Local Man's Encounter With History

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Mike Stewart loves history. His wife, Nancy, says he devours it and would be a great teacher.

Stewart has also touched history.

During a recent mission visit to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, he had the opportunity to meet the man who rescued a young Naval officer and his crew after his boat was attacked and sunk by the Japanese in World War II.

Buiko, 78, a native of the Solomon Islands, was just a teenager when he and his friend, Aaron, were out fishing and stopped at a small island to get coconuts to drink, according to the story he told Stewart.

Buiko was up in a tree getting the coconuts when he saw a man crawling under the tree. It was a survivor from the PT109.

Communicating with "pigeon English" the Navy man was able to direct Buiko and Aaron to where John F. Kennedy and the other survivors had come ashore.

The PT109 was cut in half by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri in August 1943.

Kennedy and 10 fellow crew members clung to the boat's hull section all night and drifted to Sagharughombe Island. According to a published account provided by Stewart, there were no coconuts or water on the island, so they moved over to what is now known as Kennedy Island.

From Kennedy Island, the future president swam to Naru Island to salvage supplies from a wrecked Japanese barge.

Four days after their PT boat was attacked, the men were found by Buiko and Aaron.

Buiko and Aaron took Kennedy and the others first to Quomu Island, then to Patuparao, a nearby islet.

Stewart said Buiko told him they kept the Navy men in the bottom of their boat, covered with banana leaves, so they would not be spotted by Japanese pilots patrolling the area.

Kennedy, who was the officer in charge, had to get a message to his base.

With no paper or pencils available, they used a green coconut and put the message on it and Buiko and Aaron took that to the base on Lumbaria Island, resulting in the rescue of Kennedy and his fellow crew members.

Meeting Buiko was one of the best parts of Stewart's seven-month stay in the Solomon Islands. He was there to help a missionary couple rebuild their house and start rebuilding a dorm for workers who will eventually build a school.

"I sat cross-legged in his little hut on a mat, and listened to the whole story of the rescue. Then when I got to Gizo, I met the son of Buiko's partner, Aaron. What an honor," Stewart wrote in an e-mail immediately after the visit.

He said he spent about an hour with Buiko on his first visit. He was shown the T-shirt Kennedy sent Buiko, which says, "I Rescued President Kennedy." He said Buiko told him Kennedy had said he would also send him $150, but it never came.

At 78, the man has numerous health problems, especially with his eyes and legs, and was tiring at the end of the visit.

Stewart asked to come see him again and said he would bring food and medicine.

"I took him rice, flour, sugar and some medicine for his eyes. He said a lot of people visit him, and promise to bring or send him food or money, but they never come through. He was really grateful that I kept my promise," Stewart wrote in an e-mail to his wife, Nancy.

He went on to say Robert Ballard and the National Geographic team who were in the islands searching for the PT109 were coming to visit Buiko.

According to Stewart, Buiko will be a great part of the documentary they will be doing on their search for the PT boat.

After Stewart's return from the Solomons in mid-May, the Associated Press reported that Ballard had found the remains of the boat.

The documentary on the search is to be broadcast in December, Stewart said.

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