Image of JFK aboard the PT-109

John F. Kennedy on a navy patrol boat, the PT-109, 1943

An image of John F. Kennedy aboard a navy patrol boat, the PT-109, 1943.

John F. Kennedy (JFK) served in the military during World War II. In 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but was initially rejected due to chronic back problems. However, with the help of his father’s connections, he was able to enter the U.S. Navy in 1942.

JFK was assigned to various naval positions during his military service. He initially served as an ensign in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C., where he helped analyze and report on intelligence information. In 1943, he requested sea duty and was assigned to the South Pacific theater as the commanding officer of a motor torpedo boat, PT-109.

On August 2, 1943, while on patrol in the Solomon Islands, PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer and split in half. Kennedy and the surviving crew members clung to wreckage and swam to a nearby island. With Kennedy’s leadership, they managed to signal for help and were eventually rescued.

The future president’s actions during the PT-109 incident earned him a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism. He was later reassigned to the U.S. mainland due to his back injury.

Kennedy’s military service ended in 1945 when he was honorably discharged as a lieutenant. His time in the military, particularly his experiences during World War II, had a profound impact on his life and later influenced his approach to leadership and decision-making as President of the United States.


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