United States Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy traveled to the Solomon Islands from July 31 to August 4 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the sinking and rescue of President Kennedy’s Patrol Torpedo Boat, PT-109, by Solomon Island Scouts and Australian Coastwatchers in World War II. While in the capital, she met with Prime Minister Manesseh Sogavare to discuss the Solomon Islands’ long-standing ties with the United States, and the United States’ commitment to Pacific Island nations and peoples.
On the evening of July 31, Ambassador Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg, met with the families of the two Solomon Scouts, Biaku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, who saved President Kennedy’s life. Ambassador Kennedy, Jack, and the family members shared a meal on Naru Island — the same island where Lieutenant Kennedy first approached the Scouts for help in 1943.
On the morning of August 1, Ambassador Kennedy delivered remarks at a ceremony commemorating the 80th anniversary of PT-109’s sinking and rescue. Premier of Western Province Billy Veo; Minister of Education and Member for Gizo Kolombangara Constituency Lanelle Tanagada; the grandniece of Biaku Gasa, Rendy Solomon; and Jack also gave remarks. Afterwards, Ambassador Kennedy and Jack participated in a wreath laying and competed in a canoe race from Olasana Island to Kennedy Island with locals from the province.
On the afternoon of August 1, Ambassador Kennedy and Jack visited the Gizo Primary School. The Ambassador and Jack met students, heard performances, and discussed the story of the friendship and courage that transpired between Americans, Solomon Islanders, and Australians in their hometown eighty years ago. Afterward, Ambassador Kennedy and Jack visited a Catholic vocational school and saw a demonstration of students programming solar panels.
The Ambassador and Jack were then welcomed by the community in Saeraghi Village, West Gizo, and met with local leaders to learn about USAID partner World Wildlife Fund’s work combining traditional knowledge and science for community-led sustainable fisheries management. They heard from a group of women in the village about an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) program that empowers women economically by facilitating their biweekly harvest of sea grapes from a local lagoon.
On August 2, Ambassador Kennedy and Jack recreated part of President Kennedy’s historic swim following the sinking of PT-109. Joined by a team of Solomon Islander swimmers, the Ambassador and Jack swam about 1.2km between Naru and Olasana Islands — a passage that President Kennedy swam multiple times in the days after the sinking of PT-109 to bring his crew supplies and communicate with the Solomon Scouts.
On August 3, Ambassador Kennedy and Jack traveled to Honiara, where they laid wreaths at the Guadalcanal American Memorial. Later, they met a delegation from the Australian High Commission to lay a wreath at the HMAS Canberra Memorial. Next week marks the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal and the sinking of the HMAS Canberra.
On August 4, Ambassador Kennedy met with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manesseh Sogavare to discuss the long-standing ties between the United States and the Solomon Islands, the return of the Peace Corps and the USS Mercy’s scheduled visit during the upcoming Pacific Games, U.S. aid for unexploded ordnance initiatives, and the United States’ deep commitment to Pacific Island nations and peoples. She presented the Prime Minister with a replica of the coconut that President Kennedy carved and Solomon Scouts delivered to Australian Coastwatchers to arrange his rescue, which President Kennedy kept on his desk in the Oval Office.
He always kept the coconut that he had carved that the Scouts took to the Coastwatcher, to arrange the rescue. He kept that on his desk at the White House. And so I think he thought about the Solomon Islands every day, and the debt of gratitude that he owed, and the responsibilities of leadership. And so I was proud to give a replica of that coconut to the Prime Minister. – Ambassador Kennedy