- Esther Peters
PT 109 by Robert J. Donovan
John F. Kennedy was born to Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy in Brookline, MA. Joseph P. Kennedy, his father, was the Ambassador to England. When Japan attacked the USA in December 1941, John F. Kennedy joined the Navy and sailed for the South Pacific on the USS Rochambeau bound for New Hebrides. The portholes and decks of the ship he was on were blacked out for safety reasons. He met many men he would share hard times with.
Kennedy joined the PT 109 at Tulogi. The 10 year old ship was now making regular runs between the West Coast and the South Pacific. The boat was dirty and rotten with cockroaches from returning on the Guadalcanal campaign. They were assigned regular patrols to try to find Japanese ships. Most nights were uneventful until the night of August 3, 1943.
They were on patrol in the Blackett Strait in the Solomon Islands. In the darkness, they were struck by the Japanese ship Amagiri. When the ship was hit, Kennedy called, “General Quarters”, meaning everyone to their post. Some of the men prayed and some looked for a safe place. The ship sliced PT 109 in half. Kennedy was thrown backwards into the gun shield. Some were thrown into the water. Kennedy and the men left PT 109 because they were afraid it would sink. They swam 3 miles to the nearest island. Some of the men had burns and other wounds. As the Amagiri sliced through the PT 109, one man was crushed and died. The body was never recovered.
On the island, the men wondered if there were any Japanese forces also on the island. None were seen. Kennedy and the crew moved deeper into the trees and bushes. The danger of being seen by the Japanese was very great. Kennedy and the men were upset because no one was looking for them. At night, Kennedy would swim to Blackett Strait hoping to contact a PT boat on patrol. That night the boats were sent to another place to patrol. Twice he tried, but no boats were seen. Two friendly natives saw Kennedy, but thought he was the enemy and went away.
Kennedy and his men changed islands. They were now on Plum Pudding Island. It took them 4 hours to make the crossing. Kennedy towed his friend McMahon, who could not help himself because of his burns, by putting a buckle on his kapok life belt. The natives were told to be on the lookout for the Americans. The men had little to eat so when Ross and Kennedy found a box of hard candy, it was like Christmas. Farther on they found a canoe. They didn’t know it belonged to the native scouts. It had a can of rain water in it, which they took back to the men.
After Kennedy and his 11 men were saved, they were either returned to the states or reassigned. Kennedy chose to stay and was soon on the PT 59 with a new crew.The rest is history for John F. Kennedy, who later became our 35th President of the United States.