Posted by: SJS | August 25, 2018

PT 157 Skipper, William F. Liebenow, rescuer of JFK, laid to rest at Arlington

On Thursday, August 23, the remains of Navy Lt. William F. Liebenow were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.  He died last year at age 97.  He is remembered primarily as the commander of PT 157, the man who saved the life of Skipper John F. Kennedy and the other crew members of PT 109 who had survived the destruction of their boat which was sliced in two by a Japanese destroyer in August, 1943.

The famous story of Kennedy’s message carved into a coconut, “11 ALIVE…NEED SMALL BOAT,” that was carried by two Pacific Islanders to an Australian coast watcher who relayed the message to the US Navy base on the island of Rendova was recounted at the ceremony for Lt. Liebenow.  It was his boat, PT 157 and its crew,  that was sent on the highly dangerous rescue mission behind enemy lines that resulted in the rescue  of Kennedy and his crew.

While the rescue of the PT 109 is the best known story about Lt. Liebenow, his PT career had other equally heroic parts to it.  During the D-Day Invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, the year after the Kennedy rescue, Liebenow commanded a PT boat that rescued more than 60 men from a sinking ship.  Evading the Nazi shore guns, Liebenow again performed heroic service as part of the Allied invasion of France that would turn the tide of the war in Europe.

In 1960,  when Kennedy was running for president. William Liebenow campaigned with him in Michigan.  The epic rescue story from WWII had already become a major part of Kennedy lore and it played a prominent role in the positive publicity for the young Senator Kennedy.  There is a famous story of a Kennedy-Liebenow conversation during the Michigan campaign swing when JFK said he regularly met veterans who swore they were on the boat that rescued him in the South Pacific.

“Lieb,” Kennedy told his old friend, “If I get the votes of everyone that claims to have been on your boat the night of the pickup I’ll win in a landslide.”

Reflecting on the heroic story of William Liebenow and the valiant and selfless service he rendered to our country in WWII, I am reminded yet again of why the memory of the PT sailors commands such respect and admiration. Whether they were officers or enlisted men, they put their lives on the line every time they went out on a mission.  Their service was often in the places where the conflicts were the most intense–Normandy, the Mediterranean, and the South Pacific.  Their adversaries where better armed and often better positioned.  The PT crews relied on their wits, their courage, and each other–as the Liebenow-Kennedy friendship makes clear.  They represented the very best our country had to offer.

My Lt. Liebenow rest in peace and may his family know God’s consolation.  His story will continue to serve as an inspiration for all who love our nation.

 


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