JFK PT 59

JFK'S PT-59 CREW

PT-59 just after being put into commission, September 1943.
Lieutenant Kennedy sitting shirtless in the cockpit.

To Orwell Today,
re: JFK'S PT-109 CREW

Dear Jackie,

I found a post on your OrwellToday.com site about JFK and PT-109, but I as it wasnít dated Iím not sure youíre still there! Iíll try this anyway:

I have a letter from John F Kennedy on which he wrote a personal note to ďHomer FactoĒ, wishing him well. I want to track down Homerís history with JFK, but Homer passed away recently (or some time ago, I donít actually know), and the only reference I can find on the Web (and Iím a search engine specialist!) is here: John F. Kennedy - Military Career -- where Homer is mentioned as having served on JFKís PT-59.

Another source told me she lives near Homerís town and did a bit of research on her own, and that Homer did in fact also serve with JFK on PT-109 ó yet I find no reference to his being on the crew anywhere, and there seems to be a lot on that topic.

Can you help?

Many thanks,
Gary in Seattle

Greetings Gary,

I have the book PT-109: JOHN F KENNEDY IN WORLD WAR II, written by Robert Donovan, a Washington reporter who travelled extensively with JFK covering his election campaigns - including the 1960 presidential election. His PT-109 book was published in 1961 and was the basis for the PT-109 MOVIE that also came out in JFK's lifetime, in January 1963.

The last chapter is devoted to JFK's second boat, PT-59, which he took command of shortly after the loss of PT-109 that night of August 2, 1943 (exactly a year before his brother, Joseph Jr was reported missing on an experimental bombing mission - and later presumed dead after his plane exploded in mid-air). See JFK'S BROTHER FLEW DRONE

JFK's PT-59 crew had 5 of the old PT-109 crew members, namely:

Maquire
Mauer
Kowal
Drewitch
Drawdy

His new PT-59 crew were:

Helmer
Christianson
Cline
Alexander
Servatius
Slagle
Scribner
Strickland
Facto

As was the case with the PT-109, the PT-59 was out of commission when JFK took command, it being converted into an experimental gunboat to be used as a weapon against enemy barges. The transformation involved removing the four torpedo tubes and replacing them with additional machine guns behind armor shields,. Also, instead of the 20-millimeter anti-aircraft gun on the stern the gunboat would carry 40-millimeter guns fore and aft.

In that reference to Homer Facto that you sent the link to, it describes him as a famous machinist so he no doubt played an important role in converting PT-59 for its new skipper, full Lieutenant JFK.

There is no other mention of Facto in Donovan's book - other than listing him as part of the crew and I haven't come across his name anywhere else in my JFK reading. Maybe, as your source says, Homer Facto did serve with JFK on PT-109 but not as a crew member. Perhaps he was a mechanic who helped with rebuilding the engine etc, and that may be where JFK first met him, and then afterwards welcomed him as a crew member for PT-59.

That letter you have of JFK with a note to Homer Facto is an example of how in-touch JFK liked to stay with his old PT-crew members over the years. Donovan quips that it became much easier for them to locate skipper Kennedy after his address became The White House.

One day soon I'll take the time to tell the story from Donovan's book of JFK's amazing adventures with PT-59 - including bravery on his part that equals or even surpasses - if you can imagine - his bravery of PT-109 fame.

But for now I'll quote from a different book which gives an overview of a PT-59 story in the context of telling how appreciative and touched JFK was to receive a letter from one of the marines he'd rescued:

JOHNNY, WE HARDLY KNEW YE
by Kenny O'Donnell and Dave Powers
page 438-439:

We remember the President one day in November showing us a letter from a retired Marine Corps colonel, W. T. Bigger of McLean, Virginia. Kennedy was obviously moved and pleased to receive the letter, although he tried to be casual about it. "This is a little incident in my Navy career that wasn't written up in the Reader's Digest," he said. After his survival from the PT-109 sinking Kennedy was ordered to return to the States for medical treatment but, to the astonishment of his fellow officers at the Rendova torpedo boat base, he asked to return to combat duty with another boat and a new crew. He was assigned to PT-59, which was converted from a torpedo boat to a makeshift and overloaded gun boat with extra 50-caliber machine guns and 40-millimeter Bofors automatics. The extra weight of the added weapons and the added men to operate them made the light motor boat slow and hard to manage, but Kennedy, according to his squadron commander, Al Cluster, took many wild chances using the PT-59 to attack Japanese supply barges and shore positions. Colonel Bigger's letter, dated November 2, 1963, reminded the President that twenty years earlier, on the same date in 1943, Kennedy had taken his boat under heavy enemy fire to a beach on the Choiseul River where Bigger's Marine riflemen were surrounded by the Japanese with their backs to the water. "When all seemed lost," the Marine officer wrote to the President, "you can well appreciate my relief to see the landing craft returning, escorted by PT boats, one commanded by you." The landing craft lost its power, but Kennedy rescued the Marines in his boat and brought them safely back to their base. "As I recall, we both had our hands full and there was little time for amenities. Please accept again my heartfelt thanks," the colonel wrote in his letter of twenty years later.

"Wasn't it nice of him to go to the trouble or writing that letter to me?" the President said to us. [end quoting]

All the best,
Jackie Jura

UPDATE 2:...JFK BET PT-109 FASTEST (reader is nephew of Homer Facto)

UPDATE 1: ...JFK PT-59 FRIEND FACTO (reader is the great-niece of Homer Facto)

PS - In another amazing date godcident - similar to the two mentioned above - JFK's PT-109 was found 59 years after it sank. See SEARCHING FOR JFK'S BOAT and JFK NEPHEW THANKS NAURU

PPS - Inspired by your question I put up that JFK PT-59 heroism story today (Dec 13, 2007). See JFK SAVED THE MARINES

PPPS - Notice, when reading the Donovan book excerpt, that the retired Marine Corps colonel who wrote JFK the letter described above was the commander of the fifty Marines JFK rescued that day back in November 1943. Donovan mentions - in a footnote - that he tracked down retired Colonel Bigger while researching his book and when he told him that the skipper of the PT-59 who had rescued him was President Kennedy, Bigger was astounded. The book came out in January 1963 and that would explain what inspired Bigger to send the thank you letter to JFK. It's godcidental that JFK read those warm words and felt that human compassion before he died 20 days later in Dallas. It would have been a huge regret to Bigger, no doubt, if he'd waited any longer to send that letter.

...conversation continues at JFK TO NAVAL CADETS

JFK PT-109 WHO'S WHO

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~

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