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1943 wire dispatch on John Kennedy and PT 109

1943 wire dispatch on John Kennedy and PT 109

Lt. John F. Kennedy, right, and members of the crew of PT 109 pose for a photographer. Credit: U.S. National Archives / Naval History and Heritage Command

A United Press story printed in the Aug. 20, 1943, Los Angeles Times reported:

Joe Kennedy’s son Leads 10 From Death Trap

SOMEWHERE IN NEW GEORGIA, Aug. 8 (Delayed) (U.P.)–The luck of the Irish–and some first-class skill – brought lanky Lieut. (j.g.) John F. Kennedy, son of former Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, and 10 of his torpedo boat mates back from a brush with the Japanese and death today.

A week after they had been lost and practically given up, another PT boat went through hostile waters to rescue them in response to an S O S scrawled on a coconut shell and carried throughout enemy lines by a native.

Three men, including Machinist’s Mate Patrick H. McMahon, 39, of Los Angeles, who has a son in the Navy, credited the 27-year-old Kennedy with saving their lives.

Their extraordinary adventure began the night of Sunday, Aug. 1 in Blackett Strait just west of Kolombangara Island north of New Georgia Island.

Three torpedo boats from this base were patrolling. A Japanese destroyer bore down on the lead boat commanded by Kennedy and manned by a crew of 12 and cut it in two.

“I’m certain that destroyer was going 40 knots,” said Kennedy. “I summoned the crew to general quarters and then tried to get into position for a shot with the torpedoes. But we were too close.”

The crewmen were flung into the water. Some were injured.

The gasoline went up in flames. One section didn’t burn.

McMahon, who was badly burned, said Kennedy, a back-stroke swimmer on the Harvard team before he graduated in 1940, towed him three miles.

“We clung to that bow of the boat for nearly 12 hours,” Kennedy said.

They had drifted through the night nearer and nearer a Japanese island that had a big garrison but a sudden shift in the current saved them and they reached a tiny unoccupied islet. But they were still surrounded by Japanese.

After a few days, they sneaked over to another island and found friendly natives. Kennedy scratched an appeal for aid on a coconut shell. A native carried it through enemy lines to this base.

Last night, a PT boat, under one of the original expendables, Lieut. Henry J. (Hank) Brantingham of Fayetteville, Ark., went through rough weather into the Japanese-controlled waters to pick them up.

A small, one-column photo of Kennedy accompanied the PT 109 dispatch, but is no longer in the Los Angeles Times archive. These two photos are available online. For more, check out the John F. Kennedy and PT 109 article online at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website.

Then-Lt. John F. Kennedy aboard PT 109 in the South Pacific in 1943. Credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum / EPA

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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1 Comment

  1. November 19, 2013, 12:13 pm

    I wish we had more politicians like Kennedy who had served through a war, and knew we never wanted to get into another one.

    By: Ian Mega

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