The making of war hero John F. Kennedy.
On Aug. 2, 1943, during the fighting in the South Pacific, a Japanese destroyer rammed PT-109, splitting the radarless torpedo boat in half, killing two sailors, and leaving 11 survivors in a fiery inferno, including its young skipper, JFK. The ensuing seven-day survival ordeal “forever transformed” Kennedy and paved the way for his elections to Congress (1947) and the presidency (1961). In this fast-paced narrative, veteran nonfiction writer Doyle (co-author: Navy SEALs: Their Untold Story, 2014, etc.) tells the familiar story of the charismatic JFK’s inspiring wartime leadership, offering no revelations but plenty of context. Just the year before, Joe Kennedy, master manipulator, patriarch of the superwealthy family, and former U.S. ambassador to England, had summoned an earlier PT boat hero, John Bulkeley, who had famously helped Gen. Douglas MacArthur escape from the Philippines, to a private meeting in Manhattan’s Plaza hotel, where he prevailed upon Bulkeley to help get young JFK into the PT boat service—for the publicity and to get the veteran’s vote after the war. As fate would have it, JFK’s survival in the Solomon Islands “transfigured [him] almost overnight into a war hero.” He then became a national “pop culture icon” when writer John Hersey’s lengthy account of the episode appeared in the New Yorker and, in condensed form, in Reader’s Digest—all with help from Joe Kennedy. The PT-109 story became a mainstay of JFK’s political campaigns, during which he saluted the heroics of his surviving crew members. A PT-109 float carried his shipmates in his presidential inaugural parade. “Without PT 109,” said a longtime aid, “there never would have been a President John F. Kennedy.”
Dramatic and revealing. Readers unfamiliar with the Joe Kennedy back story will be startled to learn of his puppet master–like role in orchestrating JFK’s rise to the presidency.