Posted by: SJS | January 3, 2018

Cliff Robertson in PT 109

It was the late summer of 1963 and our grandparents had just brought my sisters and I back to Dayton, Ohio where our family was living at the time.  We had spent the summer visiting with our extended family in Philadelphia and it was time for us to readjust to Ohio and prepare for the new school year.  We were still getting used to Ohio after moving there in January of that year and being back in Philly with all our cousins was like a dream.  So the return to Dayton was not an entirely happy experience, but we made the best of it.  The prospect of a new school year in a city that was still unfamiliar so far from our old hometown was daunting and a bit depressing.

As a reward for good behavior on the long drive to Dayton, our grandparents promised us that there would be some surprises awaiting us in Dayton.  It turned out that my surprise was a trip to the movies to see an epic film about the wartime heroics of then President John F. Kennedy and his crew mates on PT 109.  Seeing the dramatic story of JFK–portrayed by actor Cliff Robertson–and his crew on the 109 unfold before me on the big screen in that darkened theater were an overwhelming experience.  The movie, based on the actual events of 1943, brought me powerfully into the world my father had known during his days in Squadron (Ron) 27.  The sights and sounds, the danger and surprises, the bond between the PT sailors and the determined enemy they confronted were all real to me in a new and profoundly vivid way.

Leaving the theater that evening, my eleven-year old mind wasn’t sure whether it was in Dayton, Philadelphia, or islands of the South Pacific in the summer of 1943.   For two hours, it felt like I was on the boat and in the churning waters of the South Pacific.  I could almost taste the saltwater in my mouth.  On the ride home from the theater, I gradually settled back into the reality of my current situation but with a new perspective on it.  If those valiant PT sailors with JFK could survive the destruction of their boat and the hostile waters of the South Pacific, then I could surely handle whatever challenges lay before me.  And so I did!  The inspiration I drew from that cinematic experience helped me in more ways than I realized–and it came at exactly the right time.

The PT 109 poster was supplied courtesy of PT Boats, Incorporated in Germantown, TN.


  1. What a wonderful story! Thank you. I didn’t have one particular WWII movie that came at the right time in my life or made a difference. It was all of them, collectively, that helped shaped my character. I loved those movies. Still do.

    • Jennie, Thanks! I know what you mean. Those movies convey such powerful stories that inspire the human spirit. I am very grateful for your continued support. Have a very happy New Year. Steve

      • You are welcome, Steve. Human spirit- well said. Best to you!

  2. I have been following the blog Skating Under the Ice by Willis Eshenbach.

    Willis has spent years in the Solomon Islands and writes beautifully about the land and its people.

    In his Dec 11, 2017 post, he published a picture of Kennedy Island where President Kennedy swam to with his men after his boat, PT-109, was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer.

    It is a rather beautiful place.


  3. Thanks for sharing this; I’ll check it out. Thanks also for following the blog–much appreciated.

  4. I’ve seen most of this film which of course is a product of its time but holds up well. Certainly fascinating to see Kennedy’s wartime service which besides flipping the sequence of events basically depicts what happened.

  5. Thanks, Lloyd. That’s how I remember the movie, too. I appreciate your continued support.

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