the cost of war or were ignoring the lessons of the past when attending a dawn memorial service.

She hit out at leaders who believe that coercion, pressure, and violence are tools to be used with impunity, but did not specify any names during her speech at the service.

She said that of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the 1930 -- 40s, we remember how bankrupt, how empty, such views were, and today we are engaged in a new kind of struggle that will last a long time to come. Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare did not attend the ceremony, though he was scheduled to appear and was listed on the event program.

Sogavare met Sherman later in the day for what she described as wide-ranging talks.

Sherman and Kennedy's visit comes as Washington is trying to renew its influence in the South Pacific and to suppress growing Chinese influence.

The US announced in February that it would open two new embassies in the Pacific after the deal, as well as its announcement in February that it would reopen its embassy in Honiara, which closed nearly three decades ago.