Most agree that an attitude of gratitude will make you a happier, healthier, and a more positive person. The theory is often easier to express than it is to actually put into motion. This attitude can be put to the test in the midst of war and suffering.
Fred Hargesheimer was a World War II pilot who was shot down by a Japanese fighter plane. He was flying a mission over the island of New Britain in the southwest Pacific then occupied by the Japanese. He managed to parachute his way deep into the jungle, where though badly injured, he managed to eat, drink, and survive for an entire month until found by local hunters.
These native islanders took Fred to their village and for over half a year they concealed his existence from the Japanese. The people of the village nursed him back to heath from illnesses and took care of him like one of their own. Finally with the help of Australian allies who were on patrol behind Japanese lines, he was rescued by the US Navy in a submarine off a New Britain beach.
After the war Hargesheimer got married and began a career. Even though he was miles and miles away he couldn’t forget the Nakanai people, who helped save his life, and he realized the debt of gratitude he felt he owed them. In 1960 he visited the village of Ea Ea and was able to express his appreciation, but he decided that wasn’t enough. He came home, raised money and in three years time from his return visit, he contracted the building of the villagers’ first school. During the decades that followed through his efforts, other schools, and even medical clinics were constructed in surrounding villages.
Seven years later, Hargesheimer and his wife, Dorothy, moved to New Britain to the island where they taught the village children for four years. The school’s experimental plot of oil palm even helped generate a local economy which turned into a large plantation. This created jobs and economic growth for the villages who had lived in destitute poverty for generations. One man and his gratitude had changed a village forever, and he will never be forgotten there. He passed away in 2010. As his final days approached, he was asked about why he had done so much for the people who had taken him in, his response, “These people were responsible for saving my life, how could I ever repay it?”
The brave young pilot had many choices he could have made along the way in his life, but it was his gratitude in motion that changed the lives of scores of people as a result. War is a painful and difficult challenge to go through. Only those who have truly experienced it can really understand the effect upon emotions and self that it can have. It can, unfortunately, produce the suffocating effect of hate, but not for this soldier. He chose not to dwell on the negative occurrences that included being shot out of mid air. And even though he had been a part of an awful experience, he focused on those who were so good to him, and dedicated his life to showing gratitude to the people who had helped him. Gratitude can change the world.