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Lot 200

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Kennedy Fantastic PT109 Survivor Reunion Period Vintage Photo

A superb black and white vintage glossy photograph of John F. Kennedy, with several survivors of Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109. The photo was taken at the Kennedy home in Hyannisport during a weekend. Shown left to right: Paul Fay, Jack Kennedy, Lenny Thom, Jim Reed, George (Barney) Ross, and Al Lyons. Kneeling down in front is Teddy Kennedy and a cousin, Joey Gargan. When John Kennedy became President, he appointed Fay Under Secretary of the Navy and Jim Reed was named Asst. Secretary of the Treasury. 8" x 10".  The verso of the photograph has notations that it was taken in 1944 "Jack + his PT buddies/1944 Hyannisport /+ Teddy", and a tipped in sheet which describes the name of the people in the photo. From the collection of Ron Hoskins, assassinologist.

The harrowing story and defining moment of his days in WW II, his PT boat and crew rescue are shown below:

A Japanese destroyer rammed an American PT (patrol torpedo) boat, No. 109, slicing it in two. The destruction was so massive other American PT boats in the area assume the crew is dead. Two crewmen were, in fact, killed, but 11 survived, including John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy called out to his men, who were scattered a hundred yards away in every direction. Miraculously, the current carried the gasoline fire away from the wreckage and Kennedy, a former member of the Harvard swim team, swam out to each of the 11 survivors and guided them back to what remained of the PT 109.

When dawn broke the next morning with no sign of a rescue, Kennedy gathered the men and democratically took a vote on their next move. He asked them, "If the Japanese come after us, do you want to fight or do you want to surrender?" recalls crew member, Martin. And the crew said, "It’s up to you, boss." That’s when JFK reasserted his command. JFK may have been a greenhorn Naval officer, but he was an experienced sailor and navigator from his privileged youth in Cape Cod. In his short time in the Solomon Islands, he knew the layout of the islands and the strange currents running in between them. He pointed to a speck on the horizon, a small island three miles away called Plum Pudding, and ordered the men to prepare for a long swim.

One of the crew members, McMahon, had been badly burned as he fought his way to the deck through the fire in the engine room. His burns were still fresh and agonizing and he was almost helpless. In what’s perhaps the most enduring image of Kennedy’s heroism in the South Pacific, the young lieutenant, himself suffering from a serious back injury, cut a strap from McMahon’s life jacket and clasped it in his teeth. For the next four to five hours, JFK swam breaststroke across the open ocean towing McMahon behind him. When he finally crawled ashore Plum Pudding island, Kennedy became violently ill from all of the seawater he had swallowed and collapsed in exhaustion.

That first night on Plum Pudding, Kennedy went on a solo mission to try to intercept PT boats traveling through nearby Ferguson Passage. Carrying a bulky lantern and with a pistol tied around his neck, JFK waded over razor-sharp reefs and swam out into the tar-black open ocean. His plan was to signal the ships with his lantern or fire the pistol to get their attention, but no boats materialized. Back at the American PT base on Rendova, the crew of the PT 109 had already been given up for dead.

Trying to swim back to Plum Pudding, Kennedy was carried away by a rogue current and completely lost his bearings. He passed an interminable night in the oddly cold waters, convinced he was never going to see the island or his crew again. But by some miracle, as the morning dawned, he realized that another current had brought him right back to Ferguson Passage. Kennedy had ditched his shoes during his long night’s float and had to make his way barefoot over the reef, badly cutting his feet. The next day, Kennedy convinced the now-starving men to try another island further off which might have edible coconuts. Again, he towed McMahon with his teeth as they made the three-hour swim to what would become known as Bird Island. It earned its name from the copious amounts of bird poop covering the leafy bushes. Unfortunately, the men only noticed the droppings the morning after attempting to drink fresh water from the leaves in the dark. At least there were some coconuts on the ground from which to salvage water and meat.

On August 5, four days after the fateful collision with the Japanese destroyer, Kennedy finally caught a break. While island hopping looking for food, JFK and his crewman Ross were spotted by two men that the Americans feared were Japanese soldiers, but turned out to be islanders friendly to the Allied cause. The two native men later found the crew on Bird Island and through elaborate hand gestures promised to get a message to the PT base at Rendova. But how would these two men, who spoke no English, get word to the Americans?

Kennedy grabbed a smooth-shelled coconut and roughly carved into it with his pocket knife: “NAURO ISL COMMANDER . . . NATIVE KNOWS POS'IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE NEED SMALL BOAT . . . KENNEDY.” Improbably, the shell made its way into the hands of a New Zealand infantry patrol, who helped JFK get in radio contact with the PT base. JFK would hold on to that shell throughout the war and have it made into a paperweight that he kept on his desk in the Oval Office. When the PT rescue boat finally made its rendezvous with the PT 109 crew at 11:30 PM on August 8, Kennedy called out, “Where the hell have you been?” to which the crew leader replied, “We got some food for you.” JFK, never at a loss for words, answered back, “No, thanks. I just had a coconut.”

This important event helped to define Kennedy. For his courage and leadership, Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and injuries suffered during the incident also qualified him for a Purple Heart. (Ensign Leonard Thom also received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal). But for John F. Kennedy, the consequences of the event were more far-reaching than simple decorations. His path would be one from the harrowing events of PT109, followed by his skyrocketing climb in politics, and ending with his horrific assassination. 

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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