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PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy

PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy

3.9 8
by William Doyle

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The extraordinary World War II story of shipwreck and survival that paved John F. Kennedy's path to power – hailed as a “breathtaking account” by James Patterson, “masterfully written” by historian Douglas Brinkley, and “the finest book” ever written on the subject by Lt. Commander William Liebenow, the man who


The extraordinary World War II story of shipwreck and survival that paved John F. Kennedy's path to power – hailed as a “breathtaking account” by James Patterson, “masterfully written” by historian Douglas Brinkley, and “the finest book” ever written on the subject by Lt. Commander William Liebenow, the man who rescued JFK and the PT 109 crew in August 1943.

In the early morning darkness of August 2, 1943, during a chaotic nighttime skirmish amid the Solomon Islands, the Japanese destroyer Amagiri barreled through thick fog and struck the U.S. Navy's motor torpedo boat PT 109, splitting the craft nearly in half and killing two American sailors instantly. The sea erupted in flames as the 109's skipper, John F. Kennedy, and the ten surviving crewmen under his command desperately clung to the sinking wreckage; 1,200 feet of ink-black, shark-infested water loomed beneath. "All hands lost," came the reports back to the Americans' base: no rescue was coming for the men of PT 109. Their desperate ordeal was just beginning—so too was one of the most remarkable tales of World War II, one whose astonishing afterlife would culminate two decades later in the White House.

Drawing on original interviews with the last living links to the events, previously untapped Japanese wartime archives, and a wealth of archival documents from the Kennedy Library, including a lost first-hand account by JFK himself, bestselling author William Doyle has crafted a thrilling and definitive account of the sinking of PT 109 and its shipwrecked crew's heroics. Equally fascinating is the story's second act, in which Doyle explores in new detail how this extraordinary episode shaped Kennedy's character and fate, proving instrumental to achieving his presidential ambitions: "Without PT 109, there never would have been a President John F. Kennedy," declared JFK aide David Powers.

Featuring castaways on a deserted island, a spy network of Solomon Island natives, an Australian coast watcher hidden on the side of a volcano, an S.O.S. note carved into a coconut, and a daring rescue attempt led by Kennedy's fellow American PT boats, PT 109 is an unforgettable American epic of war and destiny.

Editorial Reviews

Daily Mail (London)
“Compelling. ... Explosive.”
USA Today
“Impressive. ... [An] engrossing combination of adventure and analysis. ... Doyle’s work has all the makings of a definitive account -- the last word on the story. And as such, it’s a tale few are likely to forget.”
American Thinker
“Powerful. ... Today’s candidates should read this account to learn from Kennedy’s leadership skills.”
Boston Globe
“A cinematic story of survival.”
“A gripping, well-told story of courage in the face of disaster.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Cinematic. ... Doyle expertly... brings this remarkable saga back to life.”
James Patterson
“A revealing and breathtaking account about what happened to John F. Kennedy’s Patrol Torpedo boat 109, and the famous war story’s engrossing aftermath.”
William Liebenow
“I have to say, William Doyle’s PT 109 is the finest book I’ve ever read on the subject: the best written; the most well-researched and accurate. It covers every aspect and brings many new things to light. Doyle has done a wonderful job.”
Douglas Brinkley
“William Doyle’s PT 109 is a masterfully written book on John F. Kennedy’s World War II service. Every page sparkles with keen insight and fresh research. Highly recommended!”
Dick Couch
“This one is exceptional--an intimate, blow-by-blow account of the saga of PT 109 and its young skipper who was destined to later take the helm of the nation. A fascinating read.”
Dan Hampton (USAF
“Fast-paced, gripping, and superbly researched, William Doyle’s PT 109 conveys the dramatic story of JFK’s wartime service and its surprising aftereffects with a refreshing, brisk authority. Doyle’s gift for details and vivid descriptions put the reader squarely in the middle of this epic tale.”
David Rensin
“A terrific history. ... William Doyle’s PT 109 infuses an iconic tale with new information and insights, and in the telling deepens our understanding of the young John F. Kennedy’s courageous ‘origin’ story.”
Bridgeman Carney
“William Doyle’s PT 109 not only provides a highly accurate and researched account ... but it also brilliantly charts how those six days of survival, being alone, isolated and at times thought to be abandoned, transformed Kennedy’s very fiber--and his destiny.”
Publishers Weekly
Doyle (American Gun, with Chris Kyle) uses archival research and access to J.F.K.'s own unpublished account of the 1943 sinking of the naval vessel he commanded in the South Pacific to offer new details about the story that made Kennedy a wartime hero. The facts are dramatic. In the dark of night, a Japanese destroyer split the patrol torpedo boat in half. Of the 13 men aboard, two were killed and their bodies were never recovered. The survivors, led by the 25-year-old J.F.K., endured a harrowing week. Crewmember Patrick McMahon was badly burned, and Kennedy swam for four hours, dragging McMahon by his life jacket. The first island they reached was devoid of drinking water or food, and Kennedy swam out to a nearby passage to try to flag down a passing American boat. Eventually, with the aid of some Solomon Islanders, all 11 were rescued. While there are those who believe the disaster could have been averted in the first place, Kennedy's heroic efforts afterwards are not in dispute. Doyle, who admits to being a Kennedy partisan, nonetheless offers a balanced account, and explains how this incident paid a major role in propelling J.F.K. into the White House. Agent: Mel Berger, William Morris Endeavor. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Doyle (coauthor, Navy SEALs) presents a gripping account of John F. Kennedy's monumental test of leadership and survival during World War II, and how his actions set him on the path to political greatness. During the summer of 1943, Kennedy commanded PT 109, a modest Navy torpedo warship. In the hostile waters off the Solomon Islands he skippered missions mainly aimed at sinking Japanese supply vessels. On August 2, virtually without warning, a Japanese destroyer struck and severely damaged PT 109—thus beginning an intense struggle by Kennedy and his crew for survival. The young officer guided his men as they swam through shark-infested seas to an uninhabited island. From the island, although plagued with severe back pain, Kennedy swam solo into enemy territory to signal for recovery. Numerous retellings of this wartime calamity have been generated including John Domagalski's Into the Dark Water, which focuses on the history of the vessel. VERDICT Using new material, such as firsthand interviews with surviving key players, Doyle traces Kennedy's bravery and recklessness, both of which ultimately resulted in his crew reaching safety. Military buffs and Kennedy followers will find the president's wartime heroics compelling. [See Prepub Alert, 11/17/14.]—Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA
Kirkus Reviews
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.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

William Doyle has written or cowritten seven books, including PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy and American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms (with “American Sniper” Chris Kyle). He served as director of original programming for HBO and was coproducer of the PBS special Navy SEALs: Their Untold Story. He lives with his family in New York City.

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PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival, and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
insanepoet65 More than 1 year ago
I have to admit some hesitancy on my part for going into this book. I thought it was going to be another piece of hero worship in regards to John F. Kennedy. In one respect, that is what I got, but not how I imagined it. You get a portrait of the man when he was coming into his own. Before the incident, his men respected him and saw his potential as a leader. After the incident, they would follow him anywhere. This is Kennedy not relying on wealth and prestige. This is Kennedy in a moment of crisis. Not only does his life depend on what he does, but the lives of his men as well. The story does not end with the rescue of Kennedy and his men. You get to see how this incident helped launch a political career that would take him to the White House, helping his father realize a dream of getting a Kennedy into the top seat of the nation. If you are a Kennedy buff, this book is a must read. If you want a story of survival during World War II, this is a must read.
David Waples More than 1 year ago
I've been a student of PT Boats spurred by the movie PT-109 which my dad took me to see when I was very young. It left an indelible impression with me. William Doyle has done a terrific job of tying together JFK's career as it relates to this boat and the famous sinking. You really have a great sense of what kind of person JFK was and how this experience propelled him to the presidency. You will learn new information if you read this book. It's not a rehash of Donovan's PT-109 book and it bares no resemblance to the movie, but it does cover both. I'll say nothing more except if you appreciate an honest discussion based on truth you will want to read this book. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This version is updated from the original. Really a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*walks in*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lily followed him in. [Read my post at 'enormous room']
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brings Lily in his house