Posted by: SJS | November 21, 2018

JFK – The rescue at Warrior River by PT 59

On November 1, 1943, barely three months after the horrific experience of PT 109, Lieutenant John F. Kennedy was in command of PT 59 when that boat participated in a daring rescue mission on the island of Choiseul in the Solomon Islands at the mouth of the Warrior River.  The arrival of PT 59 at around 6:00 pm on November 1st found a detachment of US Marines pinned down on the beach, taking heavy fire from Japanese forces in the surrounding jungle.  Kennedy had overseen the transformation of PT 59 into a heavily armed gunboat and on the evening of November 1st, all of that additional weaponry was put to full use in the ferocious exchange of fire between the Americans and the Japanese.

With the help of the PT crew, 10 of the evacuating marines made it onto PT 59.  One of the rescued marines, a severely wounded young marine from Illinois, Corporal Edward James Schnell, was laid in Kennedy’s bunk on PT 59 as the boat made its escape from the Warrior River and back towards the base at Lambu Lambu Cove.  Early in the morning of November 2nd, the young marine died from his wounds.  Kennedy had instructed the crew to put Schnell in his bunk when the rescued marines were pulled onto PT 59.  And Kennedy checked in on him several times over the course of the return trip. The death of Corporal Schnell hit Kennedy hard, reminding him of the loss of his fellow sailors on the 109.

After the sinking of PT 109 and the harrowing experiences of its crew in early August of 1943, Kennedy had a ticket out of the fighting in the South Pacific.  Instead, he volunteered to take command of another PT boat, PT 59, which he led on thirteen patrols between October 18 and November 18, 1943.  Before the engagement at the Warrior River, PT 59 had been bombed several times by Japanese planes and engaged with enemy barges.  Five sailors who had been part of Kennedy’s 109 crew signed on to be part of his new crew on the 59–quite a tribute to JFK’s impact on the sailors under his command.

As we prepare to observe the 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, it’s important to remember that his WWII experience included much, much more than the wreckage of PT 109 and Kennedy’s courage and leadership in the events that followed.  JFK’s decision to accept another command while still recovering from the trauma that followed the sinking of PT 109 spoke volumes about his character, heroism, and sense of duty.  Those marines that were rescued by PT 59 at the Warrior River became powerful witnesses to the bold fighting spirit of all the PT crews in the South Pacific and the intrepid skippers who led them into battle, men like John F. Kennedy.

My thanks to author William Doyle for his book PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy which was a rich source of information about the Warrior River battle in 1943.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving.


Responses

  1. I think I’d stick with a skipper like Kennedy after what he did following the sinking of 109.

  2. Lloyd, Those were my feelings exactly. Kennedy’s leadership inspired loyalty, even as he led his crew into harm’s way at the Warrior River rescue. Thanks for your continued support and the comments that you’ve shared. Have a great Thanksgiving holiday. Steve

  3. Such a wonderful post! He was a great leader even at the young age.


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