WWII Pilot Who Forever Repaid Rescuers Dies at 94
Getting shot down in Pacific shaped Fred Hargesheime's whole life
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2010 6:41 PM CST
In this March 3, 2008 file photo, Fred Hargesheimer poses at his home in Grass Valley, Calif., with a model of a World War II P-38 fighter in the background.   (Rich Pedroncelli)
camera-icon View 1 more image

(Newser) – Shot down by a Japanese fighter in 1943, a young US pilot landed in the jungle of a Japanese-held island. He survived, barely, for a month before fate and Pacific islanders found him, nursed him back to health in secret, and eventually got him back in American hands. Fred Hargesheimer, who died this morning at 94, never forgot the kindness of his rescuers and leaves a legacy of schools, libraries, and years of teaching on the island of New Britain, reports the AP.

Hargesheimer married and began a successful career in the US, but couldn't forget the Nakanai people, and "what a debt I had to try to repay." He returned to New Britain in 1960, and returned three years later with $15,000 he'd raised to build the villagers' first school. Other public works would follow, and in 1970 Hargesheimer and his wife moved there to teach the children themselves for four years. On his last visit in 2006, villagers carried him to visit the new-found wreckage of his plane. "These people were responsible for saving my life," Hargesheimer said in 2008. "How could I ever repay it?"