Did you know John F. Kennedy was awarded a medal for his actions in the Pacific Theater of WWII?

Marcos Hernandez An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek

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.

Did you know John F. Kennedy was the recipient of the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Biography?

Marcos Hernandez An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek

The Pulitzer Prize is generally regarded as the most prestigious prize in journalism. There are currently 21 categories which are awarded the Pulitzer, ranging from photography to music. 

There were 14 Pulitzers awarded in 1957, less categories than the current number because of the introducton of new categories for online content. That year, the Pulitzer for biography was awarded to John F. Kennedy, at the time a Massachusetts Senator. His work, Profiles in Courage, is a series of short biographies about eight Senators who did what they though was right despite suffering criticism and losses of popularity as a result.  

The list of men profiled in the biography include John Quincy Adams, Sam Houston, and Robert Taft (son of former President William Taft).

There were rumors about the actual authorship of the biographies. ABC reported that a ghostwriter, Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen, actually wrote the entirety of the book but when Kennedy’s lawyers showed up at ABC the network issued a retraction and an apology. 

 The Kennedy Library is home to Kennedy’s handwritten notes, showing his contribution to the work. It is now accepted that Kennedy and Sorensen co-wrote Profiles in Courage.

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