69 years ago today, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy‘s PT Boat was rammed by a Japanese Destroyer near the Solomon Islands.
On August 2, 1943, Kennedy‘s boat, PT-109, was performing nighttime patrols near the Solomon Islands, when the Japanese destroyer Amagiri rammed them. Kennedy gathered his surviving crew members together in the water around the wreckage, to vote on whether to fight or surrender.
Kennedy stated, “There’s nothing in the book about a situation like this. A lot of you men have families and some of you have children. What do you want to do? I have nothing to lose.” Shunning surrender, the men swam towards a small island.
Kennedy, despite re-injury to his chronic back problems in the collision, towed a badly burned crewman through the water with a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth. He towed the wounded man to the island (Plum Pudding Island) and later to a second island, from where his crew was subsequently rescued. Kennedy and his men survived for six days on coconuts.
Kennedy encountered native islanders and convinced them to help his men. JFK cut the following message on a coconut:
COMMANDER… NATIVE KNOWS POS’IT…
HE CAN PILOT… 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT… KENNEDY
This message was delivered at great risk through 35 nmi (65 km) of hostile waters patrolled by the Japanese to the nearest Allied base at Rendova.
The coconut shell was preserved in a glass container by Kennedy on his desk during his presidency. It is now on display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts.
For these actions, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Plum Pudding Island was later renamed Kennedy Island.
Kennedy‘s actions to save his surviving crew after the sinking of the PT-109 made him a war hero, which proved helpful in his political career.
Tragically, JFK would be assassinated just three years into his presidency.
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