The indigenous people of Papua New Guinea saved hundreds of wounded soldiers in WWII

The three-year-long New Guinea campaign was one of the most arduous of World War II, with Allied and Japanese forces sustaining tens of thousands of casualties as they struggled for control of the world's second-largest island.

Deadlier than enemy fire, though, was the environment itself — far more Japanese died of starvation and disease than in combat. Numerous operations were hampered by the difficulties of maintaining supply lines through miles of thick jungle, steep slopes and swift rivers.

Allied casualties would have been much higher were it not for the work of the island's native inhabitants, thousands of whom served as stretcher bearers and supply carriers, transporting men and materiel over long distances through seemingly impassable terrain, sometimes under fire.

Wounded and ill Australian soldiers on the Kokoda Track came to call the stretcher bearers "Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels," for their frizzy hair and the life-saving care and compassion they provided.

The "Angels" inspired deep admiration in the men they saved, with some even writing poems home about their strength and gentleness.

Faole Bokoi, the last known member of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, died in 2016.

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World War II's 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels'
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World War II's 'Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels'

Dec. 25, 1942

Private George "Dick" Whittington is helped to an aid station by Raphael Oimbari. Whittington died of bush typhus in February 1943.

(Photo by George Silk/Public Domain)

Stretcher bearers carry wounded soldiers to a dressing station near Buna.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Stretcher bearers evacuate a wounded soldier through the Sanananda area.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Stretcher bearers carry Corporal R.D. Somerville to a dressing station after a battle at Oive.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Men carry supplies over a newly built bridge.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Stretcher bearers evacuate a wounded Australian soldier following a battle at Kokoda.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Stretcher bearers pause for a rest in a coconut grove en route to aid stations in the rear.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

 Supply carriers paddle a boat bearing supplies.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Carriers transport supplies through trackless jungle.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

 Boys help unload fuel drums during the Allied offensive.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Natives and Allied troops rest during the New Guinea offensive.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

A carrier receives medical attention at an Allied forward outpost.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

New Guinea police form an honor guard during a medal ceremony for native stretcher bearers and supply carriers.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

Hundreds of New Guinean stretcher and supply carriers stand at attention as Australian Major General George Alan Vasey thanks them in a medal ceremony.

(Photo via Library of Congress)

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