Kennedy Library Honors Solomon Islander Who Helped Rescue JFK During World War II

For Immediate Release: August 6, 2014
Further information: Rachel Flor (617) 514-1662,


BOSTON, MA – In honor of Eroni Kumana, the recently deceased Solomon Island native who helped rescue John F. Kennedy and his PT-109 crew following the boat’s collision with a Japanese destroyer during World War II, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has made a piece of “kustom money” that Kumana gave to the Kennedy family part of the museum’s permanent exhibits. Kumana passed away August 2, 2014 at age 93. August 8, 2014 marks the 71st anniversary of the PT-109 crew rescue. 

“Our museum visitors are fascinated by this story because it reminds us that history is not preordained,” said Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. “Without the heroics of men like Eroni Kumana, President Kennedy and his crew might not have been saved, and he would not have gone on to be the leader of the free world.”

On August 2, 1943, while on night patrol under 26-year-old Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s command, PT 109 was hit and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Two crew members died instantly; eleven others eventually swam to a small island. Kennedy rescued a badly burned crew member by holding the man’s life jacket between his teeth and towing him to safety. Over the next three days, Kennedy and his surviving crew members drank the milk and ate the meat of coconuts while Kennedy swam for hours over sharp corals in shark-infested waters searching for friendly boats. 

On the fourth day, Kennedy encountered two native islanders, Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa, serving as scouts for the Allies. He etched a message—"NAURO ISL/NATIVE KNOWS POSIT/HE CAN PILOT/11 ALIVE/NEED SMALL BOAT/KENNEDY"— onto the husk of a coconut and asked the two scouts to deliver it to the nearest allied base. Kumana and Gasa’s successful mission led to the eventual rescue of Kennedy and his crew on August 8, 1943. 

Sixty-five years later, speaking with an American visitor to the Solomon Islands, Eroni Kumana requested that a highly prized family heirloom—a piece of “Shell Money” or “Kustom Money”—be placed at the gravesite of his “Chief,” President Kennedy, as a formal tribute. Made by hand out of giant clam shells, “Kustom Money” was used for many purposes, including for honoring one’s chief. On November 1, 2008, at a ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery, members of President Kennedy’s family gathered to receive Kumana’s tribute which was placed on the grave. 

After remaining on the gravesite, the “kustom money” was conveyed to the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum where it will now be displayed as part of the museum’s permanent exhibits next to the coconut shell that led to the rescue of JFK and his crew.

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The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is one of 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and is supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. 

The Kennedy Presidential Library and Foundation aim to educate new generations about the timeless values that President Kennedy championed and their relevance today. Through museum exhibits, conferences, educational programming, and the use of cutting-edge technology, including the launch of the nation’s largest online digitized presidential archive, the Kennedy Library is bringing to life the challenges, achievements and impact of President John F. Kennedy’s thousand days in office for people around the world.