They Delivered JFK's Distress Note on a Coconut. Now, Thanks

US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy meets with kids of Solomon Islanders who saved her dad in WWII
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2022 10:20 AM CDT
Updated Aug 13, 2022 5:10 PM CDT
Caroline Kennedy Meets Kids of Islanders Who Rescued JFK
Caroline Kennedy speaks upon her arrival in Sydney on July 22.   (Flavio Brancaleone/AAP Image via AP)

(Newser) – In August 1943, during World War II, a 26-year-old John F. Kennedy and his crew were shipwrecked in the Solomon Islands after a Japanese destroyer rammed into their patrol boat during the Battle of Guadalcanal. On Monday, his daughter, Caroline Kennedy, now a US ambassador to Australia, met with and thanked the children of the two Solomon Islanders who helped save her father and his men. "I am so grateful you came here today so I could say thank you, and one day I would like to bring my children to continue the relationship," Kennedy said in Honiara on Sunday, during a visit to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the beginning of that battle between Allied and Japanese forces, per 1News, via the Guardian.

Kennedy was speaking directly to John Koloni, son of Eroni Kumana, and Nelma Ane, daughter of Biuku Gasa, the two islanders who were working with the covert Coastwatchers, allied military operatives, in the region behind enemy lines. After JFK and the other 10 men who'd survived the assault swam more than 3 miles to a Japanese-controlled island, the future president of the United States scribbled a distress message on a coconut explaining their predicament, and Kumana and Gasa risked their lives to transport that coconut to one of the Aussie Coastwatchers, leading to the rescue of JFK and his fellow soldiers.

At the ceremony Monday in the Oceanic nation's capital, Kennedy presented Koloni and Ane with medals and a replica of that coconut husk; the original is in Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. "I'm honored and proud of my dad, and I'm happy to receive on behalf of him," Koloni said, per Stuff. "I wish he was here to receive this medal." The Guardian notes that Kumana and Gasa haven't received much credit over the years for their rescue efforts, though JFK did invite them in 1961 to his inauguration. Solomon Island officials refused to let them attend, sending two white representatives in their place. Gasa died in 2005, followed by Kumana nine years later. (Read more Caroline Kennedy stories.)

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