Shared Past and Common Future: Secretary Kerry’s Visit to Solomon Islands

Posted by Melanie Higgins
August 13, 2014
Secretary Kerry Lays a Wreath at Guadalcanal Memorial in Solomon Islands

The American Guadalcanal Memorial is sacred ground to Americans.  It stands in silent homage to the U.S. Marines who stood, fought, and died at the Battle of Guadalcanal, a World War II battle which many believe was pivotal in the Allied victory in the Pacific theater.

Secretary Kerry’s August 13 visit to the American Guadalcanal Memorial reminds us of a common legacy; one shared by all Americans.  Images of Secretary Kerry laying a wreath of remembrance at the memorial signal how humbled we are by the sacrifices of those who came before us.

The United States of America shares a common history with the countries of the Pacific, where we fought together for freedom during World War II.  Our diplomatic engagement with these Pacific countries, including Solomon Islands, today remains strong.  Secretary Kerry met Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Lilo, as well as Governor General Sir Frank Kabui, during his visit, to discuss our shared priorities as two Pacific nations.  U.S. Ambassador to Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu, Ambassador Walter North, regularly engages Solomon Islands officials on common priorities, such as regional security and women’s empowerment.  Our two countries work together to fight the effects of global climate change.  We also collaborate to protect the ocean, a priority for Secretary Kerry, as exemplified by the Our Ocean Conference in Washington.  Our two countries stand together on World War II legacy issues that remain with us today, even 70 years after the conflict.  The U.S. government trains Royal Solomon Islands Police Force personnel to find and dispose of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from WWII, so they do not harm civilians today.  We work together on the solemn task of locating and returning home to the United States the remains of missing American soldiers from World War II.

Besides diplomatic, development, and defense engagement, the United States and Solomon Islands also share linkages that are much more personal.  Our U.S. Consular Agent in Solomon Islands, Keithie Saunders, has lived as an American in Solomon Islands for nearly 60 years.  She was raised there by her father, who was the only U.S. soldier who fought in Solomon Islands during World War II to return to that country to devote his life to rebuilding and strengthening Solomon Islands.  When I fly in a plane over Solomon Islands, I think of my own grandfather, a U.S. Marine fighter pilot who, during World War II, flew “the slot,” which is aviator’s term for the strip of water that lies between Solomon Islands’ northern string of islands and its southern string of islands.  These are the personal ties that endure between our two countries, even 70 years after World War II.

The U.S. soldiers and Marines who fought in Solomon Islands during World War II vividly recalled the sacrifices made by Solomon Islanders, especially those who served as Coastwatchers and Scouts.  These brave souls helped win the war, and their legacy is not forgotten.  Just days before Secretary Kerry’s visit to Solomon Islands, Eroni Kumana died.  He was credited as one of two Solomon Islanders who saved the life of Lieutenant Junior Grade John F. Kennedy, when his PT109 went down in Solomon Islands during World War II.  As we all know, Kumana saved the life of a man who would later become U.S. President.  In homage to Eroni Kumana and the others like him, on August 13, Secretary Kerry laid a wreath at the Solomon Scouts and Coastwatchers Memorial.  The Secretary shook hands with the last Solomon Islander Scout who played a role in our World War II victory, to let them know that we – as a nation – still remember their efforts and their sacrifices.

When Americans stand at the American Guadalcanal Memorial, we do so with pride… and sadness…in our hearts, as we remember those who were lost at the Battle of Guadalcanal in order to secure our victory.  And when we see the images of Secretary Kerry standing atop that same memorial, we are reminded that all Americans -- including our nation’s highest officials -- stand with us.  Together, we recall the memory of those -- both American and Solomon Islanders alike -- who fought there for freedom.  At the same time, our two countries look to the future, and we partner together to make it a better one.

About the Author: Melanie Harris Higgins is the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, which is accredited to Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu.

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