Posted by: SJS | October 27, 2015

Moment of Impact – PT 109 sliced in half

PT 109 sliced in half

In the early morning hours of August 2, 1943, PT 109 was rammed by the Japanese Destroyer Amagiri.  PT 109 was cut in two and in a brief, horrifying moment, the destiny of Lt. John F. Kennedy was irrevocably altered. The young American naval officer who emerged from this wartime naval collision was a far different person from the one who entered the PT service. The iconic oil painting by official Navy artist Gerard Richardson entitled “Moment of Impact” captures the collision in vivid and powerful detail.

As I continue through the new book by William Doyle, “PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy,” I am learning more than ever about how Kennedy’s navy experience in WWII set the course for the rest of his life, especially in the political arena.  Surviving the catastrophe of the destruction of his boat was fundamental to all that followed. The world would never look the same to this son of wealth and privilege whose small craft was destroyed by an enemy vessel in one overwhelming moment.

Gaining insight into Kennedy’s story has also brought me to deeper levels of understanding about the course of my father’s life following his military experience on the PTs.  I can well remember the first time I saw this famous image of Kennedy’s boat getting rammed and being jolted–again–with the realization of the dangers and horrors and loss that came to define the lives of the sailors who served in the Mosquito Fleet of the US Navy.

And it feels like I am only scratching the surface.


  1. How was it that a small and swift PT boat was run down and cut in half by a relatively large and slow to maneuver destroyer? Seems odd.


    • That was precisely my question — for years. The details of the story of PT 109 just did not make sense. But now that I am deep into the book by William Doyle (“PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy”), my longstanding assumptions about much of the PT history have been turned upside down. Torpedoes that simply didn’t work. A number of highly incompetent commanders (at levels above JFK and other PT Skippers in his squadron). Poorly planned and executed missions with inadequate communication support. The deeper I get into Doyle’s book, the more amazing it becomes to me that more PT boats did not suffer the same fate as the 109. My father, Red Stahley, lucked out by being part of Ron 27 where it seems that competence, professionalism, and courage defined the operation. JFK drew a bad hand and was lucky to have survived the war at all given the poor leadership under which he served. Your father, my father, and the other PT officers and enlisted men of Squadron 27 were more fortunate, by far. Reading Doyle’s book has been a mind-blowing experience for me; I highly recommend it to all PT splinters and everyone who is interested in the USN’s experience in the South Pacific. Learning the details of August 2nd, 1943 has been utterly shocking for me– there is just no other way to say it. Wow, what a story! Doyle’s access to hitherto unexplored materials has shed new light on a story most of us thought we knew inside and out. There’s a whole lot more to the story.

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