ERONI KUMANA – RESCUED JFK DURING WWII

Chances are you have never heard of Eroni Kumana, and that is too bad. Eroni Kumana was one of those rare ordinary people who, though not famous, had a profound effect on the history of the world. What did he do to merit this high praise? Glad you asked. Eroni Kumana, along with a friend named Biuku Gasa, was a native of the Solomon Islands who in August of 1943 was responsible for rescuing Lt. John F. Kennedy and his surviving crew after their patrol boat, PT-109, was wrecked by a Japanese destroyer. Were it not for this heroic deed, JFK would likely have perished; he would not have become President of the US; and the history of the US and the world as a whole would have been considerably different.

Mr. Kumana, who lived his entire life on the island of Runnoga, part of the Solomon Islands chain about 500 miles east of New Guinea, died on August 3 at the age of 96. (Mr. Gasa had died in 2005.) Mr. Kumana is survived by nine children, 50 grandchildren and 75 great-grandchildren. His contribution to history came on August 5 and 6, 1943.

Briefly, the situation was as follows:

1. Kennedy’s Patrol Torpedo Boat was part of a squadron of PT boats that was on a mission to intercept a flotilla of Japanese ships that were smuggling supplies to Japanese troops in the area. Among the destinations was the island of Guadalcanal, later to be captured in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The supply ships were operating at night, because the US had control of the skies.

2. A Japanese destroyer, operating without lights, struck the boat cutting it in half. Two crewmen were killed, and several were injured, including JFK.

3. The survivors swam to one of the islands. This was heroic in and of itself, because it was a five-hour swim, and, as I said, many of them were injured. The story is that JFK towed one badly burned crewman using a strap held in his teeth. Even though they made it to one of the islands they had little hope of being rescued as the PT crewmen operating the other boats thought they had perished in the fireball following the collision. In fact, a memorial service was held for them back at the base.

5. Luckily, Kumana and Gasa, two islanders who were scouts gathering intelligence for an Australian coast-watcher, heard the blast. They investigated, at no small risk to themselves, and found the sailors.

6. It was decided that JFK would carve a message on the inside of a coconut, and Kumana and Gasa would take it to the base about 35 miles away. For posterity, the message was “NAURU ISL… COMMANDER…NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT… HE CAN PILOT… 11 ALIVE… NEED SMALL BOAT… KENNEDY.”

7. They delivered the message, and JFK and his crew were rescued.

CONCLUSION

Messrs. Gasa and Kumana were only 20 and 18, respectively, in 1943. To me, their young age makes their bravery even more remarkable.

A footnote to the story: When JFK was elected President he invited Mr. Kumana to his inauguration, however, the story is that British colonial officials didn’t let him fly to Washington, because they felt he was not “qualified” to represent the Solomon Islands. It is unclear what that meant – uneducated? young? not influential? In any event, they sent other representatives in his stead, so Mr. Kumana did not get his due.

The two men were interviewed by National Geographic in 2002 for a television special. Mr. Kumana wore a hat and t-shirt that said “I rescued JFK.” Mr. Kumana built a shrine to JFK and appointed him an honorary chief. In addition, he named one of his sons “John F. Kennedy.”

Whether one was a JFK supporter or not, I feel it is appropriate to take a minute to recognize and appreciate the significant historical contribution of Eroni Kumana.

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INSPIRATION FOR THE ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE

A few days ago I posted a blog on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon that has been sweeping the country for the past few weeks. The ALS Association has stated that since July 29 over 300,000 persons have taken the challenge, including many high-profile politicians, entertainers and sports figures, and nearly $16 million has been raised.

Although he wasn’t the first person to take the challenge, Peter Frates is generally recognized as the person who popularized it and really got it rolling. (Mr. Frates was assisted considerably by a close personal who died tragically recently while promoting the challenge.) Mr. Frates’ story is both tragic and inspirational. It is tragic because it involves a healthy, athletic, young man with his whole life ahead of him who is being killed slowly, painfully and inexorably by a disease for which there is no effective treatment or cure. It is inspirational because that young man, rather than quietly and passively accepting his fate, has chosen to work actively to raise awareness of the disease and raise money to help find a cure, if not for him than for future sufferers. This has been achieved not only through diligence, effort and personal contacts to spread the word, but also through the adroit use of social media. A seven minute profile on ESPN helped, not to mention the idea of donors dumping a bucket of ice on their heads and publicizing it on social media.

Peter Frates was a star baseball player at Boston College University and captain of the team. He may not have made it to the Major Leagues, but he was young and healthy and playing the sport he loved. Following graduation he continued to play professionally in Europe and in summer leagues in the US.

The symptoms started slowly and innocuously – twitching in his upper body and arms. We all get twinges and aches and pains. No biggie, we expect it to pass. No one wants to act like a hypochondriac; not every symptom is a portent of cancer or some other dreaded disease. Right? So thought Mr. Frates, until other symptoms appeared. His performance on the field began to suffer; he lost bat speed; he could no longer get around on a fastball; a wrist injury just would not heal; his energy dissipated; he had trouble getting going in the morning; he needed naps during the day. Neither he nor various doctors could figure out what was wrong.

Then, one day he did what doctors say one should never do. He looked up his symptoms on the internet and self-diagnosed. He found his symptoms were a text-book match for those of ALS. Suddenly, his life was turned upside down. Instead of having his entire life ahead of him, he had approximately 1,000 days to live. His plans to marry and raise a family were in serious doubt.

What to do? Well, rather than accept his fate passively, Mr. Frates became determined to make a difference. Two years later, we see the results. Not only is the challenge proceeding full-bore, but Mr. Frates is married with a baby on the way.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

I believe that there is no higher praise we can use to describe a person’s life than “he made a difference;” “he made a contribution that will endure.” Very few of us have the opportunity, courage or desire to achieve that. Peter Frates has accomplished that. His actions have raised the public awareness of ALS considerably as well as raised millions of dollars to fight the illness. His legacy will endure. His courage in the face of tragedy is and will continue to be an inspiration to us all.

To paraphrase his own words, a cure may come too late to benefit him, but it will come someday to benefit someone else. We can only hope.

ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE

Have you participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge yet? If you have, kudos to you. If not, chances are you will be challenged eventually by a family member or a friend. If you have been nominated and have declined, then boooo! Either way, I hope you donated generously.

As some of you know, the ALS challenge is sweeping through social media. Simply put, if you are nominated, you can satisfy the challenge by merely dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, or you can have someone else do it. I’m sure your kids or spouse would be happy to perform this task for you. It’s supposed to be a full bucket, but some people have “cheated” by using a smaller container or even a cup (Al Trautwig). If you have been challenged you have 24 hours to either participate and donate $10 to an ALS charity or decline and donate $100. If you do participate you may then nominate three others to do so. How successful has this campaign been? In just a little over two weeks the ALS Association reports 70,000 new donors have contributed approximately $4 million compared to $1.2 million last year.

The first recorded challenge was taken on July 16 by Jeanette Senerchia of upstate New York, however, it really began to catch on after a former Boston College baseball player, who actually has ALS, took the challenge, posted it on twitter and challenged several professional athletes in and around the Boston area to participate. Some notables who have participated include Aaron Rodgers, Matt Lauer, Chris Christie, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake, Ethel Kennedy (who challenged President Obama who declined but donated $100), and various New England Patriots.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aka “Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease. The exact cause is unknown. There is no test that diagnoses the disease. Typically, physicians can only identify it by eliminating all other possibilities that might be causing the patient’s symptoms.

ALS was first identified in the mid-nineteenth century, but the public first became aware of it when Lou Gehrig was stricken in 1938, hence the nickname. One of the most poignant sports scenes ever occurred on July 4, 1939 when Mr. Gehrig gave his retirement speech before a packed house at Yankee Stadium, the so-called “luckiest man” speech. If you haven’t viewed it on the internet or the re-enactment in the movie “Pride of the Yankees,” you should.

In some cases, the disease runs in families, which suggests that there might be a defective chromosome that is inherited. However, in about 90% of the cases there is no family history. Possible causes in those instances could be head trauma, military service and participation in athletics, but no one really knows. There is no cure, although the drug Riluzole has been shown to increase the patient’s survival time to some extent. In addition, other medications may be prescribed to alleviate some of the accompanying symptoms such as muscle cramps, fatigue, pain, depression and sleep disturbances. Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy may also help in some cases. Unfortunately, it is 100% fatal and a most unpleasant way to die.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

The challenge has been highly successful. I don’t know how long it will continue before fizzling out. But, it has certainly raised the awareness of the disease significantly. Perhaps, the challenge will become a blueprint for other worthy causes.

ROBIN WILLIAMS

Yesterday, we lost one of the funniest and most versatile entertainers of our time.  Robin Williams was successful  in multiple venues – stand-up comedy, movies, and television.  Besides acting, he was also renown as a film producer and screenwriter.  He won two Emmy Awards, four Golden  Globes, two screen Actors Guild Awards, five Grammy Awards and one Academy Award (for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting).  He made us laugh with his crazy antics.  As a performer he excelled in both comedic and serious roles.   

Robin McLaurin Williams was born on July 21, 1951 in Chicago, IL.  His parents were very well-to-do.  He was raised in a 40-room mansion in Bloomfield Hills, a posh suburb of Detroit.  His father was a senior executive at the Ford Motor Company, and his mother was a former model and a great-granddaughter of a Mississippi Senator and Governor. 

Despite his family’s wealth, it does not appear that he had a happy childhood.  He had few, if any, friends.  Williams recalled that his father traveled a great deal on business, and when he was home he was “frightening.”  In addition, his mother worked, which was unusual in the 1950s and 1960s, especially in middle and upper class homes. Consequently, Williams was often left by himself.  He would play by himself in his home, using his imagination.  In later life, Williams claimed that his upbringing caused him to develop an acute fear of being abandoned.  He described it as “Love Me Syndrome.”   

In addition, it appears he did not fit in at school.  In fact, he was bullied in Middle School, and after school he would try to go home by different routes every day to avoid the bullies who tormented him.  When Williams was 16 the family moved to Marin County where he attended high school.  Upon graduation he was voted “Most Likely Not to Succeed” (as well as “Funniest”).  Following graduation he earned a scholarship to the Julliard School in New York. 

Williams’ big break came in 1978 when Garry Marshall cast him as the alien, Mork, in an episode of Happy Days, a hit television show set in the 1950s.  That, in turn, led to the show Mork and Mindy, which was also a hit.  Williams was a huge hit personally with his physical comedy and his improvisational skills, and he was on his way.  Over the next 35 years he proved to be one of the premier entertainers of our time starring in movies, television shows and stand-up.  In 2004 Comedy Central ranked him 13th on its list of the “100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time.”  In addition to Hunting my favorite films of his were “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Good Morning Viet Nam”, and “One Hour Photo.”  Children will remember him in “Hook” and as the voice of the genie in “Alladdin.”

Throughout his adult life Williams was plagued by substance abuse, primarily alcoholism and cocaine.  He was able to kick his cocaine habit following the death of his close friend, John Belushi, but he was never able to shake his alcohol problem completely.  Finally, a few months ago Williams checked himself into the famed Hazelden Foundation Addiction Treatment Center for treatment related to alcoholism.  According to his publicist Williams also suffered from depression.  Perhaps, the lethal combination of withdrawal from alcoholism and depression contributed to his suicide.

CONCLUSION

It’s always sad when someone dies before his time.  Williams was only 63,a young age nowadays.  He had so much more to contribute.  He entertained us like few others with his inimitable comedic style.  We will miss him.  Rest in peace Robin.

PS:  I mentioned my favorite Robin Williams movies.  What’s yours?

 

 

 

ISIS

By now, most of you have heard of ISIS. Most people are cognizant of the fact that it is a militant Muslim group fighting in the Middle East, but few people have a detailed knowledge of who they are, what their objectives are, and how dangerous they are. In this blog I will attempt to illuminate the situation. No politics; just facts. You can make up your own mind.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”), aka the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (“ISIL”), is not an official state but an extremely militant Jihadist group. It was founded in 2003 as a reaction to the US invasion of Iraq. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US, UK, Canada, Australia and Saudi Arabia, among others. Its goal is to establish a caliphate with all Muslims under its control politically, economically and spiritually. The caliphate would be ruled by a caliph, which is a political and religious leader who is revered as a successor to Muhammad. The term “Levant” refers to a geographic region that includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and southern Turkey.

Until recently, ISIS was one of various Sunni insurgent groups, including, among others, al-Qaeda with which we are all familiar. Like many other Jihadist groups, it originated in the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s. However, it began to gain in influence and power following its success in the recent Syrian civil war and Iraq’s persecution of Sunnis following the death of Saddam Hussein. It should be noted that Shias constitute a majority in Iraq, but approximately 90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis. ISIS’s rise to prominence has also been aided by its strong leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

ISIS is known for its harsh interpretation of the Islamic religion and Sharia law. It brooks no deviations or modifications of its hard-line beliefs. It routinely brutalizes, i.e. murders, rapes, anyone, Christians, Jews, even other Muslims, who do not share its beliefs as it considers them all to be infidels or apostates. It imposes Sharia law on all who live within its domain. It is so extreme that even other Jidadi groups, such as al-Qaeda, consider it to be too radical. According to journalist Sarah Birke, Middle East correspondent for “The Economist,” who has covered the civil war in Syria extensively, it is far more ruthless than other Jihadi groups imposing Sharia law, such as maltreatment of women and beheadings of “infidels,” on all persons under its control immediately. For example, within two months of taking control of the Syrian city of Raqqa ISIS had established Sharia law, conducted several beheadings, enforced various bans on women, such as requiring them to wear full veils, banned the use of naked store mannequins, segregated boys and girls in school, kidnapped some of the city’s political leaders, kicked out foreign journalists and placed severe restrictions on news reporting. Additionally, those Christians who were not killed outright were given the choice of converting to Islam, paying a “religious levy” called a jizya, or death. All this in just two months!

ISIS is not merely a disorganized terror group. Far from it. What makes it so dangerous and effective is that it an organized, well-trained army with strong military acumen and fighting skills. Its members are very committed as well as violent, brutal and devoted to their principles. That is why it has been so successful in Syria and Iraq. Currently, ISIS is estimated to have over 7,000 soldiers in its army, although estimates vary, and the army is growing every day. Douglas Ollivant, a former US Army officer who served in the Middle East and is currently acting as a consultant on Iraq for the NSC, attributes their superior fighting skills to their experience in the Syrian Civil War and Iraq War. He considers them to be a formidable foe, much better than other terror groups or the Iraqi Army.

ISIS is also skilled in the use of propaganda, especially social media, such as twitter. Additionally, it is well-financed. Revenue sources include ransoms from kidnappings, funds from bank robberies, revenues from captured oil fields and other raw materials, the sale of plundered artifacts, and mandatory contributions from local cells to its headquarters. Outside contributions from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and private donors account for a very small portion of their revenues, maybe 5-10%. It even distributes annual reports to prospective donors much like a publicly held corporation. Yes, they are very well organized militarily, politically and economically.

ISIS has captured a great deal of weaponry, much of it US manufactured, which we had given to Iraq, including Blackhawk helicopters, missiles, and even fissionable nuclear materials. Chances are they will be returning these at some point, although in a less than pleasant manner.

In June ISIS ceased referring to itself as “Iraq and the Levant” and commenced referring to itself as an “Islamic State.” It declared all of its conquered territory to be a “caliphate” and Mr. al-Baghdadi as its caliph. This clearly signaled ISIS’s broadening its ambitions from just Iraq to all of the countries I mentioned earlier and, if unchecked, perhaps more beyond that.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Yes, by all accounts, ISIS is a formidable foe militarily, economically and politically. It has widespread support, particularly in Muslim countries. I submit that many, if not most, of its supporters and sympathizers are unaware of the extent of its violence and intolerance. Others are supporting them, or at the very least not speaking out against them, out of fear of retribution. However, there is no doubt of its intentions – destroy all non-believers, especially Israel and the US. Its leadership has made that abundantly clear by both word and deed.

The question is what will the US do about it. Polls show that a majority of Americans want to stay out of any further foreign entanglements in the Middle East or elsewhere. Others feel that we need to take strong action now before ISIS gets stronger, conquers more territory, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and southern Turkey and, perhaps, threatens Israel. Still others advocate limited involvement, such as bombings or drone attacks. Until very recently, we did basically nothing. Now, we have instituted “humanitarian ” bombings. That is a good start.

At the outset of this blog I said I would not make this political, so I will not express any opinions. All Americans can decide for themselves. The only thing I will advocate is don’t ignore the situation; stay informed. More to come.

TUNNELS OF TERROR

Imagine waking up suddenly out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night to the blaring sound of sirens. You are confused and disoriented. Your first thought is, what’s going on? Is that my alarm clock? Is it morning already? Then, you quickly realize it is not a dream; it is not morning; it is an air raid; and you have 15 seconds to get to the shelter. Or, you are 5 years old and in kindergarten class or the playground, and you have to find a shelter in the same 15 seconds. 15 seconds! That’s all the time you have. 15 seconds possibly separating you from life or death. That is how Israelis live every day. Israel is being attacked with approximately 300 rockets per day, day after day. The attacks are unrelenting.

Some young Israelis who were interviewed on television stated matter-of-factly that they have lived that way all their lives. They pointed out that whenever one goes to a particular location one immediately scopes out the location of the nearest shelter much like some of us might scope out the nearest bathroom. Of course, they don’t like living like that, but they are used to it. I’m sure most objective people would agree that is unacceptable. I’m sure that most Americans, if faced with such rocket attacks from, say, Canada, would advocate strong and swift retaliation.

But, that is not the worst of the situation that Israel faces. Recently, the world has learned that the Hamas terrorists have, over several years, constructed a massive network of tunnels from Gaza into Israel. Some fun facts about these tunnels:

1. They reach several miles into Israel.
2. They are more than 50 feet below ground.
3. They are very sophisticated and well-constructed. They are reinforced with concrete. They are large enough so that an average-sized man can walk upright through them. They have tracks so they can accommodate heavy machinery.
4. There are believed to be in excess of 100 such tunnels.
5. Many of them terminate at schools and hospitals and are designed to target children and/or sick people.
6. Ironically, they have been built, in part, with supplies and power provided by Israel to the Palestinians for humanitarian purposes – rebuilding homes and schools – (obviously not for this purpose).
7. The funds required to build them has come from Iran, Syria and Qatar, and possibly, indirectly from the US, which has been providing millions of dollars in “humanitarian” aid to the Palestinians.

According to Israeli army spokespersons, by now, they have destroyed most of the tunnels, and they are intent on destroying all of them. One can only hope.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Let’s not forget who the aggressor is in this conflict. Clearly, it is Hamas, with the overt support of Iran, Syria and Qatar, and in my opinion, the covert support of the other Arab states and terrorist groups in the area. Remember, Hamas’ charter proclaims that Israel must be destroyed.

President Obama has said Israel is entitled to defend itself, but then his proxies, like Valerie Jarrett and John Kerry, have criticized Israel for doing so with too much vigor and success. The Administration is trying to have it both ways. They want to appear to be standing by Israel for political purposes and, at the same time, placate the Arab states in the area. Anyone who cares about Israel should not be fooled. I would much prefer that the US were more forcefully and definitively in Israel’s corner regarding this conflict. After all, Israel and the US have always been allies. When the country was born, President Truman took all of 11 hours to recognize it, giving it instant credibility as a nation. Israel has been the one nation in the Middle East that the US has been able to count on for unqualified support. One the other hand, the other side hates us, mocks us, and has attacked us several times.

No wonder the Israelis have strong doubts of the sincerity of the US’s support. From what I can see, their attitude is: regardless of the hostility of the UN, regardless of the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic demonstrations in many countries, regardless of the mixed signals emanating from the US, we will press on until we achieve our goals. We will not be deterred.

Whether you support Israel or not, you have to admire their tenacity and toughness. They remind me of the kid in high school who, although not the biggest nor the strongest, was nevertheless, the toughest, the most fearless, the one you didn’t want to mess with. Born into adversity, surrounded for its entire existence by enemies who have publicly vowed to destroy it, with few, if any, allies in the world, living more or less continually under the threat of war, Israel has persevered.

My prediction is that this conflict will follow the same predictable pattern as all the previous ones. The Arabs start it; Israel retaliates strongly and forcefully; and at some point the world convinces Israel it has made its point, so to speak, and it is time to cease hostilities. Hamas will acquiesce, because it is getting its butt kicked and will want to survive to fight another day. We are almost there, but not quite yet. I think Israel has a little more work to do, which it will accomplish shortly.