WWII PILOT RETURNS TO PNG SCHOOL HE BUILT

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, August 2) - Sixty-one years ago, a 27-year-old American army pilot was shot down over the north coast of West New Britain in Papua New Guinea.

Last week, the community that saved his life recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the primary school he built as a token of his appreciation for looking after him and hiding him from the Japanese army during the Second World War.

For the people of Bialla and West New Britain, the name Fred Hargesheimer has become a household name.

It was in 1943 when U.S. Army Air Force pilot Lieutenant Hargesheimer was on a reconnaissance flight over part of the north coast of New Britain Island following reports of a build-up of Japanese troops around the area near Lolobau Island.

It was a day that changed history not only for the young pilot but also for those who saved him and looked after him until help came.

Hargesheimer flew into a terrible storm and could not see the land below. He pushed his plane higher into the sky but the storm was all around him.

So he descended to 8,000 feet and was able to see evidence of Japanese presence in the area. While preparing to photograph a Japanese base below, a Japanese fighter sighted him and the pilot fired at him setting one engine of his plane on fire.

The plane was on its way down when its pilot ejected and descended by parachute. After 31 days in the jungle alone, he was found by a group of Nakanai men from Nantambu Village who took him in and cared for him.

The whole village was under strict instructions from the local headman not to reveal his presence to the enemy -- the Japanese who had occupied the area.

Each time a Japanese patrol approached the village, conch shell was sounded and Hagesheimer was taken away into hiding. Children would also follow him to erase his footprints on the ground as he moved around.

By and by he was rescued by an American submarine and returned to his country but he vowed to return and help the people who saved his life.

In 1960, Hargesheimer returned and met his newfound friends in a more peaceful atmosphere. In 1963 he came back and with the help of funds raised back in the U.S., he built the school that is known as Airmen’s Memorial Primary School at Ewasse village in the Bialla District of West New Britain.

Last week Fred Hargesheimer -- now 88 years old -- returned to the school for the 12th time -- and what could be his last visit -- for the 40th anniversary celebrations.

Read the full story in the Weekend Extra on Friday.

August 3, 2004

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier: www.postcourier.com.pg/

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