Seventeen years before John F. Kennedy became the thirty-fifth president of the United States--in the early morning of August 2, 1943, to be exact--a PT or Motor Torpedo Boat under his command was rammed and sliced in half by a Japanese destroyer in the waters of Blackett Strait, in the Solomon Islands. Kennedy's wartime career had been unremarkable to that point. He had shown a talent for scrounging the occasional loaf of bread or haunch of New Zealand mutton for his crew, he had nearly destroyed a refueling dock in his rush to be the first PT boat returning from overnight patrols, and he as a congenial and businesslike commander of his tiny boat with its crew of twelve. The PT boats were the terriers of the Pacific Fleet, yapping at the enemy's heels but rarely getting the chance for heroics, and PT 109 was no exception. Kennedy's first direct confrontation with an enemy ship was the one that sank his boat. There was no time to react; in the concealing darkness, with no radar, the destroyer was inside torpedo range before they saw it. In the aftermath of the ramming, as the destroyer swept away and fired two shots back at the broken and burning PT boat, and with an injured back, Kennedy became a hero. Gathering his surviving crew to the derelict forward section of the boat, which was still floating, Kennedy swan into the darkness and towed the injured back to the hulk. He would spend 30 of the next 36 hours in the water, during which time he and the crew swam three miles to a small island with Kennedy towing a badly burned survivor. Over the next three days Kennedy placed his life at risk in the effort to secure the rescue of his crew, which was finally effected on day 4. Only two men were lost, and those at the time of the collision. In September 1943 Kennedy assumed command of PT 59 and was =promoted to Lieutenant. In October he plucked 50 marines from the water beneath enemy guns. In November, suffering from a ruptured disc and malaria, Kennedy was directed by a doctor to leave his command, and returned stateside in earl 1944 weighing just 125 pounds. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal and the Purple Heart.
From the Back Cover
40th Anniversary Edition with a new preface by the author
"This 40th anniversary edition of PT 109 reminds us once again of the courage of President Kennedy and the men who served with him on his PT boat during World War II. Bob Donovan has written the definitive story of my brother's heroic efforts to save his crew in 1943 after their torpedo boat was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer, near the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. This book vividly tells the story of the many dangers they faced and the enduring determination that made it possible to survive. To me, it has always been one of the great war stories of all time."--Senator Edward M. Kennedy
"In PT 109 we see a man assailed by hunger, heat, cold, discouragement and danger rising, without dramatics or posturing, to greatness."--New York Times Book Review
"A tense, tough and intelligent story of wartime adventure and heroism."--San Francisco Chronicle
"Any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, 'I served in the United States Navy.'"--John Fitzgerald Kennedy, August 1963
In the early morning darkness of August 2, 1943, in the waters of Blackett Strait in the Solomon Islands, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri sliced an American PT boat in two, leaving its crew for dead in a flaming sea. The boat's skipper was a gaunt, boyish lieutenant from Boston named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In a valiant effort to save the lives of his crew, Lieutenant Kennedy spent thirty of the next thirty-six hours in the water. Swimming into darkness and seriously injured, Kennedy first shepherded the wounded survivors into the derelict forward section of the plywood boat, which had remained afloat. Then, the following morning, he led his men on a grueling three-mile swim to the safety of a small island, towing one badly burned crewman the whole way. Over the next three days, Kennedy repeatedly risked his life in an effort to summon help until he finally secured his crew's rescue. He lost only two men, both killed in the collision.
First published to wide critical acclaim in 1961, this timeless classic tells the complete, harrowing story of PT 109 and her crew. Journalist Robert Donovan interviewed the men involved in the sinking of PT 109 and the rescue of its crew to get his story, including all ten survivors--President Kennedy among them. Donovan also tracked down the captain, helmsman, and crewmembers of the Amagiri along with the Solomon Islanders who participated in the rescue. The result is both a gripping tale of wartime heroism and a fascinating portrait of one of the United States' greatest leaders as a young man.
Kennedy could have returned home after the sinking of PT 109, but he felt he had more to contribute to the war effort. Given command of PT 59, he was later instrumental in the rescue of a trapped Marine patrol from a Japanese-controlled island. Donovan vividly re-creates the daring night operation in which Kennedy braved heavy enemy gunfire to pluck fifty men from the water and carry them to safety.
This 40th anniversary edition of Robert Donovan's classic includes a new foreword from Daniel Schorr, a new preface by the author recounting the circumstances of the book's creation, and a new afterword by World War II naval historian Duane Hove portraying the broader context for PT boat operations in the South Pacific. Here for a new generation of readers is a compelling glimpse of the values of service and duty that characterized America during the war years, as fresh and timely now as when it was published forty years ago.