John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., on May 29, 1917. Kennedy was graduated from Harvard University in 1940 and joined the navy the next year. He became skipper of a PT boat that was sunk in the Pacific by a Japanese destroyer.
In 1943, he was assigned to Panama, and later that year he was moved to the Solomon Islands seeking combat duty. He was placed in charge of PT 109.
Monday, August 2, 1943 – On night patrol, PT 109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, killing two of the 13 crewmen. Jack rescued a nearly drowned crewman with bad burns, dragging him out of the water onto the floating hulk. In the process, Jack swallowed a lot of sea water and gasoline and would suffer lifelong stomach problems.
12 hours later they abandoned the wreckage of PT 109 and swam for a nearby island using a makeshift raft built from pieces of the boat. Jack swam while towing the burned crewman for four hours. That night Jack Kennedy swam out with a lantern and a pistol hoping to flag any patrolling PT boats, but was unsuccessful.
They moved to a larger island nearby, with Jack once again towing the injured crewman. Jack made two more attempts to flag PT boats without success. The men lived on coconut milk and rainwater until they eventually made contact with friendly natives. Jack carved a rescue message into a coconut husk which made its way back to the Navy and the crew of PT 109 was rescued by PT boats.
A few weeks later, the story of PT 109 and Jack Kennedy made the front page of The New York Times and Boston papers. Later, flattering accounts appeared in The New Yorker magazine and Reader’s Digest.
Jack spent a total of nine months in the South Pacific. After PT 109, he commanded a gunboat, the 59, but saw little combat. He returned to the states, then underwent surgery for his back problems.