Biuku Gasa died on 23 November 2005. I blogged it before, but the links have died.
Biuku was my wife’s uncle.
I recorded at the time that we were told of his death (by phone as I recall) on 22 Nov, 2005, a date memorable because it is the anniversary of the assassination of JFK, as well as my daughter Mata’s birthday. Yet Wikipedia records he died 23 Nov. Not sure how to reconcile that. I guess it may be because it was US time?
There is a lot more on Biuku and Kennedy available on line these days. Just Google Biuku+PT109 to see what I mean. Many years back when I posted on my first ever attempt at a website there was virtually no mention on line of Biuku’s involvement with Kennedy. Now there is plenty. Not all of it tallies with what Biuku told us.
That old page of mine is gone now, demonstrating the impermanence of the world wide web, and proving there is still a need for books and documentation in this electronic age. The report of the loss of the PT 109 is now here.
Here is what my original webpage contained, slightly amended and updated. For a time these exact words that follow were in the Wikipedia article on the subject, copied from my page and inserted by one Arthur Hu, but most of it has since been revised, updated and edited out.
PT 109 was cut in two by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri on August 2, 1943 in SOLOMON ISLANDS. Kennedy and his crew were rescued after Kennedy gave Biuku a coconut on which he carved the following:
COMMANDER… NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT…
HE CAN PILOT… 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT… KENNEDY
Biuku and his friend Eroni were paddling past Nauro island, and were hailed by Kennedy. Biuku told us that Kennedy had wanted to give him a note to carry but Biuku was not keen, in case he was searched by Japanese. (It has also been said that Kennedy had no paper, and that may be so, but that is not the version I heard from Biuku). Biuku suggested that Kennedy scratch the message on a green coconut which he could hide amongst the others he had been collecting in his canoe. He says Kennedy patted him on the head, and told him he had a good brain in there.
Biuku delivered the coconut and the rest is history. The coconut was kept in the oval office all through JFK’s presidency and I am told it was kept later in the Smithsonian. The last I heard it was back with the Kennedy family.
JFK became an icon of the era, and was assassinated. What most of the world had never heard until quite recently is the way it all seemed from the point of view of Biuku and his friend, Eroni. Biuku was invited to JFK’s inauguration but the bureaucrats in Honiara decided that he should not go, and sent someone else (Nathan Kera) instead.
On his return, Kera told Biuku that Kennedy was most upset when they met, and said “You are not Biuku”. Kennedy wrote later to Biuku expressing his disappointment that they did not meet again.
Biuku keenly felt the injustice of it until he died.
He received a medal. It was stolen. The correspondence from JFK to Biuku was “borrowed” and never returned.