Saturday, July 21, 2018

PT 109

PT 109



The PT (patrol torpedo) boat was used heavily by the Navy during WWII. The boat was small, fast, and inexpensive to build, and was prized due to its maneuverability and speed.


Surprisingly, WWII was not the first time that PT boats were used, since their first use was in the early part of the 20th century. The boats during WWI were heavier and slower than their WWII replacements. The more recent versions were used against enemy warships, transports, tankers, barges and sampans. The typical boat included 4 torpedoes and twin 50 caliber machine guns, The boats were powered by THREE Packard V-12 engines, each of which produced 1500 horsepower, and later versions produced 1850 horsepower.  They were very effective against the Japanese, who called them “devil boat”.


The most famous PT boat, of course, was PT 109, which was launched on June 30, 1942. A little  more than a year later (on August 2, 1943), almost exactly 75 years ago, it was sunk by a Japanese destroyer named Amagin, which crashed into the PT boat while traveling at over 40 miles per hour.



The impact cut PT 109 in two, and immediately killed 2 men. Although 11 members of the crew survived, 2 of them were badly injured. Since the crew was approximately 3.5 miles from Plum Pudding Island, the nearest piece of land, they decided to swim for it. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant junior grade John F. Kennedy was on the Harvard swim team, so elected to tow his badly burned machinist (Patrick McMahon) to shore using a strap from a life jacket clenched between his teeth.


The explosion of August 2 was spotted by an Australian coast watcher, which sent 2 natives in a dugout canoe to look for the survivors, and finally found them by accident 6 days later. Since the canoe could only hold 2 people, Kennedy scratched a message on a coconut, and asked the two canoeists to deliver it to the closest PT boat, which turned out to boe PT 157, which made the final rescue.  After they were rescued, the coconut was returned to Kennedy. Ultimately, it was preserved in a glass paperweight and kept on his desk in the Oval Office. It is now on display at the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts.

The PT 109 story came to me this week as a I started to read Robert Kennedy Jr’s latest book, whichis titled “ American Values – Lessons I Learned from My Family.” JFK’s parents, Joseph and Rose were strict but loving parents, and they expected nothing but the best from their children, which is why THREE of the brothers became senators, and one of those three eventually became president of the United States.


Like them or hate them, the Kennedy family was one that raised children with CHARACTER.  Due to his bad back, JFK could have avoided military service altogether, but he enlisted the help of his father to get INTO the service. Once he got in, he later volunteered to attend the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Training Center in Melville, Rhode Island. After completing his training on December 2, 1942, he was assigned to take over the command of PT 101. which was assigned to Panama. Because he wanted to get into combat duty, he transferred to another squadron, and was assigned to PT 109 on April 23, 1943.


The story of PT 109 beame a song in 1962 (see below) as well as a book and a movie. Revell also made scale models of the boat, which we owned for a period of time before it got lost in of our many moves.


History does not record whether of not JFK had bone spurs, but there is no doubt that they would NOT have kept him out of the service. His leadership during his brief tenure as president was a period of remarkable achievements, including the actions he took during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of WWIII. As a result, he is consistently rated as one of our 5 best presidents.


Without giving away too much of the contents of the book, I would simply urge you to read it as soon as you can. Although it provides some unsettling comparisons to today, it also does provide a way forward in today’s perilous times. The current occupant of the White House will NEVER be considered the best president our country has every had  (at least, not by rational people) but he absolutely would need to be considered one of the most dangerous politicians alive today. Pages 17 through 22 detail how our country has became a fascist state under his watch. The same pages, though, show how FDR overcame similar challenges during his presidency, which means we will be able to take corrective action once we once again have responsible leadership running our country.


John F. Kennedy has his share of enemies, and there are DOZENS  of conspiracy theories about his death, but the reign of JFK was, in many ways, of time of magic in America. Pages 263 – 284 provide more details on the highs (and lows) of Camelot, so I’ll simply close with a song.

(If you would like to read more about the conspiracy theories, click on the link shown below:)

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