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Man who saved John F. Kennedy's life during WWII dies

One of two Solomon Islands residents who saved the life of late President John F. Kennedy during World War II has died.

Eroni Kumana died Saturday at the age of 93, the BBC reports.

“He did not feel like he was someone special,” said his grandson, Rellysdom Malakana. “But people from overseas, people from America, they are the ones who told my grandfather that he was a special man -- that he was the hero who rescued John F Kennedy."

In August 1943, Lt. John F Kennedy, then 26 years old, was stationed on a boat off the coast of the Solomon Islands on a mission to intercept a convoy of Japanese ships that were transporting soldiers to fight American forces in the Pacific.

As the Japanese boats arrived, the U.S. boats fired their torpedoes but missed their targets. Some boats went back to base, but Kennedy’s boat -- PT-109 -- stayed in the area and was hit overnight by a Japanese destroyer, causing it to sink.

In the ensuing days, Kennedy and his crewmates swam miles to various islands, living off of coconuts, until they spotted Kumana and his friend Biuku Gasa in a canoe, according to the BBC.

Both men worked with the Coastwatchers, a network of agents across the Pacific that relayed positions of enemy forces to the Allies during WWII.

The men paddled 35 miles through waters controlled by the Japanese to deliver a message from Kennedy – written on a coconut – to a nearby Australian Coastwatcher, which led to the Americans’ rescue.

Malakana told the BBC that Kumana and Gasa were invited to Kennedy’s inauguration, but was told by his grandfather that they were not allowed to go because they did not speak English.

There are also records of Kennedy and Gasa swapping letters during Kennedy’s first year as president.

In an interview with Kumana in 2002, he said his “sadness was great” when he found out that Kennedy was assassinated.

"I would never meet him [again],” he said.

A prized piece of Bakia -- a traditional form of Solomon Islands currency made of giant clam shells – that was passed down from generation to generation in Kumana’s family, is on display as a tribute at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Click for more from the BBC.