February 02, 2006

By Tom Burkindine
The Kaselehlie Press

Funeral services for one of Pohnpei's most respected citizens, Monique Etscheit Gordon, were held on Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6 p.m. at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Kolonia, Pohnpei. Monique was born in Brussels, Belgium on September 6, 1932, but came to live on Pohnpei shortly thereafter. The Etscheit family has lived family has lived on Pohnpei since 1889.

Monique is the daughter of Carlos and Simmone Etscheit. She passed away on February 1, 2005 in Oakland, California following a prolonged illness. As per her wishes, her remains were returned to Pohnpei and buried with her parents.

Monique and her sisters Yvette and Renee are most famous in Pohnpei history for their interesting experience on September 11, 1945, the day Pohnpei was liberated from Japanese occupation.

The Etscheits had been held captive for nearly four years in a Japanese internment camp in Eirike as prisoners of war prior to the arrival of the US Destroyer USD Hyman, signifying the end of the war for Pohnpei, according to Yvette.

On the morning of September 11, Japanese Lt. General Masao Watanabe, Capt. Humao Naito, and Kaneto Tsukahara boarded the Hyman and surrendered Pohnpei to Commander Ben Hyatt, representative of Rear Admiral W.K. Harill, US Navy Commander to the Marshalls and Gilberts region.

Yvette remembers the confusion that followed as the family tried to decide how to greet the Americans, whose arrival had already been reported in the Eirike camp. When Monique noticed local children running down the path towards the main road, she got in line with them to greet the newcomers. A short time later, the 13-year old Monique came back excitedly showing the family the chocolate the Americans had given the children, proof to those present that foreigners had arrived.

During their time in the internment camp, Simonne had hand-made a large American flag and a smaller Belgian flag from cloth scraps the family had collected. The flag had been made to prepare for the arrival of the Americans directly under the noses of their Japanese wardens.

Carlos, Simonne, Renee, Yvette, and Monique headed back down the path with the flags in hand to greet their rescuers. A now famous US Navy communication from that day illustrates the surprise of the sailors who first saw Monique, running ahead of the others. Describing Monique as a tiny white girl speaking French and holding a hand-made American flag, it is clear that the Navy had not been prepared for such a sight when arriving on Pohnpei.

After meetings with Japanese officials, the Americans invited the Etscheits to a flag raising ceremony that afternoon at the Japanese Navy Base Administration ground, Yvette said.

"We had not known that this spot was right in our coconut plantation which they had confiscated from us in 1941," Yvette said. "Of course, they had cut down all the coconut trees to build their Navy base there. At this time, only broken down foundations were left after the American bombings."

Monique left Pohnpei in 1947 to pursue her higher education in Hawaii and California. She married Harry Gordon in August 1955 and raised their three children (Claire, Gareth, and Eric) in Oakland, California.

Her daughter, Claire Hemrika-Gordon, and sister Renee Etscheit-Varner traveled to be with their family for the memorial on the one-year anniversary of Monique's death. Yvette Etscheit-Adams remained in Pohnpei and has become one of the islands most successful business people. The ceremony was a celebration of the life Monique led for the family who loved her, Claire said.