Dec 10, 2008

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei, FSM - It traveled extensively after leaving Pohnpei nearly 50 years ago. It was in Cuba in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was in Washington D.C. during the years that Richard M. Nixon was the President of the United States. It has been in Oklahoma, Virginia and, before it arrived in Pohnpei was in St. Petersburg, Florida. Now a Japanese World War II era helmet found in 1959 is back in the country in which it was found.

The helmet will become a part of a collection housed in a museum that in the future will occupy the space where the Pohnpei State Personnel Office is currently situated. During the time of the Japanese occupation of Pohnpei the building was used as a hospital. A portion of the complex was burned out two years ago but a large portion is currently being used by the Pohnpei State Government offices.

In early 1959, six year old Jim Gilroy and his friend Andy were exploring a World War II era bunker in Pohnpei and found the helmet underground. Little Jimmy excitedly brought the helmet home to his father, Earl James Gilmore, Sr. who was serving with the US Department of the Interior at the radio station in Pohnpei during Trust Territory days.

Not long ago the elder Gilroy died. His son rediscovered the helmet in an old trunk that belonged to his father.

On October 28 of this year, the day before his father's birthday, the younger Gilroy who is now a Senior Auditor with the City of St. Petersburg, Florida noticed an advertisement placed by the FSM Office of the National Public Auditor on a website for auditors for the position of Audit Manager for the ONPA. He responded to the advertisement, not so that he could apply for the position, but so that he could make arrangements to return the helmet to Pohnpei where he had found it when he was six years old. He contacted Sophia Pretrick of the ONPA and the two made arrangements for the return of the artifact.

On Thursday, December 4, a small group of people gathered in the Governor's conference room for a very special occasion. Sophia Pretrick was one of them. On the table was an unopened box she had brought, delivered to her by Priority Mail. The return address, written in black magic marker said that the package came from Jim Gilroy of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Kohler, Pohnpei's Acting Director for the Department of Land and Natural Resources beamed like a young school child on Christmas day waiting for the box to be opened.

Dr. Rufino Mauricio, the Director of National Archives and Historic Preservation talked about the experience that many children of his generation in Pohnpei had looking for World War II artifacts in the late 50's. A hushed reverence came over the room as Governor Ehsa used scissors to open the box. He reached in and pulled out what looked like a very old upside down green pot. The helmet was in excellent condition for its years and travels.

The people in the room knew that a Japanese soldier had sat during World War II inside a fortified bunker in Pohnpei with this very helmet on his head. One could only imagine the brain cooking heat that the helmet would have generated despite the tiny holes drilled for ventilation around the crown. The webbing inside that would have kept the steaming steel off of the soldier's head had probably rotted away by the time it was unearthed in 1959.

Kohler's department has been given charge of the preservation of the helmet and its future display in the museum. "I hope that others who have historical artifacts from Pohnpei might be motivated to do the same thing as Mr. Gilroy did," said Kohler, "return them to where they belong."

The museum will be re-developed after the new State Government complex at Peilapalap, donated and constructed by the People's Republic of China, is completed.