Posted by: SJS | September 28, 2020

PT 59 – no losers or suckers on board

On November 1, 1943, a detachment of US Marines was pinned down on a narrow strip of beach at the mouth of the Warrior River on Choiseul Island–a part of the Solomon’s Archipelago. Japanese forces in the surrounding jungle had the marines trapped on the sand and there was no escape.

PT 59 roared up to the beach at Warrior River with guns blazing and pulled her bow forward until her hull was scraping the bottom. The PT sailors jumped into action and began helping the marines up onto the 59. The boat’s deck guns kept pouring fire on the enemy. The firefight was intense and unrelenting.

Ten marines made it onto the 59. One of the marines was wounded very badly. The skipper ordered his crewmen to place the wounded marine in his (the skipper’s) bunk and do everything possible to tend to his wounds. Then PT 59 made her escape.

On the return trip to PT base, the young marine–who hailed from Illinois–died in the skipper’s bunk. Overwhelmed with exhaustion and grief, the skipper wept openly for the brave young marine who died that day.

The skipper of PT 59 was Lieutenant John F. Kennedy. Under his personal supervision, the boat had been transformed into a heavily armed gunboat–the ideal type of craft for close enemy encounters in tight situations like the firefight to rescue the marines on Choiseul Island. Kennedy was so hungry to put the 59 into action that there was a high level of concern among his crew. They were worried that his eagerness to fight might cause him to be reckless.

The rescue mission led by Kennedy in November of 1943 came four months after the loss of PT 109. Instead of taking an assignment for light duty or returning to the States, Kennedy had requested another command following the traumatic experience of the 109. The boat he was given, PT 59, was badly damaged and needed heavy repair work.

Kennedy seized the opportunity to turn PT 59 into a fierce naval weapon. As his Japanese adversaries discovered on that November day in 1943, the boat and her crew were all business and game for a fight.

After he became the skipper of PT 59, five of his former crewmembers from PT 109 signed onto his new boat. From mid-October to mid-November of 1943, PT 59 made 13 patrols. And the skipper and his crew saw plenty of action over those four weeks. In every encounter with Japanese vessels and aircraft, they gave as good as they got.

As we endure these chaotic and frightening times in our country, I have thought often of John F. Kennedy and his fierce courage and bold leadership during the dark days of World War II. What he brought with him to the presidency was a distinguished record of military service, a deep love for the men and women who served in our nation’s armed forces, and the fortitude to stand up to despots–especially those of the Russian variety.

As president, Kennedy made his share of mistakes and he was far from a perfect human being. What he offered to his nation, however, was an example of a life based on courage, service to others, and an extraordinary ability to demonstrate grace under pressure. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, he showed to America–and the world–how true leadership was able to transform an enormous crisis into a triumph for freedom.

May the abiding example of John F. Kennedy remind us that when we put the needs of others above our own needs and act with courage, we embody the very best of what it means to be an American.

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