U.S. Ambassador Kennedy arrives in Honiara

U.S Ambassador Caroline Kennedy (centre) with her son Jack Schlossberg (far right) and other officials (Photo: Photo: Solomon Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs & External Trade)

United States Ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy has arrived in Honiara Monday to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the sinking of President Kennedy’s Patrol Torpedo Boat and his rescue by Solomon Islands Scouts and an Australian Coastwatcher.

Ambassador Kennedy will be travelling to Western Province to retrace Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s steps.

A statement said the rescue of PT-109 is an incredible example of survival, heroism, and the friendship between the United States, Solomon Islands, and Australia that endures to this day.

Commanded by then-Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, PT-109 was struck by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in the early hours on August 2, 1943 while patrolling Blackett Strait, on the southern side of Kolombangara Island.

The eleven survivors abandoned the sinking boat. After a lengthy swim, and while towing an injured crewmate, Lt. Kennedy and the survivors swam ashore on what is now called Kennedy Island.

With the help of two Solomon Scouts – Biaku Gasa and Eroni Kumana – and Australian Coastwatcher Reg Evans, the crew were eventually rescued.

Lt. Kennedy would receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism and become the 35th President of the United States in 1961.

Ambassador Kennedy said: “While we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Solomon Islanders who risked their lives during the Pacific Campaign, my family and I owe a personal debt of gratitude to two Solomon Islander Scouts — Biaku Gasa and Eroni Kumana – who saved my father’s life.

“Thanks to them, he and his crew survived the sinking of PT-109 and were able to return home and eventually run for President.

“His experiences here made him the man and the leader that he was, just as the experiences of so many others shaped the men and women they would become.” 

While in the Western Province, Ambassador Kennedy will be meeting the families of Solomon Scouts Biaku Gasa and Eroni Kumana on Naru Island, participating in a commemoration on Kennedy Island, and swimming the route between Olasana and Naru Islands that Lt. Kennedy swam multiple times between 2-6 August, 1943. 

Ambassador Kennedy will also visit the Gizo Public School community to speak with students about their shared history, visit the Catholic church community, and learn more about the work of USAID in promoting sustainable livelihoods in Sairagi Village, West Gizo. Ambassador Kennedy was accompanied by her son, Jack Schlossberg.