John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a brash young handsome Lieutenant, Junior Grade, in the Navy in 1943. He had used his father’s connections to rise quickly in the Navy and was offered command of a small “Patrol Torpedo” (or “PT”) boat with a crew of 11 sailors and another officer, Ensign Leonard J. Thom. The designation on that boat was “PT-109”
On August 2, 1943, while engaged in a large battle against Japanese forces in the area, PT-109 was run over and cut in half by a destroyer named Amagiri.
2 of Kennedy’s crew died immediately. The other 11, many severely wounded, clung to life aboard the remains of the boat. As the wreckage began to sink, the crew had to make the decision to swim about 3.5 miles (a little over 5 km) to this island, then known by non-islanders as “Plum Pudding Island”. One of the sailors, Machinist’s Mate Patrick McMahon, was so badly burned that he couldn’t swim himself. Kennedy, who was also injured, dragged McMahon attached to a life jacket strap clenched between the future president’s teeth — for 3 and a half miles. Two days later, the crew swam to nearby Olesana island and 4 days after that, with the help of a couple of native scouts and a message scratched out on a coconut, all were rescued.
JFK’s bravery and leadership on this mission were used extensively in his campaigns for the US House, the Senate, and later the presidency.
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