It’s not often that a young man “pulls strings” in order to go to war. Most men would rather not go to war, and some will even try to “pull strings” to get out of going. John F Kennedy, who had some health problems, and an old back injury from his college football days, was turned down for the Navy, but his dad managed to pull some strings for his son, who really wanted to go into the navy. Young was desperate, and like most parents, his father wanted to help fulfill that dream. So in 1941, Kennedy’s politically connected father, Joseph Kennedy used his influence to get his sin, John “Jack” into the service. Of course, Joseph might have been thinking ahead to future political maneuvers when he pushed for a military career for his son. Once in the Navy, Kennedy volunteered for PT (motorized torpedo) boat duty in the Pacific in 1942.
“Jack” Kennedy quickly worked to move himself up in rank, and soon he was Lieutenant John F. Kennedy. July 1943 found Lieutenant Kennedy and the crew of PT 109 in combat near the Solomon Islands. People often think that being in the Navy or the Air Force is somehow safer than the Army or Marines, but the reality is that any position in a war can prove to be dangerous. On August 2, 1943, the middle of the night, Kennedy’s boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and caught fire. In the ensuing explosion, several of Kennedy’s shipmates were blown overboard into a sea of burning oil. With no regard for his own life, Kennedy dove in to rescue three of the crew and in the process swallowed some of the toxic mixture. Kennedy always blamed his chronic stomach problems on that incident. The ordeal was not quickly over, and for 12 hours, Kennedy and his men clung to the wrecked hull. Finally, he ordered them to abandon ship. Kennedy and the other good swimmers placed the injured on a makeshift raft. They took turns pushing and towing the raft four miles to safety on a nearby island.
Their ordeal still wasn’t over. For six days, Kennedy and his crew waited on the island for rescue. There was little to eat on the island, but the men survived by drinking coconut milk and rainwater until native islanders discovered the sailors and offered food and shelter. While they waited, Kennedy tried every night to signal other US Navy ships in the area. In addition, Kennedy scrawled a message on a coconut husk and gestured to the islanders to take it to a nearby PT base at Rendova. Finally, on August 8, a Navy patrol boat picked up the survivors of PT-109.
The men were taken to the hospital to recuperate, and on June 12, 1944, while Kennedy was in the hospital recuperating from back surgery, he received the Navy and Marine Corps medal for “courage, endurance, and excellent leadership [that] contributed to the saving of several lives and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Of course, the rest is history. John F Kennedy went on to become the 35th President of the United States, and on November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. His vice president, Lyndon B Johnson, assumed the presidency upon Kennedy’s death.