University Archives

Lot 134

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PT-109 JFK Rescue Skipper Tells His Story

Autograph Letter Signed, "W. F. Libenow," 9 pp., 8.5" x 11", front and verso of five sheets, no place, October 17, 1988, to a friend describing in detail the circumstances surrounding the sinking of PT-109 and his subsequent rescue operation. File holes at left margin, a few minor soiled spots, else fine condition. From the collection of Ron Hoskins, assassinologist.

A fascinating and detailed account of JFK’s rescue by the skipper of the PT-157, which reads in small part: “A meeting was called of the ranking officers and boat captains to discuss a rescue attempt,” Liebenow writes, “Many thought it a...trick to lure the boats into the open. However, it was finally decided that the PT 157 would attempt the rescue.” Liebenow and his crew treated this as a “routine mission. We knew the general area of the sinking. We followed the usual tactics for operation in enemy controlled waters—that is, ran at patrol speed to keep down our wake, changed course in a zig-zagging pattern to prevent" being hit by Japanese shore batteries. The two natives who had carried JFK’s famous coconut message directed PT-157 to the rendezvous. Kennedy “fired his .38 and a rifle, furnished by Evans as a signal and I answered with my .45. We hoisted him aboard and went for the rest of the crew. We pulled in through a reef and got up close to shore. Lowered our dingy and ferried the wounded aboard 1st then most of the rest waded out and got aboard. You can imagine the celebration that took place. They were all singing, the medics started passing out medical alcohol and everyone was making so much noise" Liebenow feared they would be detected. He kidded Kennedy about “letting a DD ram the PT and asked how it happened. ‘Lieb,’ he said, ‘I just don’t know.’ I think anyone who's ridden a PT boat in battle can believe it.”

Following the war, Kennedy remained in contact. In 1960 he visited with Libenow and his family during a Michigan campaign stop and he invited him and his family to attend the 1961 inauguration.

Libenow's account also contains dramatic descriptions of his experience at Normandy, where he made several trips well in advance of the Allied landings to drop off members of the French underground and even taking samples of the sand from the beaches in order for planners to assess if armor would be able to maneuver on the soft surface. On June 6, 1944, Libenow escorted “LSD rocket boats to the landing beach” then picked up wounded from the beach, the whole time “under intense fire from shore batteries. From June 5 – June 10 I don’t think I slept more than 2 hours...” Much more fine content. Pictures referenced in letter are not present.

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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