PT-157 RESCUES JFK AND SURVIVORS OF PT-109
Solomon Islands (JFK+50) Eleven survivors of the PT109, including skipper Lt. John F. Kennedy, were rescued 73 years ago today, August 7, 1943, by PT-157*.
The survivors were met first by Reginald Evans an Australian coast watcher who had been alerted by JFK’s message carved on a coconut and brought to him by local natives. Evans radioed this message to Lumberi at 9:20 a.m.
“Eleven survivors PT boat on Gross Is X Have sent food and letter advising senior come here without delay X Warn aviation of canoes crossing Ferguson”
Robert J. Donavan writes that Evans dispatched seven scouts by canoe to retrieve the “senior” member of the 109 crew from Olasana. Lt. Kennedy was hidden in the canoe and covered with dead palm fronds as the natives paddled out into Blackett Strait.
When they reached shore, JFK stuck his head out of the palm fronds and said to Evans “Hello, I’m Kennedy.” JFK suggested to Evans that he be permitted to pilot PT boats back to Olasana to pick up his crew.
When PT 157 arrived to pick Lt. Kennedy up, he was upset with the delay in the rescue operation and vented his unhappiness to Lt. W. F. Liebenow** who had greeted him with these words…
“Calm down, Jack, we have some warm food for you.”
JFK replied sarcastically…
“No thanks, I’ve just had a coconut.”
It was after midnight when JFK rejoined his crew on Olasana and shuttled them aboard PT 157.
*PT-157 was launched on Nov 4, 1942 & assigned to the South Pacific. It was struck from the naval register on Nov 28, 1945.
**In late May 2013, a book signing was held by PT-157 skipper William ‘Bud’ Liebenow & his torpedoman Weldford West along with the author of “First Up–Chronicles of the PT-157,” Bridgeman Carney. The event was at the Pages Book & Coffee Shop in Mount Airy, NC.
According to Lyn Riddle of the Greenville (SC) News, the “last surviving member of the PT boat crew that saved Kennedy,” Jack Gardo, died at the age of 87 in November 2013. Mr. Gardo had not known who JFK was at the time of the rescue. After the war, he was owner of Greenville Terrazo.
“Book Signing with members of the PT-157 crew,” Winston-Salem Journal, www.journalnow.com/
“Last surviving member of PT boat crew that saved JFK dies,” by Lyn Riddle, Greenville News, The State, November 27, 2013, www.thestate.com/
“PT 109: John F. Kennedy in WWII,” by Robert J. Donovan, McGraw-Hill Publishers, New York, 1961 and 2001.
“PT 157,” NavSource Online, Motor Torpedo Boat Photo Archive, www.navsource.org/