SKY CAPTAIN AND THE SCHOOL OF TOMORROW: FRED HARGESHEIMER (1916-2010)
"I thank God from the depths of my heart for blessing me in such an abundant way when He brought Suara Auru Fred Hargesheimer." - New Britain Villager Garua Peni, 2006
Amy Johnson's life adventure ended in the skies of war. In those same skies, only a few months later, Fred Hargesheimer's adventure only began. While his path did not lead to the stars (and only barely not to the drink), rather, it led to something quite different, and in its own way, just as wonderful.
Let Wikipedia tell the tale:
Hargesheimer served with the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He was flying a Lockheed P-38 on a photo reconnaissance mission on June 5, 1943, over the island of New Britain,Papua New Guinea, when his plane was attacked by a Japanese Ki-45 Nick fighter. Despite his injuries and jammed canopy, he was able to parachute to safety. For the next month he fought to survive in the jungle. He was found by members of the Nakanai tribe after 31 days.
Fred's website tells it this way:
In the lining of the parachute there was a“survival kit.” A compass, ten matches, two chocolate bars, and a guide about friendly fruits and vegetables, etc.
For 31 days he made his way through the jungle. Loneliness. Despair. Delirium. Nightmares. He prayed. Slogging through mud, crambling up and down ridges, pushing through clinging jungle. Emergency rations soon ran out. At night mosquitoes shared his camp.
He eventually reached a riverbank where he set up a bit of a camp. He ate snails, a lot of snails. On the 31st day, just before sunset he took off his clothes and walked into the edge of the river to gather bamboo shoots for supper. Fred heard voices, thought perhaps he was hallucinating until a slender nose of an outrigger canoe pushed into view from behind a clump of trees that flanked the near side of the stream. It was followed by a crowd of natives chatting and singing as they waded through the shallow water. They both stood is silence watching each other. Lauo, their leader, broke the silence, greeting Hargesheimer and handing him a crumpled note. It was from an Australian officer. Lieutenant Hargesheimer broke down and cried.
It should be noted: the Japanese pilot who brought down his plane deliberately failed to shoot Fred as he parachuted. Fred eventually found him in a hospital in Japan many years later, but the man could not communicate with him, as Alzheimer's had taken his memory.
[The people who found him] sheltered him for five months in the village of Ea Ea risking their lives to protect him from being found by Japanese soldiers. He met up with Australian Coastwatchers who moved him inland. On February 5, 1944, Fred, along with other downed airmen, was rescued by the USS Gato. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal. After the war, he returned to his hometown of Rochester, Minnesota, where he raised a family of his own.
Most men would simply have gone home after the war and thanked God that they had escaped with their skins and moved on. But Fred remembered.
He made contact by post with a local missionary, who kept him appraised on the progress of the people of Ea Ea. In 1963, having made a successful career as an engineer, he returned to the village that had sheltered him.
He had raised the then-significant sum of $15,000 US and he vowed to bring the money to the village and build a school. The school was built and, in 1964, the doors were opened to 78 children.
In the years that followed, Fred Hargesberger made many visits to Ea Ea; he and his wife chose to live among them for four years from 1970 to 1974. His last visit was in 2006; he visited the wreckage of his aircraft which had been found in the jungle. He was known to the people of the village as "Mastah Preddy." They named him a Chief Warrior of their people on his last visit.
He died in Lincoln, Nebraska, the day before Christmas Eve, 2010.
From his web site:
There are three possible things that you can spend in life, your time, your money or your talents. I have never met anyone who has spent all three so well….and still has change in his pocket.
Fred gives us all an invitation, mostly by example. Some will miss it, but if you’re watching carefully, eyes truly open passed just seeing, you will come to learn what it is you need most for a life well spent....
We come together to celebrate the humanity of Fred Hargeshiemer, the humanity that could be with us all, the humanity that should be with us all.
The very definition of the Tattered Remnant.
I would like to thank the family of Fred Hargesheimer for their kind permission to tell his story.