Posted by: SJS | June 28, 2011

JFK, Red, and me

In the fall of 1960, as Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was running for the presidency, I could barely contain my excitement.  As a boy of 9, I already knew all about the PT boats of WWII and now the whole country was going to have to catch up on this fascinating part of American history.  I wasn’t sure if Kennedy’s election might mean that my father would get some important job in Washington but the possibility of a PT Skipper in the White House was almost too fantastic to imagine.

JFK and PT 109 crew

The crew of PT 109 with JFK on the far right

As the campaign grew more intense in October of that year, I remember seeing more references to PT boats in the news and in newspapers and magazines.  The descriptions of the missions undertaken by Kennedy and his crew on PT 109 were emblematic of the tasks performed by the entire Mosquito Fleet during the war.  My sense of identification with Kennedy because of my father was intense and deeply personal.  The dangers and challenges faced by Kennedy and his crew were similar to those faced by all the PT sailors wherever they served.

The narrow margin of victory which Kennedy achieved in the election of 1960 was attributable, in my childhood reckoning, to his distinguished career as the Skipper of PT 109.   My father was flattered but he tried to explain to me that there were other factors besides Kennedy’s PT boat career.  He told me that the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, had also been in the Navy during the war.

“Well maybe so,” I said, “but he wasn’t on a PT boat was he?” 

“No,” my father said.

“See,” I said.  “That’s why he didn’t win.”

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