John F. Kennedy was born into the wealthy Kennedy family who had established themselves for generations in American business, politics, and public service. JFK rose from a Naval Officer in World War II to become a Congressman, a Senator, then the 35th youngest-elected President of the United States.
As a Lieutenant in the spring of 1943, he took command of a “Patrol-Torpedo” PT-boat at the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific. In the Navy, these boats were known as “bucking broncos” due to their light weight and the way they rapidly jolted over each wave. His twelve-man crew ran raids on Japanese supply convoys and steered clear of any major incidents for the first few months.
On the night of a routine mission that August, his boat idled with its lights off in open water when suddenly a Japanese destroyer raced out of the darkness and split the vessel in half before the crew could react. Two crew members died instantly, and Engineer Pappy McMann was severely burned, in agonizing pain.
For almost three hours, Kennedy swam in the dark gathering survivors and loading them up on what was left of the boat. They were drifting, stranded in open water, and it began sinking the next afternoon.
Seeing a group of islands about three miles out, he and the crew swam to land to survive. Kennedy sliced McMann’s life vest strap, put it between his teeth, and towed him the entire way to safety. They were finally rescued a week later.
Kennedy was down to nearly 120 pounds when he arrived back home. His back was so bad he was hospitalized for months, afterward using a brace and cane in order to walk.
He earned both the Navy and Marine Corps Medals. His war hero recognition inevitably gained the admiration of the nation and helped launch his successful political career. After he was President, a popular song celebrating the exploits of that mission even hit the top of the charts!
Yet some have always felt that leadership of the PT boat must have been negligent for the vessel to have been sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer.
They say that in war, Truth is the First Casualty. How will ever really know what happened on PT-109, and how much was the invention of Joseph Kennedy, one of the great public relations minds of all time?