The National – Wednesday, December 29, 2010
By EKONIA PENI
FORMER US Air Force Pilot, Lt Fred Hargesheimer, who dedicated his life since the early 1960s to providing education services to the Nakanai people in Bialla District, West New Britain, has died.
He was 94.
An email from his son Richard in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, stated that Hargesheimer passed away last Thursday, which was Friday (Dec 24), PNG time .
“He did so peacefully, without pain, surrounded in his heart by his family and all of you, his friends, compatriots, and comrades of a lifetime.”
The late Hargesheimer served in the eighth Photo Squadron of the US Army during World War II. He was on a mission taking pictures of Japanese set ups over the Island of New Britain during WWII when his plane was shot down by a Japanese warplane.
He ejected from his plane, landed in the jungles of Nakanai, lived on water snails and whatever he could eat before he was rescued 31 days later along the Pandi River by the Meramera people.
They took him to their village of Ea Ea, nurtured him to full health and then led him to the Coast watchers in the mountains behind their village who then transferred him to a US warship bound for the United States.
The remarkable story of the rescue mission by the local Meramera people caused Hargesheimer to return to say “thank you” through education services.
He built a primary school at Ewasse Village which was opened in 1964 and today it is called the Airmen’s Memorial School which has been commonly known as “The School That Fell From the Sky”. Shortly after, he also built the Airmen’s Memorial Health Centre at Ewasse village which was later relocated to the Bialla Health Centre when Bialla Town was opened.
Hargesheimer also built the Noau Primary for the Meramera people in the 1990s, and later built a library for the school which he officially opened in 2006 during his last visit to the Nakanai people.
For his tireless commitment and love, Hargesheimer was bestowed the title Suara Auru (Chief Warrior) by the people of Nakanai who call him “Fred Suara Auru” or “Mastah Preddi”.
The Airmen’s Memorial Foundation will continue Hargesheimer’s work in helping people as in building infrastructure.