Fred Hargesheimer


LINCOLN, Nebraska (AP) — Fred Hargesheimer, a World War II Army pilot whose rescue by Pacific islanders led to a life of giving back as a builder of schools and teacher of children, died Thursday morning. He was 94. Richard Hargesheimer said his father had been suffering from poor health and passed away in Lincoln.

On June 5, 1943, Hargesheimer, a P-38 pilot with the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, was shot down by a Japanese fighter while on a mission over the Japanese-held island of New Britain in the southwest Pacific. He parachuted into the trackless jungle, where he barely survived for 31 days until found by local hunters.

They took him to their coastal village and for seven months hid him from Japanese patrols, fed him and nursed him back to health from two illnesses. In February 1944, with the help of Australian commandos working behind Japanese lines, he was picked up by a U.S. submarine off a New Britain beach.

After returning to the U.S. following the war, Hargesheimer got married and began a sales career with a Minnesota forerunner of computer maker Sperry Rand, his lifelong employer. But he said he couldn't forget the Nakanai people, who he considered his saviors.

The more he thought about it, he later said, "the more I realized what a debt I had to try to repay."

After revisiting the village of Ea Ea in 1960, he came home, raised $15,000 over three years, "most of it $5 and $10 gifts," and then returned with 17-year-old son Richard in 1963 to contract for the building of the villagers' first school.

In the decades to come, Hargesheimer's U.S. fundraising and determination built a clinic, another school and libraries in Ea Ea, renamed Nantabu, and surrounding villages.

In 1970, their three children grown, Hargesheimer and his late wife, Dorothy, moved to New Britain, today an out-island of the nation of Papua New Guinea, and taught the village children themselves for four years. The Nantabu school's experimental plot of oil palm even helped create a local economy, a large plantation with jobs for impoverished villagers.

On his last visit, in 2006, Hargesheimer was helicoptered into the jungle and carried in a chair by Nakanai men to view the newly found wreckage of his World War II plane. Six years earlier, on another visit, he was proclaimed "Suara Auru," "Chief Warrior" of the Nakanai.

"The people were very happy. They'll always remember what Mr. Fred Hargesheimer has done for our people," said Ismael Saua, 69, a former teacher at the Nantabu school.

"These people were responsible for saving my life," Hargesheimer told The Associated Press in a 2008 interview. "How could I ever repay it?"

Besides Richard, of Lincoln, Hargesheimer, a Rochester, Minnesota, native, is survived by another son, Eric, of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and a daughter, Carol, of Woodbury, Minnesota; by a sister, Mary Louise Gibson of Grass Valley, California; and by eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Richard Hargesheimer said no services are planned.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

Guest Book

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Fred was the epidemy of a man with love and compassion of his fellow beings. I am proud to say that we will soon be sharing his story with many in our new Veterans & Emergency Services Museum.

I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend or family member. THe bible can be of some comfort at John 3:16

What a beautiful story about Mr. Hargesheimer. I know his family is very proud of him. It is nice to hear that there are still good people in the world that are willing to help their fellow man no matter what nationality they are or under what horrific circumstances they meet. I am sorry for the family's loss.

A very remarkable man. I wish that I could have met him. His life and deeds remind me what my grandmother used to say:

"Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on
Twas not meant for you alone
Pass it on"

Clear skies, Fred.

I was able to meet this incredible man in 2008 and get a signed copy of his book, which was fascinating. The book also mentioned my husband's dad, John Foster. I was so sad to learn of his passing. A great man who did remarkable things.

What a guy! I had the priveledge of knowing this remarkable man for many years as a trustee of the Airmen's Nantabu Memorial Foundation. Memories are abundant. I will not recite them all. Fred was a dedicated, Christian, charismatic, self-effacing man with a charming personality, and a great sense of humor. Regretfully he never received the recognition he deserved. As we were involved in fund raising efforts (it was fun), Fred never wanted government help. It was a grass roots effort. He...

The greatest generation is fading away.

The average age of World War II veterans still alive is 86 years.

They are dyeing at slightly less than 1,000 a day.

In the not so far future we're going to wake up one day and hopefully be able to tell our kids about the time we had the chance to get to know Fred and others like him . . . and did.

Thank you Fred Hargesheimer, and sincerist condolences to your family during this trying time.

Fred Hargesheimer a Wonderful, Caring, Understanding and Loving Man, I have known who never forgot the ones who saved him.
During the second world war Lt. Hargesheimer, many other pilots and crewman went up against the enemy, every day not knowing if they would return, they gave their lives gladly in defence of our beloved Islands. These men deserve never to be forgotten, their stories should live on for ever and the future generations should be given lessons of what these wonderful...

I have fond memories of a a humble, soft-spoken gentleman I had the privilege of working with. At the time I did not know he was already a legend.He will be deeply missed by all who knew him. God bless his family and close friends at this this time of great sorrow.