Friday, August 2, 2013


                US Flag Flown on the PT 109
                        JFK Library Photo

August 2, 2013


Rendova, Tulagi (JFK+50) Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy's patrol-torpedo boat, PT 109*, was rammed and sunk in the Blackett Strait of the Solomon Islands 70 years ago today, August 2, 1943.

The Japanese destroyer, Amagiri**, plowed through the torpedo-patrol boat at 2:30 a.m. 

The destroyer, moving at a high rate of speed, left the 109 split in half and in flames as spilled fuel ignited.

The hull stayed afloat and Lt. Kennedy, who had been at the helm at the time of the collision, was able to round up all but 2 of his crew after 3 hours.

          JFK at the Helm of  PT109
            Kennedy Library Photo

The two missing sailors were Andrew Kirksey and Harold Marney.

In addition to their commander, the surviving crew included...

Leonard J. Thom
Raymond Albert
Charles A. Harris
William Johnston
George Ross
Edgar Mauer
John McGuire
Patrick H. McMahon
 Raymond Starkey 
Gerald Zinser.

The most badly injured crewman, "Pappy" McMahon, had been at his post below deck in the engine room at the time of the collision.  

By dawn, JFK decided to abandon his sinking hull and  ordered his men to make a swim to nearby Plum Pudding Island.

The sailors placed a lantern and their shoes on top of pieces of timber that had been used to secure their 37mm gun.  

JFK, clenching the strap of a life preserver put around McMahon's waist, towed the badly burned sailor while doing the breast stroke.

The mishap was observed by Australian coastwatcher Reginald Evans***.

At 6:30 p.m., after having gotten his surviving crew safely to the island, Lt. Kennedy swam out alone into Ferguson Passage in a vain attempt to flag down a passing friendly ship.*

*PT109 was launched on June 20, 1942.  It was 80 feet long and had 4 torpedo tubes, a 20mm cannon, 4 machine guns and a 37 mm anti-tank gun.

The 109, like all PTs, was made of wood and ran on highly flammable aviation fuel.

"PT109" recorded by Jimmy Dean (1961)
written by Fred Burch and Marijohn Wilkin

"In '43 they put to sea 13 men and Kennedy
 Aboard the PT109 to fight the brazen enemy
 And off the isle of Olasana in the strait beyond Naru
A Jap destroyer in the night cut the 109 in two.

Smoke and fire upon the sea
Everywhere they looked was the enemy
The heathen gods of old Japan
Yeah, they thought they had the best of a mighty good man."

**Amagiri (meaning heavenly mist) was a Fubuki-class destroyer launched in 1930 and built at the Tokyo Ishikawajima Shipyards.  It was a new type of destroyer noted for its large size, powerful engines and high speeds.

The destroyer took 2 hours to sink after hitting an enemy mine near Borneo on April 23, 1944.

           Kure Maritime Museum
            Photo by Shizuo Fukui

***Arthur Reginald Evans (1905-1989) was born in Sydney, NSW and worked as a shipping clerk in Paddington, NSW before his service in WWII with the Australian Imperial Forces and the Australian Coast Watchers Organization.

ARE received and decoded the message that the PT109 was missing and sent out scouts to find the crew.  Evans visited President Kennedy at the White House on May 1, 1961.


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) President John F. Kennedy welcomed delegates of Girls Nation to the nation's capital 50 years ago today, August 2, 1963.

The President addressed the group in the Rose Garden of the White House.

JFK said:

"Last week we had a group of boys from Boys Nation and I said they show more initiative that the governors which got me into a great deal of difficulty.

So I will be very careful today and say that you are more beautiful than the governors."

            JFK Welcomes Girls Nation
                     August 2, 1963
                Photo by Abby Rowe 
             Kennedy Library Photo