A little more than 20 years before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy, a U.S. Navy lieutenant, swam alone in the waters of Blackett Straight in the Solomon Islands on a mission to save the crew of PT-109.
In the dark, early morning hours of Aug. 2, 1943, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri rammed the Patrol Torpedo boat (PT-109) skippered by Kennedy, cutting the boat in two and killing two of his crewmen.
Lt. Kennedy, who was seriously injured in the attack, spent 30 of the next 36 hours in the water, rounded up the wounded survivors into a part of the plywood boat that was somewhat intact, and, the next day, led them on a three-mile swim to safety on a small island.
For the next three days, he risked his life in an effort to get his crew rescued.
At one point, Kennedy carved a coconut shell with a message and gave it to two natives to deliver to the PT base on Rendova Island in the Solomons.
He later had the coconut shell encased in wood and plastic and used it as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office. It’s on exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
The message carved on the coconut shell reads: ISL COMMANDER NATIVE KNOWS POSIT HE CAN PILOT 11 ALIVE NEED SMALL BOAT KENNEDY
With the help of some Solomon Islanders, he succeeded in his mission.