Sunday, 19 June 2011

PT 109 J F Kennedy

I watched two films which are also above loyalty, duty and honour. The first is PT 109, the fictionalised account of the role of President John F Kennedy in World War II. He is played by Cliff Robertson an actor then 40 playing a young man of 24. The true story is that Kennedy was declared unfit for military service but used his father’s influence to gain a naval commission with the help of the Director of Naval Intelligence who had served his father as an attaché. He was given a desk job at Naval headquarters but after the attack on Pearl Harbour used that same influence to get himself into active service and into a dangerous front line role becoming a lieutenant in charge of a PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat which is a comparatively small craft with about a dozen men.

In August 1943, along with two other similar vessels, with whom direct contact was lost, he was undertaking night time patrols near New Georgia in the Solomon Island when in full darkness he was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and sunk. He is reputed to have held a meeting with the survivors, some wounded and two lost, to decide whether to surrender or seek escape. They decided to swim to the nearest island where unable to find food and water they went onto another. From where they were rescued Kennedy towed the most injured member of the crew by a sling device around his head after swimming for several hours to get himself and the other crew members out of the sea and ashore.

In the film several members of crew commenced to have doubts they would be rescued and but Kennedy was able to send a message cut out in the skin of a coconut to one of the Australian radio operators based on the islands via sympathetic islands who relayed the information to the naval command HQ who sent out a rescue vessel and all the men survived.

In the film this incident occurs after one which in fact takes place after his appointment to a PT vessel converted into a gun boat when in October of 43 he participated in the rescue of men who had been airborne and trapped one another island. In the film they had sufficient fuel to reach the island and rescue the men but then had to be towed home just before the tide swept them back in range of enemy heavy gunfire. He continued to skipper this vessel until discharge in 1945. For his rescue efforts he was given a citation and Purple Heart and three bronze stars. This was a young man who suffered from back problems which continued throughout his adult life.

In the film he is joined by another skipper, Robert Culp who had his boat sunk and on one mission by a desk bound career naval officer who had never seen action and who shoots down an enemy plane. It was also customary for those surviving a sinking or other major battle experience to be given a brief period of home shore leave before being reassigned. One of the reasons Kenny considered surrendering and then decided against taken home leave was because he was then a single man where has several of his crew were married with families. Whatever was the reality of political and personal latter life it is evident that he possess a sense of responsible reality, leadership understanding and concern for others which shone brightly throughout his life and irrespective of his family wealth, status and influence.

While PT 109 can be described as a standard wartime, that is good and engaging but not exceptional film, Only The Brave falls under the exceptional Category.

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