There are some experiences that will stick in one's mind for the rest of their life. For retired Major Fred Hargesheimer of the United States Air Corp, there are two such experiences.
The world War II flyer who saw action over New Britain still remembers ejecting safely into the thick jungles of the Nakanai ranges on June 5, 1943. The young First Lieutenant was shot down by a Japanese enemy plane and that safe ejection is a moment etched in his memories.
May 8, 2000 is another day that will stay forever in Mr. Hargesheimer's mind. It was the day he was crowned "Chief Warrior" or Suara Auru by the people in the Nakanai area of West New Britain. The occasion was held at Ewasse village and witnessed by people from Matililiu, Mataururu, Gomu, Apulpul, Baikakea, and Bubu villages, and delegation from Nantabu village. Today this American airman is proud of his new title as Major Fred Hargesheimer-Suara Auru. "I will add this latest title to my business card," he quipped after his coronation.
The title of Suara Auru is normally restricted to men with high status or enormous community standing. To the people of Nakanai, Mr. Hargesheimer had the qualities of a chief warriors and has met the necessary requirements to be bestowed the title of Suara Auru.
The occasion was celebrated with a traditional dance called 'piako' performed by young boys from Ewasse village, creative dances, hymns and speeches. As part of the ceremony Mr. Hargesheimer's hands and feet were decorated with arm bands and bracelets, his face was painted in regal colour, a headdress was placed on his head, and he was presented a spear and a shield by Elias Paraide, a leader from Matililiu village. The honour was an expression of appreciation from the people for the Ewasse Airmen's Memorial and the Noau Primary schools which Mr. Hargesheimer built to thank the people for saving him during the Second World War. The chiefly title was also a very special birthday present for his 84th birthday.
During the ceremony, Garua Pani, a pioneer of Airmen's Memorial School hailed Mr. Hargesheimer as a true soldier who "conquered in the air when he successfully ejected to safety, he conquered on the ground when he escaped pursuing Japanese troops, he conquered spiritually as a result of reciting Psalms 23 daily before he was rescued by the Nakanai villagers who were singing 'Onward Christian Soldiers. And he continued to conquer when he was nursed to health after the bouts of malaria and dysentery."
Mr. Hargesheimer has grown to love the Nakanai people in these past 57 years. These are people form an area he now claims as his second home besides his present home at Grass Valley, California in the United States.
This intriguing tale starts on that fateful June 5, 1943 when Mr. Hargesheimer was rescued by a party of villagers from Nantabu village who paddled up the Pandi river in a canoe and saved him after he ejected from his plane. Then over a period of six months they cared for him and restored his health until he was further rescued by Australian Coast Watchers and sent home. Back in America, Mr. Hargesheimer was haunted by the thought of repaying the local villagers for securing him the greatest gift - his life. "Just how do I repay a people for saving my life?" Mr. Hargesheimer concluded that education and health services would be his gifts to the Nakanai people.
It was in 1960 that Mr. Hargesheimer started his physical association with the local villages, when he started to plan and later constructed a health clinic and a primary school at Ewasse, cur to its large population and easier accessibility compared to Nantabu. The clinic was later shifted to the Bialla Township and is now known as the Bialla Health Centre. The Ewasse Primary School is today known as the Airmen's Memorial Primary School. He tells the story of establishing the school:
The location of the Airmen's Memorial
School at Ewasse was the result of my discussions with Wesley
Lutton the United Church pastor for Central Nakanai at that time.
There were only a handfull of children at Nantambu in 1960 and
a limited amount of suitable land. Ewasse was the center of five
nearby villages and the church had several acres of freehold
land which they made avaliable for the school. In the early 60s, the wharf at Bialla made it easy to receive supplies shipped in by barge. When the school opened in 1964, we had dormitories built to accomodate students from Nantambu. Unfortunately this didn't work out satisfactorily. Later we helped build a school at Noau to accomodate children from Nantambu, again to say "thank you" to the people of these two villages for rescuing him from the Japanese troops during the war.
His association with the Nakanai people has been maintained for the last 40 years with frequent visits to renew ties with both the old and new generations. Mr. Hargesheimer is now 84 years old. "And as long as I have the energy to travel there is no doubt that I will return again in 2001 to visit my home (the Nakanai villages), to visit my people whom I owe so much for saving my life," he said before returning to Grass Valley.
Back to main page