In August 1943, future President John F. Kennedy was commanding officer on PT-109, a patrol torpedo boat, and in charge of 12 men. They were stationed in Rendova Island, an island in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. The night of August 1 his boat, one of fifteen, was sent out to torpedo Japanese destroyers but along the way got separated. Not a single destroyer was hit by any of the PT boats that night.
Alone and in the darkness, idling to avoid detection, PT-109 was struck by a Japanese destroyer and cut in two, killing two of the thirteen men onboard.
Kennedy rescued three of his men by bringing them to the floating bow of their broken boat. The eleven surviving men drifted at sea for twelve hours awaiting rescue.
After no signs of rescue the men swam through shark and crocodile infested waters for four hours to tiny Plum Pudding Island. There were islands closer than this but all were occupied by Japanese forces.
Plum Pudding Island had no food or water so Kennedy made a 2 hour swim to try and flag down an American vessel but had no success.
Two days later the men, including those injured in the crash, swam to nearby Olasana Island. Here there were coconuts but still no water. On Naru Island, a one-hour swim away, Kennedy found a canoe with candy, crackers, and a fifty gallon drum of water. He paddled the canoe back to his men.
While the men were hopping from island to island, coastwatchers who had witnessed the explosion of the PT-109 were looking for possible survivors. Two coastwatchers found the shipwrecked unit and took a message from Kennedy, scratched into a coconut, to their base on Rendova island. A rescue was organized and the men were finally rescued 7 days after they left to sea.
Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in the collision. The coconut which had his message scratched on it was preserved in a glass paperweight and Kennedy kept it on his Oval Office desk during his presidency.