Saturday, August 2, 2014



Rendova, Tulagi (JFK+50) Seventy-one years ago, August 2nd, 1943,  Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy and his 13 man crew were on patrol in the Blackett Strait in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific when their boat, PT 109*, was rammed and sunk.

The Japanese destroyer, Amagiri**, plowed through the small 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 two of his crew after three hours time.

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, and Gerald Zinser.

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

US Flag Flown on the PT 109
JFK Library Photo

By dawn, Lt. Kennedy 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.

Kure Maritime Museum
Photo by Shizuo Fukui

*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 was made of wood and ran on highly flammable aviation fuel.

**Amagiri 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.

***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.

"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."