JFK, PT-109, & Pacific World War II
The South Pacific had many major battles during World War II:
- Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941,
- Wake Island, Dec. 7-23, 1941,
- Doolittle Raid, April 18, 1942,
- Coral Sea, May 4-8, 1942,
- Midway, June 4-7, 1942,
- Guadalcanal campaign, Aug. 7, 1942-Feb. 9, 1943,
- Gilbert & Marshall Islands campaign, 1943–44:
- Makin Island, Aug. 17-18, 1942,
- Tarawa, Nov. 20, 1943,
- Makin, Nov. 20-23, 1943,
- Kwajalein, Feb. 14, 1944,
- Eniwetok, Feb. 17, 1944,
- Truk Island, Feb. 17-18, 1944,
- Mariana & Palau Islands campaign 1944:
- Saipan, June 16, 1944,
- Philippine Sea, June 19-20, 1944,
- Guam, July 21, 1944,
- Tinian, July 24, 1944,
- Peleliu, Sept. 15, 1944,
- Angaur, Sept. 17, 1944,
- Leyte & Leyte Gulf, Oct. 23-29, 1944 (Largest WWII naval battle and possibly largest naval battle in world history),
- Iwo Jima, Feb. 19, 1945;
- Okinawa, April 1, 1945.
After the Guadalcanal campaign, which was the Allied forces first major offensive, the U.S. began island hopping, securing the Solomon islands.
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy commanded the PT-109, one of the small 80 foot-long Navy patrol torpedo boats used to monitor and disrupt the Tokyo Express - the shipping lanes used by Imperial Japan's destroyers through the Ferguson and Blackett Straits.
PT boats operated almost exclusively at night, often in fog and without reliable radar. They fired their torpedoes at close range, then sped away.
On the foggy night of August, 2, 1943, PT-109 was idling on one engine to avoid detection while awaiting approaching enemy destroyers.
The crew was shocked to realize they were in the direct path of an oncoming speeding destroyer, the Amagiri.
With just seconds to respond, they were unable to avoid collision.
The PT-109 was rammed, broken in half, and began to began to sink.
After the war, author Robert Donovan interviewed crew members of the Amagiri and concluded that the destroyer intentionally rammed the PT-109.
In May of 2002, a National Geographic Society expedition, headed by Robert Ballard, found the wreckage of the PT-109.
Though sustaining permanent back injuries, Kennedy, who had been on Harvard's swim team, helped the 11 survivors swim to shore.
Since Imperial Japanese occupied the larger islands, he chose for them to swim 3.5 miles to the small, uninhabited Plum Pudding Island, which was only 100 yards wide.
They swam for four hours, with Kennedy towing in his clench teeth the life-jacket strap of the ship's injured machinist, Patrick MacMahon.
Hiding from passing Japanese barges, they realized there was no food or water on the island.
That night, Kennedy swam 2 miles to Ferguson Passage hoping to flag down a passing PT boat. Unsuccessful, he swam to islands Olasana, then Nauro, before returning to Plum Pudding Island.
Kennedy convinced his crew they had to swim to Olasana Island.
On August 4, Kennedy and Lenny Thom helped the dehydrated, starving, and injured crew swim 2 miles to Olasana Island, where there was a small amount of water and a few coconuts.
An Australian coastwatcher asked some friendly islanders to search for them, which was a risky request, as other islanders who had been caught helping Americans were tortured and killed.
Initially they mistook Kennedy, who had swum back to Nauro to scavenge, as being Japanese, as the one islander commented "All white people looked the same to me."
The islanders then paddled 35 miles back to the American base at Rendova Island, carrying a coconut, in which Kennedy carved the message:
"NAURO ISL, COMMANDER ... NATIVE KNOWS POS'IT ... HE CAN PILOT... 11 ALIVE NEED SMALL BOAT... KENNEDY."
On August 8, Lieutenant William Liebenow on the PT-157 came to rescue them.
The arranged signal for the pick up was for Kennedy to fire four shots. As he only had three bullets in his pistol, a discarded Japanese rifle was used to shoot the fourth.
Once safely on the PT-157, the rescued crew sang "Yes Jesus Loves Me."
For his part, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corp Medal for heroism.
In 1963, Cliff Robertson starred as Kennedy in the movie PT-109.
Unfortunately, one of Kennedy's brothers, Joseph, Jr., was killed in World War II in Europe.
John F. Kennedy went on to become a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator.
Kennedy defeated Vice-President Richard Nixon in one of the closest Presidential elections in U.S. history - by 0.2 percent, a mere 118,000 votes out of 69 million.
After swearing in as the 35th President, John F. Kennedy stated in his Inaugural Address:
"I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago ...
yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God ...
Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."
In the White House Rose Garden, November 21, 1961, John F. Kennedy said:
"When we all - regardless of our particular religious convictions - draw our guidance and inspiration, and really, in a sense, moral direction, from the same general area, the Bible, the Old and the New Testaments,
we have every reason to believe that our various religious denominations should live together in the closest harmony ..."
"The basic presumption of the moral law, the existence of God, man's relationship to Him - there is generally consensus on those questions."
Kennedy told the Zionists of America Convention at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York, August 26, 1960:
"When the first Zionist conference met in 1897, Palestine was a neglected wasteland. A few scattered Jewish colonies had resettled there ... Most of the governments of the world were indifferent. But now all is changed. Israel became a triumphant and enduring reality exactly 50 years after Theodore Herzl, the prophet of Zionism, had proclaimed the ideal of nationhood ..."
"Herzl was then only 37 years of age ... Jewish people - ever since David slew Goliath - have never considered youth as a barrier to leadership ...
I first saw Palestine in 1939. There the neglect and ruin left by centuries of Ottoman misrule were slowly being transformed by miracles of labor and sacrifice ...
I returned in 1951 to see the grandeur of Israel. In 3 years this new state had opened its doors to 600,000 immigrants and refugees. Even while fighting for its own survival, Israel had given new hope to the persecuted and new dignity to the pattern of Jewish life.
I left with the conviction that the United Nations may have conferred on Israel the credentials of nationhood; but its own idealism and courage, its own sacrifice and generosity, had earned the credentials of immortality ..."
"Israel is here to stay. For Israel was not created in order to disappear - Israel will endure and flourish.
It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom ... Israel is a cause that stands beyond the ordinary changes and chances of American public life ..."
Kennedy spoke further:
"There is a special obligation on the Democratic Party.
It was President Woodrow Wilson who forecast with prophetic wisdom the creation of a Jewish homeland.
It was President Franklin Roosevelt who kept alive the hopes of Jewish redemption during the Nazi terror.
It was President Harry Truman who first recognized the new State of Israel and gave it status in world affairs.
And may I add that it would be my hope and my pledge to continue this Democratic tradition - and to be worthy of it ..."
"When I talked with Prime Minister Ben-Gurion on his most recent visit to this country, he told me of dangerous signs of unrest beneath the deceptive quiet that has fallen over the Middle East ...
Arab ... destructive vendetta can come nothing but misery and poverty and the risk of war.
The Middle East needs water, not war; tractors, not tanks; bread, not bombs ... Ancient rivers would give their power to new industries. The desert would yield to civilization. Disease would be eradicated, especially the disease that strikes down helpless children. The blight of poverty would be replaced by the blessings of abundance.
'Seek peace, and pursue it' commands the psalmist."
Iran was considered the most pro-American nation in the Middle East, until abandoned by President Jimmy Carter.
In April of 1962, President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline welcomed Shah Reza Pahlavi and Empress Farah to the White House.
"Your majesty, I speak on behalf of all of my fellow Americans in welcoming you to the United States. The interest of the both of us is the same: to maintain our freedom, to maintain our peace, and to provide a better life for our people."
At the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, February 9, 1961, President John F. Kennedy stated:
"This country was founded by men and women ... dedicated to two propositions:
FIRST, a strong religious conviction, and
SECONDLY a recognition that this conviction could flourish only under a system of freedom ..."
"The Puritans and the Pilgrims of my own section of New England,
the Quakers of Pennsylvania,
the Catholics of Maryland,
the Presbyterians of North Carolina,
the Methodists and Baptists who came later,
all shared these two great traditions which, like silver threads, have run through the warp and the woof of American history ..."
"Let us go forth to lead this land that we love, joining in the prayer of General George Washington in 1783,
'that God would have you in His holy protection ... that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with ... the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, without an humble imitation of whose example we can never hope to be a happy nation ...'"
President Kennedy concluded:
"The guiding principle and prayer of this Nation has been, is now, and ever shall be 'In God We Trust.'"