The Junior Patriot: JFK’s Endurance Saves 11 Lives 

Imagine having to swim 3.4 miles through shark infested waters while towing a badly burned buddy and suffering from a ruptured spinal disc. Sounds like something from a video game, huh?  Believe it or not, president John F. Kennedy did just that and more.  Some of you may have heard that Kennedy was a Lieutenant in World War 2 before becoming president.  What might not have heard is that Kennedy personally saved 11 men from death.  Here’s the story.

JFK was commander of PT-109, a patrol torpedo boat that served during the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific.  First, what is a patrol torpedo boat?  PT-109was a 80′ boat built by Elco. Having an armament of four Mark 8 torpedoes, two depth charges, a 20mm cannon, and some .50 cal machine guns, they posed a serious threat to Japanese destroyers and barges.  PT-109had a crew of 14.  Okay back to the story…

On the night of August 1, 1943, PT-109and 2 other boats, PT-169 and PT-162, took off from a small secret base on Rendova Island.  They hoped to intercept a small force of Japanese destroyers.  During the action, the PT-109unknowingly wandered into the path of the Japanese destroyer Amagiri.

By the time the crew realized their danger, it was too late.  The Amagirirammed the ill fated PT-109, splitting it in half.  Two men where killed immediately.  The rest of the crew clung to the wreckage.  Kennedy decided to swim out to an island 3.4 miles away.  This was no easy task, as he had to pull his badly burned Motor Machinist’s Mate, Patrick McMahon.  After a tiring 4 hour swim, they arrived at the place, Plum Pudding Island.

It must have been disappointing, though.  Plum Pudding Island was only 300 feet across.  However it was better than nothing.  But Kennedy didn’t just sit around doing nothing.  He swam out numerous times, hoping to find another PT boat.  But none came.  Kennedy decided to move his men yet again, to a larger island.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Arthur Evans spotted the explosion, and concluding that it was from the PT-109, sent two natives, Eroni Kumano and Biuku Gasa, to look for survivors.  One day during the search, Gasa and Kumano were successful in their search.  Returning to Evens, they delivered a coconut to Evans.  But not just any coconut, for on the coconut was written ” NAURO ISL… COMMANDER… NATIVE KNOWS POSIT… HE CAN PILOT… 11 ALIVE… NEED SMALL BOAT… KENNEDY ”.  They were saved!

So, what can we learn?  If it weren’t for Kennedy, the 11 men might have found their grave at the bottom of the ocean.  But that isn’t the story.  Kennedy endured his pain and fatigue and got his job done.  We can learn never to give up no matter how hard. And as we celebrate our nation’s independence, we cannot forget the endurance of the Revolutionaries, who fought and won our war for freedom.


Photo Credit: Wikipedia Public Domain – Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USNR, (standing at right) with other crewmen on board PT-109, 1943

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